Monday, February 12, 2018

Address Learning Differences with These Micro-credentials from @DigitalPromise

Innovative educators know the importance of understanding how a student learns best and then designing an approach tailored that student’s needs. This comes in the form of learning that is student centered, differentiated, and takes into account the learner’s differences and preferences. It also means having a class load that makes this manageable and using  resources like Thrively or Personal Success Plans to tap into students individual passions, talents, interests, abilities, and learning styles.

However, while educators who have these skills will be more effective at supporting student learning, a teacher’s preservice program may not have fully addressed this. As a result, educators must learn on the job, by reading articles, attending workshops (if they are offered and able) and speaking to others face-to-face and online. While this is helpful, there is now a way to jump-start, document, and become recognized for developing this expertise.

Credentialing teachers in addressing learning differences

The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation is offering their learning differences course at no cost as part of a 10-part micro-credential stack from Digital Promise. These micro-credentials provide a competency-based, personalized, way to learn on demand the many aspects contributing to how students learn, from the way our brain processes information to the impact of emotional intelligence on learning.

Research-based approach

Educators who complete the stack are able to bring into practice a more personalized instructional approach, focusing on each student’s individual learning strengths and needs. Each micro-credential begins with an overview of a construct or idea in personalized learning that is supported by the latest research to help educators gain a deeper understanding of its importance in the learning process. Educators are then asked to identify a student’s strengths and challenges and create and implement a plan that supports the student in meeting their goals for learning.

Below are the topics about which some of the micro-credentials are focused.  
Visit the full micro-credential stack.
Educators who have earned the micro-credentials say they have found it extremely empowering to have the language and knowledge to not only define the specific needs of their students, but also determine ways to meet them best. Rather than providing whole class instruction or grouping their students into broad categories, they have the ability recognize their students as individual learners and the tools to ensure they are able to support learning based on their unique strengths, talents, interests, abilities, and learning styles.

Assessment and credit

Upon completion of each micro-credentials teachers submit their work to assessors who determine if the educator has successfully demonstrated competency. If they have, they earn a micro-credential in the form of a digital badge that they can display on their resume, LinkedIn profile, social media sites, and email signature to demonstrate their skill set and stand out from the rest. Because micro-credentials are competency-based, the learning is visible allowing an interested party to in essence, look under the hood, and see all the elements that lead to acquiring competency in this skill or area.

Many states such as New York, Texas, Montana, and Massachusetts provide formal PD credit for successful completion of micro-credentials. There is also an option to pay a nominal fee and receive graduate credit from accredited university partners such as University of San Diego and Portland State University.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

8 Elements Found in Classrooms of Innovative Educators

George Couros tells us, if we want innovative students, we need innovative educators. Do you qualify? In his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, Couros challenges educators to consider whether they empower students to wonder, to explore–and to become forward-thinking leaders? He does this in part by providing eight things to look for in your classroom.  

8 Elements Found in Classrooms of Innovative Educators

  1. Student Voice
  2. Student Choice
  3. Time for Reflection
  4. Opportunities for Innovation
  5. Critical Thinking
  6. Problem Finding and Solving
  7. Self Assessment
  8. Connected Learning
If you need help remembering to incorporate these elements into learning, #NYCSchoolsTech educator extraordinaire, Eileen Lennon created the below infographic which you can print out as a poster (download via PDF) and put up in your classroom. When you do, ask your students to help you consider when these elements have been present and determine ways to incorporate them into future schoolwork.  

Your Turn

Which of these elements do you include in your classroom? How do you do it?  Anything missing?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

No Child Left Unloved: 5 Shifts We Need to Serve At-Risk Youth

Editor's note: This is part of a series entitled "Innovative Approaches to Support At-Risk Youth."

Innovative educators work hard to find the best ways possible for students to learn by tapping into their talents, passions, interests, and abilities. However, before the learning can happen, there is one crucial element that is necessary, but often overlooked for learning to occur. One that is especially important when serving at-risk youth.

If there is not love, there is not learning

This is not addressed in schools of education. This is not addressed by those critiquing schools or teachers. In fact, it is ignored. As a result, an educator who might be a master in his or her craft will fail in reaching these students if they are not loved.

Students raised by “guardians”

If, like many teachers and politicians you were loved by a parent who cared for you, it is possible this has never crossed your mind. However, those of us who teach at-risk youth know many of our students have not had such luck. In fact one of the first things you learn as a teacher in such places is to STOP using the word PARENT. That’s because a large number of our children have parents who were not prepared to raise them. Instead they have “guardians.” It is almost without giving it much thought that we transition to speaking and writing not about parents, but about our student’s parent or guardian.

Teachers in inner city schools will also notice a lot of students of ALL ages, intentionally or accidentally refer to them as mom. They are looking for love and care.

If we unpack the term, we can start to think about what are we saying to these kids without parents. The ones who aren’t lucky enough to have parents, but have guardians instead. It is a constant reminder that someone doesn’t love and parent, them, but rather guards them. The same language used by those who ensure there is order in a prison. As a result, we have children being guarded and protected but not parented and loved.

Unfortunately, teachers are trained to teach all kids the same way whether or not they have parents.

No child left unloved

If we care about ensuring today’s youth grow up to be productive citizens, we need to rethink the role of teachers and schools. Chris Lehmann explains if we want children to learn, then we need to build caring institutions. To do this, we must stop thinking of our jobs as teaching subjects and start realizing we are teaching kids. The relationship between teacher and student is more important than the relationship between teacher and subject.

Maslow’s Hierarchy

To understand this from a scientific approach, let’s review Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Schools are often positioned to help provide for a child’s basic needs and self-fulfillment, but the psychological needs are often completely overlooked.

No child left behind

Rather than address the psychological needs of children, we’ve put into effect programs that ignore this. Instead, they think leaving no child behind means ensuring they all score well on standardized tests. Long after this failed experiment was launched by George W and supported by the electeds that have followed him, we see this doesn’t work.

Interestingly, President Barack Obama, realized the importance of this and even lauded the model that best embraces relationships: Big Picture Learning. Here’s what they believe:

Relationships under gird all learning at The Met. Keeping adults and other students at bay is not an option. Met students must build close relationships with an advisor, community mentors, and other Met faculty, if they are to fulfill their personal learning plans.

The Met, as it likes to say, enrolls families, not just students. For students, this conviction poses a formidable adolescent challenge: accepting parents and guardians as valued partners in their learning.

His words were ones that evoked promise and excitement for a shift and enlightened experience for students. Sadly, despite his words, Obama embraced the common curriculum and standardized tests that valued none of this and obliterated models such as Big Picture.

If we really want to help students to learn, we must address this forgotten piece of Maslow’s Hierarchy with these five shifts.

5 shifts we need

When we move love to center of learning, these are natural shifts that should result.

1) Parents, not guardians: We must consider how we can ensure a child is surrounded by family, not guardians. Do they have a permanent home? Permanent parents? If not, attend to that.
2) Loving before learning: Jeff Bliss taught us that we must touch a student’s freakin heart before we can reach their mind. He was right.
3) Realistic class loads: You can not build a relationship with students if you can’t get to know a student. That means we have to look at the science which says there is NO WAY to know more than 150 students. Do the research. Get to know Dunbar’s number. If you’re administrator who values students you won’t allow unrealistic class loads. If you are a teacher you will do your best to ensure admins know you value children and you will encourage them to set you and your students up for success.  
4) Change the role of the teacher: When tech teaches, teachers can do much more work when it comes to building relationships and ensuring students experience deeper learning.
5) Update schools of education and teacher training: The kids are right (see what they wanted the nation to know about education). Teacher training programs need to include training on guidance, counseling, social work, and other support.

Good teachers know that love and relationships are at the center of learning. They know they are set up for failure and they are frustrated. But change is possible. The innovation we need to realize it is nothing new. Instead, it requires that we make these important shifts that put children at the center of learning.

Monday, February 5, 2018

An Innovative Educator’s Guide to Facebook Privacy Settings

Like it or not, at this point in time Facebook is the winner when it comes to social learning communities. It is where companies have found they can best connect with customers and build relationships. It is also where organizations have learned staff can effectively connect to keep communication going and learn and support from one another. 

If you’ve tried to be one of the last to hop aboard, but realize it is no longer possible if you want to do your job most effectively, here are some tips for setting up your account and privacy settings.

An Innovative Educators Guide to Privacy Settings

1) Get real
Use your real name. When you don’t not only do you not move toward establishing a solid digital footprint, but you also lose trust and credibility. Social places like facebook are for real people with real names. 

If you were the most popular kid in high school and don’t want all your classmates looking you up because those days are behind you then consider modifying your name. For example, drop your last name or put your title as your first name and your first name as your last name i.e. Teacher Lisa or Techie Tim.

2) Make your profile public
Social media is for being public. Don’t put things there you wouldn’t want others to see. Use social media as an opportunity to be a role model with a strong digital image. Think of it as a space where others can get to know the whole you that you want them to know.

3) Use groups for less public posts
If there are things you don’t want public, use groups for that. What is shared in a group is only seen by group members. Good uses of groups include using them for family pictures and sharing, support groups (i.e. parenting), special interest groups (i.e. sports). Also remember being in a group does not mean you are “friends” with group members.

4) What about the crazy stalker ex boyfriend?
Block em! This way that can’t see what you post. 

5) What about what other people post?
You can control what other people post by selecting the right settings.
-Select that only you can post on your timeline

- Select that you must review anything you are tagged in before it appears on your timeline.  
- Select that you will review tags people add to your posts

Your turn
What has your experience been with privacy settings? Have you tried something that you find more effective? Any interesting stories of peril or success? 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

#NYCSchoolsTechChat: Valentine's Special Tonight at 7 p.m.

As Valentine's Day approaches, this chat will give participants ideas for way we can touch our students' hearts so we can reach their minds. 

#NYCSchoolTech teacher Eileen Lennon moderates with me throwing in my two cents. 

You can prepare for the conversation by thinking about answers to these questions:

Q1 What innovative approaches are you using in your classroom to celebrate Valentine’s Day? #NYCSchoolsTechChat

Q2 Learning is at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. How are you ensuring your students feel a sense of love and belonging in your classroom? #NYCSchoolsTechChat

Q3 What are schoolwide approaches used where you teach to help students feel they are loved and they belong? #NYCSchoolsTechChat

Q4 In this digital world, what are some ways we can use technology to help students feel love and belonging? #NYCSchoolsTechChat

Q5 Do you have innovative approaches to help families feel a sense of love and belonging in the school community? #NYCSchoolsTechChat

Chat details are below:
Date: Thursday, February 1
Time: 7:00 pm
Topic: Valentine's Day Special: Touching Our Student's Hearts to Reach Their Minds
Your Host: @eileen_lennon (@NYCSchools)
Co-Host: @InnovativeEdu (@NYCSchools)

Remember to respond using the hashtag #NYCSchoolsTechChat and include the number of the question you are answering in your response i.e. A1 and your answer.

We hope you can view the chat live, but if you are unable, please visit our archive at You can also participate in the chat at that link or if you have an iPhone download the app at (coming to Android soon).

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Permanent Families: Innovative Interventions That Serve At-Risk Youth

Editor's note: This is part of a series entitled "Innovative Approaches to Serve At-Risk Youth."

We know from one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies on interventions for at-risk youth, that traditional interventions are not likely to work. Approaches like counseling, mentoring, homework help and camp, do have an effect. A negative one.

But that doesn’t mean we should just give up. Instead it means that we need to move from traditional to innovative approaches to support youth at risk.

This post is part of a series where we will look at innovative ideas that show promise for a supporting at-risk youth to realize their potential.

In this piece, we will look at an innovative approach to supporting children who have been placed in out-of-home protective care.

Traditional Approach: Foster Care / Group Homes

Traditionally, such youth were placed in foster care or group homes. However, the research shows that for youth who’ve grown up and out of the foster care system about half experience homelessness. 50% are unemployed. 70% of girls will have an unplanned pregnancy. 75% of boys will end up incarcerated. 50% become dependent on a substance. 25% are not able to receive a GED or graduate high school. Less than 5% will complete college over their lifetime.

Among the problems that providing temporary care in various homes or group homes creates is that these young people are not permanently connected to adults they can count on.  They lack models for creating resilient families, successful work lives, and strong cultural and ethnic identities. As they approach adulthood they lack a vital safety net.

Social Capital

Additionally, since they are not connected to a family they have not developed social patterns of acceptable behavior that support desirable outcomes for the family unit. As a result, according to social capital theory, these youth are more likely to make choices that have a negative long-term outcome.

High levels of social capital in a child's life have been linked to more positive life outcomes and productive personal outcomes such as occupational viability, individual health and psychological well being according to business Professor Wayne E. Baker who wrote the book on the subject. In their article on social capital in the Journal of Marriage and Family, sociology professor Frank Furstenberg and scientist Mary Elizabeth Hughes share that when parents make' social investments in their children and the community this increases children's odds of graduating from high school and attending college. Smaller social support networks (less social capital) are associated with higher likelihood of homelessness.

Traditionally the foster care system and independent living programs have not focused on connecting young people to caring adults who will continue to provide a supportive safety net.  

Innovative Approach: Permanent connections for older foster youth

Traditionally, by the time they became teenagers, adoption / placement with a permanent family was no longer even considered an option for children in foster care. When you take into account that the average age for financial independence from their parents in America today is 30, you can see one reason why expecting a young person to be on their own is problematic and results in the aforementioned consequences.

Turn Focus from "Placement" to "Connections"

An innovative approach is to turning the focus away from placement and toward connections such as those a family provides. In her article, Permanence or Aging Out? A Matter of Choice, Lauren Frey, MSW, LCSW suggests developing youth-centered permanency planning teams: an individual team for each youth; asking the youth to identify important members of their own team; making the youth the central team player on the team; joining youth, birth parents, foster parents, family members, and other important adults (teachers, coaches, guidance counselors) together with professionals on the planning team; and facilitating a proactive and continuous teaming process until youth reach permanence rather than episodic or crisis-driven meetings.

Move from "State as Parent" to "Permanent Families"

This moves from the traditional approach of state as the youth’s parent, to the each youth having a team of caring people who will serve in the role of permanent family.

Whether they are open about it or not, older youth want families as revealed in a survey on the nature of happiness conducted by the Associated Press and MTV. The 18 - 24 year olds who were polled, ranked “spending time with family” as their top answer to the question, “What makes you happy?” Youth want belonging, connectedness, and someone to care about them. They want an adult in their life who they can know, trust, and loves them unconditionally. The only way to achieve this is by helping them find care and a family not just until they are 18 or 21, but forever.

Call to Action

There are organizations like You’ve Gotta Believe that help any interested party become an adoptive parent. They follow a youth-centered-model to find homes for the teens or young adults who make up 25% of those in care. Innovative educators can help these young people by attending an orientation which happens across the year, to learn more and then sharing what they learn with prospective families in their school, home, or religious community.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The 3 Hottest Posts on The Innovative Educator

Haven’t been keeping up with The Innovative Educator? Don’t worry. That’s what this wrap up is for.
What’s hot? Students at the center, accessible images, and innovative approaches to serve at-risk youth.

At the top is a post that looks at ways to keep students at the center of learning. It includes tips like building learning networks and strengthening relationships. Are you ensuring your images are accessible to all readers? Did you even know that was a thing? If not, check out the post in second place to learn how to create accessible images and attract more readers.

Rounding out the top is a post that is part of a series designed to explore innovative approaches to serve at-risk youth.  

So what are you waiting for? Now's your chance. Take a look at the articles below and click the link to read one(s) that looks of interest to you.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Youth Village: Innovative Approaches To Serve At-Risk Youth

Editor's note: This is part of a series entitled "Innovative Approaches to Serve At-Risk Youth."

We know from one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies on interventions for at-risk youth,
that many traditional approaches don't work. Surprisingly, while approaches such as counseling, mentoring, homework help and camp have an effect, it's not what you'd expect. It's a negative one.

But that doesn’t mean we should just give up. Instead it means that we need to move from traditional to innovative approaches to support youth at risk.

This post is part of a series where we will look at innovative ideas that show promise for a supporting at-risk youth to realize their potential.

In this piece, we will look at a youth village and how it moved the lives of at-risk youth in a positive direction.

Traditional Approach: Boarding Schools for Privileged Youth

Traditionally, boarding schools are an option chosen by wealthy parents to provide more opportunities for leadership for children in a supportive environment. It is also a great step toward independence before graduating from high school. Those parents generally have the financial means to make such an experience possible for their children. However, such opportunities should not only be available to children who were lucky enough to be born into families who could afford this. Research and evidence show that students living in poverty could also benefit from such an experience.  

Innovative Approach: Boarding Schools for At-Risk Youth

Education researcher James Coleman showed that schools’ have minimal impact on students who live in poverty. This is because problems are systemic. However, the American Psychological Association points to one strategy that has been proven to work. That is to improve student’s settings and the conditions within them.

That is exactly the approach taken at Mevo'ot Yam Youth Village. It looks like a tropical resort, but it’s not. Instead it is home to disadvantaged youth who build crucial life skills such as goal setting, endurance, and inner confidence by learning to ride the waves on a surfboard, navigate the sea on a boat, and study to improve marine life.  

The Youth Village serves as a boarding school not to the rich and famous, but to about 400 children from families living in poverty. While children are encouraged to spend weekends and holidays with families, they are no longer constantly surrounded by an environment where they face adverse conditions such as hunger, drug abuse, lack of supervision, or domestic violence. They are surrounded by faculty and staff that emphasize the importance crucial life skills like goal setting, endurance, academic success aligned to talents and interests, teamwork, meeting challenges, and helping others.

Under the guidance of the school and Village staff, the students are responsible for creating their home by the sea. They also work with experts from Universities and organizations to solve real problems today. They are assessed by how they work to solve these problems, creative dialogue they engage in about these problems, and their ability to present their findings and solutions in real world contexts. The youth is know they play a part in the shaping of the sea and thus making the world a better place by tackling important ecological issues.

Students graduate with specific skills that prepare them for success in academic studies or careers in areas such as marine biology and/or the naval services. You can watch this video for insight into the student experience.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

4 Rules for Accessible Images That Will Get You More Views

Innovative educators understand that when posts have images they receive more views and provide a better experience for the reader. What they may not realize is that is only the beginning. You also should describe your images. There are two primary reasons for that. 
1) Search Image Optimization (SEO)
2) Accessible to those who can't see images because they are visually impaired or because of bandwidth issues.
Here is how to do that on Twitter and blogs.

1) Alt text tags

Describe your image with short, concise, descriptive language like Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing now that Rob Long told him he should
Lin-Manuel Miranda's Facebook post confirming to Rob Long that he will use alt text on Twitter
Visit Rob's Tweet to learn how to add alt text  

2) Title Text

Your title text is what shows when someone hovers over an image. This means you may want it to have a call to action. For example, you might say to click the image to learn more about the topic. Here's what that looks like on blogger.

screenshot of what title text and alt text look like on blogger

3) Caption

The caption is the slightly more thorough description of your image for all readers. Another advantage is that captions are more likely to be read then your post. It also provides more context for search engines to understand what you are sharing. You can also use the caption to link to other important information.
Two females at the beach with their dogs: A mini schnauzer and a poodle mix.
Lisa with her friend Brandi and their dogs in Delray Beach.
Lisa's mini schnauzer, Otto has his own Facebook page

4) Image Name

When you save an image, it receives an ugly, nonsensical name as you can see in the image below.
Screenshot of what an image name looks like before you give it a name.

Give your image a sensible names with a few words to describe it. Think of it like a file you are uploading. 

That's it. Follow these four rules and it is a win win. You'll receive more eyes on your post not only because the SEO is increased, but also because those who can't see adequately with their eyes will now have access to what you shared via a screen reader. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

When Helping Hurts. Innovative Approaches Needed to Serve At-Risk Youth

In a world where so many right-hearted people spend so much time and money on social interventions meant to help, doesn’t it make sense to figure out which ones work and which ones don’t?

That’s the question economist Stephen J. Dubner explored on an episode of his Freakonomics radio show called “When Helping Hurts.”

Dubner took a look at a longitudinal study that began during the Great Depression and is still going on today. Back in the 1930s, Dr. Richard Clark Cabot commissioned what came to be known as the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study. The study looked at the effects of common interventions such as mentoring, counseling, homework help, and summer camp.

The results are surprising.

They show that these supportive programs actually do not have the intended consequences of helping at-risk youth. In fact, it is quite the contrary: These programs actually hurt those who receive services.


The short answer is these programs don’t change the circumstances of their target audience. Yes, they are exposed to better opportunities and are receiving intermittent support, but at the end of the day, they don’t have the full structures and systems set up for success. Another factor is their environment. These programs don't change the fact that for most of the time they are continually surrounded by others who share their circumstances, poverty, crime, joblessness, lack of education, incarceration, absent parent(s).

Certain interventions like group therapy or summer camps have a particular negative effect which is likely the result of something called contagion or deviancy training.  This means that if a youth is talking about something like using drugs or shoplifting, others might respond by smiling or acting in an encouraging, rather than disapproving, manner. The research shows if such conversations and responses occur, there will likely be an increase in those behavior in the future.

Ultimately, the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study showed that on all seven measures (longevity, incarceration, mental health, drug/alcohol use, physical well-being, job satisfaction, relationship satisfaction), the treatment group who received interventions did statistically, significantly worse off than the control group. Not only that, there was also the dose effect the longer the intervention, the more likely the damage would be done.

Does this mean we should just stop interventions for at risk youth?

The Verdict?

It depends.

If we have research showing a certain type of intervention makes no positive difference, and in fact worsens someone’s situation, then, yes. We should stop.

Stop the mentoring, the group counseling, the summer camp programs if we have no evidence of effectiveness.

But then what? Do nothing?

Of course not. But before we do something, we need to look at what works for at-risk youth, then we need to measure its effectiveness.

The good news is there are innovative solutions that have been proven to work. Maybe these are even solutions you are implementing where you live or work. Want to know what they are? That is what we'll look at in a series of future posts called: Innovative approaches to supporting at-risk youth.