Doing More With Less: Start Small and Collaborate
Shift your school’s culture with small, steady changes. Collaborate easily with the right digital tools. These are just two strategies for doing more with less.
We live and teach in truly amazing times. Just think about the device that you carry around in your pocket or the things that you're able to do on the internet. Technology continues to make meaningful, collaborative, and engaging interactive classroom experiences possible with minimal effort.
With so much talk of change in education, we sometimes lose focus on the smaller-scale changes that we can implement immediately for enhanced impact with our students. We can do plenty without a lot of money or technology resources. The following list of ideas is far from complete, but will hopefully start some conversations in your school or district. Please feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section below.
1. Start Small
Often, new initiatives -- whether related to educational technology, incorporating a new program for math, or even a new district policy regarding attendance -- can throw us for a loop. It's great when new ideas and initiatives work right away, but if not, we must be able to quickly adapt -- while realizing that it's OK to fail. Failure is how we learn. In fact, it's sometimes refreshing to fail because that challenges us to make it work.
But in school, with the multitude of constraints and demands on teachers, students, and the time that they have, it's difficult to try, not succeed, and then try again in the hopes of an alternate result.
The most important thing we can change in schools is the culture. A culture of learning is something that's created by every person in the school. Admins help create a culture for the teachers, whether it's curiosity and creativity or compliance and conformity. Teachers also cultivate the culture of their classrooms. Students, when allowed to be part of the learning team, can help create it as well. This is something that costs no money and requires no hardware or software. What it does require is respect, trust, and dedication to the notion that everyone in a school is a learner. By adopting a culture shift that incorporates the idea of change happening on a micro-scale rather than all at once, you help to cultivate fertile soil where the roots of real, positive, systemic change can take hold and flourish. It makes all the difference when attempting anything new, technology or otherwise.
Aim to try one new thing a week.
That way, you don't get overwhelmed while filling your year with around 40 attempts at something new and fresh. This can be as simple as trying out a new web tool with your students, or even just committing to a technology that will help you do something better in your professional life.
Try only one new thing at a time.
Often, we pack too much into a lesson or try to institute too many changes at once in our school. If you learn of ten great techniques to engage your learners, start by working on one at a time. If you find ten websites that you want to share, consider putting nine of them on an "Explore More" sheet that students can look at when they have time or as an extension of learning (my definition of "homework"). This way, you can really delve into a resource appropriately without watching the clock as you toss too much into the mix. The technology isn't a list of ingredients thrown onto a lesson, but rather something that should be kneaded and baked into the pedagogy.
Document and share your learning.
Share your experiences in the form of a blog, video entry, podcast, or series of Tweets. Instagram posts can be a powerful way to reflect on what works and what could be improved. With so many connected educators out there, you're bound to find colleagues who can learn from you or provide advice and support. Sharing can be quick and painless, especially if you're using the appropriate tags. This transparency is a wonderful way to model for our students, colleagues, and educational community that we are open to new ideas and always striving to not only share, but to receive feedback as well.
2. Collaboration Is the 21st-Century Skill
I believe that learning to work with other people and sharing information appropriately is the most important skill that we can build with students and educators. I'm not talking about "group work," at least not the artificial kind that I remember from my own school days when we turned our desks and talked at scripted moments in a lesson. I'm talking about a much more organic collaboration between students. They don't need to be in the same class, grade, or school. By allowing students to connect online, you'll give them access to millions of other people who can help them and/or benefit from their work. I often read about great ideas and class projects on social media networks. That's a wonderful place for learning and sharing your ideas, successes, and failures.
Use free collaboration tools.
There are a whole host of free web-based collaboration tools, including Google Drive and Google Hangouts, as well as educational social tools like 81Dash. With tools like Voxer, students can create their own PLNs and learn how to collaborate and contribute. In the education space, eduClipper and WeLearnedIt were designed to do just that, and there are many others that offer similar functionality. Also, look beyond education for solutions that might be useful. Some tools that I currently use in my workflow include Trello and Slack, which can make collaboration incredibly easy and efficient for educators and students alike.
Find new ways to collaborate.
I like asking students to collaborate with someone they don't know. There are many interactive platforms where teachers can connect with other teachers and partner up their students. I think that while it's truly great for students to collaborate, we should be doing it too!
Social media platforms like Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Voxer, Instagram, and others have made it incredibly easy to build a powerful network of like-minded, passionate individuals with whom you can share ideas. Sometimes there is a lot of noise with so many new tools and startups. Find one that works for you and fits your workflow. It's impossible and harmfully diluting to your focus if you're constantly trying to keep up with the best new thing. But, that said, it's vitally important that we remain life-long learners, open to new ideas and technologies that can help us be better at our jobs.
Collaborate with parents.
There are many tools that now allow us to bring in the parents as partners in the learning process. Remind is probably one of the best examples of a tool that is not only simple as an idea, but also in its implementation. It takes almost no time to get up and running, but it really helps parents to know what's going on in the classroom.
In my next post, I'll discuss two additional ideas for doing more with less. Until then, please share your ideas in the comments section below.