Wednesday, July 6, 2016

5 Things No One Told Me About Instructional Coaching

No matter how detailed the job description or how many tips you've gotten from insiders, every job has its surprises.  While writing my last post A Baker's Dozen of Essential Skills for Instructional Coaches, I found myself reflecting on those aspects of the work that no one told me about and I wasn't expecting.

Here are the 5 things no one told me about instructional coaching, as well as a few tips for working through these aspects of the craft.

1. Sometimes you'll feel like a Lone Wolf: It's likely you are the only instructional coach in your building, and you may even be traveling to multiple schools.  While hopefully you are a welcomed team member in your school, it's unlikely you have any job-alike team at your site.  This can leave you sometimes feeling like you're on an island for a couple different reasons:
  • There's just nobody that seems to entirely get those unique challenges that come with being an instructional coach.  This is especially challenging on the rough days. 
  • You're constantly feeling like a third wheel during team-based experiences, whether professional or social. 
Remedies for Lone Wolf Syndrome: 
  • Embrace the idea of going stag! When you network among the different teams in your building, rather than sticking with one group, it allows you to build stronger relationships with the staff. This will make your coaching partnerships so much stronger.  Coaches go stag for a reason!
  • Use this networking mentality to be a connector.  There is often little opportunity for teachers to connect with other staff members beyond their own department or grade level.  Teachers will find it incredibly valuable when you can help them make meaningful connections.
  • Build a strong coaching PLN, with coaches in your district, surrounding districts, and online. #Educoach is a great place to start. 
2. Sometimes you'll feel like a Utility Player: Coaches can often be asked to support teachers with many different needs, as well as many different improvement initiatives.  While this can keep your job continually fresh and challenging, you are also subject to feeling scatterbrained and as though you are not making a significant impact in any particular area if you aren't careful.  You may also feel ill-equipped to support the vast variety of needs, and find yourself questioning your own expertise. 

Remedies for Utility Player Syndrome: 
  • Be a willing learner. As long as you are willing to learn new ideas and seek out the resources to understand, you will be successful. 
  • Rely on the expertise of those around you.  Coaches do not, and should not be the experts of all things.  Coaching is about partnering with others, and pairing your expertise to do great things for kids. 
  • Keep your eye on the prize. I learned so much by thinking about Diane Sweeney's ideas of coaches using a 60% rule. This is a helpful way for coaches to make sure they don't get sucked into so many side projects that there isn't any time left for coaching.  Read more about Sweeney's 60% rule in her post Getting to 60%
3. Sometimes you'll feel like a Passenger Seat Driver: Coaching is about partnership and supporting teachers in accomplishing their goals for students.  Allowing teachers to be in the driver's seat is important, but sometimes challenging.  There are times when a coach can feel like the teacher has made a quick exit, pulled over, and kicked you out of the car!  You are left standing on the sidelines wondering what you said or did that caused this coaching partnership to end so abruptly. This has happened to me multiple times, sometimes when I suggested co-teaching or at other times when the teacher said they were just too busy to continue working together. 

Remedies for Passenger Seat Driver Syndrome
  • Make sure to share with staff all the ways you can partner (co-planning, co-teaching, etc.) and allow teachers choice in how they would like to work together.  
  • Give yourself the time to allow trust to build.  No matter how supportive and positive you are, it's vulnerable to work with a coach.  
  • Be reflective of your coaching moves. Did you allow the student goals as established by the teacher to drive the work?  Did you push too hard? Or is there a different timeframe when the teacher might be able to devote more time to working together? 
4. Sometimes you'll feel like the Face of Every Initiative: As schools and districts decide on different improvement initiatives, coaches are likely asked for insight in how to support teachers in embracing the change.  I actually love this work. Partnering with teachers to find what works in the classroom that can help an entire school improve is exciting!  If your district or school has a lot of initiatives, however, this can quickly leaving you feeling like the poster child of change. Coaches must be careful here because teachers may lose sight of the idea that coaches are there to support teachers in reaching their goals for kids, rather than drive initiatives. 

Remedies for the Face of Change Syndrome: 
  • Know the why.  If you understand the need for change, and how the improvement initiative can support student learning, you will be an authentic believer in the work. 
  • Remember that education is an incredibly complex profession, and there are often many areas that need improvement. While it's important to focus improvement efforts, we must also embrace that we can always get better at more than one thing at a time!
  • Again, be protective of your time to do coaching work.  If you don't protect your time to do the actual work of coaching, no one else will.  
5. Sometimes you'll feel like a Catalyst for Change: Coaching is incredibly powerful work because you are working with teachers who want to improve their craft and see students learn. This is so incredibly rewarding!  When you see students reach a goal or have an 'aha' moment, because a teacher was willing to try something with your support, there is no better feeling.  When a teacher overcomes a challenge that has been exhausting them or realizes through reflection a way to meet the needs of kids, you realize that coaching makes a difference!  

Remedies: Savor it!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Baker's Dozen of Essential Skills for Instructional Coaches

Legend has it the practice of adding a 13th item to make a baker's dozen started because bakers could be fined if all 12 items didn't meet the appropriate weight or quality.  Throwing in a 13th item compensated for any potential disparity. Who knew?! We are all bound to have certain skill sets that aren't as strong as others. While I don't think anyone needs to be fined for their weaknesses, it's a powerful way to think about how that little bit of extra can help us overshadow our deficits.

I just completed my fifth year of instructional coaching and am reflecting upon the skill sets that have been necessary in this unique role.  While all of these skills might not be in your job description or in books on instructional coaching, it's what has truly been necessary in my work.  Some of these I'm better at than others, which has kept the work challenging for me.

I hope my list will inspire you to think about your own practice. Perhaps spend a little time ranking the 13 items from your greatest skill to your weakest.  Ask someone else to rank you on these same items and then compare with your own ranking.  Think about actionable ways in which you can more deeply infuse your strengths into your work, and specific plans for how you might improve your weaker areas.

ARE YOU...

  • A LEARNER: I'm often presented with questions I don't know how to answer, or ideas I don't know how to execute.  A relentless drive to learn new things and seek out information, try possibilities, and learn from the experience is necessary and makes the work incredibly rewarding.
  • A SEEKER: In my school, participation in coaching is voluntary. Continually seeking ways to partner with teachers is important to making an impact on students.  Coaches with an entrepreneurial spirit will find opportunities hidden in all kinds of conversations.  
  • REFLECTIVE: Like most work in education, coaching is both an art and a science.  I've often felt like I should have posed a different question to a teacher, or suggested a different idea. Continuous reflection always makes us better for the next time!
  • AN EFFECTIVE MULTI-TASKER: The work of coaching is dynamic and somewhat unpredictable.  At times, I find myself working with multiple teachers of different contents and grade levels, with all different needs.  In addition, you may have roles on committees or be preparing professional development sessions.  Finding ways to be organized so that you can effectively partner and shift gears is key!
  • A CONNECTOR: I realized quickly that I will never have all the ideas, information, or resources to help teachers meet the needs of their students.  As a coach, it's amazing fun to connect teachers with other educators that can help them accomplish their goals.  As a coach, you have the unique opportunity to be in lots of classrooms; keep good mental notes of the strengths of teachers and connect teachers when you can.  Also, don't forget about connecting teachers with researchers in the field and educators on social media.
  • A QUESTIONER: Questions are the secret weapon of coaching! Artfully asking the right question can help a teacher to realize and articulate goals, ideas, frustrations, and hopes. 
  • A LISTENER: If there's one thing I've learned from coaching, it's that every classroom, every teacher, every student, and every situation is unique.  Of course, research-based best practice gives us a guide, but there is no pre-set recipe for teaching.  To be effective, coaches must be willing to listen, listen, and listen some more.
  • A COLLABORATOR: Without true partnership, instructional coaching doesn't work. While I believe coaches can be incredibly supportive when they bring ideas to the table, coaching must rely on the unique strengths and contributions of the teacher.  The teacher must still be the decision-maker!
  • AN OPPORTUNIST: Teaching is challenging, and sometimes frustrating work.  Often, teachers come to coaches when they at the peak of frustration.  Rather than letting the conversation end after the venting, effective coaches find opportunity in these moments of frustration to start a collaborative venture of trying a new method or researching an answer that will support student learning and ease teacher frustration.
  • A NAVIGATOR: There are moments in coaching when you realize you pushed a teacher too far out of the comfort zone; the teacher suddenly seems to be looking for the first opportunity to exit the coaching partnership.  Yikes!  This is the worst.  Coaching requires the ability to navigate conversations in a way that doesn't make teachers go looking for the door. 
  • AN ADVOCATE: Coaches are in a unique position because they are not administrators, yet they likely get to know all teachers in the building in a deep professional capacity. Coaches also likely get insight into what administrators see as needing improvement, and the rationale behind it.  Finding ways to advocate for student learning, teacher success, and systemwide improvement requires tactfully and sincerely offering perspective and examples, while posing questions that will challenge us all to be better.
  • A REFRAMER: Cynicism can creep into the profession through internal and external passageways. The ability to reframe conversations to focus on the positive and on the good in our work is the only way to thrive in this position.  You will enter many conversations of frustration and challenge; without the ability to reframe, you will find yourself defeated.  Find ways to lift up students, teachers, and principals at every opportunity. 
  • A SOLUTIONEER: The bottom line is that teachers will not come back for more coaching if you can't partner in creating solutions to help their students be more successful.  This doesn't mean that you have to create the solution yourself, but you must be relentless in finding ways to make a difference for kids.  Teachers don't have time for any less.
Being a learner and a listener come the most naturally to me, while being a seeker and a navigator are the most challenging.  I'm so thankful, however, for the opportunity to have coached. Check back next week for my post on 5 Things No One Told Me About Instructional Coaching!  

As always, I would love to hear your reactions to this post.  Leave a comment!

Best, 
Sara

Monday, March 14, 2016

Paying It Forward via OER Sharing

My guess is that the best resources, ideas, and strategies you've acquired as a teacher have been shared with you by another educator.  You trust these ideas because you know they've been tested in the classroom and improved upon by teachers like yourself.

Recently sites like Twitter, Pinterest, and even Teachers Pay Teachers have exploded the sharing possibilities.  We can connect with others to find tried-and-true ideas from educators we would never have the opportunity to meet in person.

The Open Education Resource (OER) movement harnesses this power, unleashing the possibilities for teachers to connect with one another, but also creating an opportunity to provide free and relevant educational resources to every student, regardless of zip code.  The idea that the zip code in which a child lives might determine their educational opportunity is something we can work toward eradicating, but only if we, the educators in the field, step up to the plate!

Recently, Liberty Public Schools, was accepted as a #GoOpen district, and we've partnered with Amazon Inspire during their beta phase to share education resources.  To read more about the Liberty OER story, check out the district blog.  I don't know anyone that doesn't love shopping on Amazon, so the idea that educators could use the Amazon platform to share FREE education resources is pretty exciting.

This past weekend at EdCampLiberty, I uploaded some resources to share for the first time via Amazon Inspire.  I questioned whether the resources were good enough or if anyone would really want them, but I took the plunge.  Here are examples of a couple things I uploaded.  One is applicable across subjects and grade levels; another is content-specific.  I tried to put a collection of resources together, rather than uploading them each as separate documents.
Socratic Seminar All-in-One Doc
Macbeth Literary Analysis 

My challenge to you is to pay it forward and share something that works well in your classroom with the OER community.  Don't worry if the resources aren't perfect.  Don't we always find ourselves adapting resources to meet the needs of our students?  So let's get on out there and share. Perfect isn't the point!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

If Only My Students Were Better Presenters: Tips to Make It Happen

Stock Photo by Tara Hunt via Flickr
Do you find yourself saying, "If only...?"
If only I could get my students to stop reading from their slides...
If only I could get my students to get the interest of the audience right from the beginning...
If only I could get my students to design slides that are more visually appealing...

The ability to present ideas and information in a compelling way is a valuable skill set that can be used in so many different settings.  It is a skill set that must be modeled and explicitly taught, however. Too often we keep the secrets of solid presentations a mystery.  Helping students to see exactly what to do and what not to do can help bring life and ownership to presentations.  These are tips I've gleaned from both teachers and national presenters that I think can make a BIG difference.  

Feel free to copy and share these google slides with your students as a basic list of how to create more effective presentations.  Also, let's grow this list!  Leave me a comment with your ideas or let me know if this makes an impact on your own presentations or the presentations of your students.  I would love to hear from you!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Power of Experts and Audience

This school year our staff at Liberty High School is exploring different ways to create deeper learning experiences for students. We've been using the work of Dr. Jal Mehta at Harvard University to frame our thinking:
This exploration has inspired several of our teachers to create more lessons for students that create engagement with industry experts and authentic audiences. Here's a taste of what's been tried:
  • AP World History students conduct an independent research investigation including an interview of a Subject Matter Expert (e.g. professor or author)
  • Creative Writing students interview senior citizens at the Liberty Community Center as inspiration for a character sketch
  • Art students engage in a Kansas City competition and winning original artwork is published in banners on the Boulevard
  • Business students create a marketing plan for KCP&L to pitch to the company
  • American Literature students connect with a Kansas City Highway Patrol Officer to learn about modern slavery in conjunction with a study of Civil War literature
  • American History students publish writing and engage in discussion on the New York Times Room for Debate website
There are many more examples and I'm energized by the creativity and resourcefulness of our teachers to think about how to create meaningful learning opportunities for our students. Working alongside some of these teachers to launch these projects has been eye-opening. Opening your classroom can be vulnerable and pressure-packed, so is it worth it? I have to say ABSOLUTELY, but here are a few pieces of wisdom I would offer.

  • Reach out and try. We've found an incredible amount of people that have expertise to share and that want to be involved in our school.  Many feel honored that we contacted them and have connections that bring relevance to the skills and content we are infusing. Don't be afraid of 'no.'
  • Focus on pride, not perfection.  One of the biggest fears I've encountered is our teachers worry about what outsiders will think if students share work that isn't perfect.  Ultimately,we feel as though any mistake our students might make is a reflection on our teaching.  Don't let this be a barrier!  Of course, we want our students to produce quality work and we should do all we can to set the stage for success, but in the end, they are adolescents; they will make mistakes.  The mistakes sometimes produce the best opportunities for learning. Challenge your students to do work you can all be proud of in the end.
  • Have a plan B. Things inevitably don't always go as planned. A Skype we had arranged with a Senator was canceled 15 minutes prior to class because he was called into session.  We couldn't get the technology to work for a Google Hangout scheduled with a military pilot. Most teachers like to have a plan and know it's going to work, so this can add a layer of anxiety to working with outside experts and audiences.  Go in with a plan B and use it as an opportunity to model flexibility!
  • Involve your administrators.  Connecting learning beyond the school walls is engaging and exciting, but it's wise to inform your administrator of your ideas and get their input and support. They will appreciate it should any unexpected concerns arise. 
Audience is powerful, so reach out and try!  Here's an email excerpt we received from the Kansas City VA after a partnership with English teacher Kelsie Kleinmeyer.  Her students studied The Odyssey and explored challenges modern soldiers face with the Homecoming.  It's one of my favorite examples of what can happen for our students when engaging with experts and audience!


Hi Kelsie,
Wanted to follow up on last night's event. It was very well done and the Jackson County Executive, the Honorable Mike Sanders, put together a great task force. They listened to concerns and issues from Veterans, mediated, and brainstormed ideas, along with contributing factors that could detour any such idea, to present.  I did make mention of the project your students took part in and that some amazing ideas came from the project. Actually your entire project was nearly a mirror of what took place last night.

Each sub-group overwhelming agreed that a community based outreach/transition center would be the top priority of ideas to go back to Mike Sanders and the Jackson County Executives and those in office that can effect change. This would be evidence that "your students" came up with an idea that was "very" similar to an idea brainstormed by top level executives, city officials, service organization representatives, top level Veteran Administration staff and other influential professionals from across the area.  I think your students truly got the bigger picture with this project and I am so proud of them.

Might just end up being something we can look back on many years from now and have pride that the next Generation made a difference for this generation of Heroes.

Honored,
Joseph L. Burks
Public Affairs Officer

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

3 Tips for Strong Class Discussions

If you've been teaching awhile, you've probably been the victim of a class discussion gone awry. You thought you had a great topic tied to your learning goals, but then students don't seem to want to talk or the conversation seems to dull after only a few comments that just barely scratched the depth you were hoping to explore.  I've been so fortunate to be in many classrooms and see lots of class discussions.  Here are 3 SIMPLE tips that I see teachers artfully master that foster incredible student discussions.

1. THINK TIME: This is the #1 factor that I see being the difference in classrooms where a discussion takes off and one that fizzles quickly.  When we carve out time for students to think about what they can contribute to the discussion before beginning the conversation, it makes a significant difference.  This can be done quickly by encouraging students to write some ideas on a sticky note or it can be more structured and lengthy done over several days in advance of a discussion. One of our Health teachers is trying a Socratic Seminar discussion next week and we collaborated to create these thinking notes that students will do in advance of the discussion.

2. OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS: It all begins with a rich question that will elicit multiple viewpoints.  Often when I reflect back on discussions that didn't quite go the distance, I realize my opening questions weren't strong enough. While the goal isn't to start an argument among students, a strong discussion opener will interest our students, be aligned with the goals of the lesson/unit, and have multiple answers that are not necessarily right or wrong.

3. SUPPORTING EVIDENCE: I love those magical moments in a class discussion when a student suddenly understands a new perspective or acknowledges a differing viewpoint. Challenging students to keep their thoughts grounded in evidence yields these moments and unlocks curricular understanding.  Preface discussions with study of text, images, video, audio, lab experiences, or any format that will scaffold student thinking.

While there are certainly other factors that lead to strong class discussions, these are an essential three.  Now go talk about it!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Let's Get Current: Current Events Resources for the Classroom

Bringing current events into the classroom is one powerful way to make learning relevant. Empowering our students to understand the world around them today will help them be ready to lead the world of tomorrow.  I'm sharing digital resources that make it easy to bring current events into the classroom.

Listen Current: Listen Current curates national public radio for stories that are applicable to the classroom. Stories are packaged in a lesson format with ideas for curricular connections and listening activities such as graphic organizers.

New York Times Weekly News Quiz: Each Tuesday morning the NYT publishes a weekly news quiz with 10 multiple-choice questions about the latest current events news stories.

New York Times Room for Debate: This site is one of my favorites. It's packed with contemporary issues topics that are debated by credible outside contributors. Students can read each perspective and quickly gain understanding of multiple sides of an issue.  The best part is that students can publish their own ideas in the comments section.

NewsELA: NewsELA is genius and it's not just for the ELA classroom. This site provides access to hundreds of current news articles. Each article can be adapted to five different reading levels, allowing you to better meet the needs of your students.  My favorite part is the new text set features that have collections of articles aligned to curriculum topics and texts.

The Big Picture from The Boston Globe: The Big Picture is a stunning site that catalogs the news in photos.  Updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the latest news is shared through amazing photography. These pictures would be fantastic writing prompts.

Today's Front Pages by Newseum: The Newseum has an incredible digital collection of daily front pages from around the world.  Help students understand geographical perspective of many events by looking at the daily pages from various locations to see how events are covered differently in various parts of the country or world.

Newsmap: Newsmap provides a visual interactive of the daily news from around the country and the world.

Trendsmap: Trendsmap provides a visual map of the top trending Twitter hashtags, which provides a unique insight into the latest current topics.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Looking for a Good Read?

In an effort to blog more this year, I rummaged through some posts I drafted and never finished in the last year. I found this post I'd almost finished sharing some of my favorite summer reads from 2015, both personal and professional. A good book is usually still a good book six months later, so I figure it's not too late to share.  Besides, winter is the best time for reading, isn't it?!


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline 


Kline writes of the parallel stories of Molly and Vivian.  Molly is living in the modern-day foster care system, while the elderly Vivian was put on a train as a child and taken to the Midwest to find a family.  The "orphan train" stops were advertised in towns around the country and families would come to find a child, a popular model in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Orphan Train is an endearing window into the similar experiences of two girls from different time periods.  It will make you appreciate the stability and love of family and a place to call home.  Though historical fiction, Orphan Train provides great insight into a slice of history I knew nothing about.  I was much more intrigued with the story line of Vivian and the orphan trains, but the comparison with Molly's life and the modern foster care system is a really compelling way to tell this story.



The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah 

The Nightingale is the story of German-occupied France during World War II and the lives of two sisters fighting in very different ways to survive and preserve a fractured family.  The oldest sister Vianne watches her husband head off to fight the war and is forced to protect their daughter on her own.  Soon after, she is required to billet a Nazi soldier in her home, which ends up to be the first of many unbelievable decisions she is forced to make to survive. Vianne's youngest sister Isabelle is a determined rebel who joins the Resistance movement and becomes a war hero in the eyes of many.  As the lives of these sisters collide, the gripping story of how war reveals our true character is told.  You will see parts of yourself in both characters, but are sure to identify with one more than the other, and thus The Nightingale will also teach you about yourself.


Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown 

This Young Adult book catapults readers to reckon with the lack of control we have in a digital society.  After high school student Ashleigh sends her boyfriend a naked picture of herself, things quickly spiral out of control in what becomes a bad break-up.  I would recommend this book for any middle or high school student, or for parents.  Brown does a phenomenal job of creating a reality where you can see how this situation can happen and also showing the impact on Ashleigh, her boyfriend, her family, her friends, and the broader community. Thousand Words is a great conversation starter with young adults and will give them an opportunity to consider how they might handle a similar situation from a variety of roles.



School Culture Rewired by Steve Gruenert & Todd Whitaker 

If the idea that "culture trumps strategy" is true, this book is a must-read.  Gruenert and Whitaker give a simple breakdown of the elusive differences between culture and climate, and offer practical tips for educators to evaluate the current state of affairs and begin shifting into a more positive and productive culture.  Whether you are a teacher or principal there is some practical food-for-thought that you can use beginning tomorrow.




Three Signs of a Miserable Job - Patrick Lencioni 

In his classic style of using a fable, Lencioni makes the complex simple by challenging us to think about what really makes us happy in our work. There are parallels with Daniel's Pink work on motivation explained in the book Drive, but Lencioni frames it in way that makes it seem tangible to accomplish in the way we interact with one another on a daily basis.  As I read, I could recall leaders that seemed to follow these successful principles so naturally.



Sunday, January 3, 2016

Setting Resolutions with Students

Graphic created using Canva
In my first post of the new year, I shared my 4 favorite 2015 recaps that are worthy of sharing and discussing with your students as you kick off the semester.  It's only logical to lead into some goal setting, and I've got a few ideas that will add a little twist to this year's resolutions.

Begin with some quick reflection using paper and sticky notes.  The Start-Stop-Continue is a simple enough prompt that is sure to get some ideas on the table, especially with 3 to 5 minutes of continuous writing.  I love when students create goals centered around our classes, but I also think it's fun to encourage students to set personal goals related to their lives beyond the classroom. They appreciate so much when you really want to know who they are.

Here are 3 ideas to formalize the goal-setting process that will hopefully add an original spin to your lesson.  Better yet...give students the opportunity to choose from one of the three ideas below.

Pictorial Head by Dr. Sivartha

1. In Your Head

Allow students to artistically represent the goals in their head. Several years ago I discovered these brain maps, and I've used them several times to inspire students to represent ideas.  I'm always amazed at the creative representations that come from the process.  Illustrating one's goals for 2016 could produce an intriguing mindmap that can be displayed in your classroom or hallway as a reminder of the resolutions.  A quick google search of 'Dr. Alesha Sivartha' or 'phrenology' results in several illustrated brain maps that are sure to inspire.


 Original Photo by Wicker Paradise

2. The Ungoal

I don't know about you, but it seems everyone I know sets resolutions with high hopes, only to realize in a few short weeks that they've already fallen off the wagon.  The Ungoal activity encourages students to focus on what they want to STOP doing, rather than what they want to start doing.  For example, perhaps they want to stop procrastinating on studying for tests, or stop hitting the snooze button three times every morning.   Celebrate the habit you plan to undo with your ungoal by dumping those bad habits in the trash can at the end of the class period.



Graphic created in Canva

3. Remind Me Later

Put your goals in writing using a delayed email service. These sites will allow you to compose and send the email now, but set a delivery date for a specified date in the future.  Students might set the email for a delivery date shortly before spring break, which could be a good time to check in on the progress toward those 2016 goals.  Boomerang for Gmail will allow users to set delivery for a later date, which is perfect for GAFE schools.


Rock that first day!

The Best 2015 Recaps You Really Should Show Your Students

Faucet Image by Steve Johnson adapted using Canva
Happy New Year!  As the winter break winds to a close, you may find yourself wondering how to kick off the semester and get your students back into the groove.  I always love the start of a new year and the opportunity for reflection and resolutions.  In fact, one of my personal goals is to blog more in 2016. Blogging has been on the back burner over the past year; as I tackled my Ed Specialist degree, my posts have been leaking out at a slow and unsteady drip. As I only have one class left this spring, I'm planning to crank up the faucet a bit.  Hold me to it!

I've been scavenging the 2015 recaps and have a few favorites that could be perfect conversation starters with students as we launch into 2016.  It's an opportune time to challenge students to consider our place at this moment in history.  Of all the times and places we could have existed, we are in the here and now.  Take a moment and think about it using these recaps as a catalyst; be sure to preview as some of the content may be too mature for the age of your students.

If you have only 5 - 10 minutes of class time to spare, here are my two favorites:

"Google Year in Search 2015"

"Facebook 2015 Year in Review"

If you can devote 15 or more minutes to the inquiry, there are two standout recaps worth exploring. The "Year in Pictures 2015" from The New York Times is a phenomenal collection of photos and captions that somehow creates a thorough, yet concise recollection of poignant moments throughout the year.  "A Year in Graphics" from The Washington Post is a treasure of information that tells the story of 2015 in a unique way; it's so intriguing you will find yourself lost down the rabbit holes of unexpectedly intriguing infographics. 

Launch into conversation by challenging students to compare the recaps.  Do the sources present the same events or different? Why? Which events will have the most significance 1 year, 10 years, or 100 years from now?  What do the events say about our overall values as a society?  What worries you? What inspires you?  The possibilities are endless. 

I'd love to know your ideas for including these recaps in your lessons. In my next post, I'm sharing a few ways to get students going with some goal setting in ways that hopefully have a new twist.  

Happy New Year! Wishing you the best for 2016.