Thursday, August 4, 2016

5 Tips to Begin a Successful (Digital) School Year

I don't know about you, but I tend to live in a bubble during the summer.  I like to fill my bubble with the sort of professional development that both challenges me and comforts me in knowing that there are others out there who do think like me! This summer I was so blessed to travel the country and rub elbows with the best of the best in education.  We talked shop over casual dinners, bonded over similar struggles, and challenged each other with new ideas. It was an incredible summer.

In my bubble I feel pumped up and ready for another new year!

Then reality sets in.  I don't know what pops your proverbial bubble, but I would bet that we all have similar lists.  Go ahead and shout it out here.  No really...shout.  It may make you feel better.

Now that we're all over that, let's keep it positive.  I've crafted five tips to keep that summer bubble floating (even if just at a hover sometimes) and get your classroom up and running for a successful (digital) school year!

1. Actually Use the Ideas

Even if your students don't go year-round, my guess is that you do.  Summer is to teaching as the off-season is to an athlete.  It's where we get better, stronger, wiser.  It's likely that somewhere you have a collection of PD ideas you excitedly recorded wherever it is you like to do your note-taking.  When I present, I always make sure to leave my participants with this one thought, "Pick one thing that inspired you this session.  Use it!"  If it happens to be within the school year,  I add that it should be used within two weeks of the session date.  Awesome ideas are no good if you don't actually put them into use!

2. Start Slow and Choose Wisely

Think about the age of your students.  What I do with my sixth graders is vastly different from what I did with my firsties.  For younger students, starting with a simple PicCollage about themselves is a great way to not only learn more about your students, but it also tells you a  great deal about their digital prowess from the get-go.  As they work, walk around and watch which students work deftly with the technology and which students struggle their way through.  This is valuable feedback for you.

Last year, I made an epic mistake with our first project.  What I thought would take two weeks, drug into a four week, headache inducing ordeal.  Know your students first.  Plan accordingly!

3. Let the Focus Begin with Creativity

Again, learn from my mistakes.  Last year as the new Social Studies/Digital Literacy teacher, I walked in thinking I was going to be the Queen of Technology Integration.  It quickly dawned on me (see project failure above) that the trouble didn't always lie with student tech skills.  The problem was the students' hesitation to be creative and get out of their comfort zones.  Before they can do amazing things with their technology, they need to feel safe in your classroom to create, think, and even fail.

This year, I am attacking things differently.  My students will be working through a series of STEMspired challenges that build communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity before the iPad becomes a big player.  By the time we hit our first project two weeks in, my hope is that my students have reconnected with their inner-creative selves.

4. Find a Sounding Board

We all need that person who both "gets" us and challenges us.  Sometimes you may need to reach beyond the walls of your school to find this person.  Twitter is an amazing world filled with people who think like you.  All you need is the right hashtag or chat to get you connected!  Try chats such as the #teacherfriends chat on Tuesdays, #ditchbook chats on Thursdays at 10p EST, or with us on the #INeLearn chat Thursday evenings at 9p EST.  Other hashtags to try are #tlap (Teach Like a Pirate), #edtech, and #ipaded.

Many of my favorite activities have been inspired by students and cultivated by other teachers who have helped me take it from conception to reality.  Do me a favor though.  When someone inspires you or helps you nail down the details of a project, give them a little shout out.  Let them know (and the world) how much you appreciate their help.  End PSA. :)

When your bubble is feeling threatened, run to your person.  Read your favorite professional book or blog.  Watch a TEDed Talk.  Do anything but sulk, brew, and let it build inside of you.  Redirect that frustration and put it into your drive to provide your students with amazing learning experiences!

5. Let it Go

I'm not going to sing for you, but seriously.  Let. It. Go.

Let go the box that you allow to contain you. Let go the frustrations over mandates.

Let go over total control of student learning.  Let go of negative attitudes. Let go of past hurts or failures.  Let go of doors that didn't open.  Let it all go!

 No excuses. You are amazing!  Your students are lucky to have you!

This will be the best year yet!

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