Balance is critical in most situations.

Balance is key. In education, we try to find the fine line between frustration and learning. If you search this topic, you will find, “The zone of proximal development (sometimes abbreviated ZPD), is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. It is a concept developed by Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934).” If the ZPD is not found, a student can get to the point of frustration very quickly and shut down. In a perfect world, students would come to us with a “tag” that states what their ZPD is and the directions to follow in the quest for academic growth, not the case. So, what can we do to meet each student’s individual needs? Technology can be the answer (in some cases, not all).

Technology allows the time needed to assess each student then prescribe the needed resources to scaffold the student to their ZPD. Most programs that have Artificial Intelligence (AI) integration will adjust the difficulty of the questions based on how the student answers the delivered questions. An adaptive assessment may take 20 minutes to complete, but it can take that much time for each student in a classroom. This technology does NOT take the place of a well-informed and connected educator. Taking the data from the AI and comparing it with anecdotal notes and teacher observation is how we can support students best. I can already hear your thoughts! If the teacher has to do the work, why would they ever use technology to arrive at the same conclusion?! If you have ever evaluated 25+ students over a week, you will have to admit you get tired super quick, and the stories or math evaluations haunt you in your dreams. We are human; computer programs are not. This is why balance is essential. What does this look like in the classroom? In the next section, we will explore two resources of MANY. The two I have included here are, in my opinion, the best place to begin. I hope you find them helpful also. ReadingIQ is a fantastic resource that allows you to choose how the reading levels are reported and allows students to take a placement test. This is a FREE

This is a FREE digital resource in both fiction and nonfiction from Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic, and others that students will love to read. This is a great resource for teachers and meets all of the safety measures that are expected in our classrooms today (COPPA, CIPA, FERPA). Resources available in Reading IQ include all Disney products. 

With audiobooks and graphic novels, students of all ages can benefit from this excellent resource, and it is FREE. I know there are a bunch of other resources like GetEpic, Tumblebooks, and many many more. This resource has built-in differentiation through the assessment and different reading levels. Finding one resource to meet all of your students’ needs can be difficult, but with this one and your small group reading practice, and written material, you will give your students options that are engaging for them and you. In math, I like Prodigy Math, and before you start yelling at the computer that all students do is play games, read me out on this one. If you assign practice to your students based on what you know about your students, this is the program for you. First off, it is 100% free and easily navigatable for most. In the planner area of the program, you can assign activities to individual students or the whole class. When assigning activities, you mitigate the loss of time while using the program. There is no placement test, but in this instance, your knowledge as the teacher is more valuable than a placement test. 

If you are not assigning activities to your students in Prodigy, you SHOULD NOT be using this program. It is a waste of time if you do not spend some time. This is a powerful program, and with great power comes great responsibility (Uncle Ben, Spiderman). 

Final Thoughts

The vital aspect of any technology usage is a balance. Without balance, we will either not use technology at all, which is not an option for our students, or we will lose the personal connection that is also something our students need to be successful. Don’t place a student in front of a program and expect them to learn in the absents of the teacher and a personal connection. Students need to learn in their ZPD, and technology can only help. You, as the teacher/parent, need to use your professional judgment in choosing the right tool, digital and non-digital. 

Your partner in education and parenting,

Douglas Greek 

Parenting is Tough

Who am I and what knowledge do I have?

My name is Doug Greek and I am a parent with an Education Doctorate. My Doctorate is in the area of leadership and curriculum and I have been a teacher for 15 years (as of 2021). I believe I am both book-educated and life-educated when it comes to child development. I am a first-generation college graduate as well as a first-generation educator. I have had all of the “classes” of theory and practicality in the area of child development and education BUT this all went out the window when my wife and I had our first child. We were married for 14 years before having kids, so I thought we were ready. Even after 26 years of marriage, we are still learning. 

*I fail on a daily as a parent. The goal is to learn every day and in the famous words of the Arendelle scholar, “Let it go.” 

What to expect from this Blog? 

Definitely not answers, I am not that kind of a doctor. I do have practical situations that you may relate to or identify. I believe people post all of the “great and sweet” things too much. Where is the struggle that we all feel when raising kids and trying to make a living in this world? Mental health is a real thing we should all acknowledge and I feel being real is a great place to start. That is what you will see here, real-life stories with possible support and links to sources that are way smarter than I am. 

Now, let’s get going!

Being a parent is not easy. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the toughest job on this planet, and you spend your days juggling kid-related responsibilities with work and life in general. If you’re like most parents out there, then you want to do everything that you can for your kids but don’t always know what to do or where to turn for help. This blog post will provide some tips on how to make parenting easier by sharing struggles and solutions from real parents just like yourself! Being a parent is rough. But, it’s also beautiful.

I’ll start by mentioning that parenting is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. I love being a father but it can be extremely frustrating at times. Having kids means you are trying to do two full-time jobs at once while never getting enough sleep or exercise. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Take Care Of Yourself First! You cannot take care of anyone else if you don’t first take care of yourself! Eat well, get exercise, get adequate rest and carve out some time for yourself each day even if only temporarily where you can recharge your energy levels. This is especially important when your child gets sick or has an accident which can always happen. I jokingly say, “my sick days are for my kids.” It’s a constant struggle to balance convenience and self-care.
  2. Learn as much as you can about what your kids like. If you are not in the know then they will run the house. If your kid is into Fortnite you should also know Fortnite. This is a major struggle for me because I do not see value in the “thing” but I do see value in the connection it forms with my kids.
  3. Learn how to use a schedule. I have a weekly schedule that lists out what is going on in our lives for the upcoming week so I can plan ahead. This helps me prepare for any inevitable meltdowns which always happen when you least expect it especially when you are taking care of others! If dad has a meltdown, everyone else does too.
  4. Don’t feel guilty about saying “No.” This is something my life as an educator has taught me from day one and even to this day. You DO NOT have to do it all and the world will not implode if your kids miss a practice or play date. You
  5. Get ready for the spotlight to be on your parenting. Everything is a “moment” in time and we will analyze that over and over. Don’t get me wrong, I have learned how truly special my children are, but even the simplest everyday things could cause a meltdown. Give them time markers, “we will leave in..” or “internet will be off in x minutes” these are all reasonable.
  6. Dig deep down inside yourself and find the energy to go out in public with these little people who take up all your time, patience, and sanity. When you look at others you might see dirty messy hair, clothes that don’t match, torn pants because their sister stepped on them, etc., but trust everyone deals with the same struggles.

Life is not easy when balancing kids, marriage, and career. The best advice I can give is to love each other and yourself. Life will be a struggle but whatever you do, don’t forget the reason why you both work so hard. It’s for those two little humans who make your life worth living and fighting to improve daily.

Vertual Learning, Still Learning

 Readers,

What do I know about 2020? Not much, to be honest. I think I know how I was able to prioritize my learning. I think I know how I was able to support teachers through this uncertain time in education. The reality is that we all did our best at what we felt the priorities were and are at these uncertain times. The question I would pose to you would be based on the why. Why did you choose your focus? Was it based on student needs, community needs, personal needs, OR did you just do what you always do and keep moving? I feel this is where I fell in my pandemic survival methodology. I just kept on doing what I always do, support.

 The world of education is never the same from quarter to quarter, semester to semester, or year to year. Our students, no matter the age, are always evolving. John Hattie, a researcher, well known in the education world, states any effort made in educating a student will see growth. The growth rate can change based on the strategy used and the action placed. The ultimate goal is to hit that .40 Effect Rate, which means one year of teaching equals one year of growth, but more is even better.

 How does this equate to adult learning (andragogy)? For me, adults are my students/learners who I am always trying to reach. The idea of supporting individuals that are in all areas of the learning curve can be challenging. This is mostly due to where they are in their technology understanding, pedagogy understanding, and content knowledge. This is referred to as TPACK. TPACK stands for Technology, Pedagogy, AND Content Knowledge. Balance is critical here, even in virtual learning.

 In most cases, this balance is more evident in a virtual setting. Most teachers know their content and even how to deliver that content (pedagogy), but the technology aspect is foreign when it becomes the only way to provide the learning. This is where the keep on keeping on concept for me comes into the mix. I have been in this position for eight years (EdTech.) From the very beginning, I have preached that technology is NOT the lesson, nor should it be the focus. Technology is an enhancer, both for good and the bad.

 Technology is a great enhancer. If you know your content and know your students, and somewhat understand tech, you will do fine. Issues happen when technology is forced into a lesson when it is not needed. If the lesson can stand alone without tech, there is a possibility that tech could enhance the validity of the learning opportunities for students. I have seen tech used in a “because I have to use it” manner and it becomes a distraction to the learning process. Tech has to be purposeful in its usage, and it should be in the planning, not just thrown in at the last minute.

 My shift happened when teachers learned about technology to apply that knowledge in a real-world application. Virtual teaching became just TEACHING, and with the switch came all of the “what ifs” associated with the virtual learning/teaching environment. Not all aspects of the change we’re trying, and we even were able to see some remarkable growth. The reality is, acceptable teaching practices are good no matter the modality that is used. There were clear front runners in virtual teaching. Teachers who had a “with it” quality in the classroom could transfer that practice into a virtual platform. I will focus on what they did to be successful with the hopes you can learn from their examples.

 Training your teachers should always be the first step in the process of a new venture. This would be the same for a new technology resource or new pedagogical practice. Once you have the “product” identified, you need to follow a few steps.

Education, as a whole, is different. Each person sees this change in a different light, positive or negative. The ones who see this change as unfavorable or in a negative light typically change their minds after they have all of the tools needed to be successful. Professional development is the #1 way to support and change the outcome of any new venture. I know this is not something you can just snap your fingers and have to happen overnight. Teachers need to know they are supported, period. Meeting your teachers where they are at is the goal, but you also need to know where they need to be at the end of the prescribed training.

 Beyond the training, you need to have follow-ups.  From my own experiences, if the training is a full-day effort, you need something for the teachers to complete on their own. Teachers want to work time along with the training. Building in processing time helps the learners practice the skill. Not all learners learn in the same way. Some learners need time for “hands-on” learning, while others can learn from listening to lectures. Mixing these two learning modalities help solidify the learning objectives.

 Lastly, movement is critical. Donal Blaney stated, “The mind can only absorb no more than the seat can endure.” Make sure movement is also a part of the effort in learning. Even a short “processing” time where learners get out of their seats and discuss critical aspects with other attendees is essential. Cooperative Learning techniques allow for interaction within a controlled, goal-oriented conversation. Sentence stems like:

1)    What was one thing you took away from…?

2)    Tell your partner two things you believe will be problematic when implementing…?

  1. How can you troubleshoot the solution to these problems?
  2. What suggestions would you have in troubleshooting these problems?

After staff has an opportunity to share, ask them to summarize the conversation back at their table. This is a simple processing skill that can be used throughout the day. Movement helps along with the processing from the learning goals of the day.

 After the training, it is vital to have your teachers build. Teachers who did very well in this shift from seated to virtual learning had a plan. This plan included a clear and constant schedule. This allowed parents and students to be prepared each day at the right time. If the meeting started at 8:30 a.m., the teacher was present 5-10 minutes before so students could join. This would happen 3-4 times throughout the day for direct instruction. This schedule was shared out with parents and students alike, so all were informed. Students could use various methods to keep this schedule in Infront of them, but the key is that they knew when and where they needed to be daily.

 Second, organize your resources, students, and teacher. If the teacher indicated, the students would need a whiteboard and marker for session “X,” the students and teacher would have that within arm’s reach. This includes all materials which were clearly outlined in the schedule mentioned in the first step. Resources also provide problem-solving the “what ifs.” What happens if you get kicked off of the video meeting? If the connection is the issue, try to turn off the device and restart. Other aspects would be added as the learning continues.

 The third would be support, support, and more support. Offer office hours for smaller group support. Make sure this time is also scheduled and focused. If your plans call for direct instruction of a newer concept, then you would follow that up with “open” time where students can join and ask questions as needed. If students don’t join, it is okay; just be available for the entire time if they chose to join after the start time. Also, stick to the time allotted. If you set the time to 30 minutes, then close the virtual room at 30 minutes. Consistency is key and allows for procedures to be set and expected.

 Other notable considerations would be in the area of rules/expectations. Outlining how a student should act when in a virtual meeting is key to seeing what you expect. It is tough to hit a target when you can’t see the target. Modeling the expectation is a great practice. Once the expectations are set, you should cover the consequences if those expectations are not met and how the student(s) can redeem themselves. This is a fairly open process and should be tailored to what is needed to mitigate distractions in your virtual classroom. Community building is key in seated and virtual education.

 Lastly, which should be first is/are relationships. Relationships will make or break the learning environment that you build. Relationships are the bedrock that anchors all aspects of your classroom. Students and parents need to believe you are a team with the same goals in mind for your students. Supporting the virtual classroom with curriculum, digital resources, and pedagogy is only the beginning of the process. Building the community within your classroom should always be job one.

 The pandemic has caused some areas of the “norm” to change, but not all change is bad. I have seen teachers who do okay with technology become experts in virtual learning. They may not recognize this, but I have. The pandemic has allowed teachers who have been somewhat reluctant to use tech a chance to become better. These changes have not been easy, and the shift may not have been ideal, but we worked through the struggle.

 Resilience is a virtue we as educators preach to our students. It is a lesson we have all learned. Being able to keep moving when times get rough. Being able to find the “good” in all. These traits make us humans and better teachers. I am constantly amazed at what I see. Teaching is and always has been a profession that changes, as it should. Our students are ever-evolving, and their needs change at the same time. As educators, we meet this need daily. This is the way.

Douglas Greek EdD

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