If You Say Tomayto and I Say Tomahto then Why are We Debating Potayto? The Importance of Communication and Collaboration to Successful Peer Coaching.

Teaching is a hard job in the best of times.  Add in a pandemic that requires the ability to teach in-person, remotely, or some combination there-of, and more questions than answers will surely arise.  Teachers need help and support and hopefully this is where peer coaches can come into play, but where do coaches even begin to establish the complex level of support needed by teachers?  In Dr. Les Foltos’s book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, he outlines key skills needed by coaches: “The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design.”  All three areas are important, but the coaching skills of communication and collaboration are essential.  Both ICT integration and lesson design are dependent upon effective communication and collaboration, “A coach’s successes in incorporating lesson-design skills and insights into the effective use of technology “hinge on their success with communication and collaboration skills” (J. Linklater, personal communication, June 14, 2012).”  A closer look at coaching skills also requires relevant context since the peer coach takes on a variety of roles: “Facilitator, Collaborator, Expert, and Catalyst.”  Successful coaching requires that effective application of skills coincides with, complements, and even enhances the critical context of coaching roles.

Coaching Standards

2. Connected Learner: Coaches model the ISTE Standards for Students and the ISTE Standards for Educators, and identify ways to improve their coaching practice. Coaches: 2c. Establish shared goals with educators, reflect on successes and continually improve coaching and teaching practice.

3. Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches: 3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.

5. Professional Learning Facilitator: Coaches plan, provide and evaluate the impact of professional learning for educators and leaders to use technology to advance teaching and learning. Coaches: 5b.  Build the capacity of educators, leaders and instructional teams to put the ISTE Standards into practice by facilitating active learning and providing meaningful feedback.

Essential Question 

How do coaching skills, with an emphasis on communication and collaboration, translate into all of the different roles that peer coaches take on?


When the peer coach assumes the role of facilitator, this means “Planning and leading meetings, activities, and staff development in one-on-one, small group, or large group situations,” (Foltos, 2018).  Regardless of the size of facilitation, the coach needs to be prepared to model risk taking, “Other Peer Coaches model risk taking and recognize that taking risks may occasionally mean failure” (Foltos, 2013).  This helps lay the foundation of safety that’ll be needed for collaboration later on. This is also a key communication strategy that the peer coach can reference later on when trying to navigate the tricky terrain of providing constructive peer feedback.  As described by famed communicator Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends & Influence People, “Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.”

Acting as a facilitator, means being able to guide staff interactions and transitioning in and out of a peer leadership role.  This means being aware of group norms.  In the absence of agreed upon norms, pairs/groups will develop their own unsaid norms that may not be as conducive to effective collaboration.  By taking the lead in this area and developing norms together, the structure can help facilitate the relationships and learning: “Collaborative norms shape our conversations in ways that build trust and respect; they define accountability and build capacity. Collaborative norms are essential for effective coaching,” (Foltos, 2013).


Being a collaborator means “Working together with colleagues to plan, implement, and evaluate activities,” (Foltos, 2018).  This means “Addressing the potential fear-factor of working with an instructional coach”, which can be accomplished by modeling risk taking as mentioned in the facilitator role and providing a safety net within the relationship, “Their efforts to encourage their peers to adopt more innovative teaching and learning strategies are always undergirded by the safety net they built with their collaborating teachers,” (Foltos, 2013).  When collaborating, you’re often preparing, planning, teaching and reflecting together with a focus on student learning. The reflecting is where the trust and safety net come in so that coach and teacher can “discuss what worked and what the peer would do differently next time” in a safe manner, (Foltos, 2013).

A critical part of effective collaboration is clear communication and utilizing strategies that support this.  A simple but powerful strategy that Dr. Foltos references in his book is paraphrasing, “In its simplest form, paraphrasing is the listener repeating, albeit in a modified form, what he or she heard the speaker say.”  This facilitates clear communication and ensures understanding while also demonstrating that the coach is practicing another critical listening skill that Dr. Foltos refers to as active listening: “Active listeners are focused on what the speaker is saying. They look right at the speaker, block out competing thoughts, and assess what the speaker is saying.”  This also ties into one of Dale Carnegies key strategies for building relationship, “Be a good listener, encourage others to talk about themselves.”  Again, all of this builds toward the coach being able to grow the relationship with the teacher while helping the teacher grow in his or her practice, “Give honest and sincere appreciation” and “praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise,” (Carnegie, 1936). This strategy is so important and underutilized that it’s worth citing additional support from an Edutopia article on the topic by Shannon McGrath and entitled 5 Vital To-Dos for Instructional Coaches, “Be vocal about the good you see: Teachers rarely get focused feedback on the practices they devote so much of their time to improving. Be constantly on the lookout for small moves your teachers are making that shift students, efforts that go above and beyond expectations, or relationships that are making the difference for students.“

There are additional benefits in this for students as well, because “teachers who learned these communication skills from a coach turn around and teach these same skills with their students (P. Cleaves, personal communication, May 23, 2012),” (Foltos, 2013).  On top of this, good coaching is actually an effective teaching strategy per the meta-analyses of research done by Dr. John Hattie and as cited in The Distance Learning Playbook by Fisher, Frey, and Hattie (2020).  This also leads into and connected with some strong research cited around effective questioning strategies which support a lot of the work coaches do as a catalyst, but, first, let’s explore the often misunderstood role of expert.


The role of expert is probably the hardest to navigate while maintaining the role of peer and “Acting as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics,” (Foltos, 2018).  This is because growing the relationship means you “Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely” per Dale Carnegie but you also need to posses a self-evident mastery of the relevant content.  Most importantly as the expert, the peer coach needs to be careful not to take learning responsibility away from the learner and inadvertently steal their joy of discovery because this engenders ownership of ideas: “Effective coaches, like Grace Dublin, make it clear to learning partners that “the responsibility to learn something belongs to the learner” (G. Dublin, personal communication, September 13, 2011),” Foltos (2013).  Even better as far as persuading individuals to a new way of thinking goes per Mr. Carnegie, “Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.

The following from Dr. Foltos ties together the ideas inquiry into the other teacher’s ideas and advocacy for the coach’s ideas, “Inquiry Over Advocacy: When is the right time for advocacy? How often can they [coaches] present their solutions? As I noted in earlier chapters, successful coaches feel that a little advocacy works, but only after a strong coaching relationship based on inquiry is formed. Too much advocacy, they observed, means the coach becomes the expert with the answer. Garmston and Wellman (1999) argue it is important for successful collaboration to balance advocacy and inquiry.”  In other words, one should refrain from playing the role of expert as much as possible in a peer coaching relationship.  It’s like yelling by the teacher in the classroom, which should be reserved for the rarest of instances (preferably emergencies) so that when actually needed it can be utilized effectively.  Otherwise, when over-utilized, the role of expert will lead to potential disagreements that inevitably grow into arguments, and “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it,” (Carnegie, 1936).  This is doubly important and true of the peer coaching role.  


After significant work has been done to grow relationships with teachers, coaches can serve in the role of catalyst: “Helping teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using question strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision makers,” (Foltos, 2018).  There are many ways to build to this level.  The work done as facilitator, collaborator, and expert should help and go a long way toward establishing this level of relationship.  Additionally, efforts to grow teacher confidence through careful actions such as providing recognition for positive accomplishments can help, “Successful Peer Coaches use a variety of strategies to get teachers recognition for their work. Many coaches use conversations with their peers to recognize the strengths of the learning activities the teachers are using with students and work to help their learning partners build on those strengths,” (Foltos, 2013).

With inquiry over advocacy in mind, effective questioning strategies can be especially helpful in the catalyst role.  Dale Carnegie emphasizes the power of asking questions with regard to changing attitudes and behaviors, “Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.”  Practice can be built with regard to clarifying questions, which “… are simple and typically factual. They fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle…”, and then lead to higher level probing questions, “Why are they [probing questions] so critical? The answer gets to the heart of effective coaching,” (Foltos, 2013).  Research supports these strategies with regard to learning and so again there is an added benefit that teachers tend to turn around and employ these new strategies with their students.  According to Fisher, Frey, and Hattie, “Questioning has an effect size of 0.48.”  The right line of probing questions lead to deep reflective thinking which is even more powerful for learning, “Metacognitive strategies have an effect size of 0.55.”  One longtime peer coach, Dr. Greg Bianchi, wrote his entire dissertation on the power of metacognition.  When we keep in mind that any effect size greater than 0.40 greatly accelerates student learning then this is powerful stuff.  Not to get ahead of ourselves, it’s still important to remember the power of consistent small changes for continuous Improvement: “Successful Peer Coaches don’t push for one big, dramatic change, instead relying on an incremental process of continuous improvement,” (Foltos, 2013). 

So, What’s the Potahto? 

Teaching is a hard job and, by association, so is peer coaching, “Most Peer Coaches I have worked with know that they are trying to build these kinds of relationships in difficult circumstances. Many have worked in schools in which teachers work alone and in which collaboration consisted of teachers exchanging lesson plans and teaching resources,” (Foltos, 2013).  Building relationships is key to being able to make any progress with regard to effective coaching translating into student learning growth.  True collaboration is elusive because school systems are not designed to facilitate this.  So coaches must rely on relationship to bridge these systemic gaps, “Being friendly, positive, and supportive doesn’t guarantee innovation, but coaches won’t encourage innovation without drawing on these behaviors to create a safety net.”  To influence teachers, coaches need to be adept and adroit with their approaches to create that trust-based safety net so that they can “Arouse in the other person an eager want” and “Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest,” (Carnegie, 1936). Creating a safe enough environment for positive change to happen is more challenging with teaching because it’s deeply personal, “Teaching is an identity and an action, not just a vocation,” (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2020).  This means that, ultimately, “Peer Coaches can’t be the experts with the answers. Instead, as Grace Dublin insists, coaches are there to “help them formulate their strategies. It is ultimately their answer” (G. Dublin, personal communication, September 13, 2011),” (Foltos, 2013).  Coaches can truly effect change by believing in their teachers to arrive at their own answers because belief not only has a large effect size on learning, but it also does something even more powerful: it empowers the believer to “Give the other person a fine reputation to to live up to,” (Carnegie, 1936). This action persuades teachers to pursue the desired improvement by way of self-fulfilling prophesy because a coach knew that a teacher could be something more and guided them to that realization through careful facilitation, collaboration, and expertise that all lead up to a catalyst.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
  3. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek 
  4. Foltos, L. (January, 2018).  Teacher Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retreived from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  5. Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Pocket Books.
  6. Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J. (2020). The Distance Learning Playbook. Corwin.
  7. McGrath, S. (2019). 5 Relationship-Building Tips for Instructional Coaches. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/5-relationship-building-tips-instructional-coaches
  8. Bianchi, G. (2007). Effects of metacognitive instruction on the academic achievement of students in the secondary sciences. Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007PhDT…….128B/abstract

Is Coaching Remotely Necessary in the Era of Remote Learning?

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” —Mother Teresa

Image created by Digital Promise

“Educators often say that education is frustratingly isolating. And if you talk with them about collaboration, you quickly learn that they know it can be a powerful tool to improve teaching and learning—and many feel a growing expectation to collaborate.”  In an article written for Edutopia, Dr. Les Foltos leads off with this quote and captures the quintessential crux of the collaboration problem in education.  The teaching profession, by structure, inherently isolates teachers from each other and others in their profession, yet, collaboration is key to effecting change in education.  As Dr. Foltos goes on to write, “Reducing the isolation starts with the recognition that collaboration is a learned skill.”  Peer (instructional) coaching is one such solution that Dr. Foltos provides and an increasing body of research supports.  How do educators successfully implement this model under the best of circumstances, let alone during a pandemic that often requires remote instruction that’s done online?  We need to start out by looking at the why and what of coaching before we can begin to look at the how in any case, especially in regard to online applications.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 1

  1. Change Agent: Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. Coaches:
  • 1a Create a shared vision and culture for using technology to learn and accelerate transformation through the coaching process.
  • 1b Facilitate equitable use of digital learning tools and content that meet the needs of each learner.
  • 1c Cultivate a supportive coaching culture that encourages educators and leaders to achieve a shared vision and individual goals.
  • 1d Recognize educators across the organization who use technology effectively to enable high-impact teaching and learning.
  • 1e Connect leaders, educators, instructional support, technical support, domain experts and solution providers to maximize the potential of technology for learning.

Essential Question

What, why, and how can peer instructional coaching help to increase collaboration and effective professional development in general let alone in the midst of a pandemic?

Why Instructional Coaching?

Diana Lee writes for EdSurge, “A growing body of research confirms her theory, showing instructional coaching to be more effective for teacher growth than traditional forms of professional development.” The quoted research from Digital Promise is also strengthened by Instructional Coach Teresa Engler,  “I wish I had a coach in my long career as a teacher because there were times I felt like I was struggling and if I just had the support of a coach next to me, I would’ve been able to be a little braver, try to do more things or been just a little more confident in what I was implementing in my classroom,” she reflected. “Having a coach would have made a significant contribution to the quality of my teaching—expanding what my students learned from me.”  Peer coaches provide support based on personal experience, research, and professional development that also serves as a safety net for teachers to be brave and implement new learnings together.

The “why” for instructional coach grows with every passing research study in support of this practice as well as personal anecdote citing success.  In Dr. Les Foltos’s book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, he cites research by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2009) in support of instructional coaching, “They found that teachers need about 50 hours of professional development to improve in a specific area.”  This proven need exists yet teachers often only receive training that’s “…episodic, myopic, and often meaningless.”  The cited key idea that most administrators miss is that ”Improving Practice Can Only Be Done by Teachers, Not to Teachers”. Most Professional Development only focuses on theory and how to put this into practice with a successful application by teachers no more than 15% of the time.  Training that includes “coaching, study teams, peer visits” demonstrates successful classroom implementation in 80-90% of trainings according to Dr. Foltos. 

What is the Quintessential Quiddity of Instructional Coaching?

Moving from “why” to “what” with regard to peer coaching means moving from supporting research and anecdotal stories to what instructional coaching actually looks like.  Dr. Les Foltos outlines the core skills required in chapter 3 of his book: “Think of a successful coach sitting on the stool in Figure 3.1. The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design. Remove any leg and coaching could fail.” So first and foremost, communication and collaboration are the foundation of coaching skills.  While Dr. Foltos lists information and communication technology integration second, he actually describes the technology component as being secondary to both coaching skills and lesson design.  Communication skills are a recurring theme while learning is clearly emphasized as top priority with technology serving in secondary be essential supporting role, “It is not (never was) about technology. To make a difference, it has always been about good teaching, reflecting and focusing on (relevant?) student learning. (Sylvia Tolisano, 2009)”.

In support of these critical coaching skills, coaches take on a variety of approaches while supporting teachers.  Dr. Les Foltos describes these roles in the following manner:

· “Facilitator- Planning and leading meetings, activities, and staff development in one-on-one, small group, or large group situations. 

· Collaborator- Working together with colleagues to plan, implement, and evaluate activities. 

· Expert – Acting as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics. 

· Catalyst – Helping teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using questions strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision makers.”

Knowing the different roles involved with regard to supporting teachers is an important facet of the peer coach’s efforts.  When combined with a clear mastery of the skills required, the role of peer coach can be very powerful in effecting instructional transformation across a building.  As for whom, the role of instructional coach can be a fellow classroom teacher, a part-time instructional coach, or even a full-time teacher on special assignment.  As long as it’s a peer, the peer coaching model can be effective.

How does this Translate Online?

How does the why and what help us achieve the how of peer coaching in general?  This question needs to at least be addressed concurrently if we are to explore how to potentially implement peer coaching online. According to research from Digital Promise, there is a strong correlation between peer instructional coaching and technology implementation and instructional integration.  One question related to this is how does this technological connection translate to peer coaching that’s providing online.  What does instructional coaching in the era of remote learning, and therefore remote teaching, mean for educators in need of additional support more than ever.  The nature of effective professional development doesn’t change once everything related to school and education over all moves online, “When the program evaluators focused on one topic, technology integration, they found that 30 hours of collaboration produced increases in the teachers’ use of technology with students. More significant changes in comfort and use with students occurred when the coaches collaborated more than 40 hours (Cohen & Patterson, 2006).” This research quoted by Dr. Les Foltos makes clear the need for continued coaching support in an online environment.

Peer coaching still needs to involve the application of the three key skill categories cited by Dr. Foltos within the context of the four different roles that instructional coaches typically take on.    To be done in an online environment, educators must identify and implement effective tools and strategies that support communication and collaboration via a remote learning environment, instructional technologies that work remotely, and lesson design that remains focused first and foremost on effective learning pedagogues while accounting for the differences of online learning.  When educators can do this in support of their colleagues then they must also keep in mind that this looks different when serving in the role of Facilitator versus collaborator, expert, or catalyst.

More Questions than Answers?

This is a very high-level and relatively vague description of moving an incredibly complex role online and more details are needed for any sort of full explanation.  By tackling one at a time in future posts, I hope to further explore in a much more detailed manner how each of the three areas of coaching skills described by Dr. Foltos potentially translate online to a remote learning environment.  Additionally, I hope to explore what he writes on several occasions in regard to the power of the ripple effect in effecting change across the various systems that make up a school’s ecosystem.  Translating and transforming this ripple effect from in-person to online is critical in an era of online instruction and also raises the possibility of amplification in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of spreading positive instructional practices throughout a school community and beyond.  Being “the change” as referenced in the Ghandi quote cited at the beginning of this post means that anyone can “ripple” their influence far beyond what they observe on a daily basis just like Mother Teresa.  This powerful combination speaks to the potential of peer instructional coaching transformed for an online environment.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
  3. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek 
  4. Foltos, L. (January, 2018).  Teacher Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  5. Lee, D. (September, 2020). How Personalized Coaching Can Kick-Start Your School’s PD (Sponsored content from Digital Promise). Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-09-02-how-personalized-coaching-can-kick-start-your-school-s-pd
  6. Van Ostrand, K., Seylar, J., Luke, C. (2017). Prevalence of Coaching and Approaches to Supporting Coaching in Education. Digital Promise. Retrieved from https://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Prevalence_of_Coaching_Report.pdf
  7. Johnson, K. (2016, June 28th). 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them—If Implementation Improves. EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves

Integrating Social Justice and STEM Pedagogy

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

As educators, we are constantly searching for new ways to meaningfully engage our students. Amidst a wave of requirements, numerous standards, and unforeseen circumstances, it is easy to get lost in the overwhelming list of “have to’s” forced on us. So much so that when students ask the inevitable “why are we learning this” question, it is tempting to default to the “because I said so” answer. This response is both well known and disappointing to students while also feeling empty and unsatisfactory to the adult providing the answer. We want to be better than this, we want our students to care about their learning, and we want the education we provide to be relevant. One meaningful way to approach this conundrum amidst the chaos is to look to social justice issues and ways that that they overlap with STEM. The intersection of these two pedagogical paradigms engages a wide variety of students, provides relevant learning opportunities, and all while potentially addressing a wide swatch of standards.

Why Social Justice?

If we as educators don’t start the conversation and work against the inherent injustices within the framework of systems that we and our students function then who will? When it comes to wealth, opportunities, and societal privileges, kids don’t get to choose these things. If our job is to truly prepare our students for their futures then our job is also to prepare students to change those futures for the better as well. Students are always asking why?  And, rightfully so.  When students see that they can help others and improve the world around them in a concrete way then that answers their why at a visceral level.


Ensuring diversity of representation as we prepare all students for a future that doesn’t exist yet is important, and that future will be heavily dependent upon STEM understanding and applications. Someone who is “STEM literate” understands this and can apply that working knowledge in a variety of contexts and real-world situations. Overall, we need STEM literate workers to fill the employment gap while simultaneously addressing the wage gap. Just as important, we need STEM literate citizens that understand the consequences of their vote on issues such as climate change and genetic modification.

Why the Combination of Social Justice and STEM?

Social Justice is a collective effort toward addressing many of the issues facing society and STEM provides a way to address many of these challenges in new, unique, and innovative ways. Together, Social Justice and STEM can provide an effective platform for identifying, addressing, and even solving a lot of the modern societal issues that exist. STEM education opportunities provide a variety of ways to magnify student voice which is critical to empowering students’ ability to effect change on social justice issues. Ironically, a major issue of inequity centers around underrepresented populations in STEM fields. This in and of itself is a social justice issue.  These same populations are inherently interested in solving social justice issues so when STEM is introduced in this manner then the diversity of interest in STEM education increases.

What Does Combining Social Justice and STEM Look Like?

Combining Social Justice and STEM in education can take on a variety of forms. Social Justice issues can be big problems that occur at a state, national, or even global level.  The same is true for STEM issues.  One example would be the climate crisis and the social impact that this has on exacerbating equity issues across society.  A solution this combined issue would be one example. Global problems are often difficult for students to relate to so looking at the local community can help improve relevance, engagement, and understanding.  Food scarcity for local populations within the community may be addressed or even solved by a STEM-based solution. Younger students, and, honestly, students of all ages, may also benefit from looking at age-appropriate social justice issues in their school community.  Is everyone being included at recess regardless of differences?  How can this be addressed?  Is there a STEM-based solution that might help?

How Does One Begin to Go About Combining Social Justice and STEM?

Meaningful and engaging learning opportunities with the “why” built into the activities provide students with relevancy and reason for their learning. Starting with what students know is arguably the easiest way to build on background knowledge when attempting a new idea or approach in the classroom.  School-based solutions have the added advantage of students being able to help their peers and benefit from their solutions.  This could be something as simple as friendship solutions, conflict resolution, and addressing litter. Local community issues allow students to engage with what they know at a broader level.  Making a difference in what may seem like their broader world can also build confidence combined with important civic engagement lessons.  Issues such as retirement community support, homeless shelter needs, and overall safety provide some examples. Global problems provide an opportunity to raise student awareness to a broader level.  Many STEM-based resources allow students to now participate in a broader dialogue.  Looking at problems to evaluate and propose solutions for such as world hunger, education, and basic health needs are just some of the possible examples.

All of these potential problems, topics, and approaches make for potential classroom projects. A guiding pedagogical structure can be very helpful when trying to figure out how to plan for multiple areas of focus within the scope of the overall learning. PBL pedagogies are a great place to start. Select a school of thought such as project-based learning, problem-based learning, place-based learning, or another, and then start small. A great STEM mantra to keep in mind when designing a potential lesson or unit that blends social justice and STEM is to KISS: Keep It Super Simple, learn alongside your students one step at a time, and “be the change you want to see in the world”.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Careless, J.E. (2015). Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Framework. JOURNAL OF TEACHING AND LEARNING, VOL.10 (NO. 1), pp. 13-26.
  3. Kukulska-Hulme, A., Beirne, E., Conole, G., Costello, E., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Holmes, W., Lochlainn, C.M., Mhichíl, M.N.G., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M., Whitelock, D. (2020). Innovative Pedagogy 2020. National Institute for Digital Learning. Retrieved from https://iet.open.ac.uk/file/innovating-pedagogy-2020.pdf
  4. Miller, A. (May, 2015). Avoiding Learned Helplessness. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/avoiding-learned-helplessness-andrew-miller
  5. LEXICO. (2020). LEXICO Powered by OXFORD. Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/social_justice
  6. Teaching Tolerance. (2016). A Framework for Anti-bias Education. The Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/frameworks/social-justice-standards
  7. Basham, J.D. & Marino, M.T. (2013). Understanding STEM Education and Supporting Students Through Universal Design for LearningTeaching Exceptional Children, Vol. 45 (No. 4), pp. 8-15.
  8. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/download/?Num=2336&filename=Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf
  9. Hall, T.E., Cohen, N., Vue, G., & Ganley, P. (2015). Addressing Learning Disabilities With UDL and Technology: Strategic ReaderLearning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 38 (No. 2), pp. 72-83.
  10. Reed, M. (2018, July 9). Making STEM Accessible to All. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/making-stem-accessible-all

Social Justice Pedagogy in a Digital Age

According to the Lexico website (a collaboration between dictionary.com and Oxford University Press), the definition for social justice is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”  Often a misunderstood and ambiguous term for most, this succinct definition of social justice provides a foundation for basing social justice education efforts in the classroom.  Social justice is about closing opportunity gaps in regard to education, wealth, and societal privileges.  Still, how does one define Social justice as a pedagogy?  The 2020 Innovative Pedagogy Reports provides the following description, “Social justice pedagogy is founded on the idea that education can be liberating and can help people address injustices in their own lives and in society. It aims to educate and enable students to become active citizens who understand social inequalities and can contribute to making society more democratic and egalitarian.”  Student are not powerless, and through empowerment they become powerful change agents across their various communities.  Technology in education provides a powerful medium and platform that magnifies student voice in the world.  By modeling personalized support for educators, we can support them in providing individualized learning opportunities that empower students.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 3

3) Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches:

3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.

3b. Partner with educators to identify digital learning content that is culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate and aligned to content standards.

3c. Partner with educators to evaluate the efficacy of digital learning content and tools to inform procurement decisions and adoption.

3d. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

Essential Question

How can educator support be personalized and modeled in such a manner that effective use of technology improves student learning to the point of individualized empowerment?

The What of Technology to Improve Student Learning

There’s so much out there in terms of technological options that we, as educators, need to be really careful and focused in terms of the tools that we utilize.  There are too many relevant technology tools to list ad nauseam, so general function in terms of general concepts is a better focus in lieu of an attempt at a comprehensive list.  From there, educators should focus on tools that facilitate the desired functionality and that are available and supported within the current educational context.  This is the type of individualization needed to support teachers with implementation.

Tool functionality should scaffold student communication, ease student management for the teacher, and safely facilitate communication with an authentic audience.  Student communication benefits from software that assists students in typing via word prediction, voice to text software, audio/video recording, etc; a few select examples include co:writer, Dragon Speak (most modern word processing applications support this feature), and FlipGrid.  Student management software should allow teachers to easily set up, manage, and provide feedback for students among other classroom management features; a couple of platform-specific examples include Google Classroom and Microsoft OneNote.  Publication software should prioritize student privacy above all else and provide a mechanism for students to share their work with an authentic audience of some kind; for this, classroom management apps like Class Dojo that allow private communication with parents work well, postings on the school website without identifying information can work, FlipGrid can also work in this setting, social media with careful permissions and guidelines can accomplish sharing, as can limited access student blogging sites, among others.

Skipping Straight to the Why with Social Justice

Social Justice provides students with a “why” for their learning and work.  Providing students with purpose dramatically increases engagement in their learning.  Without a “why”, the only thing that students have to go on is “because I told you so” from the authority figure.  This approach primarily teaches compliance and most schools depend upon a compliance-based model.  Compliance requires constant monitoring and an external behavior incentive system that is often complicated, extensive, and time-consuming to enforce.  Providing students with meaning to their work moves students toward intrinsic motivation.  Ideally, social justice pedagogy can even move students to a level of empowerment where they see the positive impact that they can have on their community.  One of the challenges in modern society is that too many educated citizens think that they alone cannot effect positive change in their community.  This is because this was not taught or modeled for them.  Instead, compliance to the system was instilled, and this perpetuates the system’s status quo at the expense of the individual while also at the expense of missed opportunities to improve the system by effecting positive change.  Ironically, social justice themes were more prominent in early education and became diminished with the advent of the industrial revolution, as cited in Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Framework, “While social purpose education was intended to help citizens live and participate in a democratic society, the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries fueled a focus on education for skills training and citizenship programs for immigrants (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007)”. Historical anecdotes of education being a threat to a monarchy or dictatorship are good examples because the “dangerous ideas” taught encouraged people to think for themselves and to seek change in the freedom for their own betterment as well as others. While we wouldn’t dream of burning books today, we still have modern-day versions of these systemic issues.

Since schools can function as microcosms of society at large, it is important to teach social justice concepts that empower students to positively effect change within their community and the various systems around them.  Not least of which to consider is the school system.  Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Frameworkprovides another research citation that speaks to this is, “Social justice education is a ‘praxis’ that includes a theoretical account of oppression and privilege, as well as practical strategies for changing social institutions. Schools are primary sites for this critical transformation since they reproduce inequality. Educating students to overcome internalized forms of oppression – such as racism, sexism, classism and homophobia, offering them a framework for understanding the external structures that are the source of these different oppressions, and empowering students to become agents of change, are all important goals of social justice education.” (Kohli, 2005, p. 100).

Teaching tolerance and, beyond that, acceptance are basic concepts that are accessible by K12 students.  The more nuanced and advanced concepts involves around race, religion, language, gender, and socio-economic status among other demographic categories need to be carefully considered based on what’s grade-level appropriate.  That being said, the basic idea that you are different but I should still accept and respect you can start with something as simple as animal caricatures that include a different animal being included even though it’s different.  From there, building into more advanced concepts around acceptance and inclusion regardless of the type of difference can be developed.  Beyond the need for the individual to practice this, there is the concept that we must advocate for others to be treated equitably as well.  When students realize they can effect change for the better treatment of others then they can be empowered through practicing basic advocacy within a safe environment.  As student understanding develops, then more complex concepts like systemic bias can begin to be addressed as well as the need for every individual to work toward equitable systemic change.  Students can eventually understand their own individual circumstances through the lens of bias, opportunity, and privilege relative to others and what that means in terms of their responsibility to work with, through, and against adverse contexts that they or others may face.

As we look to find space in an overcrowded curriculum and schedules, it’s also worth noting that social justice pedagogy overlaps with and ties into social emotional learning and service-based learning and can be integrated via PBL units.  SEL is a newly established and fast growing focus and area of student education.  The latter, service-based learning, is still nascent but so important in terms of providing students with a positive means to impact their environment.

How Do We Become Change Agents for Empowering Students?

One key to empowering students is identifying technology already supported within our teaching context and with which we have some experience.  We, as educators, can then adapt the technology to meet the needs of fellow educators and students.  Using ISTE standards to help guide this implementation can play a critical role in meeting multiple needs at the same time.  For example, we can look to ISTE Coaching Standard component 3d, “Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.”  Personalized support that meets educators where they’re at can help them in the process of empowering their students.

In addition to finding technology that empowers students, providing opportunities for students to address social justice issues within their local context is important.  Starting small with simple and accessible lessons then building from there.  Lessons can be geared around historical social justice efforts such as the women’s suffrage or the civil rights movement.  Providing opportunities for anti-bullying and inclusion lessons can help make the concepts more concrete and accessible for students.  Additionally, projects that advocate for accessibility or cleaning up litter at the local park or playground can empower students to make a difference within their relevant world of experience.  These examples barely begin to scratch the proverbial surface of what is possible, as the possibilities for making change, no matter how small, in the local community are endless and create a positive ripple effect that grows over time and beyond the community itself.

Beyond identifying technologies and potential lesson examples, standards can help facilitate and guide efforts toward effective implementation within education settings by providing carefully researched and written educational targets.  One such set of potential standards has been crafted by a national organization called Teaching Tolerance. Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to social just education.  Finding social justice teacher resources is key in order to provide teachers the ability to teach social justice concepts effectively, given how limited teachers’ time is and how thin their bandwidth is stretched.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Careless, J.E. (2015). Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Framework. JOURNAL OF TEACHING AND LEARNING, VOL.10 (NO. 1), pp. 13-26.
  3. Kukulska-Hulme, A., Beirne, E., Conole, G., Costello, E., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Holmes, W., Lochlainn, C.M., Mhichíl, M.N.G., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M., Whitelock, D. (2020). Innovative Pedagogy 2020. National Institute for Digital Learning. Retrieved from https://iet.open.ac.uk/file/innovating-pedagogy-2020.pdf
  4. Miller, A. (May, 2015). Avoiding Learned Helplessness. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/avoiding-learned-helplessness-andrew-miller
  5. LEXICO. (2020). LEXICO Powered by OXFORD. Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/social_justice
  6. Teaching Tolerance. (2016). A Framework for Anti-bias Education. The Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/frameworks/social-justice-standards

STEM for All Students

Meeting Students Where They’re At

So often school has a one-size fits all approach.  This is partially because individualizing content and activities is hard and time-consuming.  On the other side of this coin, a lot of students aren’t getting the opportunities that they deserve to access their education.  This is a broad topic and way beyond the scope of one blog post.  With this in mind, I’d like to narrow down to looking at ISTE Standard 3 which focuses on addressing digital learning needs, but I’d like to broaden the discussion a little from there to include STEM since I can speak to this from my overall background and experiences.  While I’m not sure how to individualize STEM education for every student in a given classroom setting, I do think we can do little things to move beyond a singular approach so that more students can have the opportunity to access this learning.  Culturally relevant pedagogy can help more students access standards-based content in a manner that’s developmentally appropriate for them. And, per the Edutopia article entitled Making STEM Accessible to All (Reed, M. 2018), “But there are benefits to being exposed to STEM in the classroom beyond test scores, such as improved problem-solving skills, creativity, mental alertness, and teamwork and collaboration. As leaders, we must ensure that every student has a chance to reap these benefits.”

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 3

3) Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches:

3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.

3b. Partner with educators to identify digital learning content that is culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate and aligned to content standards.

3c. Partner with educators to evaluate the efficacy of digital learning content and tools to inform procurement decisions and adoption.

3d. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

Essential Question

How can instructional coaches and professional development providers partner with other educators to engage and support all students with culturally relevant digital and STEM learning content that’s both developmentally appropriate and aligned to content standards?

Providing STEM Opportunities For All Students in the Classroom

I’ll be honest, I struggled with how to individualize learning for students in my classroom.  I have yet to find an approach that accomplishes this without exponentially increasing the teacher’s workload.  This did get me thinking about how to better reach my students for whom the generic approach wasn’t working, though.  I tried to consider how to integrate reading in a way that students reading 2-3 levels below grade-level could still participate and be successful because reading to learn is where students with learning disabilities most often struggle (Hall, T.E., Cohen, N., Vue, G., Ganley, P., 2015).  In my experience, the same was true for writing to learn and for the math involved.  I also partnered, paired, and grouped very carefully with this in mind.  How were students balancing each other out skill-wise so that their team could learn and perform at a higher level than any of them could on their own (we transformed our table groups into “learning teams”).  In support of my English learners and special education students, this often meant collaborating with the corresponding teachers.  Could we move content around for a special event or flex the schedule?  Could the teachers and students try pushing into my classroom for a unit?  Could the various groups of learners work on the content in parallel and then come together for a culminating activity?  Getting creative is key and often not as much work as one might think… just intimidating when it comes to the hardest part: getting started.

STEM Instructional Coaching in Support of All Students

As an instructional specialist and coach, I tried to continue collaborating with other specialists so as to better reach more students.  The special education and English learner teachers and I collaborated on activities that were unique and special just for their students.  We also worked with classroom teachers that were willing to make adjustments wherever possible.  I branched out to working with the music and PE teachers when I could. According to Basham, J.D. and Marino, M.T. (2013), “The success of students with disabilities who participate in general education STEM classes is directly linked to teachers’ abilities to understand students’ unique learning need and problem-solving abilities (Marino, 2010).”  Technology is incredibly powerful when it comes to helping students access learning in a variety of ways.  If they can’t write then can they speak to text?  Can we use a text reader for reading?  How about video access?  Screen recorders?  All different ways for students to show they learned the STEM content itself as opposed to testing them on other skills like communication, reading, writing, etc.

One thing I learned along the way is that there are a lot of students who will find their first big successes in STEM-based activities, if they are given the chance.  I first saw this in my first year teaching.  “J” was special education student that struggled with reading and writing in particular.  Traditional school was a chore, though, from which he derived no joy and was barely passing, except, when it came to STEM oriented activities that possessed a technology component.  Here he excelled.  I tried to nurture this where I could but opportunities were limited at that time. In spring, when I received a flyer about the new district technology academy opening up, I saved a copy and handed it to his mom and implored her to look into it for him.  She did, he blossomed, and eventually became one of the IT leads for the district, went on to work for a leading technology company, developed brilliant anti-malware software in his free time that he sold to a company, and now serves as a lead network administrator for a leading nonprofit.  “S” was another student who had Tier 3 interventions and so missed most classroom content time yet excelled.  I was able to engage and support him in our after-school robotics club where he became a leader, one of the most adept programmers, and a brilliant designer.  He figured out challenges that stumped the adults and was able to do so remarkably fast.  With regard to anything mechanical, he was absolutely brilliant.  The special education teacher and I created as many unique and special opportunities for him as we could and he shined.

Students like “S” and “J” are examples in the current educational system where essentially taking our metaphorical “fish” that are gifted swimmers and only testing them on their ability to “climb trees”.  The system is hardwired, mammoth, and often set in stone so it’s difficult for teachers to make adjustments but it’s worth doing what we can where we can.  Getting creative with the standards is one way so that students can demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of contexts.  I kept a clipboard with a roster on the wall for each content area and would grab the appropriate one in a hurry if I noticed an opportunity for a quick data point in the midst of a unique learning opportunity that I hadn’t anticipated.  Adjusting schedules where we can around the edges is another place that we can make small changes that add up over time and if enough teachers speak out then larger changes can occur, e.g. in my previous district, over many years and much advocacy science instruction eventually became protected time during the K-6 elementary school day.

Professional Development Provider: How Do I Support All Students?

These are all connections based on my current research connected to my previous educational experience.  This all comes back around to my essential question but from my current context as a professional development provider.  Every context is so different, and I my experience is limited.  Even the most experienced teacher cannot hope to experience even 1% of possible contexts out there.  Knowing this is to recognize that every educator is the expert on their teaching context, so, as a professional development provider, how can I support and empower them?  I think looking at the research, identifying patterns of success, and truly listening to each educator in order to learn from their experience are good places to start. Teachers want professional development that’s relevant, treats them like professionals, and is delivered by someone who understands their experience (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014).  Some things I’ve noticed so far, most teachers did not have any STEM training as part of their teacher certification process so some initial basics are needed in order to help them get up and running.  Growing teacher confidence is key and even more important than ability.  We can always learn alongside the students as we go.  Planting seeds, encouraging ideas, and validating early thinking are some ways to encourage teachers to support all students in STEM education efforts. 

Drawing Conclusions for a Truly Broader Impact

I’ve written mostly to special education examples because that’s where my current research led me but there are so many broader examples to explore.  English learners need additional ways to access content and it needs to be okay for them to find ways to show what they know via native language when possible and native culture when appropriate.  Student minorities need to see themselves and their cultural values reflected in the learning and career opportunities so that they can truly see themselves growing up into a variety of STEM roles.  Girls need supports and encouragement that are at least as supportive and encouraging as boys often receive in these areas.  By providing a variety of ways for students to access their learning and working to make STEM both available and accessible to all learners, we can start to make small steps together as educators to show that all means all and truly starts with meeting each student as an individual where they are at.


  1. Basham, J.D. & Marino, M.T. (2013). Understanding STEM Education and Supporting Students Through Universal Design for Learning. Teaching Exceptional Children, Vol. 45 (No. 4), pp. 8-15.
  2. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/download/?Num=2336&filename=Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf
  3. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  4. Hall, T.E., Cohen, N., Vue, G., & Ganley, P. (2015). Addressing Learning Disabilities With UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader. Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 38 (No. 2), pp. 72-83.
  5. Reed, M. (2018, July 9). Making STEM Accessible to All. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/making-stem-accessible-all

If You Build It (Relationships) Then They (Teachers) Will Come To You

It’s All About Relationships

My principal, Gregory Kroll, is one of my personal and professional heroes.  Now, I know longer teach at Martin Sortun Elementary, but, at 8 years, he was my longest running principal.  The man gave more than I knew was possible and had a heart to match.  Whatever you needed, whatever it took, he was there for you.  One of the things he used to tell me is that teaching, coaching, and working in a school “are all about relationships” at the end of the day.  What your relationship is with a person (colleague, parent, student, etc.) will affect every aspect of the interactions and outcomes.  His insight shed light on the need to be aware of relationships as will as the need to grow and cultivate positive relationships with everyone (not taking anything for granted).  This leads me directly into the first component ISTE Coaching Standard.  Without 3a, components 3b-3d are difficult at best.  Establishing trusting relationships is the foundation to any form of instructional coaching. 

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 3

Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches:

  • 3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.
  • 3b. Partner with educators to identify digital learning content that is culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate and aligned to content standards.
  • 3c. Partner with educators to evaluate the efficacy of digital learning content and tools to inform procurement decisions and adoption.
  • 3d. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

Essential Question

As a professional development provider and instructional coach, based on my experiences and expertise how do I establish trusting and respectful relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies?

My Time as a Teacher: True confessions time…

True confession, as a classroom teacher, I thought I knew a lot more than I did.  While I sought out and grew under mentors, I was not generally open to working with instructional coaches on a 1:1 basis.  I think part of this extends from the fact that I spent my first six years in a building that did not have an instructional coach and thought I was doing fine growing through other professional development opportunities.  It helped that my principal, Cathy Lendosky, was extremely skilled at developed effective professional development so our teacher workshop days were high quality experiences.  So when I arrived at Martin Sortun going into my seventh year of teaching, I didn’t see the need.  It also didn’t help that the instructional coaches were both in my peer group and so had the exact same amount of instructional experience.  Knowing what I know now, I was definitely wrong.  I still participated in every PD opportunity provided by the instructional coaches outside of 1:1 coaching, but I only engaged in that when requested and wasn’t an active, growth-minded customer interested in continuing the practice over time.  I think in part, it’s because of relationship.  They were my friends and colleagues, so there was something there but there wasn’t an established professional development relationship with my instructional coaches.

Instructional Coaching: Lessons Learned…

The tables had certainly turned when the opportunity presented itself for me to become an instructional coach.  Very quickly, I realized that I needed to learn and grow a lot if I was to be an effective instructional coach.  My (now fellow) instructional coaches were probably delighted at my newfound interest and both readily coached me.  I was trying to make up for lost time.  On the flip side of things, having been a reticent classroom teacher when it came to coaching, I knew how to engage the other teachers like me.  It was all about relationship.  I made sure that they felt “invited” but not pressured so that there would be no hard feelings but they’d also feel free to say “no thank you” to opportunities that I provided.  Conversely, I went out of my way to make sure that they’d be curious about whatever little tidbit from the training did make it their way and to profusely thank any of them that did show up.  I sincerely believe that teacher planning time is far more precious than gold.  My follow-up touch points would also be quick, to the point, and hopefully meaningful which I’d do via a quick in-person interaction or short email.  Mostly, I’d just see how it was going and if there was anymore that I could do to support following the training or activity.  Would they like me to come in and co-teach a lesson?  I’d be happy to do all of the planning and teaching if they’d just like to be present alongside me.  This approach usually worked and each co-teaching experience looked different depending on the teacher’s experience.  As time and interactions progressed, I focused on building the relationship.  What did they need help with?  What worked?  What could I offer that helped them accomplish one of their goals?  Relationship, relationship, relationship.

Professional Development Provider: The More You Know…

Relationship as a professional development provider is definitely much harder.  It’s hard to have relationships with 50 or more of your “closest friends” from across the country that you just met.  And yet, relationships are just as important in this context.  So building relational capacity from the moment those educators walk through that door is key.  And, as a designer of these professional development opportunities, it’s really important that those relational capacity building activities are built into the course syllabus design.

This is all much easier said than done. Designing in time for developing relational capacity takes discipline because it is so tempting to either view this as “fluff” or cut this time in the interest of other content. Additionally, building relationship is work. Hard work. You have to care. People can sense a lack of authenticity so this means being vulnerable because you have to be your real self and invest emotionally. Passion for the topic can help but there’s no substitute for legitimate relational connection.

The More You Know, The More You Realize How Little You Know

The more you know, the less you know seems to have been a theme for my career.  Every time a professional opportunity expands my horizons and helps me to grow and learn more as an educator, the more I realize that the percentage of what I actually know is really much smaller than I thought.  It’s almost like professional knowledge pie chart where my personal piece grows at a much slower rate than the total knowledge I’m aware of and therefore appears to always be shrinking over time.  The realization can be a bit overwhelming, but there is also comfort in knowing that no one person can possibly have all of the answers.

Ultimately, you don’t know what you don’t know and so need to be open to learning along the way.  Relationships were a constantly recurring theme for me when it came to my professional growth.  Either it was there or it wasn’t there and I often grew in my practice in direct proportion to the type of relationship I had with my professional development providers.  In turn, the same was true for participants that I supported.  Relationships are a two-way street and so both people need to invest in order for there to be a relational benefit.  When they do, then relatable learning can happen and level of relational capacity developed forms the foundation for broader and deeper levels of professional learning and shared throughout all of ISTE Coaching Standard 3.

Interestingly enough, there was a video that I participated in as part of my instructional coaching work when I was bridging over to the role of professional development provider.  It’s a snapshot of where I was at during that point in time as well as a representation of the many different kinds of amazing educators that I had the opportunity to work with and support.  If you’re curious, you can watch this video as it highlights one of my final projects as an instruction coach focused on STEM integration at a K-6 STEM Lighthouse School.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Johnson, K. (2016, June 28th). 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them—If Implementation Improves. EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves
  3. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/download/?Num=2336&filename=Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf
  4. Dorr, E. (2015, November). How Administrators Can Design the Best Learning Experiences for Teachers. EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-11-04-how-administrators-can-design-the-best-learning-experiences-for-teachers
  5. Gilliam, J. & Ferguson D. (2018, September). GUEST VIDEO: STEM TEACHING AND LEARNING AT MARTIN SORTUN ELEMENTARY. Washington STEM. Retrieved from https://washingtonstem.org/martin-sortun/

Open Education Resources in Action

Introductory Section

In a previous blog entitled Open Sourcing Education, I explored the topic, or “what”, of Open Education Resources (OERs) while this post looks more at the application, or “how”, of OERs.  OERs have an intriguing history that is mostly tied to the evolution of the internet with some influences from other open sourcing movements such as software.  Open Education Resources didn’t really take off until the early 2000’s, and both the growth and adoption of this approach to freely sharing educational content and curriculum has not consisted of a smooth evolution.  The current educational challenges surrounding remote teaching due to the pandemic-induced closure of physical school locations has created a resurgence in interest surrounding Open Education Resources as a way to support educators everywhere during this challenging time.  This provides an opportunity for intentional, standards-based educational support for digital teaching and learning as well as an opportunity to learn how to better utilize Open Education Resources across public and private education.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 4

Learning Designer: Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students. Coaches:

  • 4a. Collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency.
  • 4b. Help educators use digital tools to create effective assessments that provide timely feedback and support personalized learning.
  • 4c. Collaborate with educators to design accessible and active digital learning environments that accommodate learner variability.
  • 4d. Model the use of instructional design principles 

The components of ISTE Coaching Standard 4 lend themselves to supporting development and implementation of Open Education Resources.  Component 1 is especially strong in this area because of the emphasis on collaborating with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences.  Any efforts to develop resources for teachers should be done in conjunction with current classroom practitioners.  Such an informed approach ensures real and relevant content that fosters student agency, deepens content mastery, and truly allows students to demonstrate their competency.

Essential Question

How can educators collaborate together to develop authentic learning experiences that can be shared online with teachers everywhere in order to foster student agency and deepen student learning?

Types of Open Education Resources

What defines the designation of Open Education Resource has a variety of interpretations and there are many different approaches by organizations that are creating and providing OERs.  In general, there are OERs that provide an entire curriculum (or even curricula) from beginning to end, there are OERs that provide vast searchable lesson libraries, there are OERs that focus on specific types of content (multimedia versus lesson plans for example), and there are OERs that focus on quality over quantity.  The sheer variation, lack of standardization, and quantity of content has left many educators feeling frustrated with the OER concept and unsure as to how to utilize them, if at all.

The last category of quality over quantity probably has the fewest OERs, however, this is where things get interesting because most OERs are trying just to provide as much free and accessible content as possible.  This is also where the approach taken by the AVID Open Access platform comes into play.  AVID’s take on the OER focuses on quality over quantity of lesson content available for teachers.  Because of this manageable amount, AVID Open Access provides a good case study in terms of how to approach, utilize, and apply OERs in a classroom instructional setting.

Using an Open Education Resource

Starting with a basic example of how to approach, explore, and utilize a specific Open Education Resource is probably the best way to begin to figure out how to approach OERs in general as an educator.  AVID Open Access is an OER-style resource that I can speak to based on my experience because I’ve worked directly on the project.  While this familiarity may come with a slight inherent bias as a result, it also allows me to more clearly speak to the overall intent of the tool.  Here are some general thoughts on how to approach an Open Education Resource based on my work with AVID Open Access.

  • Decide ahead of time your intent: Looking for something specific or general, searching for inspiration, or just browsing?  By deciding ahead of time what your goal is then you can save yourself some frustration if you end up clicking your way down a hyperlinked “rabbit hole” of content.
  • Know what kind of content is being offered: Some OERs intend to be a one-size-fits-all approach but many do not.  If you go looking for ELA resources on a STEM OER then you’re probably going to come away disappointed.
  • Become familiar with the organizational system: Second to content, understanding how the OER is organized is key to successful navigation.  For example, AVID Open Access is organized into three general buckets of Virtual Teaching, Virtual Student Learning, and STEM, so pick your overarching area and then take note of the sub-categories, e.g. STEM is divided up into Invention, Exploration, Cardboard Engineering, and Robotics.
  • If relevant, conduct a practice search: If an Open Education Resource is big enough to essentially have a library of content then it should have a means to searching this content.  Practice, get familiar, and become comfortable with how to find what you’re looking for via any search tool (Open AVID Access is not large enough yet for this to be the case).
  • Keep a running list of potential lessons to use: As you come across possibilities, write them down or record them somewhere.  This is probably true in general for keeping track of potential resources but you’ll thank yourself later.
  • Pick a short lesson to test the quality: Kick the proverbial “tires” of the resource by “test driving” one of the shorter activities with your students.  Get a feel for the accuracy of content timing and writing as well as the measures of grade-appropriate difficulty.  This will limit your commitment but give you a direct feel for the quality of substance inherent in the overall resource.
  • Keep a running record of quality: Make notes in regard to what worked and what didn’t so as to determine if the content is consistently high quality.  The more dependable the resource is in terms of screening high-quality content before posting then the more confident a classroom teacher can be to “grab and go” with a lesson.
  • Use tools to evaluate the OER as a resource: This takes time and so may limited in value depending on a teachers context and overall situation, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Achieve has developed a tool specifically created to function as an OER rubric

Applying Lessons Learned to OERs in General

One way to arguably measure if an OER is even worth a teacher’s time is whether or not it saves the teacher work over simply designing and developing the content lessons themselves.  If it’s less work for the teacher to design a lesson from scratch than it is to search through a vast library for a quality lesson to use then the Open Education Resource being used is probably not an effective tool or even a good use of time.  This is something that OER creators should keep at the forefront of their minds.  As soon as the OER fails to pass the simple lesson design time test then it is actually quite a ways past being an efficient or even effective resource for teachers.  A teacher’s planning time is worth more than its weight in gold because they have so little of it.  Don’t take that time for granted.  Ever.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Educators. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators
  2. Edutopia. (2015, December 4). Open Educational Resources (OER): Resource Roundup. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/open-educational-resources-guide
  3. Vega, V. (2011, August 30). A Primer on Curriculum-Sharing Sites. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/curriculum-sharing-sites-Vanessa-vega
  4. Sparks, S. D. (2017, April 12). Open Educational Resources (OER): Overview and Definition. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/open-educational-resources-OER/index.html
  5. UNESCO. (2020, January 4). Launch of the UNESCO Dynamic Coalition for Open Education Resources (OER). UNESCO (United Nations). Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/news/launch-unesco-dynamic-coalition-open-education-resources-oer

Open Sourcing Education

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Introductory Section

One of the earliest definitions for Open Education Resource (OER) comes from the UNESCO 2002 Forum on Open Courseware: “teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”  Knowing early thinking around OER helps to understand how the concept has grown and developed over the years with the evolution of the Information Age.  Where open source as an idea facilitated largely by technology meets education can be confusing, however, it can also be clarified by looking through the lens of educational technology standards.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Educator Standard 6

Facilitator: Educators facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement of the ISTE Standards for Students. Educators:

  • 6a. Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
  • 6b. Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.
  • 6c. Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
  • 6d. Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.

ISTE Educator Standard 6 describes how educators can facilitate learning with technology by managing use in regard to student learning strategies in digital platforms and virtual environments.  There is a strong connection between this standards language and utilizing an Open Education Resource.  Online OERs provide accessible digital content for students in a virtual environment that teachers can scaffold, adapt, and leverage for both classwide and individualized learning.

Essential Question

How can educators manage the use of technology and pedagogical practices in digital platforms and virtual environments in such a way that facilitates student engagement and learning?

Learning Strategies and Digital Platforms

Leveraging ISTE standards with Open Education Resources helps answer some of the questions around management of technology and digital pedagogical practices in regard to student engagement and learning.  There are a wide range of OERs online. Some OERs serve as an entire curriculum unto themselves.  EngageNY is one of the most widely known examples and was created in response to the lack of curriculum supporting Common Core State Standards.  Another gold standard in this area is YouCubed which is technically a MOOC (Massive Open Online Curriculum).  YouCubed provides curriculum with videos that essentially form self-contained courses.  As one can imagine, adopting an entire curriculum is not realistic for most contexts so educators may be more interested in utilizing collections of individual lessons that they can search, adapt, modify, and customize for their educational contexts.

OER Lesson Libraries

While EngageNY and YouCubed function as relatively quality one-size fits all curriculum, other OERs function as searchable online lesson libraries that allow teachers to mix and match per their context.  The advantage is flexibility but the disadvantage is the time required to search through what’s available.  Gauging quality within and across these types of OERs is also a challenge because there may be multiple authors, limited rating and feedback mechanisms, and a variety of lesson templates among other things.  Edutopia speaks to this aspect in a 2015 article entitled “Open Educational Resources (OER): Resource Roundup” and suggests utilizing an OER rubric tool developed by Achieve.  Ultimately, each educator is the best judge of what meets the unique and specific needs of his or her educational context.  Based on my experience and research, the OERs below are good places to start in order to build familiarity and to begin to learn what’s out there.

Curriki: This is a collection of lessons and units across content areas.  Curriki has a five-star rating system and a strong history as it’s been operating as an award-winning OER since 2007.  Curriki also offers wide-variety of resources across content areas.  Curriki also has arguably one of the largest collections of open-source curriculum online.

Better Lesson: Backed by both the National Education Association and the Gates Foundation (a rare combination), Better Lesson certainly warrants a visit.  More recently, Better Lesson has started focusing on how to promote peer coaching but the resource did start out as an OER focused on providing national standards-based lessons.

OER Commons: OER Commons is a platform for organizations to create and share their own Open Education Resource.  The advantage is that look, feel, and navigation are more consistent from one resource to another and there’s an entire collection of OERs all in one spot.  Many states have started to utilize this resource with Washington State launching an OER here in response to various educational needs created by the current pandemic and quarantine.

Polyup and Cue US Challenge: Polyup is a website that utilizes Reverse Polish Notation to gamify mathematics by removing order of operations (PEMDAS) and focusing on the process as opposed to the answer.  Polyup has partnered with CUE and November Learning among others to create an OER library of standards-based math lesson activities for grades 1-8.  Polyup is working toward K-12 support and in the meantime is providing a US Challenge with prizes for teams/classes that earn enough “math points” collectively by not just solving problems but also creating content for others.

Learning Keeps Going: Learning Keeps Going is an an OER created in direct response to the current pandemic and quarantine circumstances.  The resource has powerhouse sponsor organizations in the form of ISTE, EdSurge, Digital Promise, Education Week, and several others.  Learning Keeps Going is more of a curiation OER highlighting and sorting resources available for educators in response to COVID-19 as a one-stop shop.  The sheer volume of everything out there is overwhelming so having a searchable library like this can be helpful.  Learning Keeps Going lists materials, resources, and OERs (including the next example on the list).

AVID Open Access: AVID Open Access (AOA) emphasizes quality over quantity as an OER resource.  It’s not meant to be a one-stop shop but one of several quality options for teachers where they know that what they find will be high quality.  AVID Open Access focuses on virtual teaching and student resources for online learning as well as STEM lessons and activities.  Partner organizations include MIT, Wonder Workshop, Blue Origin, Microsoft, Engineering is Elementary, and more added every week!  Full disclosure: as the author of this blog, I am also working on and supporting AOA so there is some implicit bias due to my involvement.

Other Well-Known Examples: There are far too many examples to list and searching through all that’s out there can be a little overwhelming.  Some additional examples that may be more well-known as well as more niche include the following: Khan Academy, TED Ed, PhET Science and Math Simulations, Wikipedia, the Micro:bit Foundation, and much more!

Beyond a Basic Introduction

While OERs have a 20+ year history in education, the recent pandemic conditions have created resurgence of both interest and creation of content in this space.  The dramatic increase of materials available at no cost to classroom teachers means more quality educational content but also more materials to sort through.  Educators will need help, time, and support in navigating these resources so curation done at all levels will greatly assist and improve the ability to leverage the increased number of OERs and their expanded libraries.  School administrators, government education officials and policy makers, and non-government education organizations would all do well to keep this in mind as we seek to support all teachers as best we can in meeting all students’ needs. Some ideas related to this can be found in the post, Open Education Resources in Action, which builds on the “what” of OER found in this post to look more closely at the “How” of using OERs.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Educators. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators
  2. Edutopia. (2015, December 4). Open Educational Resources (OER): Resource Roundup. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/open-educational-resources-guide
  3. Vega, V. (2011, August 30). A Primer on Curriculum-Sharing Sites. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/curriculum-sharing-sites-Vanessa-vega
  4. Sparks, S. D. (2017, April 12). Open Educational Resources (OER): Overview and Definition. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/open-educational-resources-OER/index.html
  5. UNESCO. (2020, January 4). Launch of the UNESCO Dynamic Coalition for Open Education Resources (OER). UNESCO (United Nations). Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/news/launch-unesco-dynamic-coalition-open-education-resources-oer

Gaming the Educational System

Games in School?

Games in school are, more often than not, a taboo topic.  The conversation has shifted, for sure, due to recent research and gradual changes in educator opinions, but games as learning vehicles in the classroom are generally still not taken seriously.  Isolated educator success has definitely raised interest but also proven difficult to duplicate.  A lot this is due to the chicken and egg scenario of established approaches, research, and, most importantly, administrative support for game-based learning and gamification in the classroom.  As with most things in modern education, a good place to start is the standards.  As far as game-based learning and gamification are concerned, the ISTE standards provide an excellent cornerstone to build upon.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Educator Standard 5

Designer: Educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability. Educators:

  • 5a. Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
  • 5b. Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
  • 5c. Explore and apply instructional design principles to create innovative digital learning environments that engage and support learning.

ISTE Educator Standard 5, Designer, provides good guidance for educators in terms of focusing on designing authentic, learner-driven experiences..  By focusing on supporting student learning and learner engagement and then matching that with something like game-based learning and gamification, educators can create digital learning environments that explore and apply instructional design principles in truly innovative ways.  This type of unique approach can both increase intrinsic motivation and overall student learning at the same time.

Essential Question

How can educators explore and apply innovative instructional design approaches to create new unique digital learning environments that increase student engagement and learning? 

Game-based Learning vs. Gamification

In any general conversation regarding game-based learning and gamification, it’s important to clarify similarities and differences.  Game-based learning utilizes games as the primary vehicle for the learning itself.  So students are learning directly through a game.  Gamification is when something other than a game is taken and game-like qualities are added on.  Examples include a traditional lesson or homework where points are added and classroom management strategies where positive behavior choices lead to earning points.  There are countless examples of each and many ways to approach both game-based learning and gamification.  It is a little bit of a spectrum too where sometimes there can be a some blurring of the lines between the two classifications.  Ultimately, while helpful, understanding the distinction between game-based learning and gamification is less important at the outset then focusing on the intended result of increasing student engagement, content retention, and overall learning.

Innovating in Schools with Games

Innovation, by definition, means doing something new, unique, and different in order to more effectively and or efficiently accomplish a task, goal, and/or objective.  In this case, improving upon the traditional educational experience in such a way that students are more engaged, remember more content, and learn more standards-based material overall.  If they have fun along the way then all the better!  Piaget is often quoted as saying that “Play is the work of childhood” so if we can tap into this in the classroom then we can create a naturally more effective means for learning in the classroom.  Game-based learning and gamification tap into play and utilize this as a means to facilitate learning, thereby tapping into how children are naturally wired to learn.  Even simple multiplication games are start toward helping increase engagement and any number of game-focused approaches can help make all content areas more interesting for students.  Even gamification of classroom management can help make the generic class experience more fun for students.  All of these approaches can be analog or digital in terms of the game-based approach.  Digital, or video, games do provide some additional opportunities that weren’t readily available even just a few years ago.

MakeCode Makes Video Games Easy

One platform for engaging students with a focus on game-based learning via video games is Microsoft’s MakeCode platform.  MakeCode Arcade, especially, provides a readily available approach for leveraging this area in the classroom.  MakeCode’s coding environment is very intuitive and user friendly.  I was able to get on, explore, teach myself, and program my first video game via MakeCode in approximately 15 minutes.  The first lesson is a basic environment where a character can be moved around to eat a food item for points with the more items eaten before time lapses then the higher the score (you can play my first MakeCode video game pictured above by clicking here).  There are so many possibilities in terms of utilizing this as a means to encourage students to practice content standards.  Students could easily design a similar game where the main character needed to “eat” the correct answer to a math problem in order to earn points.  Or, students could write a story to go along with the video game adventure and utilize the experience as motivation for a writing prompt.  In social studies, this simple mechanism could illustrate an experience around finding appropriate food sources on the Oregon Trail.  The list goes on and that’s just via a very simple introductory video game.  Very quickly more complex approaches and concepts become possible where students can program to demonstrate their own learning, program games to teach concepts to classmates, program solutions to project-based problems, and much more.  Very quickly, students can make the transition from learning to code to coding to learn.

Where Educational Games meet Pedagogy

Okay, this is great and all, you may even have gotten excited about trying out some sort of game-based learning or gamification in your classroom, but where to begin?  I recommend thinking about your current teaching context.  Are there any other teachers in your building that have experimented with either?  If so then ask them what’s worked in their case.  How does your administrator feel about this?  Is it better to ask in advance in case s/he walks in or is it better to ask forgiveness?  Is there anything in your existing curriculum that resembles game-based learning or gamification?  Or, can you start with something as simple as classroom Jeopardy?  Your teaching context and experience is incredibly relevant when considering your starting point.  Teaching basic coding before attempting to teach any sort of computer game programming is also important.  By starting with activities that are clearly standards based and connected to existing curriculum, an educator can build a track record of gradual transition and implementation into more in-depth game-based learning and gamification where the learning involved will be more obvious to all that observe the educational progression.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Educators. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators
  2. Microsoft (2020). MakeCode Arcade. Retrieved from https://arcade.makecode.com/#reload 
  3. Farber, M. (2020, January 22nd). How to Find Games for Classroom Learning. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from edutopia.org/article/how-find-games-classroom-learning
  4. Farber, M. (2014, October 9th). Games in Education: Teacher Takeaways. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from edutopia.org/blog/games-in-education-teacher-takeaways-Matthew-farber
  5. Gee, J.P. (2012, March 19th). James Paul Gee on Learning With Video Games. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from edutopia.org/video/James-Paul-gee-learning-video-games
  6. Samueli Foundation. (2020). North America Scholastic Esports Federation. Retrieved from NASEF.org
  7. Nazerian, T. (2019, January 31st). Can Designing Video Games Help Kids Gain Hard and Soft Skills? Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-01-31-can-designing-video-games-help-kids-gain-hard-and-soft-skills
  8. Nazerian, T. (2019, January 22nd). Educators Share How Video Games Can Help Kids Build SEL Skills. Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-01-22-educators-share-how-video-games-can-help-kids-build-sel-skills
  9. Noonoo, S.  (2019, February 12th). Playing Games Can Build 21st-Century Skills. Research Explains How. Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-02-12-playing-games-can-build-21st-century-skills-research-explains-how

Linking In to Professional Networks for Educators

Social media flowchart care of Henry Copeland via Twitter (@HC)

LinkedIn for Teachers?

“LinkedIn is for business people, right?”  That was my first thought as a classroom teacher when considering whether or not to explore the platform. “I guess it’s also for getting a job and I’ll eventually need to change schools,” was my second thought. So, I went ahead and created a LinkedIn account, got it all set up, and proceeded not to check it much for quite a while. I was happily teaching at my current school after all, right?  Plus, per the title image flowchart, LinkedIn does get kind of a bad rap among younger professionals.

Turns out, there’s quite a bit more to LinkedIn than just networking for business people and finding jobs. The first step, in the first place, is plugging in as mentioned. You can of course proceed to treat your LinkedIn account like I did, as a virtual professional piggy bank to be broken open on a rainy career day when looking for a new job, or you can invest in the platform far earlier than that and reap professional dividends much sooner.  This means moving beyond plugging in to getting connecting, learning, leveraging professional opportunities, and more.

I have a hunch that I’m still under-utilizing LinkedIn as a networking platform and overall professional resource.  One of my goals, for example, is to post content on a more regular basis as I grow from a consumer into more of a producer on the platform.  In the meantime, I can also share with others what I’ve learned over the years from gradually utilizing LinkedIn more and more often throughout my professional journey as an educator and work across the ed tech spectrum.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Educator Standard 1

ISTE Educator Standard 1: Learner: Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning. 

  1. Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness?
  2. Pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks?
  3. Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences?

The International Society for Technology Education provides educator standards that can help guide teachers and educational professionals in their teaching craft as well as their overall professional development. ISTE Educator Standard 1 addresses setting professional learning goals, actively participating in learning networks, and staying current with research.  All three of those components can be addressed successfully via LinkedIn.

Essential Question

How can educators leverage social and career networking platforms to pursue professional goals and interests by actively leveraging local and global learning networks?

Plugging In

First, I started seeking out and connecting with other teachers on LinkedIn.  I learned pretty quickly that classroom teachers tend to create and share more via Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.  In fact, if a fellow educator new to social media had to pick only one platform then I’d probably point them toward Twitter.  LinkedIn has its place, though, and tends to act as more of a professional space for educators to connect, share, make new contacts, and discover professional opportunities.

Once you’ve created your LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/) account, I’d recommend getting all of your details set up then doing some looking around. Setting up basic information means adding work history, accomplishments, and skills. As far your info goes, the most important aspect is keeping content current. As you start to look around then you’ll notice what others list under their respective profiles. Early on, I imagine going back and forth between your information section and others while you’re learning what to add under your own profile. Just be advised that unlike other accounts, LinkedIn notifies individuals when you look at their profiles.

Connecting and Learning

I normally use LinkedIn as a way to connect with others professionally (generally only adding individuals I’ve met outside of LinkedIn), stay in touch, and also stay up to date with what others are doing. Periodically, I’ll check the news feed out of curiosity and see if there’s anything of interest posted. According to Edutopia article “What New Teachers Need to Know About PD” written by Brad Currie, LinkedIn is an oft overlooked online resource for educators. In part, I feel like this contributes to the lack of classroom teacher content on LinkedIn and is probably somewhat of a “chicken and egg” scenario.

As far as learning goes, true confession time, in order to dive deeper I had to open up my LinkedIn account and take a look. This was also a good reminder to me that it’s occasionally a good idea to mix up the platforms from which you access LinkedIn (phone app versus tablet versus computer browser) because different information and links are readily displayed and accessible depending on the type of portal. Articles are posted from a variety of sources including professional connections and colleagues. Information from professional organizations and conferences also provides additional access to learning. I do a fair amount of work in Ed Tech, so ISTE, South by Southwest (SXSW), and the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) are good examples. Groups also provide good learning opportunities and I follow a few such as Hacking STEM Educators and Elementary School Teachers of America. Lastly, LinkedIn Learning is a video library with some free and some premium content but a whole range of professionally-focused educational videos to watch.

So What Then Is a Classroom Teacher to Do?

Well, the first step would be to create a LinkedIn account.  After that, it kind of depends on how you are looking to utilize the platform.  Here’s my top 10 list of things for an educator new to the LinkedIn Platform:

  1. After creating an account, it’s important to fill out the account information to the best of your ability.
  2. It may seem like it goes without saying, but many accounts are only partial so be sure to completely fill out your information sections with engaging, relevant, and current information.
  3. Start to get connected in a safe manner by inviting people that you’d normally invite to connect and that you’re probably already connected to on other social networking platforms.
  4. What impression do you get from other connections account info? Apply those lessons learned when looking back at your own account through this lens and making updates.
  5. Decide who you’re willing to connect with on LinkedIn. People will randomly reach out to you that you don’t know and they may have any number of intentions.  Personally, I only accept invitations from individuals that I’ve met under circumstances outside of a LinkedIn invite.
  6. If you’re utilizing LinkedIn as a means to connect to and stay in touch with other educational professionals then be sure to check in with them occasionally.  Otherwise, over time, you’ll end up with a list of individuals who’ve become virtual strangers.
  7. LinkedIn learning can mean any number of things from reading articles, following professional organizations, and joining educator groups to the actual LinkedIn Learning videos themselves. Decide what interests you, set up your account accordingly, and then learn as appropriate.
  8. Consider publishing content for others to read, reference, and utilize.  This could be as simple as reposting something that someone else has shared, reposting with a comment providing additional insight or input, posting content, or even creating brand new that you’ve authored yourself.
  9. Recalibrate from time-to-time as to how you’d like to utilize LinkedIn and if it is meeting your current needs as a platform. Update your information, edit groups that you’ve followed and joined, and update settings so that the resource remains a tool that you’ll actively use and leverage for professional growth and moving your career along in line with your long-term goals.
  10. Part-time and Full-time work opportunities matched for employees and employers was originally the primary intent of LinkedIn. While the networking platform has grown and expanding beyond this initial focus, it is still a primary vehicle of LinkedIn and so worthwhile to keep in mind over time and usage. You never know, your next teaching job or educational professional move may be only one click away.

Like so many things in life, what you get out of LinkedIn is largely based on what you put into the platform in the first place. So decide what is is that you want out of LinkedIn, prioritize, organize, and implement.


  1. Microsoft. (2020).  LinkedIn.  Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/
  2. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Educators. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators
  3. Currie, B. (2015, September 24). What New Teachers Need to Know About. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/new-teachers-need-to-know-pd-brad-currie
  4. Young, J.R. (2018, November 9). LinkedIn Learning Opens Its Platform (slightly). Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-11-09-linkedin-learning-opens-its-platform-slightly