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Welcome to the Edutechtastic blog. I’m thrilled that you are here. I created this blog so I can share my experiences with you and hear your thoughts and comments too. Education is better together, so leave your comments below or contact me at bri@edutechtastic.com to get in touch!

Digital Portfolios + Micro-credentials = Massive Impact for Students & Teachers




Assessment. Evaluation. Judgement. Research reveals that students ubiquitously perceive assessment as something that is “done to them [sic] by someone else — and is out of their control.”

“…very little of the work we give students in school provides them with a sense that they are making a contribution to anything other than their own educational progress toward graduation. Indeed, once the grade is recorded, a huge amount of student work is thrown away. It has no more value. Now that we have powerful, easy-to-use design tools and a capacity for worldwide publishing, we have an opportunity to restore the dignity and integrity of a work ethic by redefining the role of the learner as a contributor to the learning culture.”
Alan November, Who Owns the Learning

Despite good intentions of targeted policies and increased attention to equity and accessibility initiatives, the achievement gap persists. School districts across the nation are determined to reinvigorate student involvement by moving to a more personalized environment that is multimodal in mastery demonstration.

Measuring Progress that Matters
Empowered by choice and agency, students use digital portfolios to reflect and foster repeated self-evaluation of their own progress — in both success and struggle — on specific tasks with specific and global audiences. Powered by ever-changing technology advances, digital portfolios serve as hubs for a variety of media to more fully illustrate the learning cycle.

This, in turn, repositions students in the drivers’ seats of their learning journeys, allowing them to uniquely express themselves and establish their personal pathways for solving problems and overcoming challenges. Fashioned as progress narratives, students chronicle movement from research to incubation, prototyping to testing, and ultimately, to the finalized “proven” end product. This hands-on, authentic process re-establishes learners as active contributors of their learning environment by providing true agency through the connection of interest with impact.

What’s Good for the Goose…
If we are compelling our teachers to transform their classrooms into personalized learning environments that require “students to take ownership of their own learning…[and] taught them [sic] how to learn, not so much the content, because content changes constantly, but how to do learning on their own”, shouldn’t we provide our lifelong, life-wide learners — our teachers — with the same environment?

With very little first-hand experience with personalized learning, many teachers and education administrators have difficulty fathoming its power. This disconnect can be a death knell for implementation. Simply put, giving teachers choice in their own learning—and making it relevant to their individual classrooms—is an effective way to spread personalized learning across a district.

Micro-credentials can serve as a scaffolded approach to personalizing professional learning for educators. Digital Promise’s micro-credential platform, powered by BloomBoard, houses more than 300 micro-credentials on skills teachers can develop in real-time, job-embedded contexts. Each micro-credential leverages research-backed methods and provides a clear path for educators to explore, develop, and understand best practices.

What distinguishes micro-credentials from traditional PD workshops is the way in which teachers and educational leaders provide evidence of learning.

Traditional PD uses an attendance sheet as the primary measurement of “learning.” With the best of intentions, teachers rarely have the immediate opportunity for practice and/or application. Moreover, traditional PD may ask teachers to hypothesize applications, but seldom does it ask teachers to think evaluatively or, better yet, metacognitively by connecting personal experience with rationale. Building upon the foundation of experiential learning, carefully crafted micro-credentials can support educators in the pursuit of transforming their classrooms and campuses.

Competency-based by their very nature, micro-credentials require learners to provide authentic artifacts (videos, photos, and/or text) that clearly showcase active and situation-specific evidence of implementation. This job-embedded practice cements learning. Similarly, they ask educators to reflect on their practice, reinforcing the shift or change.

The Learning Is In The Struggle
Most often, our greatest lessons learned are those which stemmed from initial failure. Not all submitted applications for micro-credentials are granted. Intentionally designed to model the learning cycle, the review process includes specific feedback. Should an application be deemed insufficient, the applicant is encouraged to revise their submission and resubmit it.

The opportunity for revisions unequivocally encourages educators to more deeply consider their practice, articulate stronger details, and extrapolate concrete applications to the applicant’s life and teaching practice.

Mirror Training
Have you been in a gym and watched someone lifting weights while checking their form in the mirror? It’s not vanity that drives this athlete; studies show that the mirror provides in-time feedback that actually enhances muscle development.

In this way, digital portfolios can enhance micro-credentialing. Micro-credentialing has a unique power to solidify impact through authentic job-embedded practice for educators. Digital portfolios have the exclusive power to make visible these transformations, as they provide a tangible location for an authentic recounting of the full experience. Implementing the practice of reflection with the act of learning creates a cycle of metacognition. Furthermore, teachers can demonstrate competency and mastery in a variety of ways on a digital portfolio. From documenting professional development instances and illustrating proficiency of unique state standards to providing parents a window into their classrooms and students a window into their personal lives, a digital portfolio is a living testament to the great variety of components that make up an exceptional educator.

Learning is one of the most personal experiences in which we participate. The more that we engage in and model lifelong and lifewide learning, the greater the impact of true transformation and continuous innovation.

Innovate, not Invent #IMMOOC

Why is innovation in education so crucial today?

In my daily work as Director of Digital Learning, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about change. Not the pennies and dimes kind of change, but the hard stuff…the let’s scribble all over this and look at it differently change. And let me be the first to tell you: people do not like that kind of change.

I get it. It’s scary. Most of the time, at least in my line of work, talk of change evokes a trademark teacher move: the eye roll and sassy head crane, followed quickly with the oh, so you want me to reinvent the wheel? My answer is an emphatic no.

There is a basic misunderstanding between the words invention and innovation. I am stymied by this myself, as I often struggle with feeling compelled to find something “new and ground-breaking.”

If you ask most anybody to describe me, you’ll find a theme:

“a firecracker,”

“innovative, bold and courageous,”

“creative and flashy.”

And I can own that; I have my own special brand of crazy.  

But, I have a confession. I am terribly boring when it comes to my fear.

You see, my fear shouts “STOP!” to me, every single time I sit down to write. Fear doesn’t offer interesting insight or compelling rationale. Never. It just SCREAMS ad nauseam that one word, repeated and repeated with increasing hysteria: “STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!!!”

My fear wants me to stop, because it wants me to be safe, as it perceives all inspiration, all work, all risk, all passion *whatsoever* as potentially life-threatening.

My fear wants me to be disconnected from my supports, to feel alienated and self-conscious in my pursuits of excellence.

My fear’s wicked whispers of inadequacy and destructive comparison often paralyze me, freezing my confidence when it comes to sharing stories of learning and my experiences as an educator.

For the longest, I’ve *almost* celebrated this fear: pretending as if it were a unique kryptonite that only I felt; but it’s not. Your fear is exactly the same as mine. I guarantee it. You see, fear is common. It’s ordinary.

This fear of not being creative enough, original enough, innovative enough boxed me into this notion of being ‘just.” So much so, that I found myself repeating the words that so many of my students and colleagues have told me: “I can’t…I’m just…” ( see #meant2BEE) 

I say all of this because we often stress over the notion of innovation. It becomes that daydream prize that is simply out of reach. As learners, we tend to limit ourselves through fear.

We fear it will be too hard. Too intense. Too isolating. Too controversial. Too challenging.


If we find strength and connection with others through shared experience; we improve.

If we iterate, refine, and tweak educational experiences, we’ll find the critical and crucial innovations necessary to improve and empower our learning systems and structures.  

How will you #BEEtheChaNGe?

VISION quest: Whats & Whys

I was recently in a district-level administration meeting where we were planning for the upcoming school year. As is typical in our district, this meeting was relatively casual. Participants freely brainstormed and spitballed ideas for professional learning, campus initiatives, curriculum focus, data points, student progress—you know, the foundational elements of school.

Director after director, principal after principal, pointed to percentages and reports, surveys and scores, calling out goals that would “surely provide a clear vision of where we need to move as a district.”

“Our reading scores could be better. This year we’ll increase 11% in standard 3.XYZ.”

“Our survey showed that our parents don’t feel a strong sense of involvement with our campus. We need more PTO involvement. We’ll create a Facebook page that will increase awareness.”

“We want to include STEM opportunities; let’s host an Hour of Code.”

“We want to be sure we’re using our technology; we need to find a program that will track our students’ progress.”

‘Whats’ the Goal?

At first glance, these suggestions do, indeed, provide parameters. A principal or teacher could take any of the above and apply that lens to focus efforts for the school year. In that way, goals are the “whats”—the efforts, the tasks, the steps, the procedures. Goals take into account a snapshot of the end-product that can occur if the proper steps are taken. While many of us agree that’s a step in the right direction, “whats” typically compartmentalize efforts and building tasks instead of culture.

Education is the business of learning; we are not product-based, but instead, are people-, interest-, and demonstration-driven. As such, we all—regardless of community, economy, demographic, age or any other data point—are compelled by one factor: belief.

We are called to the business of education because we believe in the potential of people.

As professionals, we’re pretty darn good at the “whats.” We know our content standards inside and out; we can quote and demonstrate development theory and brain science, citing the rationale behind pedagogical best practices; we can disaggregate a seemingly jumbled and disconnected series of testing reports and pull a thread of continuity to see where students are struggling, then determine a plan of action to improve their learning experience.

These are no small feats. However, if our “whats” don’t have a “why”—if our processes don’t have a passion—we lack true vision and will, ultimately, fall short. We cannot go through the paces of performing our “whats” every day if we do not truly see the intention behind our work.

Developing the ‘Why’  

We’ve read countless articles, clung to the words of speakers recounting their journeys of school transformation, all compelling us to find the holy grail of a culture of innovation. The culture serves as the heartbeat of an organization. It’s the steady pulse of “why” that transforms our needs from must-do action items into rallying cries of purpose-filled impact that will improve the lives of our children.

Sounds like an insurmountable challenge, right? Actually, the key to culture is unifying the work through common vision.

So How Do We Get There?

As we began our visionquest in my district, Stephenville, we knew that we wanted the input and buy-in of the community, families, and faculty that we serve. While there is commonality of interest among these parties, we recognized that each had unique perspectives, and we wanted to limit influence from others; therefore, we met with these stakeholders as organizational entities. In each session, we asked the same questions and took scrupulous notes to be sure to capture the intent and beliefs of all involved.


  • What do we do? List out the goals.
  • How do we do it? List the options and choices available.
  • Who is this for? These answers often start as broad-brushed demographic categories, but please don’t stop there. To be truly effective with this question, ask each person to think of a specific child who will benefit. Give time to allow individuals to reflect on that child’s needs around this goal. What is she challenged with? What is he not getting [content, access, support, opportunity, voice, etc.]?
  • Why is this important? Take that specific child and process through the benefits and impact that will come.  


It’s interesting to note that, with one small exception, the responses that came from these meetings were very similar and allowed us to establish six core values centering on this underlying principle:

Developing the potential of every student, every day.

This vision sets the tone for every lesson, business decision, resource, device (you get the idea) considered in our district. The litmus test is simple: is it what is best for kids?

Visions are not reserved for superintendents, school boards, or principals. Empower every member of the organization to see the power of her impact by defining her why and you will most certainly achieve that culture of innovation and true transformational learning for everyone.

Looking to redesign the culture and learning experience of your campus? Check out Learning Transformed by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray (available at ASCD & Amazon) and learn how you can be part of the solution.


I just got home from a much-needed few days of downtime with my family. In between the boat rides and the fishing stories, I’ve had some time to reflect on one of the most rewarding months of EDUawesomeness that was June.

June kicked off with iPadpolooza in Austin. Event Godfather Carl Hooker took a chance and asked me to be a minikeynote. And to suit up for the EdTech Poetry Slam. And to be a featured presenter. If you don’t know Carl, know these two things: 1. he has a unique talent  super-power for seeing something in people that they can’t quite see themselves, and 2. it is nearly impossible to tell him no.

A few months back, Carl and I had the privilege to testify in front of the Texas State Legislature. He asked me at that point what I was going to say. I told him that I honestly had no idea. He laughed and simply said, “Yes you do.” Nope, sure didn’t.



The next month, we were in Washington D.C. for Future Ready Schools. He asked again and I offered the same as last time. He pushed me to give an answer. I hemmed and hawed. He pushed again and asked me to speak my mind; define my passion; get on my soapbox. And I got fired up and *jumped on it* Yep, that’s how #meant2BEE came to be {more on that later}.

While I finalize my thoughts on the festival formerly known as iPadpolooza, I wanted to share Carl’s reflection as well (and he happens to be on vacation, so he can’t tell me no…but I’m sure he won’t mind).


The Dream That Was….iPadpalooza

by MrHooker

During his mini-keynote, Derrick Brown (@DAB427) claimed that we were all “just living in a Hooker’s dream.”  While I’m honored by his statement, I can tell you this entire experience has far exceeded any dream I could have dreamt. I can also tell you that this dream wasn’t just mine, but a shared dream amongst teams of dedicated educators that I’ve had the pleasure of working with because of this event.

This past week at the ending of our 6th annual learning festival, I announced that it would be the last iPadpalooza main event. This decision was not made in haste and has involved countless of hours of discussion, counseling, and, in my case, even some tears. But, before we dive into what comes next, I decided to write this post as part explanation, part reflection, part appreciation, part therapy (for me), and part teaser (for what’s next).

First…a little history 

In 2011, we had launched our iPad 1:1 and wanted to hold an event that would bring teachers together to share and learn from each other. Since other districts in the area were doing it, we decided we could open it up to outside educators as well. The thought of holding an “iConference” was kicked around but sounded boring and overdone. One of my amazing iVengers (Marianna Ricketson) said at a meeting in early 2012 that we should name it iPadpalooza as a way of making it sound more fun. So we bought the domain and set a date without any clue as to what we were going to actually do. (Hey, sometimes, you just have to take a risk and put it out there)

Also at that point, I added the tagline that “It’s not a conference…it’s a learning festival” to make attendees aware of what they were attending would not be a normal educational conference. So, on June 19, 2012, we partnered with TCEA to host our single-day event and even had some film students create this promotional video (below). As a fun side note, I had to reach out and chat with Norman Greenbaum to get his permission to use his song in the video. He’s a groovy dude.


The truth behind the lie

Sir Ken on the big stage

Following a successful first year, we wanted to make the next year even bigger and expand it to two days. So I hopped on the phone with Sir Ken Robinson’s people to try and convince him that he needed to come to our learning festival. When he said he’d never heard of it, I lied. I told him that it’s a global event that is attended by 1000 educators from all over the country and the world. He and his people agreed to do the keynote, and even though in the first year we only had 400 attendees, when he showed up, so did 1000 people from all over the country and the world. So….it wasn’t necessarily a lie, it just wasn’t true…yet.

The “Learning Festival” ideology

Getting educators to attend professional learning during their off-time can be extremely tricky. While ideally, people would just come to improve their craft, there is also some pressure on those providing the learning to make sure it’s worth their time. When I was a classroom teacher, I always thought the best trainings I attended gave me some choice and allowed time to collaborate and be hands-on with activities rather than sitting in a room for several hours being talked at. When I attended conferences, I took notes of the parts I liked, and the ones I didn’t. Cramming sessions in with 5 minute breaks left no time for reflection and collaborating. Also, as I attended events like TEDx, SXSW, and even ACLFest (a music festival), the idea to create a festival atmosphere kept creeping into my head and those on my team.

The learning festival ideology is centered around the concept that learning can be fun (even for adults) and that learning should be an event…an experience if you will. From the moment you walk in until the moment you leave, you should be a part of the experience. Taking the traditional conference concept and shaking it up with live music, food trucks, t-shirts, contests, film festivals, and unique session types helps make the learning more festival-like.

It’s more than just a name

We knew when we named the event “iPadpalooza” that the name immediately excluded certain groups of educators (those without iPads). While we began the event as a way for teachers to share iPad resources, education, devices and technology integration has evolved. Indeed, our session titles in the early days were also centered around the device rather than learning. Sessions like “50 apps in 50 minutes” were popular when we began, but as the festival evolved, we noticed a stronger push to focus deeper on learning strategies with and without technology.  Whatever our next iteration will be, we want to make sure that all adults (and students) have an opportunity to experience the Learning Festival-feel regardless of what device their district may have purchased.

6 years – by the numbers

Here’s a look at a few numbers of iPadpalooza over the the last 6 years:

Eric Whitacre


Major Keynotes

Before Sir Ken, Tony Vincent took a chance and decided to open up our inaugural event in 2012. (I was actually the closer for that event). Without Tony, our event wouldn’t have had the initial credibility to get off the ground. I’m forever grateful to him and the work he brings to education. Other featured keynotes included Sugata Mitra, Guy Kawasaki, Adam Bellow, “iPad Magician” Simon Pierro, Cathy Hunt, Eric Whitacre, Kevin Honeycutt , Austin Kleon and Jason Silva.  Also, in 2014, just to be a little different (and to make @techchef4u happy), we had the band Blue October close out our event.


This year’s mini-keynoters (credit Yau-Jau Ku)


Besides the above, we’ve hosted nearly a hundred “celebrities” from the education world, many of whom have been roped into doing a mini-keynote over the years. Here’s just a few names that have generously given us some of their educational expertise over the years:  Tom Murray, Christian Long, David Jakes, George Couros, Kerry Gallagher, Dan Ryder, Amy Burvall, Dean Shareski (and his daughter this year!), Audrey O’Clair, Wes Fryer & Shelly Fryer, Felix & Judy Jacomino, Adam Phyall, Amy Mayer, Greg Kulowiec, Andrew Wallace, Cathy Yenca & Tim Yenca,  Lisa Johnson, Greg Garner, Don Goble, Kyle Pace, Phil Hintz, Kyle Pierce, Leo Brehm, Chris ParkerMichelle Cordy, Jennie Magiera, Scott Meech, Tracy Clark, Cori Coburn, Rafranz Davis, Kathy Schrock, Monica Burns, Derrick Brown, Todd Nesloney, Jon Samuelson, Matt Gomez, Reshan Richards, Julie Willcott, Richard Wells, Rabbi Michael Cohen, Brianna Hodges, Carolyn Foote, Brett Salakas, Jona Nalder, Matt Miller, Holly Moore,  Joan Gore, Janet Corder, Kacy Mitchell, Steve Dembo, Lucas Loughmiller, and Chris Coleman just to name a few. (Apologies if I left anyone off this list!) So much talent has graced the halls of Westlake High School over the years and I can honestly say you would be lucky to have any of the above as keynote speakers at your event. There were also countless other rock-star teachers that have been a part of the 509 presenters that have shared their wisdom at our events.  Check out the last couple of mini-keynotathons and other featured speakers on the iPadpalooza YouTube channel .


Kids on stage for the Youth Film Festival (credit: Richard Johnson)

Events around the event

One of the things that really makes our festival different is the thought, time, and energy put into events happening during and around the main event. The APPMazing Race and Youth Film Festival both kicked off in 2013. In 2014 we added the iLead Academy and in 2015 the Prepalooza Learnshops. This final year, we also added our first ever Ed Tech Poetry Slam at the Spider House in Austin (Shout-out to Lisa Johnson for the idea!)  These events around the event really make it a nearly 24/7 experience in learning, connection, fun, and collaboration.

Other ‘paloozas and the Learning Festival Network

In 2014 I was approached by Kari Gerhart and Caroline Little about the possibility of bringing iPadpalooza to Minnesota. And thus, the iPadpalooza spin-off events were born. A little bonus history here, it was around this time that someone, either Caroline or possibly Reshan Richards coined the term “Godfather” for me – owing to my Sicilian background.

All told there have been over a dozen spin-off events with Minnesota, East Texas, and South Texas being the longest running. In 2016, we went international and became the first iPadpalooza in Australia.  While the main event is over, we still support our spin-off events and hope many more will pop up over the years.

Speaking of spin-offs, there were several events created that were “inspired by” the spirit of iPadpalooza. Events like iEngage-Berwyn, Miami Device and others took pieces and parts of iPadpalooza to spice up their own event. In the coming years, we hope to fold these and other spin-off events, into our Learning Festival Network to support them in any way we can.

Making sponsor “thank you’s” fun

In 2014, I decided that instead of doing the traditional sponsor thank you speech at the beginning and end of the event, that I would turn it into a rap song. I also tried to set the Guinness World Record of “most synchronized light show” in history by turning off the lights and controlling everyone’s iPads with Nearpod as I sang my version of LMFAO’s “Party Rock”.  While it worked, Guinness sadly failed to show to recognize the achievement.

The following year, I tried my hand at a parody of Eminem with “iPadpalooza Yourself” (sang to “Lose Yourself”) but realized that this was becoming a one-trick pony and I needed to push myself.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, a lot of my inspiration comes from talking and collaborating with others.

Enter Felix and Judy Jacomino.  With their input, we starting working on a different way to thank the sponsors….via a “Slow Jam”. Experience it below –

This year I attempted to follow it up with my version of Car pool karaoke, which was fun…but the slow jam will always be my favorite.  And their ending of this year’s event with the “Ed Tech Musical Review” will go down in history as an epically funny way to look at trends in Ed Tech.


iVengers & Volunteers

These events can’t happen without dedicated staff willing to do the dirty work from running around fixing projectors to handling prima dona keynote speakers. I’ve been blessed with an amazing team here at Eanes ISD. They work their tail off year after year for this event and always with a smile on their face. Without my amazing team of Ed Techs, a.k.a. iVengers, none of this would be even remotely possible. The ideas for this event come from the collective brain power of this group, not just me. I’m excited to have them on board for what comes next….

So…What’s Next?

While iPadpalooza sails off into the sunset, I can promise you there will be something else coming. We are already cooking up ideas for a prototype event next summer with our internal staff that will keep some of the same features of iPadpalooza but also open up some other thoughts and ideas. But why stop at just one event? There are also plans for a SUPER SECRET idea (my BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal) that I can promise you will be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Thank you all for being on board this voyage for learning over the past six years.

Here’s to the next dream!

Our last volunteer and VIP wrap-up boat cruise – Lake Austin 2017

The infamous “jump” to wrap up each year’s event

Two people without whom none of this is possible. Felix and my better-half, Renee

Pantry-Style Instruction

My mom’s family is from the foothills of the Ozarks; their homestead farm of more than 200 acres was nestled along the banks of the Neosho River. As such was the era, they were self-sustaining: raising livestock, harvesting crops, keeping bees, cultivating fruit and nut trees. My grandmother’s — MawMaw’s — kitchen garden was over an acre in size and a canning cellar was a necessary (and slightly terrifying) element of life. Life on the farm meant early mornings, long days and amazing, yet simple, farm-to-table meals.

Like many women of her generation, my MawMaw was nothing shy of spectacular in the kitchen. Her pantry was simple: flour, sugar, salt, spices, rice and pasta. She never clipped a recipe nor bought a cookbook — I’m almost positive she didn’t even own a can opener, as she canned all her vegetables, fruits, jellies and sauces. She had confidence in her ability to create something delicious with whatever she had on hand.

I vividly remember offering to make brownies as a child. I wandered into the kitchen and rustled through the cabinets, coming up empty-handed. Sulking, I returned to the porch to tell MawMaw that we didn’t have the stuff to make brownies. She balked.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no brownie mix.”
“Child! We don’t use mixes. Let me show you how to REALLY make brownies.”

You see, that’s the difference in the “modern” and the Depression-era pantry. Open a pantry today and you’re likely to see a box of hamburger helper.  You’d be hard-pressed to do anything outside of assemble per the printed instructions on the box. This has stifled creativity in the kitchen, limiting what we believe is possible based on what packages we have on hand. You might be wondering what this has to do with education. For decades now we have experienced an over-processing of products. There is literally a boxed unit, curriculum model or prepackaged sequence for every content, concept and grade. This has fostered a dependence on quick-fix silver bullets which, ultimately, provide little more than powdered ingredients and fillers. Yes, they may taste good at first, but they lack the long-term sustenance to fill and fuel true learning.

Just as an accomplished chef samples decadent meals from all over the world and then incorporates elements, as appropriate, to tried-and-true recipes, as educators we experience learning and pay it forward. We must reintroduce confidence in our craft to combine, sift, incorporate, mull and melt the staples of best practices with today’s tools of engagement and demonstration to allow for effective learning experiences.

Take a look inside your classroom pantry — is it time to unbox the learning?



3 Ways Schools and Districts Can Build Their Brand

3 Ways Schools and Districts Can Build Their Brand

By: Chris Piehler

In these days of school choice, even schools that are accustomed to being the only option in town have to compete for students with neighboring districts, charter schools, and home schooling. “Branding” may sound like something that only big companies do, but as Brianna Hodges, the director of digital learning at Stephenville ISD in Texas said during our appearance on Education Talk Radio this week, branding simply means creating a positive identity for your school or district. For educators just kicking off their branding efforts, here are three of Brianna’s simple tactics.

1) Start with a focus. Stephenville calls itself the “City of Champions,” so when Brianna and her team were branding a new tech initiative, the district built everything around the concept of iCHAMPION. People can be iCHAMPIONs, and the Stephenville team also uses iCHAMPION as a verb to praise anyone who works to support ed tech in the district. It’s a simple, catchy concept (with its own logo, as you can see above), and it sits at the center of the district’s outreach to the community.

2) When it comes to social media, meet teachers and parents where they are. Branding depends on teachers sharing their classroom successes with parents, and that means finding a sustainable way to keep those lines of communication open. And doing that starts with asking teachers and parents about their favorite social media sites, finding the common ground, and getting both sides in the habit of connecting.  

3) Connect with local businesses. During the Education Talk Radio show, Brianna told a great story about how Stephenville, which is a Google Docs district, offers Google Docs training to employees at local businesses who need it. This not only supports the district’s tech-savvy brand; it gives students invaluable experience in an actual workplace.

To hear more of the clever branding ideas coming out of Stephenville, listen to the entire Education Talk Radio show.


It’s Never Too Early

A special guest post from my buddy Kerry Gallagher,  @kerryhawk02 — an amazing mama of two girls (littles, just like mine), a brilliant edtech, and PREMIER authority on screentime and brain impact. Thanks, Kerry, for addressing the importance of modeling, moderation & motherhood.

Kerry Gallagher kerryhawk02.com originally posted 6.13.2017

It’s Never Too Early

Our children are eager to try out the devices they see their parents and older siblings using. Adults worry about how much time they are spending with screens.

As an educator, I understand the importance of incorporating technology in learning so that our students are prepared for the future jobs that await them. As a parent, I understand the desire many parents have for their children to explore the natural world and use their hands to create. It is possible to balance these two important goals. Here are a few ideas for parents and teachers of young children. (I’ve tested them with my own small children!)


The Simple Shift

My 2nd grader accesses Drive
through her school district’s portal.

My second grader sees me typing blog posts, watches my fingers move over the keyboard, and asks questions about how I use formatting features like headings and creating and adding images. Of course, now that she can read and write, she wants to record her own stories and ideas. Although she is young, with some help from our local public school district, she is set up with an school Gmail and her very own Google Drive. After watching me organize mine over the years, she thought carefully about what she wanted to name her folders. Then she started writing stories. Her first was about a neighbor with a haunted house who coaxed children with cookies to come in. Once she was done writing it she wanted to share it.

The Big Shift
So, the next step was to teach her how to share her documents. I showed her the  Share  button in Google Docs and taught her about email addresses. The first share was with her first grade teacher, the teacher she had last year. To her delight, two days later she found her teacher left comments on her haunted neighbor story. Now she was motivated to write and share more. As long as we are talking about who she is sharing with and how to properly communicate online, I’m happy to encourage her desires to write and share her ideas.

YouTube and Video Creation

The Simple Shift
Responding to the outcries of parents, Common Sense Media is gathering funding to help them review and rate the most popular YouTube channels that our kids love. Common Sense is using the tagline, “Have you lost your kids to YouTube?” to motivate parents to donate.
Yikes. No one should feel like they have lost their own children.
An approach that has worked well for my family includes early exposure to YouTube with gradual release of control. It isn’t foolproof and it isn’t a silver bullet, but it forces ongoing conversations about media consumption as a part of our day-to-day lives. I started showing my children short online videos once or twice a day when they were babies – while I prepared a quick lunch, took a coveted private bathroom break, or tended to a sibling’s diaper change – so they recognized online media and only saw short clips and content I was comfortable with. Then we’d sing the songs from the videos together. As they’ve gotten older, we’ve refurbished old laptops that they can use to explore YouTube, among other things online, as long as we talk about the search terms they are typing and the content they are watching. Their screen time is limited and is mixed with lots of outdoor play, reading, art lessons, and sports. It is all about teaching them how to balance.
The Big Shift
The girls filmed their video after a lot of planning.
After finding a YouTube channel with sisters who challenge each other to fun contests, my two daughters wanted to learn how to make and share their own videos. This ignited a conversation between the 3 of us in which I asked how they wanted to plan the video. We talked about storyboarding, script writing, finding our props, creating a set in our house, and rehearsing. Then we completed all those steps! Once the filming was done, I walked them through the video editing process including adding royalty free music and on-screen titles and graphics. We even created a YouTube channel and uploaded their videos. So far is it private and we’ve only shared the videos with a few select family members. If and when they are ready to go public, we will decide together after a clear explanation of what “going public” really means in terms of feedback and online interaction with others.
The one theme consistent with all of these approaches to technology with young children is continuous communication with parents and other adults they can trust. Technology should not be used as a “babysitter” or a way to keep children quiet. Rather, it is just another tool children should be taught to use. Like many tools – in the kitchen, in the yard, and in school – it carries some risk. But just as we teach preschoolers to use sharp scissors with our supervision or encourage them to jump in a pool for swimming lessons, we need to teach that same age group how to navigate the vast and amazing online world through our devices.
There is no guarantee that my young children will not make mistakes with technology as they get older, even with these careful and intentional conversations we are having now. But when they do make mistakes, we can reference these conversations and remind them about our values and priorities. Their digital record will be so overwhelmingly positive and their mistakes will be vastly outnumbered by the goodness they’ve shared.
What do you do with your youngest children/students to teach them about devices and the internet?

Creating Schools That Are Future Ready

The research is in and it’s clear that schools must be redesigned to be future ready in order to be successful. But what does that really mean?

This post was written by Thomas C. Murray @thomascmurray and Brianna Hodges  @EduTECHtastic and first appeared on TCEA’s TechNotes blog May 24, 2017.

Spending on educational technology has continued to climb to record levels, equating to billions of dollars per year in the U.S., despite the stagnation of many school district budgets. As school leaders around the country consider investing in technology as a way to improve student learning outcomes, it’s imperative that they seek a “return on instruction” (ROI). To do so, they must understand what research has shown to be effective when infusing technology tools for learning. What is it that actually works?

What the Research Says

Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning (see reference 1), one of the top reports on the topic, from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) indicates that, when implemented properly, technology can help boost engagement and produce significant gains in student achievement, particularly among students most at risk (Darling-Hammond, et. al, 2014). After reviewing more than 70 research studies on the effective use of educational technology, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond and her team at Stanford University were able to provide concrete examples of classroom learning environments in which technology made a positive impact in the learning outcomes of at-risk students, as well as those uses of technology that were far less effective.

The report identifies three critical components to the successful infusion of technology.           They are:

(1) The use of technology for interactive learning;
(2) The use of technology to explore and create rather than to “drill and kill;” and
(3) Utilizing the right blend of teachers and technology.

With the ability of adaptive technology to provide “interactive learning” experiences and create a more personal approach for students, high quality instructional practices can be amplified, resulting in improved learning outcomes. As such, school leaders have found themselves buying a myriad of devices, pushing them out to buildings, and hoping the tools will have a positive impact. Nationwide, we see a trend where school leaders are rushing to purchase technology, with little to no systemic implementation plan or long-term vision for a shift in instructional pedagogy or mindset.

Planning for Implementation

So how can districts systemically plan for implementation and the effective use of technology? Future Ready SchoolsⓇ (FRS)(see reference 2), lead by the Alliance for Excellent Education and a vast coalition of over 60 partner organizations including TCEA, is a bold initiative to maximize personalized learning opportunities and help school districts move quickly toward preparing students for success in college and careers. FRS helps districts build capacity to:

  1. Lead with a vision for learning, not technology;
  2. Plan before the purchase of technology;
  3. Maximize a “return on instruction;”
  4. Build trust and support educators through personalized professional learning opportunities; and
  5. Systemically develop a culture of innovation.

The Future Ready Framework

future readyThe backbone of FRS is the Future Ready Framework (see reference 3), an innovative, research-based support for school leaders. At the heart of the framework is personalized student learning, which can be achieved through the systemic implementation of seven “gear” areas, as follows:

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
Curriculum, instruction, and assessment are tightly aligned and redesigned to engage students in 21st century, personalized, technology-enabled, deeper learning. Curricula and instruction are standards-aligned, research-based, and enriched through authentic, real-world problem solving. Students and teachers have robust and adaptive tools to customize the learning, teaching, and assessment, ensuring that it is student-centered and emphasizing deep understanding of complex issues. Assessments are shifting to be online, embedded, and performance-based.

Personalized Professional Learning
Professional learning is the vehicle that drives a pedagogical shift. Professional learning that is relevant, systemic, and ongoing is most effective. Non-traditional forms of professional learning, such as the use of social media and edcamps, are valued, not dismissed. Such opportunities ultimately lead to improvements in student success and create a broader understanding of the skills that comprise success in a digital age.

Use of Space and Time
Personalized student learning requires changes in the way instructional time is used and the learning space is designed. This type of system adapts learning to meet the needs, pace, and interests of the learner to become more personal in nature. A shift in pedagogy also requires a shift in the space in which the learning takes place.

Robust Infrastructure
The effective use of technology provides tools and resources that increase teaching opportunities and promote efficiency, but is dependent on ubiquitous connectivity and access. High quality technology and infrastructure systems within a school district are essential to making personalized student learning a reality. Such environments make anytime, anywhere learning possible.

Data and Privacy
Data privacy and security are foundational elements of personalized learning. The district ensures that sound data governance policies are enacted and enforced to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of confidential information. Data is used to support a more personal approach to teaching and learning.

Budget and Resources
The transition to digital learning requires strategic, long-term budgeting and leveraging of resources for short and long term sustainability. Such plans ensure fiscal responsibility and a learning return on investment.

Community Partnerships
Community partnerships include the formal and informal local and global community connections and relationships that advance the school’s learning goals. Schools that are future ready have a dynamic brand presence where the community is an essential thread woven into a district’s culture.

The outside ring of the framework, and what holds all of the interworking gears together, is collaborative leadership. Simply put, you, as an educator capable of leading, are foundational in creating future ready schools. Critical to a successful transformation is your ability to create and support a culture of innovation that builds the capacity of all stakeholders to work collaboratively toward a transformed learning experience.

Today’s generation of students, regardless of the zip code they call home, both deserve and need, greater opportunity than the traditional education structure has previously afforded those in the past. This isn’t simply an educational issue to debate, but an economical issue that will have a lasting impact on generations to come. You are part of the solution.

For more on Future Ready Schools, visit www.futureready.org and be sure to check out one of the eight free regional institutes being held in 2017. Included in these institutes and throughout 2017, will be strands specifically for district leaders, principals, librarians, IT, and instructional coaches.

1. Darling-Hammond, L., Zielezinski, M., and Goldman, S. (2014). Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning. The Alliance for Excellent Education and Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).

2. Future Ready Schools®. (2015). Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from www.futureready.org

3. Future Ready Framework. (2015). Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from dashboard.futurereadyschools.org/framework

This guest blog post was written by Thomas C. Murray, who serves as the director of innovation for Future Ready Schools, located in Washington, D.C., and was recently recognized as the 2017 Education Thought Leader of the Year. Connect with him on Twitter at @thomascmurray. Brianna Hodges serves as the director for digital learning for Stephenville Independent School District (TX), and was recognized as the Instructional Technologist of the Year from TCEA in 2017. She is also an advisor for the national Future Ready Schools Initiative. Connect with her on Twitter at @EduTECHtastic.