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By now the term professional learning network (PLN) is used very often, but much of the time it refers to the virtual type, meaning our online colleagues and networks. Being a media specialist can be a lonely profession and it’s not uncommon to feel like we’re siloed. As I have moved from being a classroom teacher into teacher leader positions, I’ve noticed it can get lonely and I find myself looking for a face-to-face tribe. Although I find this at conferences, they are infrequent and expensive.

So how can media specialists get out from the media center and network with like-minded educators without flying to ISTE or AASL? By getting involved in the “unconference” movement. Here are three different ways to do just that!

1. CoffeeEDU
I first encountered CoffeeEDU as “CoffeeCUE” and thought, “Cool. I like coffee.”

Fast forward a few months and it’s changed my professional life. Because of my current work, which involves working with educators in almost two dozen schools, I have a small peer group. Before moving to this position, I ran across the CoffeeEDU model and decided to attend a meetup—and instantly loved how this meetup, with no agenda or formal presentation, was more like a support group than a professional learning event. Despite that, I learned more in one hour than I had in several all-day formal sessions. I was hooked and soon organized my own local CoffeeEDU meetup closer to my home.

Every month, at CoffeeEDU, attendees get to spend time with area educators in a relaxed atmosphere away from the school and/or office. In this “safe space” we share the trials, triumphs, and tumults of our work with a group that both understands and shares the same mission. Here, I learned to cater training sessions to the trainees, not around the tool. We relish our time together as we regroup and rebuild before going back to our respective fields of battle.

Ready to host your own CoffeeEDU? It’s a great way to build community at your school or to network with other media specialists and educators.

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A vast majority of E-rate applicants say the federal funding is vital to their internet connectivity, especially as demand for school wi-fi is surging, according to the latest annual E-rate applicant survey from Funds For Learning.

Eighty-eight percent of surveyed applicants say more students and library patrons are online with faster connections because of E-rate funding.

Roughly half of all networks (51 percent) will need upgrades within three years due to increasing demand for wi-fi, and 88 percent of schools say they prefer a simplified approach that gives them flexibility to decide which campuses receive wi-fi support, according to the survey.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to evaluate funding regulations for broadband internet in schools and libraries to consider how connectivity demands align with program utility and efficiency. The survey is intended to provide direct feedback to the FCC to demonstrate how the E-rate can best serve applicants.

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High school graduation is one of the big milestones of life. Regardless of the destination, the transition is a major one. To ensure the transition is successful, schools must work to give their students the skills and knowledge they will need when they enter college or the 21st-century workplace.

At Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Massachusetts, we are taking an innovative approach toward education to help ensure that happens. Working with a coalition of partners from higher education, business, and industry, we designed a high school curriculum that addresses the growing skills gap that exists in education today so that students are prepared for what is expected of them in college and beyond. The cornerstone of our high school is five school-to-career academies. They are:

  • STEM
  • Health, Med-Tech & Sports Medicine
  • Arts, Culture & Design
  • Teacher Development
  • Business and Entrepreneurship

How our Career Academies work
The Career Academies are not vocational schools. The classes are taught along with a traditional college-preparatory curriculum, including honors and advanced placement classes. Freshmen and sophomores get an introduction to each academy, and they choose one track for their junior and senior years.

In the academies, students learn by doing. Each academy is designed to give students a hands-on educational experience. Take our Health, Med-Tech & Sports Medicine Academy as an example. A portion of the class is dedicated to instructional time, but students then practice what they just learned on a robotic SimMan. It’s a realistic, adult-sized, wireless patient simulator that teaches students about airway, breathing, cardiac and circulation management. We found the technology on a visit to Harvard Medical School and it was a perfect tool to give our students an advantage as they prepare to enter the medical field.

In addition to classroom learning, our coalition partners welcome our students to their campuses and businesses for job shadowing. Students in the Arts, Culture and Design Academy recently toured the world-class facilities at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The visit was arranged by Prince Charles Alexander, an award-winning record producer and former recording artist who is a professor of music production at Berklee and also serves as an adviser to Atlantis.

Students explored various principles of acoustics, recording equipment and production techniques. They got to see what it would be like to be a student at Berklee. Field trips like this one give our students the opportunity to see how what they are studying in school can be applied to a future job.

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Principals and districts benefit when principal supervisors move beyond the role of administrator to coach and mentor, according to a new Vanderbilt University report.

It is the first of three studies of The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Supervisor Initiative, a four-year, $24 million effort studied by Vanderbilt and Mathematica Policy Research.

The report, “A New Role Emerges for Principal Supervisors: Evidence from Six Districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative,” details the implementation of five key components to reshape the supervisor position in six large, urban school districts.

Each district changed the job descriptions and restructured central offices so that principal supervisors could step away from operational, administrative, and compliance tasks to coach, mentor and advise principals to be more effective as instructional leaders.

The six districts are: Broward County (FL) Public Schools, Baltimore City (MD) Public Schools, Cleveland (OH) Metropolitan School District, Des Moines (IA) Public Schools, Long Beach (CA) Unified School District, and Minneapolis (MN) Public Schools.

“Executive coaching is prevalent in high-performing organizations, but it’s not typically done in school districts,” says lead investigator Ellen Goldring, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development. “After three years, we saw substantial change in all districts. They came up with efficient and effective ways to position supervisors so they could fill the coaching and supporting gap.”

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Professional development is changing. There are numerous new models: blended learning, personalized learning, culturally responsive teaching, and more. There is new technology: learning management systems, apps, websites, and more.

As we ask teachers to adopt these new models and tools it is essential that we provide ongoing and continuous support through instructional coaching. For teachers who are working with an instructional coach, here are four tips to ensure that your experience has a positive impact on you and your students.

1. Work with a master teacher
Coaching works best when the coach and teacher view their relationship as a thought partnership and see themselves as accountability partners. Amazing things can happen when you pair two thoughtful educators who are willing to do hard work and are energized by their goals. Working with a coach who has extensive experience in the classroom will ensure that you learn new strategies that you might not have been exposed to before. Your challenges, worries, and fears are likely something that your coach will have also experienced. While your coach is not meant to be an expert, working with an educator who has been there and done that will ensure that you learn something new and feel supported as you make shifts in your practice.

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Virtual reality (VR) is exciting and engaging for students, but for the most part, schools have struggled to find ways to incorporate it into the curriculum. Now, new research reveals one possible impetus for more classroom inclusion.

University of Maryland researchers conducted an in-depth analysis on whether people learn better through virtual and immersive environments versus more traditional platforms such as a two-dimensional desktop computer or handheld tablet.

The researchers found that people remember information better if it is presented to them in a virtual environment. The results of the study were recently published in the journal Virtual Reality.

The findings offer encouraging news for educators who want to explore how VR fits into learning. Although recent survey data shows few teachers are using VR in classrooms, 43 percent of district leaders in small districts want it in their schools, and 20 percent of district leaders say VR is a priority this year.

“This data is exciting in that it suggests that immersive environments could offer new pathways for improved outcomes in education and high-proficiency training,” says Amitabh Varshney, professor of computer science and dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at UMD. Varshney leads several major research efforts on the UMD campus involving virtual and augmented reality (AR), including close collaboration with health care professionals interested in developing AR-based diagnostic tools for emergency medicine and virtual reality training for surgical residents.

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What kind of professional development (PD) is needed in order for project-based learning (PBL) to be done well, spread throughout a school, and stick?

Short answer: a lot.

Long answer: participant-driven, interactive, ongoing, job-embedded, and… a lot.

And by PD I don’t just mean traditional training workshops, and I don’t mean only for teachers. Here are 5 points I’d offer about PD for PBL, based on what the Buck Institute for Education has learned by working with more than 80,000 teachers and school leaders:

1. Make sure teachers and school leaders understand what it means to shift to PBL.
PBL is not just another tool that can be dropped in a teacher’s toolbox. It represents a profound change in thinking about how students should learn. It is based in John Dewey’s concept of experiential education and the more recent theory of constructivism, which holds that learners construct knowledge and understanding and build skills through an active process. This contrasts with traditional teaching, which is based on the idea of transmitting knowledge to students, as if it were being poured into an empty head.

PBL also means rethinking what students should learn. It does not mean “covering” a long list of content standards—which is not the same as “teaching” anyway. Students still need some basic knowledge, even in this age of information at our fingertips, but more importantly they need to know how to apply it. PBL emphasizes depth over breadth, depth over superficiality, and the ability to think, solve problems, and tackle real-life issues. (Note: Of course, this point bumps into the issue of what’s being tested in our assessment system, but that’s for another post.)

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In her post, “Now is the Time to Redefine Readiness,” my colleague Katherine Prince detailed how the world of work is changing, creating an urgent need to redefine what it means to be ready, and proposed a new foundation for readiness that prioritizes:

  • Deep self-knowledge will help people develop visions for our lives and continue to discover their own personal and professional strengths, weaknesses, passions, and emotional patterns.
  • Individual awareness will help people recognize and regulate our emotions; understand the triggers that spark them; and shift to more desired, productive emotional states when needed.
  • Social awareness will help people recognize others’ emotions and perspectives, enabling us to build relationships in support of learning, collaboration, and innovation and foster inclusive work environments.

The exponential advances of digital technologies are one of the main drivers of change reshaping work and creating the need to redefine readiness, but they may also help educators support young people’s development of key future readiness skills. Three digital technologies in particular–wearables, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR)–show great promise in helping to cultivate social-emotional skills such as those in the new foundation for readiness:

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Keeping up on skills over the summer isn’t just for students. The summer break is a great time for teachers to take advantage of those professional development (PD) opportunities that are hard to fit in during the school year.

Teacher communities are a nice blend of social interaction and knowledge-sharing among peers. We put together a list of our favorite online professional learning networks (PLNs) for you to check out over the break. And yes, we included our own. See you there!

Common Sense Educators
Common Sense Educators is our Facebook group for educators committed to creating a positive, collaborative culture of digital learning and digital citizenship in their classrooms, schools, or districts. Whether you’re a classroom teacher, administrator, tech coach, or homeschool teacher—you name it—you can connect with inspiring colleagues here. Topics of discussion include tech integration, media literacy, internet safety, and much more. Members share articles, ask for advice from peers, give virtual high-fives, and relate to each other’s challenges. And if you’re looking to complete our recognition program to become a Common Sense Educator, membership in the Facebook group is the first step toward that goal! It’s a “closed” group, so you’ll need to request to join.

The Current
Formerly Digital Is, The Current is an open-publishing media-literacy website created and curated by a community of educators. It was created under the direction of the National Writing Project and champions a strong sense of community. The site content is organized into three sections: Blog, Resources, and Collections. This content not only focuses on writing but also extends to general teaching practices. Educators can get support and feedback from peers while staying current in the digital landscape.

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Student information privacy is a hot-button topic, and a new Common Sense Education survey shows a widespread lack of transparency and inconsistent privacy and security practices among ed-tech applications and services.

Over a three-year period, researchers evaluated 100 popular ed-tech products and services and found that just 10 percent of those applications or services met minimum criteria for transparency and quality.

While the findings don’t necessarily indicate that vendors are doing anything unethical, they could mean that the application or service is violating federal or state laws, depending on how it is used.

The overall lack of transparency is troubling, according to the authors, because in their analysis, transparency is “a reliable indicator of quality.” In fact, the applications and services in the evaluation that tended to be more transparent also tended to engage in qualitatively better privacy and security practices.

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