Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflection on Teacher-led Professional Development

Today the Collab Blog welcomes guest blogger Paul Kelly, principal of Elk Grove HS.  He can be reached @EGPrinciPaul 

A wise man once Tweeted  “Aside from our students, teacher leaders are the most important part of a school!”  Profound words, indeed.

OK, I admit it.  I Tweeted that… But it’s true!!  To my credit, I acted before the amazing teacher-led Institute Day I witnessed just 3 days ago.  It was almost as if I knew something special was on the way.  Luckily for the teachers at EGHS, there was.

ALL teachers are leaders…every single one. Every teacher is a leader of his or her students. To be a teacher leader of students is the most meaningful endeavor I can imagine.  The impact each teacher has is immeasurable. 

However, this post is a shout out to the teacher leader of teachers.  The teacher leader of teachers is a truly remarkable individual.  Why?  To be a teacher leader of teachers is to be a fearless risk taker. In addition to declaring one’s professional vulnerability to the world, the teacher leader of teachers must climb out onto a figurative limb.  You see, the teacher leader of teachers is unafraid to challenge and to be challenged.  He is willing to accept that some of his colleagues will deride his efforts as a leader, labeling him "suck up" or "golden child.”  The teacher leader of teachers knows that some peers will greet her with pointed looks that silently ask her "who do you think you are?"  And yet, the teacher leader of teachers continues to push for the professional growth of every member of the organization.  This irreplaceable function is what keeps a school moving forward.  

The #GrenAir2014 experience, the third consecutive teacher-led October Institute Day at Elk Grove High School, raised the bar yet again with 38 teacher leaders creating and delivering nearly 30 unique professional development sessions for their colleagues.  Their compensation?  Only smiles, “thank yous,” and follow-up emails.  And 24 hours later, they were back at their day job…teaching their students. #Inspiring.

Since the day I walked into Carl Sandburg High School as a first year teacher in 1998, I knew that teacher leaders make all the difference in a school.  It was other teachers who taught me how to teach.  It was other teachers who taught me how to assess student learning.  It was a teacher leader, Christina Simpson, who reminded me that instead of stumbling around for cool class activities, I needed to figure out what the kids were supposed to PRODUCE after my teaching.  It was a teacher leader, Mike Woolley, who taught me how to ask questions that really inspired student thinking.  It was a teacher leader, Tom Schroeder, who taught me that it was OK--even necessary--to evolve and embrace new teaching practices after 25 successful years in the profession.

In too many school environments, the teacher leader of teachers concludes that real leadership of teachers by teachers is impossible.  There is a lack of support either from administration or from peers (or both).  He/she ends up feeling as if on an island, abandoned and frustrated.  Too often, one of two outcomes follows: abdication of the teacher leadership role or pursuit of an administrative role.  For most teacher leaders of teachers, neither of these was ever their vision for their professional careers.  What a shame that some of our very best teachers are unable to be all that they can be for the profession as a whole.

But not at Elk Grove High School.

So here’s a toast to my favorite education professional, the teacher leader of teachers.  The one who takes chances and creates the culture of professional improvement and student learning above all else.  Take heart, teacher leaders; there are others like you, and there is strength in numbers.  Find each other and make each other great.

At Elk Grove High School, I just watched 38 teacher leaders of teachers create and deliver a complex, rich institute day program, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  It didn’t happen overnight, but the teacher leadership of teachers that has evolved at EGHS has transformed our school into the most collaborative learning environment I have ever been part of.

I think I’ll go Tweet that.   

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gamify Vocabulary Learning: A Favorite Flashcard App!

Today the Collab Blog welcomes guest blogger Katie Owen, a Special Education teacher at Elk Grove.  She can be reached at @MsKatieOwen

Growing up, and for many years of teaching, I have studied vocabulary on note cards. We did games with them, wrote sentences with them, categorized them, used them for seating placement, etc. It was tough to keep it new and fresh (fun fact: index cards were first invented in 1760 by Carl Linnaeus - a Swedish botanist, zooligist and physician). Once I started to get students that had accommodations to receive material digitally and iPads trickled into my room, I decided that could change. One weekend I decided to go through 15+ flashcard apps on my iPad. I tried Evernote Peek, Chegg Flaschards, StudyBlue (which I did use for a while), Flashcards Deluxe, Flashcards+, Flash-Cards, Cramberry, A+ Flashcards Pro, and eventually found the one I am in love with: Flashcards [] by NKO Ventures, LLC.

Flashcards [⁛] allows you to create a class (in the free version you can have up to 30 students and 5 decks at a time). The students can join your class for free and copy the decks you have created. I start all of my decks with the root word on the front and the definition on the back. Students then add a reminding word on the front. On the back, they add a sentence and a picture (they can choose to draw or find a picture from their camera roll).

That is just where the vocabulary practice starts. Once students are done, there are many games the students can play. In the free version, that can be games like matching, true/false, and a crossword. In the paid version ($29.99), you get 100 Students and 75mb of server space - along with games like Flappy Dog and Ninja! Students can also do Q-Battle and practice their vocabulary words in a competition.


When students practice on their own deck, they get to see the sentence and drawings they created. After they feel like they know the words, I have them practice on the class deck where they just see the root word and definition. This also allows them to compete and be on the top of the class leader board:

Oh! We also made little avatars using Buddy Poke!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Digital Presence and Learning

Today the CollabLab welcomes guest blogger Kirsten Fletcher, a French teacher at Elk Grove.  She can be reached @MmeFletch

After hearing Paul Kelly and Linda Ashida talk about googling themselves and establishing a positive digital presence, I invited Linda into my classroom to help my students use Twitter in a way that would enhance their digital presence. First, I’d like to say that I wish I had asked her to stay longer. Although I was mostly interested in Twitter, she talked about other forms of social media and answered students’ questions about the advantages and pitfalls of social media.

After students set up their Twitter accounts, we established our class hashtag #frapeg (French AP EG). Our unit’s theme was Personal and Public Identities, so I asked students to tweet out a favorite song dealing with identity. Some of them came up with some great things. One student, Arely M., even tweeted out an article (in English) that explained where her song came from and the political background behind it. To model the potential of learning beyond the classroom, Linda re-tweeted Arely’s tweet and soon it was viewed by a French Teacher who tweeted Arely and Linda with learning activities to go along with the song.

After visiting our class, Linda has continued to follow our class hashtag to encourage student participation. We would love it if you would follow our hashtag as well, and respond to student tweets, or retweet them, to encourage our collaborative learning beyond our room.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Collab Lab at EGHS. Our Mission: Connect - Learn - Share

In my role as the Innovative Technology Facilitator (ITF) I have the exciting opportunity to collaborate with three Division Technology Coaches (DTCs), Rachel Barry, Mark Heintz, and Kim Miklusak, our entire staff and District 214 colleagues to impact and transform learning for our community of learners at Elk Grove High School and beyond.

The ITF and DTC positions were newly created this year by District 214 to facilitate innovative teaching and learning as we approach school-wide and district-wide 1:1 iPad integration.

As a newly formed team, the DTCs and I met in the summer and discussed our vision for the ways we could best carry out our new roles.  Immediately we knew that we would work as an interdisciplinary team out of the Collab Lab, our hub for professional learning.  Drawing from the varied and transformative learning experiences we each had with our own students in integrating technology in our classrooms, we had many ideas about the ways we might work to support staff.  No matter what ideas we discussed, they were all guided by an important key belief: the focus of our work would always be first on learning. This begins with clearly understanding the learning goals that our colleagues have for their students and themselves.  From there we would collaborate with staff to determine the best learning plan: when and how to best apply technology to transform student learning (as well as our own)! 

Our planning discussions were also guided by the important belief that we are all teachers and we are all learners, so our ITF and DTC roles give us the unique and exciting opportunity to build community, facilitate connections, and multiply our learning.

These key beliefs led to the creation of our Collab Lab Motto, which drives all of our work. The words are simple, but important:  Connect - Learn - Share.

The Collab Lab Motto reflects our Mission to:

Connect to build learning networks
Learn and transform learning
Share to multiply our learning

Here are some of the ways that--together with our entire staff--we will carry out our mission:


  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Lesson Studies
  • Peer Observations
  • Lesson Demonstrations
  • Teach or co-teach lessons
  • App Demonstrations
  • Learning Labs (mini-workshops in the Collab Lab)
  • Institute Day Workshops:  Travel the World of Learning with GrenAir
  • Elk Grove Lead Learners Team
  • Attend Conferences and Learning Workshops
  • Google Hangout


Do you have an idea to connect, learn, or share with us?  We'd love to hear from you!