My 2014 TIES Top 10

by Kim Briske

WHY a Top 10???

As I look back on the TIES conference, information overload sets in. As a means of solidifying learning from the conference in order to put it into practice in my own sphere of influence, I'm taking the time to reflect, recall, make connections, and plan. Below is my Top 10 list. Many of the list items include a variety of tools and greater depth of learning, which I've condensed into a single point. Here's to continuous learning and ongoing improvement of our practice in teaching and learning. This is where the rubber hits the road, and our teachers and students benefit from new learning put into practice.

10) OUR World is Digital

This is not news, but often I catch myself saying something like, "It's their world" when referring to kids and technology. The truth is that it's OUR world. We all live in a world that is more and more digital. Our focus doesn't need to be just on how our kids live in this technology rich world, but how we all live in it together. Our responsibility is to learn, grow, adapt, and model healthy and responsible use of technology. It's everywhere--how do we embrace it and live well in our world?

It is our responsibility to teach our kids how to find good technology and digital content. Furthermore, we need to teach them to create good and do good with technology. Everyday we create our digital footprint. Information that we share, as well as that which is shared by others is publicly available--family pictures, events we attend, news articles, the honor roll list, tweets, pictures, status updates, etc. When someone (future employer, friends, colleagues, parents, etc.) Googles us or our kids, what do they see? Our reality is that our lives are very digital. We tend to separate online and offline experiences, but we should treat all of our actions and experiences as our one footprint, image, and legacy. As it turns out, much of the information and images of each of us that are shared online (by us or others) is what we are doing offline. It becomes part of our digital footprint when it's shared. Beyond that, the response to what is shared becomes part of our digital footprint.

This is our world. When we live it to it's fullest, we establish our own positive presence in it online, offline, and together.

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9) Positive Emotions Make Learning Better!

"The opposite of play is not work. It's depression." -Jane McGonigal at TIES 2014.

When people engage in games (which more of them do more often than we might realize), they experience positive emotions, which give them resilience to keep trying when they fail and to embrace challenges. Recent research on mindset tells us that a growth mindset is one of the most important attributes of successful people. Growth mindset means that we approach challenges with an open mind. We value effort and tackling challenges. We see setbacks or failures as new opportunities for learning and growth. And the good news is that we can develop growth mindset in our students by encouraging their exploration, risk-taking, and valuing hard work and growth over simplicity and right answers.

Grit and resiliency are already present in gaming. Gamers fail 80% of the time and still have optimism in their ability to eventually succeed. What if our students do this in learning all the time? Check out the positive emotions that contribute to the resiliency of gamers below, as presented by Jane McGonigal at TIES 2014. These are just what we want in our classrooms, so we need to provide the environment to bring them out.

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8) Student Aspirations Include Learning

One of the facts that Jane McGonigal shared in her TIES keynote was that 82% of young Americans want to write a book (cited from a USA Today national survey). That was surprisingly high to me. It tells me that our students want to share their stories and their voices. Furthermore, they feel inspired to do so. Writing a book is within their realm of possibility. When kids enter school, they are creative beings. Kindergartners can come up with hundreds of possible ways to do something. They might not all work, but they are willing to try. Somewhere along the line, even later in elementary school, the possibilities become fewer, and kids seek a more direct path to the right answer. Now, I'm all for accuracy and correct results, but I'm also for experimentation and exploration, as well as questioning our answers and results. I wonder what percentage of American adults want to write a book. How many want to paint, draw, or sculpt? How many want to build something even without knowing how the end product will look or work? Our kids are ready to do and create. When we allow them time to discover and pursue their passions, they have the chance to do amazing things! And, their aspirations will include learning that wouldn't have otherwise occurred.

So, how does this look in school where there are so many demands on our time? There's no easy answer, but here are some possible starting points:

  • Genius hour (a.k.a. 20% time)--Big companies do this. Google does this. This is how Post-It notes came about at 3M. Employees have time in their work day to pursue projects of their own choosing and interest. In turn, they create and discover. Many schools are taking note and allowing their students this type of unstructured time to delve into learning and problem solving of great relevance. We empower students to direct their own learning without assuming that they need our guidance in order for the learning to be beneficial to them.
  • Reframe homework--Homework often provides very little added value to the learning taking place in school and can even detract from the learning environment. This is not always the case, but it's important to consider the impact on learning before requiring homework. If it's not greatly improving learning, perhaps we could allow students to use their time outside of school for different types of learning and other endeavors that add value to their lives. Here's an interesting flowchart for considering homework.
  • Grading--This one gets touchy, but we need to be thinking about what we grade and how we grade. What if a student tries something for a project that doesn't work, but they understand why and are able to reflect on their experience and demonstrate learning? Do we grade on the product they create, or do we grade on their articulation of learning? What if a student turns in an assignment late and they've done an amazing job? Do we give credit for the work and the learning, or do we dock points for the lack of punctuality?
  • Testing--Access to information presents a new landscape for assessment. Again, we need to ask ourselves what is important. Simple recall has it's place, but being able to find the relevant information and do something with it is more important than memorization in most cases. In thinking about high stakes tests--the final exams, standardized tests, and college entrance tests--we need to recognize the limitations as well. As Yong Zhao said in his TIES keynote, if a test measures 5 feet, it doesn't read a 6-foot response. It will only read up to 5 feet. That's what tests do; they don't measure exceptionality.
  • Student choice--Every task has multiple means of completing it. It's even possible that the best way from Point A to Point B is not a straight line! The more students are able to choose what they learn, how they learn it, and how they demonstrate learning, the more their learning will align with their interests. They'll go above and beyond in their learning when it incorporates their own aspirations. Whenever possible, we need to allow for student choice.
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7) Student Sharing = Ownership and Power

Students love to share their voice. As I said in #8, they have a story to tell. When we allow them to be creative in how they share, they will rise to the challenge and surprise us! We have technology tools available that allow for multiple means of demonstrating learning. Do students need to write a paper or do a presentation to show their learning? Can we allow choice in their method of sharing learning? Also, looking back to #10, if students use digital tools to demonstrate their learning, they have the ability to share with others and contribute to their positive digital footprint. Their learning goes beyond the classroom and school walls and they get to show off their work. Whenever possible, we need to encourage our students to create. There are numerous tools available, and the actual tool is less important than what they share. I encourage all teachers to try something new, and it's ok to let our students use a tool that they know or want to try even if we are not familiar with it. When students understand the learning objectives of an assignment and are accountable for hitting the identified targets, they can choose the method of sharing that is best for them. This might include creating a newscast or a video, writing a blog, creating a collage, making an infographic, conducting an interview, writing an article, or any host of other products. When we can, let's give our students opportunities to share their work and be creative in doing it!

6) Interact with Students during Instruction

We've all been there--the meeting or lecture that left us completely unengaged and trying to focus. When given the opportunity to present or teach, we want our audience's experience to be the best it can be. Even when we have information that we have to convey and just need to get it out there, our message will reach our audience or class better when we engage our learners. This means providing opportunities for interaction. While it's easy to think that interacting with an audience will take too much time, we have the tools available to us to allow for quick engaging activities. The time is well spent in that it increases engagement, adds buy-in, provides a chance for our students to share their voice, and can even provide information to direct the remainder of the presentation. When we can hear from our audience and connect our information with them the content of our presentations will have greater value.

Looking to get started? Give Pear Deck or Nearpod a try for interactive slides embedded into a presentation. Or, try Poll Everywhere, Poll Daddy, or even a quick Google Form to add in elements of pre-tests, surveys, or feedback points to your presentations. If you're looking for more interaction, try a back channel conversation with Twitter or Today's Meet.

Avoid the Ferris Bueller classroom below!!

"Anyone, anyone" teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off

5) We Need New Evaluation Criteria

In education and industry, we've become accustomed to measuring success based on quantitative results and data analysis--points scored and dollars made. This type of measurement still has it's place in education, but the trouble is that the metrics that can simply yield quantitative data are not necessarily the most important or indicative of learning or preparation for the real world. Information is readily available to all of us. It's easy to measure how much of the available information we can memorize and recall on a given day. It's harder to measure how we make sense of information and apply it meaningfully. Tests can't do that. Furthermore, tests can't scratch the surface when it comes to relational skills and personal characteristics. The skills most likely to help our students achieve in the future are not easily measured: creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, empathy, resilience, and the list goes on.

More and more companies are hiring less based on degrees and test scores, and more based on people's ability to learn, talent, and grit. While Google execs including Laszlo Bock, chairman and head of hiring, encourage people to go to college, they don't even mention it in their hiring process. Instead of focusing on majors and GPAs, they look for skills, projects, and experiences. In short, what we DO tends to matter a lot more than what we KNOW.

If we're looking at what matters for being successful (and even happy!) in the world, we need to provide opportunities for our students to have learning experiences in which they have the opportunity to fail, evaluate, create, work with others, and direct their own work. In our current evaluation system, these types of learning experiences do not have adequate value and prominence.

In order to make changes in our evaluation criteria, we have to be courageous and be alright with some uncertainty. In a time of exploration and growth, we can't always see the benefits in easily measured statistics, but that's ok! By no means do I suggest abandoning statistical analysis and logic (that would be reckless). At the same time, we also need to focus on creativity, inspiration, and trusting our gut when we know the value in learning that is harder to measure quantitatively. Then, stay the course! We can't abandon innovation based on evaluation that happens in the midst of implementation when the evaluation criteria we have used in the past don't fit the changing reality of the present.

Thanks to @tracyclark08 for the graphic demonstrating the soft skills that employers are looking for...those never measured on most of our assessments in school.

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4) Don't let FEAR stop you

Whenever we try something new, there are always plenty of sources of resistance. Change is hard. Real learning is hard, as it causes our brains to create new connections that weren't there before. If we are to be innovative and provide new, meaningful, relevant, and engaging learning activities with the resources available to us through the use of technology, we must allow ourselves to experiment and try things out without fear of the process or the outcome. Fear so easily creeps into our minds in many forms, but it doesn't need to hold us back. It's time we embrace risk-taking and learning by doing, which means that it won't always be perfect and free of errors. If we eliminate risk, we also eliminate creativity and possibility. When we stop fearing what could go wrong and instead think about what could go right, we free ourselves to discover and create. Every challenge and mistake becomes a new opportunity for learning.
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3) Visual Information is Powerful

A familiar Chinese Proverb states, "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand." Visuals go a long way in communicating information that will be recalled later. Not only do we remember more when we consume information that is presented visually, we also solidify our learning by presenting information to others visually. Graphics have the ability to condense paragraphs of written text into easily conveyed tables and pictures that stick with us. We can use visuals both for effective and efficient communication. With all of the tools available to us, we should capitalize on graphic representations. Try a tool like this one at, do a quick Google image search, use a movie clip to illustrate a point, have students make an infographic as a means of reporting information. Do what you can to make content visual!

2) Communication can't be Overated

This is perhaps my top priority and biggest takeaway from TIES. While I knew before that communication was important, the need to communicate frequently with all involved in organizational change and actions is clearer than ever. In times when I question whether or not people will read what I write, watch videos I create, and listen when I speak, my response will be to over communicate, as opposed to under communicate.

Communication builds shared knowledge and gets everyone on the same page. The difficulty with it is that we are inundated with information. John Kotter notes that organizations typically under communicate their visions for change by at least a factor of 10. In schools, we are constantly changing and growing to meet the needs of our students and navigate a changing landscape. How do we keep everyone on the same page? Kotter's insight is based on estimations of the amount of communication an organization's employees receive in a period of 3 months. Here's what he says:

  • Total communication to an individual: 2.3 million words and numbers
  • Typical communication about a change initiative in 3 months: 13,400 words and numbers.
  • 13,400/2,300,000 = .0058, which means that about 0.58% of the communication to individuals is about a given change or initiative.

What this tells me is that under communication is likely, and over communication would be difficult to attain. If this is typical of communication to those who work within an organization, what about those who interact with the organization or are served by the organization. In schools, we need to communication regularly with multiple stakeholders who are all invested and concerned with our success. This includes teachers, administrators, students, parents, school board members, and our community.

In addition to frequency, our communication needs to be effective, which means that it allows for feedback, provides clarity, uses visuals, and is repetitive. This is perhaps my #1 resolution moving forward.

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1) We are all Learners

The importance of ongoing learning is the reason it takes the #1 position! Whenever I attend a conference or work with a dedicated group of professionals, I learn and come away energized and challenged.

What happens when a community is built on the value of ongoing learning and continuous growth? I will argue that all members of the community benefit. When we constantly challenge ourselves and push ourselves to develop, learn, and grow, we are able to improve our practice.

In schools, we focus on learning almost to the point that we don't think about it. It becomes automatic. However, we also tend to define the roles of students and teachers. I will maintain that we all need to be students all the time. Every interaction is a learning opportunity. This is not a point to be romanticized by the perception of learning as an easy progression or accumulation of knowledge and experiences--not at all. One of my favorite quotes regarding learning comes from Thomas Sergiovanni in the preface of his book entitled The Principalship (p. xv). He states, "Learning is often scary and is always hard work...You read, you think, you talk. You get something wrong, you don't understand something, you try it again...Yes, learning can be fun and inspiring, but along the way, it usually makes us miserable." I like this view of learning because it can be frustrating to try something new or try to grasp a concept that is really new. Our brains need to make pathways for connecting information and making sense of it that just aren't there yet. That's real learning. In the process, we have to admit what we don't know, and our assumptions are challenged.

That's hard work, but it is also inspiring and valuable. Within our school systems, as we learn together, we build our collective capacity. Collective learning on the part of our teachers and staff leads to better learning opportunities for our students, which is why this point occupies position #1 in my list!