Laura K Spencer, Ed.D.


In a former life I was an Ed Tech Director. One day, my boss asked me to form a committee to develop a plan for a refresh of our classroom technology. He wanted to know what new classroom technology to buy, at what cost, and and on what timeline.

I responded. “Sure, but before I do, I have a question for you. Imagine you walk into a classroom and think to yourself, ‘Wow, THIS is the best example of teaching and learning I have ever seen. If only every teacher and student could have an engaging experience like THIS, the learning for students in our district would be off the charts fantastic.’ Can you please describe for me what it is that would make you think that?”

Why ask that question?

Technology is not the driver of learning. It seems ridiculous to have to say that, but I do.

I am part of a Facebook support group for teachers that use a specific technology product. A question was posed to the group:

A screenshot of a facebook post that reads "Question: What are your favorite virtual activities that work for engagement?" It shows 7 likes and 31 comments.

Quickly teachers chimed in to offer ideas.

A slide with screenshots of Facebook comments, including: Nearpod, Jamboard, Book Creator, Quizizz, Kahoot,, Mentimeter

Here’s the thing…

The initial question didn’t ask what technology tools do teachers use to check for understanding or to provide for collaborative learning space. The question asked for “activities” that work for engagement. “Activities” signifies that the response should be a verb, but the responses were nouns.

Why is that?

Before I answer that, let’s look at Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Sinek’s Golden Circle asks people to start by defining the WHY. It’s what drives us to do what we do and how we do it. In education, people may define the WHY as standards, or high stakes testing, or maybe college and career readiness (the new buzz phrase) but it’s deeper than that. The WHY is (or should be) something along the lines of providing students with the skills, knowledge, and capacity to lead a meaningful life.

Once we have an idea of what those skills and knowledge should be (WHY), we connect it with the standards we are told to teach (WHAT) and develop objectives and lessons (HOW) that guide progress towards achieving the WHY. Without the WHY, we’re back to the old factory model of “Open head, pour in content, move to next grade” education system.

So what’s this have to do with that Facebook post?

The teacher asked for ways (i.e. activities) to engage students in a virtual context. I would have expected responses like this one:

“I post a photo of a Renaissance painting to facilitate student-led conversations using the Step Inside Thinking Routine so that students can explore the historical era through a persona perspective. I have them share their responses in breakout rooms so that they can engage in authentic conversations which my students seem to enjoy. They then share a summary of the conversation when we reconvene.”

This type of answer engages in WHY. I can see from it that the teacher’s WHY includes: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, open dialogue, and reflective thought. It also shows the WHAT by connecting to world history and art standards. And there’s even some HOW in the explanation of the activity steps and the use of breakout rooms.

Technology products aren’t what create engagement or learning. People do that. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) defines engagement as the WHY of learning. It is how learners get engaged and stay motivated through challenge, excitement, or interest. Because engagement is the affective domain of the brain, “some learners are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while others are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. Some learners might like to work alone, while others prefer to work with their peers. In reality, there is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; providing multiple options for engagement is essential” (UDL Guidelines).

“Some learners are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while others are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. Some learners might like to work alone, while others prefer to work with their peers. In reality, there is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; providing multiple options for engagement is essential.”

UDL Guidelines

For every product that was shared on that Facebook question as an engagement method, I can list ways in which that tool could also be used to disengage students from learning. The tool is just a tool. A hammer is great, but not when I need to loosen a screw.

As teachers, we need to be careful not to get caught up in the edu-glitter of Ed Tech tools. Today it’s JamBoard. Before that it was a SmartBoard. And a white board. And way before that, a chalkboard. The tools shift, but our focus on the WHY should not.

Oh yeah, back to my story…

I never got a response from my boss. And so he never got a refresh plan from me.

Many of us are heading back to work today – whether that’s in an office, a classroom, a laptop screen in the kitchen, or a fabrication building, I have one friendly reminder for you:

“It’s okay to not be perfect.”

It’s okay to not be perfect.

Hey, I said it was friendly, not easy. Truth is, we are our own hardest critic. And now, with all the extra pressures from the pandemic, the economy, the lack of social interaction, and a million other stressors, I see a lot of people beating themselves up over perceived imperfections.

So next time you’re upset that you didn’t catch the typo before hitting send on the email, or frustrated because your lesson flopped, or angry because you set your new air fryer on fire (hey, it was an accident), please take a moment to remember that it’s okay to not be perfect. In fact, I like you better because of your imperfections.

You got this!

I keep seeing this making the rounds and figured I’d break my self-imposed blog break by going on the record as dissenting to this claim.

This type of statement screams privilege.

There are millions of marginalized students NOT learning these so-called life skills right now. Millions! And not only are they not learning life skills. They aren’t learning at all. Some have disappeared completely from the system. Some are struggling to access even the most basic of technology services. And some are more concerned with food and safety needs than figuring out why their mic isn’t working on Zoom.


Consider the teenagers who have chosen to work rather than return to school virtually – a trend particularly prevalent among low-income Latino families – who are now at greater risk of dropping out altogether from school (Source).

Consider the students with special education needs whose parents aren’t always equipped to help teachers fulfill their children’s IEP. If parents need to work, their child misses classes and meetings with specialists, which not only hurts academic progress, but essential life skills attainment as well.

There are many more groups of marginalized students who are also not learning right now.

So how exactly are these students learning the life skills mentioned by this “Bored Teachers” statement?

They’re not.

But you know who is?

The students from higher socioeconomic families that are not only learning those life skills, but may also be getting private tutors or extra parental support because their parents could take time off work or readjust their schedules. They’re continuing to plow ahead with the learning the millions of others aren’t getting.

So let’s not try to fool ourselves, or others, into thinking that all the students are just fine … that there’s no falling behind.

Look, I know 2020 is hard (unprecedented/impossible/etc), and the demands being placed on teachers is … well… there is no word for how crazy the demands are right now.

I get it.

But that doesn’t give us permission to ignore the reality of the situation, even if we are tired of hearing it. Because the truth of the matter is, there ARE millions of students falling behind.

My ex-husband lives a few hours away. He rents a small room behind a house in a not great part of town. When COVID hit, he got sick and lost his job. His car broke down around the same time. Because California’s unemployment system is so archaic, it took about six months for him to get any funds. And of course, that was after the federal stimulus ended.

When you don’t have a cash flow, you have to make choices as to what to prioritize. He prioritized his cell phone, and decided to use the hot spot as his wifi for his laptop.

Last week, my oldest daughter, with whom he shared a phone plan, decided to get her own phone plan. She transferred her phone number to the new service and let the previous provider know that she no longer needed their services.

Instead of cutting off her phone, they cut off his.

Of course, none of us knew this.

So when his children could no longer contact him, and his friend had also not heard from him in days, we all assumed the worst.

Today I called the cops to do a wellness check. When they called me an hour later, I was expecting them to ask me to come ID a body.

Instead, it was my ex, explaining that his phone was disconnected and he wasn’t sure how he was going to get to the phone company’s office to get it resolved. Remember, he has no car. And no phone.

That means no directory to look up the nearest phone company location. No Uber or Lyft to take you there. No internet to check email to see if there’s a message about the mix up.

After he told me he was alive, we hung up. (Can’t really have a long conversation on a police officer’s cell phone!) I called my daughter and explained the situation.

She called the phone company and explained what they did wrong. They restored his phone line. Only issue was that we had to somehow tell him that he needed to reboot his phone for it to work again.

Dang it!

The cop was long gone.

Now what?

My daughter had the great idea to send him something via Amazon with a note to reboot his phone. However, that would still be a day or two of waiting for the delivery to arrive and hoping he saw the little gift receipt note.

So I went to Domino’s pizza online and placed an order. The pizza that was our favorite when we dated almost 30 years ago. And I wrote in the delivery notes that I needed them to write a note on the box to reboot his phone.

It worked.

A modern carrier pigeon.. haha

Domino's pizza note that states:
Go thru side gate. Knock on door of back house. Please add note w/pizza: "Reboot phone and it should work. Laura"

But it made me realize just how much our world becomes a prison cell without access. No phone, no internet, no connection to the world.

How many of our students are in similar situations? And how are we bridging that divide? Do we need to start sending pizza boxes with lessons written on them?

Why doesn’t the federal eRate program include home internet costs? Why are we still, as a nation, treating internet access as a privilege instead of a necessity? Although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since feminine hygiene products are still charged a value-added, or sales, tax, unlike the tax exemption status granted to other products considered basic necessities.

I’m grateful to Domino’s for helping me out today, but as a country, we have to do better than this. Our families deserve it.

Still ruminating on my May post, entitled “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Remember when we were teenagers and knew everything? My youngest daughter is there now. She’s 18, about to start college in a month, and knows it all. Until she doesn’t. And then she seeks me out, with her hands full of anxiety and doubt, and wants me to figure it out for her. Unless it’s cooking. She knows not to ask me about anything kitchen related. That’s a grandma question.

Even if it’s not cooking-related, I can’t always figure it out for her. Sometimes I can, but oftentimes I’m searching for the answers with her.

So when I see these books being published about how to teach during a pandemic, I’m quite honestly flummoxed. Even those of us who have been teaching via distance learning, independent study models for years don’t necessarily know how to teach during a pandemic.

Yes, I’ve taught college online for 12 years now. Yes, I’ve built and taught high school classes online. Yes I taught middle school in a 1:1 blended learning model. But those were all to people who either chose to learn in that environment, or were supported through trainings and tools before being expected to fully learn that way. Not people who were thrust there while also being worried about sickness, job loss, and bandwidth reliability.

I’m sure there’s many of us who have been in the exact same position as this kiddo!

So if you’re beating yourself up because you don’t have all the answers and you think others do, stop. Don’t buy from the snake oil salesperson. We’re all struggling, children and teachers and parents alike. It’s called “unprecedented” for a reason!

As I said in earlier posts, do the best you can and give yourself grace. Take care of your mental health by stepping away a bit. Call a friend and don’t talk shop (or do, if that helps!). Watch silly Tik Toks for a while. Pet a furry animal (as long as it isn’t rabid!).

Remember, none of us have all the answers. But I’m here, as well as thousands of others on Twitter, Facebook, etc., if you need someone to listen to your questions and ideate some potential responses or just to listen.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

Friedrich Nietzsche

I have been thinking about teachers a lot lately. Many of you are working on revising, rewriting, or simply writing curriculum and lesson plans that ares responsive to the different teaching you’ll be doing as a response to COVID. I know how daunting the task can be, especially when there are so many unknown variables. When I started teaching, I was always told to focus on my circle of control and understand that I can’t always impact the areas of concern.

But now, it seems like those areas have gotten all scrambled together. All the circles are intertwined as we venture into distance learning, many for the first time. Before COVID, I couldn’t control what happened at home, so I didn’t assign homework and chose to focus the learning within the classroom structure. But now, all the students are at home so does that change the circle of concern to a circle of control?

I recently rewrote a doctorate course for University of San Diego called Learning Design and Technology (which I am now teaching). When I accepted the contract, I assumed the students would all be teachers wanting to branch out with online and blended learning, which is who I taught this course to in the past.

But that was pre-COVID.

When COVID hit, I adjusted the course to reflect the new reality for teachers. But when students started joining the course, I realized I had to make even more adjustments because my students weren’t traditional teachers. One was from the Department of Defense who was asked to put some aviation material online. One was a photojournalist looking to inspire social justice through photography. And one was a USD employee trying to find ways to encourage students to study abroad (even though the program is currently COVID suspended).

Revising the course was difficult, of course. But it wasn’t impossible because I had a firm grasp of the “why” for the course.

“In today’s digitally connected global environment, it is important to be able to design and provide learning in ways that people can engage with, understand, and implement.”

Course “Why”

Making adjustments when the “why” was clear made the “how” and the “what” less daunting. And yet oddly, it’s something most teachers are never asked to consider. I look back at my teacher training and I see a lot of coursework on “how” and “what” but the only “why” seemed to be standards or high-stakes testing. (And by the way, neither of those are a why, but you already know that!)

So where did the why come from? From empathy. From looking at past courses and talking to former students to see what experiences resonated with students. It came from talking to my current students to understand their reality. It came from reading articles published by the World Economic Forum to look at future forecasts, and from listening to my peers on Twitter share their current reality and fears with each other. Is it perfect? Nope. But it is a guide. And that guide informs my course corrections.

So as you continue wrestling with the how and what, please remember that changes will most definitely continue to come your way. But if you take time to identify the why, and then ground yourself in it, those changes won’t be quite as soul-crushing as they may seem right now. In fact, they may lead to some amazing opportunities to engage and enrich students in ways you had not before considered.

You got this!

I saw this tweet the other day, and on the surface, it sounds like an amazing acknowledgement of the work of teachers:

But listen…

Teachers are not EVERYTHING to students.

Nor should they be.

When we see ourselves as EVERYTHING, as touchers of souls and builders of community, we see ourselves as saviors.

We are not saviors.

Chris Emdin, author of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, explains why the savior concept is an issue:

The savior complex is … problematic because it reinforces the notion that the teacher is the hero. To be a good teacher the effective skill you need is not ego. It’s humility. You look at the natural, raw, unpolished beauty of the neighborhood, and if you are looking to save someone, you cannot see that.

Author’s Advice to White Teachers in Urban Schools: Drop the ‘Savior Complex’ and Learn from Students, by Maya Elie

When I started teaching in San Diego, I landed a job at an urban middle school in which I, as a Caucasian female, could easily blend in with 90% of the staff, but only 10% of the students. The first two years were rough. I had classroom management issues and struggled to find ways for the students to learn the content.

The issue wasn’t the students. It was me. I thought I could walk in the room with my fancy bulletin boards and my writer’s workshop book and my Holt pacing guide and make a difference. I thought I could teach.

But my curriculum, my teaching strategies, and my approach was rooted in ideas like those shared above. I thought that my teaching would save my students…awaken them to new ideas and give them opportunities for a future beyond their urban world.

And then I met Glenn Singleton, leader of “Beyond Diversity” professional development for our staff. He challenged every assumption I had about teaching, about students, about the urban city I drove in to and out of every day for work. His training forced me to consider the stories I chose for the class to read, the behavior rules I had established, and the communications I sent to families.

In short, he made me realize that I was not a savior. In fact, I was far from a savior. Many of my practices were harmful to the students of color and to the community. I was a road block, an enforcer of inequity. My inability to see beyond my whiteness, to see how my whiteness permeated every decision I made in that school, was not creating an environment for my students to thrive. It was perpetuating systemic racism.

I had to make a lot of changes, and I’m still making changes, to become a better teacher, a better anti-racist accomplice, and a better human.

I’ve come a long ways since then, and I still have a long ways to go. But I’ll tell you one thing I know:

I am not the transformers of generations, because to say so is to say that some cultures are in need of transformation.

I am not the builder of communities because the communities are rich with culture and history and should be valued for such.

I am not the refresher of spirits because I am part of a systemic institution that often equates black and brown spirit to bad behavior.

I am not the toucher of souls because I am not godly.

I am not the connector of knowledge because my connections are not your connections and my knowledge is not all knowledge.

I am not EVERYTHING to students.

Last night I was invited to speak to a class of preservice teachers about the role of IT in education. It’s a hard topic to address since it’s so vast and all-encompassing. Do I talk about servers and switches or how to placate grumpy IT Techs (haha) or share the nuances of configuring an MDM? I wasn’t sure so I went in empty-handed and ended up tackling all of those topics and more.

In fact, one of the questions was about the future of technology in education and where I saw it heading. I brought up VR, AR, AI, etc but I shared one caveat – none of those technologies will make an impact without a teacher. I think (and hope) that, for many, COVID and learning from home has shown that teaching is much more than following a pacing guide or putting students on an intervention computer software for 30 minutes a day, every day. It’s both an art and a science.

And as I reflected on that, I dug out a book I had read on Artificial Intelligence last year and laughed at all the connections between AI and teaching.

You Look Like a Thing…

In You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, Janelle Shane explains how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can sometimes be a terrible way to solve a problem. Honestly, they just aren’t as smart as we’ve been duped to believe.

In fact, most of the issues engineers and researchers have been having with AI are probably issues you’ve confronted at some point in your teaching career.

AI is Dumb

I don’t mean the concept. I mean the actual computers running it. It’s not their fault. They just lack the capacity to perform a multitude of complex tasks at one time. Some work-arounds have resulted in numerous computers being strung together, each performing one part of a multi-part scenario (kind of like student project groups). But still, at their core, there’s some serious limitation.

Consider how long it took you to learn to ride a bicycle. I’m sure you learned in less than the hundred crashes the robot had, and even then, it could only go a few meters without falling, and thousands more crashes before riding for a few tens of meters!

Most of this is because computers can’t remember much – their brainpower is exerted on the immediate task, and so there’s not much ability to plan ahead and make generalizations.

There are many instances in the book in which AI was terrible at solving a problem, and the reasons fell into a few categories.

Too broad a problem

In 2019, researchers from Nvidia trained an AI to generate images of human faces. It did pretty well, except for things like earrings not matching or bizarre backgrounds. But when asked to learn about cats, it got it all wrong, producing images with extra limbs, eyes, and distorted faces.

When the AI trained on human faces, they were all forward-facing. But the cats were seen in all sorts of positions (as cats are prone to be) and so the AI couldn’t distinguish what exactly made up a cat face. Check out ThisCatDoesNotExist for creepy examples.

We’ve seen it happen in our classrooms. We introduce an algorithm in math and all of a sudden, students are using it for everything, even when it makes no sense. Or we tell students that an essay hook can be to start with a question and then every single paper starts with a question until the next hook is introduced.

Not enough data for it to figure out whats going on

Most AI learn by example. If you give the machine enough examples of something, it learns the patterns and begins to imitate them. In one AI experiment, a machine was given different ice cream flavor names and told to create its own.

Unfortunately, the machine doesn’t know what ice cream is, or even English, or how flavors work. it only knows how to translate each letter, space, and punctuation into a number and then keep analyzing those numbers for patterns. The result? Flavors like Bourbon Oil and Roasted Beet Pecans and Milky Ginger Chocolate Peppercorn.

Textbooks are notorious for not giving enough data. How can the American Revolution be condensed into one chapter? Ask any textbook publisher and they’ll show you!

Accidentally gave it confusing or non-needed data

When I learned about the Essential Elements of Instruction, which is based on Madeline Hunter’s research, one of the elements was Teach to the Objective. I thought, “well that’s easy. Just teach the lesson” but it turned out to be much more complex than I realized.

For example, if the objective is for students will list two major reasons for the Civil War, then teaching about how the economics of slavery and political control of that system was central to the conflict makes sense. However, if I tell the story about my trip to a plantation in Atlanta and how depressing it was to see the slave quarters, I’ve now begun a non-congruent conversation that may lead to confusion as to what the objective is, and what students need to be able to do.

Machines aren’t any better. Go back to the bizarre ice cream flavors. Although the machine was able to figure out the pattern of ice cream names, nobody bothered to tell the AI that certain flavors just aren’t very yummy as ice cream. It was taught ingredients, but not ice cream specific ingredients.

Trained task was much simpler than the real-world application

In theory, it should be very easy to teach an AI how to drive a car. Program it with the rules of the road; teach it to identify lights and signals and road lines; and add some calculations for stopping distances and you’re good to go. However, we know that the reality of driving is much more complex and nuanced. In 2016, a self-driving car failed to recognize a flatbed truck as an obstacle and caused a fatal collision.


The car had been trained to drive on the highway, and as such, only recognized trucks from their front and rear view. The driver, however, kept the self-drive mode engaged on city streets. A semi-truck pulled out and crossed in front of the car. Thinking the truck was an overhead sign, the car did not stop.

I can’t tell you how many times I’d get frustrated after looking at the results of my students’ assessments. Why were they not understanding the concepts I had taught for weeks? Honestly, the problem was not their lack of understanding. They understood exactly what I had taught them to understand. But what I had failed to do was put that understanding in a context of real-world use. We can teach math algorithms, or 5 paragraph essays, all day, but until they are shown how to adapt those concepts and apply them, they’re at a loss.

So What?

According to Shane, the best uses of AI are going to be with human supervision to make people more effective. AI will be used as a first draft tool but then humans will edit the results.

AI is dumb, but teachers are not. We are adaptive. We may make some of the same initial mistakes as AI, but the difference is, we learn from them. We reflect, and we get better. The distance learning that happens this Fall will be hugely better than the distance learning provided in March.

So take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you’re smarter than AI and you totally got this!

With COVID-19, and schools going online, offline, partly online, maybe closed, maybe open, maybe only partly open (whew!), people are getting bombarded with messages and emails and notifications flying at them from all angles.

And yet, no one feels informed… why is that?

I thought I’d share some food for thought that I learned years ago when studying organizational leadership.

Seven Times!

If you think you’re communicating with your team (or parents, students, etc) enough, you’re not. 
Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage, says employees don’t believe a leader’s message until they hear it 7 times. Seven times for crying out loud!! No wonder my students didn’t believe me when I told them everyone indents their paragraphs, not just students in my class…
So how do we get to the magic number seven? To get there, Lencioni says we need to Create Clarity, Overcommunicate Clarity, and Reinforce Clarity. (He actually says a LOT of things, but if you want the full scoop, read the book…)

Two Words

How do we do that?
Well, Lencioni has some ideas about that, too, but for right now I just have two words for you:
Strategic Messaging
If we want people to be clear on our message (and to believe it), then there is no such thing as too much communication. We can’t be afraid to repeatedly reinforce ideas or information that is vital to the organization (or school).

Many Questions

Some questions to ask yourself, and maybe those around you:

  • Is everyone on the same page in terms of what should be communicated and why?
  • If messages are flowing down from the top, or after limited attendance meetings, how are they being disseminated? Does everyone know that? Is everyone on board with that?
  • If someone missed the message the first five times, how can they get connected to the messages? 
  • Where are these messages? Are they on motivational posters in hallways? Archived on a google group board? Or is it a fend for yourself approach to getting information?
  • How are we helping people get, understand, and implement the message if they’re struggling? 

And ultimately, who is owning the message? 

Again, according to Lencioni:

Leaders must not abdicate or delegate responsibility for community and reinforcement of clarity. Instead, they have to play the tireless role of ensuring that employees throughout the organization are continually and repeatedly reminded about what is important.

Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage

More Readings
You’re Not Communicating Often Enough With Your TeamThe Untapped Advantage of Organizational Health

Radiohead drummer Philip Selway, when asked about how he gained more confidence as a singer, said:

My starting point for most things, no matter what, playing or anything, is that I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s a healthy place to be. 

Rolling Stone Article
What am I even doing? GIF

It’s a healthy place to be for all of us. If you’re like me (and Dennis Dill), you are tired of hearing that this pandemic is an “unprecedented” time, but it truly is a unique time in our lives, and because of that, we’re all forced to figure it out day by day.

None of us got into teaching thinking we’d be in this situation, and yet here we are. Figuring it out. Both for our students and for our own children.

So embrace your unknowns… that you don’t know what you’re doing. Embrace being a learner.

It’s a healthy place to be.

My first year teaching middle school was …well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I had spent my teacher prep program determined I was going to be a high school English teacher. Students would love discussing literature as much as I did, and would turn in glorious essays filled with thematic connections, thoughtful historical references, and eloquent rhetoric.

And then I started teaching 7th graders.

7th graders cared for none of those things. They cared about social pressure, and puberty, and where to sit at lunch. Everything I thought I knew about teaching and learning had to be left at the door. These students, the ones in front of me, wanted, maybe even needed, to learn about navigating life. Literature would have to wait.

I made a lot of mistakes that year. Mistakes in classroom management. Mistakes in what I assigned and how. Mistakes in assuming that all students should be able to complete homework every night. Mistakes in thinking that sending a kid to the office would solve behavior issues.

But I learned. And got better. And grew to love middle school so much more than I ever thought I’d love teaching high school. But it took time. And patience. And reflection. And a lot of self-forgiveness. And forgiveness from the students, too, at times!

And that’s where you come in…

If you’re like most educators in our country, you’re at home right now. Trying to figure out how to teach in this new frontier. It’s like the first day of the first year of teaching all over again. And it probably feels that way every day that you wake up. A bizarre Groundhog’s Day movie in which you star.

Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day

But unlike the first day of the first year of teaching, you may also have your own children with you, needing attention, help with schoolwork, or just reassurance that the world is okay.

You’re probably concerned about your elderly family members, or neighbors, and wishing you could visit them.

Or worried about just how many squares of toilet paper should be used per visit to maximize the rolls you have tucked away in the closet.

Perhaps you’re stressed because your significant other is also working from home now. Or has to still go to work and be amongst the virus. Or worse, can no longer work at all.

Regardless of where you are, you’re carrying a huge load on your shoulders. There’s pressure to be successful in this new environment.

But success takes time. Time we don’t have right now.

So please, give yourself grace and know that you’re doing your best.

If that means you are making paper packets, awesome.

If that means you’re hosting a Zoom call for 100 students in your jammie pants, sweet!

If that means you’re learning Google Classroom 10 minutes ahead of your students, amazing!

If that means you’re creating lists of resources for other teachers and parents to use, cool beans!

If that means you’re creating a color-coordinated hourly schedule for your family, or you’re hating the people who have made the color-coordinated schedule, carry on my friend!

And if that means you need time away from everyone to scream into a pillow, or take a quiet walk, or just step away from the insanity, please do it!

You got this!

And we got each other!!

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Innovation is when something new is created and implemented that adds value. Inventions happen every day, and every year inventions find their way into our classroom. 

It’s only when an invention adds value that they become an innovation. A lot of times we get caught up in the invention, or the idea. I call this the glitter dust syndrome. 

Ever receive a card with glitter on it? It’s pretty and you’re excited to receive it. But after you read the card and put it out for display, you see it… glitter. It’s everywhere. It’s stuck on your clothes, your skin, your carpet.

It added no value to the card. In fact, sometimes the message of the card gets lost because you’re too busy cleaning up the glitter. If there is no value add, there’s no innovation. Just invention. 

So how do we determine whether something is going to be a value added innovation in our classroom or a case of glitter dust?

Design thinking.

We are all designers. Every lesson plan you write, every bulletin board you create, every assessment you assign, even the outfit you put together for today. But that doesn’t mean you’re a design thinker. Human-centered design requires us to step away from our own needs, our own assumptions, and look at the world through the lens of others. 

Design Your Mask

During my keynote presentation at SDCOE’s Learning and Innovation Summit Saturday, I asked everyone in the room to design a mask that they could wear without holding it. They also had to be able to see through it. One piece of cardstock paper was the only material provided. The timer was set for three minutes.

Just about everyone was able to design a mask and wear it. But then I asked them to trade masks with the person sitting next to them. Quickly, they realized that their mask didn’t quite fit their colleague as well as it fit them. Maybe the eye slits were off, or the way it latched on to their face didn’t quite work. Those who used their glasses to hold it on had to also give their glasses to the colleague, which caused some blurry moments!

Why didn’t the mask fit as nicely on the colleague as it did on the designer? What needed to happen for the mask to fit somebody else?

Innovation in Education

Human-centered design requires us to step away from our own needs, our own assumptions, and look at the world through the lens of others.

When considering innovation in education, it’s important to differentiate between invention and innovation. What is the value add for our students? Is there one? Schools implement adaptive tech programs that promise to increase reading scores. Tables on wheels are placed everywhere. Social-emotional curriculum is purchased. 

But whose face are we designing the mask for when we do so? Are we simply covering our students in glitter dust?

When we recognize that our mask doesn’t fit everyone else like it fits us, we realize how our bias, our experiences, our beliefs, impacts student learning. And we start becoming human-centered designers. 

This is the difference between designers and design thinkers. 

This blog post is adapted from a keynote I gave at SDCOE’s Learning and Innovation Summit Feb 8, 2020.