Category Archives: Remote Learning

UP for (Changes to) Learning

When schools closed to in-person learning in March of 2020, UP for Learning’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) continued to meet regularly. We wanted to check-in and dialogue about their experiences and the experiences of their peers. Through these conversations, it became clear that it was important to understand how youth across Vermont were experiencing their new reality of the pandemic.

The YAC put out a survey in Spring of 2020. In it, we asked Vermont middle and high school youth what support they needed during full remote learning.

What was the purpose of the survey?

Why did we want to gather this data?

What rose to the top were:

  • social connections
  • academic support and
  • access to resources and information.

We then connected with youth across the state to support their needs throughout the remainder of the academic year.

The YAC also wanted to revisit Vermont’s youth needs as we moved from full remote to hybrid to full in-person learning and sent a new survey out in winter of 2021. The main purpose of this survey was to gather data about what was learned during the 2020-2021 academic year and what opportunities arose for change.

Youth responded from 14 different communities across Vermont, as well as youth who were engaged in the Virtual Learning Academy.  

Findings from the Survey

UP for Learning

Link to the full .pdf in Google Drive

What are our initial reactions to the data?

Evelyn: My initial reaction was that it was interesting to see how my reality and understanding and adaptation to learning during the pandemic mirrored the experience of many other youth across the state. More specifically, I have been struggling with my sense of engagement and mental health; hearing that other youth are identifying these as opportunities as well makes me believe that we can begin to create real, systemic change as we re-enter full in-person learning.

Lindsey: My initial reaction to the data was that what was already known about what does not work for ALL youth in the educational system became even more abundantly clear. It really just put an exclamation point on it.  Youth want an education that is built on deep relationships, engaging learning opportunities and time to care for all of their developmental needs: social/emotional, physical and cognitive.  

What stood out as a major takeaway?

For both of us, what stood out was the lack of knowledge about, or experience with, social emotional learning.  In our minds, this was the opportune time to create opportunities for more in depth community-building, prioritizing young people’s social emotional needs during such an uncertain year. 

The potential for changing school schedules in particular, struck YAC student member Galen. He put it this way:

“I love how tactile that feels? It feels like something we can do, like, right now. Get it done, and make change. I think sometimes we almost get lost in like, the systems thinking. I think people often talk about making change but it’s hard to find concrete ways to do it sometimes? And I love that we’ve kind of put a name to that. Like, here’s something we can do to make change… right now.”

Harnessing the power of community

The YAC also gathered with community members to look at this data. And from there, we worked together in small, deeply connecting groups to draw conclusions from it as to how best to move forward.

How do we make sure we take these lessons and move them forward instead of going back to the status-quo?

This is a quote that resonates with us from adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Shaping Worlds. She writes that “How we live and grow and stay purposeful in the face of constant change actually does determine both the quality of our lives, and the impact that we can have when we move into action together.”

Purpose. Trust. Relationships. What if we designed our work around our values? What would we need to change individually and collectively?

Where do we go from here?

To end our community session, we created a Jamboard, and asked attendees to fill it out. To guide them, we asked simply, “How do we make sure we take these lessons and move them forward instead of going back to the status quo?”

These are their responses.

Where do we go from here? (Jamboard)

  • “We have to listen.”
  • “Later start to the day.”
  • “Continue to provide the community connections and build on them.”
  • “Listen to students! Make change with them, not to them.”
  • “Were students able to do more self-designed learning? If yes, can this continue?”
  • “Feels like VT AOE and legislators need to continue to hear from VT youth!”

And we ask you the same question.

Educators, students, and community members,

“How do we make sure we take these lessons and move them forward instead of going back to the status quo?”

We would love to hear from you.

What I Learned from my Pandemic Year of Learning

Remote learning. Before COVID’s pandemic year, I did not even know that was a thing. It wasn’t, really.

Now, I am a remote learner. I have been for over a year. In my opinion, remote learning is great. I love having a flexible schedule, I love being able to do other activities during the school day, and most of all I love being able to work at my own pace.

One great thing about remote learning is that I have a flexible schedule.

Most of the time, I get my schoolwork done by early or mid-afternoon. If I was in school, I’d be in school all day, but with remote learning, I am done with school whenever I finish my work. This is great because it provides an opportunity to do alternative activities.

Normally, I get all my work done by lunchtime. This gives more time for activities that are good for your mental and physical health, like exercise. Nowadays, I go skiing a couple of afternoons a week, but in the fall and spring, I will go hiking, running, or biking.

I also love to read and write in my free time, remote learning gives me the opportunity to do more of that.

One of the best things I got to do this year is that I decided I wanted to write a book.

Currently, I have written 39,500 words of a headcanon (fan-fiction) story about one of my favorite book series. I’ve also written 2,800 words of an original novel, and multiple short stories.

Also, I wrote an article for The Vermont Almanac about Someday Farms in Dorset, VT. I interviewed the owner, Scout Profit, at 11 A.M on a Wednesday! If I was in school I probably would not have had the chance to do this.

I am also an avid reader; so far this year I have read fifty-two books.

Another great thing about remote learning is that I can work on assignments at my own pace.

For example, I can do English assignments fairly quickly, but math takes more time. With remote learning, I can spend more time on the math assignments during the day, instead of having only one small block of time to work with.

Another great thing about being able to work at my own pace is that I can spend more time on a bigger assignment. For example, If I have a big project for science but only a small assignment for English, I can spend more time on science that week.

I think being able to work at my own pace has helped me become a better student. I don’t think I necessarily learned more than I would have in school, but I think that I understand the concepts I’ve learned this year more thoroughly.

Clearly, remote learning definitely has its perks, but there are some downfalls.

The biggest one being communication.

When you’re in-person, and you need help, you can just go see a teacher. With remote learning, that’s harder.

Although there are set times to see a teacher every day, sometimes that time just doesn’t work out. Also, some teachers do not have these times, so you just have to email with them. Even though communication is a kink to iron out, it is still pretty decent considering the challenges faced when setting up remote learning.

Moving on from the work aspect of distance learning, being at home is a little tough.

At my school, we only have one call a day, and being in a virtual room with your class isn’t exactly the same thing as being in a real room with them. However, I do talk on the phone with my friends a lot. And for the most part, as long as I keep in contact with them, I don’t miss being in school that much.

In conclusion, I believe that remote learning is great, despite its flaws.

It allows students to have a more flexible schedule, to do other activities during the day, and work at their own pace. All in all, I think some of the strategies used in remote learning should be implemented in in-person learning.



Lessons Learned from Vermont’s Virtual Academies

We asked three Vermont educators to share some of the most powerful lessons they’ve learned from teaching virtually during the pandemic. Sona Iyengar, Robin Bebo-Long, and Emma Vastola joined us to share. Iyengar works at Winooski Middle School, in Winooski VT. Bebo-Long and Vastola both work in the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, down in southern Vermont. And all three educators touched on equity, student engagement, mental health, and much, much more.

Below, you can find a fully captioned video recording of the event.



Authentic ways to check in on your advisees

Ways to move beyond “I’m fine”

How are you? No, really.

How are you?

Right now, that’s a tough question for me to answer. Most days when asked this question, I take a shallow breath and reply, “I’m fine.”

But I really notice when someone takes a look in my eyes and sincerely asks me this question.  When I feel like the person is really and truly trying to check-in with me and see if I’m okay, my answer is always different.

  • “I’m surviving.”
  • “Eh, I’m struggling.”
  • “I’m halfway decent.”

I might even want to answer the question with an emoji. 🤷🏼‍♀️ 👀  🤦🏼‍♀️

Our students need a trusted adult to sincerely check in with them, as well.

Someone needs to ask them every day – How are you? What do you need?

In schools, we have some structures in place to make sure that someone is checking in with every child. Our advisory system should be the place to ensure that happens. The advisor’s role is to be the advocate and adult connection for every student. An advisor is meant to be the adult that knows this child well.

So, it makes perfect sense that advisors are the person who checks in on the emotional and academic well-being of every child. And I’d like to help you create a process for making advisor check-ins an effective and meaningful support system for your advisory students.

We all need support systems, but especially now.

Choose your purposes for check-ins

There are many aspects of student life that an advisor could possibly inquire about and offer support. While all aspects are worthy and important, if we group them all together it can turn into a laundry list. We don’t want to set ourselves up for failure by unrealistically thinking we can check in on all things at all times. You might start as an advisor or advisory team by asking yourselves what information you will prioritize during Advisee Check-ins.

Which of these questions will you target with your advisees?
  • How is your emotional health?
  • How are you feeling physically?
  • Do you have enough food at home?
  • How is your family?
  • Hey, how is your technology and ability to connect to the internet at home?
  • How has your school attendance been?
  • What factors impact your school attendance?
  • How are your friendships?
  • Do you feel connected to people right now?
  • How have you been doing with completing your work for school?
  • Has the work been too hard, too easy, or just right?

As you can see, the list of possible topics for check-ins with our students is long and deep. I think it’s important for you, your team, or your school to decide what feels right for your environment.

Consider these two formats to use for checking in with your advisees:

Make time for a personal video connection

While this is the more laborious strategy of the two, it’s important. Each student needs a chance to look into the eyes and talk frequently with his/her/their advisor in a private setting. During a pandemic, I would suggest a zoom call every week or two. Because even if you are seeing a student fully in-person, nothing feels very personal in these circumstances.

Every child deserves to have their own solo time to connect with the advisor. Make space in the school day to conduct a virtual one on one check-in with students in your advisory. If you don’t find time to connect with everyone once a week, make a staggered schedule that allows you to have 10 minutes with each advisee over the course of two weeks.

During emergency learning in spring of 2020, my daughter Jane’s teacher did this beautifully.

Every week she published a schedule including Zoom links for each person’s one on one check-in. I observed that Jane was pretty candid about her own status and wellness when it was just her and the teacher. And to see her teacher’s face and get to have a brief chat? That was always a highlight of her day! While this takes time, we know that it makes a difference.

But there are also quicker and easier ways to also check-in with your students every week or even every day.

Use Google Forms for Weekly and Daily Check-ins

This is a copy of The Distance Learning Check-in that’s been adapted from Jenny Magiera and Autumn Laidler.

"This is a strategy we learned years ago from our colleagues Jennie Magiera (@MsMagiera) and Autumn Laidler (@MsLaidler) so please make sure to follow them! We've used it for years in a variety of classrooms and have gained insight into areas where our students needed social emotional support or a well-being intervention. We've modified it to fit today's distance learning needs and hope you find it helpful." How are you


This form looks like it could be used daily. It asks students how they are really doing, in addition to their previous night’s bedtime and whether or not they ate breakfast.

(Caveat: we know some of our students are experiencing food insecurity or working with an eating disorder, or both, so that is absolutely a thing to bear in mind here. Especially if you too are experiencing food insecurity or working with an eating disorder).

Edmunds Middle School educator Laura Botte has long been using the Google form for Morning Check-in.

Jennifer Lindley shares a library of Google Forms and materials on her blog. She has created and shared copies of her weekly and daily check-in forms that she uses with her 4th and 5th graders. Ms. Lindley also has an end of day and end of week form available.

I especially like Lindley’s Beginning of the Day Check-In form and its use of emojis.

how are you google form for advisee check-in


C’mon, sometimes all we can do is describe how we’re feeling with an emoji.

The most important aspect of these Google forms is how I respond as the teacher.

Some follow up communication is needed in order to support students. If one of your advisees gives you an angry, sick or sad emoji, know what resources you have to call on in your school community when you follow up with them. Can you simply open a window and whisper your principal’s name to the wind and they will appear? Do you have a school counselor or nurse you can bounce ideas off of?

Use those resources in helping you support that student, so you don’t have to go it alone. Maybe an email that simply says,

“Hey [student name],

I saw that you indicated that you were feeling angry today. What’s up? What can I do to help? I’m thinking about you.”

Hey. I’m thinking about you.

Tiny phrase, HUGE impact.

Feel free to use it even with students who answer you with 👍🏽 or 😊. Because we know we are thinking of them, and it will help them to know too.

What if someone always says they are happy? Or silly? Or ready to work? Well, that deserves to be acknowledged too.

It might not need immediate attention, but you might bring it up in the personal video conference. You might say, “Wow. You have responded that you are happy for every day this week! Are you really always happy..? Golly, tell me how you do it.” Again, we are building our connection and acknowledging their feelings.

Teaching and learning during a pandemic is tough. Heck, almost everything is hard right now. And we’re struggling to support the social and emotional lives of our students.

I’d love to hear from you.

What else are you doing to check in with advisory students? What are your strategies?

“Because internet”: learning to communicate in different online spaces

When is a “lol” not a “lol”? Would a “ftw” hit as hard by any other name?

Two things:

  1. Shakespeare’s now spinning in his grave like a turbine, powering most of greater Stratford;
  2. That’s absolutely fine with us.

Language evolves. It grows and bends and twists and curls back on itself like you wouldn’t believe. And nowhere is this more evident than online.

If you, like us, are “an old”, this may be alarming.

You may, depending on your geological age, remember being instructed never to end your sentences with a preposition. Or you might have learned the correct forms of address for a business letter or a job application, or memorized when to use “that” versus “which”, or bemoan how, like, “like” appears in like, every sentence you’ve heard in like, forever.

Here’s the thing: all these rules or norms are correct, and all of them are out-dated.

The internet changed everything, and it’s here to stay.

The more people began to have to type, the more that entering characters on a computer keyboard or virtual phone keyboard changed person-to-person communication. In large part, that’s because people’s brains think faster than they can type. So the internet caused language to evolve in ways that reduced the number of characters in words (looking at y’all, flickr, Razr, and TikTok) and reduced the number of words in sentences. The internet opened up entire worlds full of shiny things, which added a dimension of excitability and wanting to see all the things in a way that made determiners such as “a”, “an” and “the” much less enticing.

Why? Because internet.

Plus, back in ye day, you had bandwidth constraints, so rather than pay to send multiple texts, you tried to squish the whole thing into one. Remember when tweets could only be 144 characters long?

(The internet also brought us 133t $p34k, but the less said about that the better.)

because internet : leetspeak

The other thing about talking online is that when you’re communicating via screen, you can’t see each other’s faces. So historically, to try to minimize being misunderstood, emojis leapt onto the scene (originally typed out using punctuation marks), and each different online space developed its own norms for communication. Norms, different than actual grammar rules, pertain to acceptable and expected language use. For instance, you expect very different communications norms for commenting a collaborative Google Doc, than you do commenting a Facebook post.

And now think of just some of the different online spaces where we communicate:
  • Commenting collaborative Google Docs
  • Asking a question in the chat box during a videoconference meeting
  • Asking a question during a livestream event
  • Facebook Groups, Pages & Posts
  • Tweets
  • Instagram posts & comments & comments on Stories (oy)
  • Fan fiction forums
  • Email
  • Texts and SMS
  • Ravelry knit-a-long forums
  • Gmail’s new poking functionality where you just choose a canned response and move on
  • Gif reaction threads (double oy)
  • Blogposts on such fine fine blogs as this
  • Commenting on blogposts such as this one

And therein lies the issue.

All this means that we’re going to have to help students learn different norms for navigating online spaces.

Now, this can be confusing for us as educators, because half the time we ourselves are learning the norms of a space.

But for better or worse, knowing how to communicate online — respectfully, clearly and well — is a skill that isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s a 21st Century professional skill.

Let’s tackle two very, very big online communications tasks: videoconferencing, and commenting.

Let’s start with the comments.

Don’t read the comments.

It’s long been an accepted anthropology maxim that health and happiness depend on never ever reading the comments section. But what if that wasn’t true?

We encourage students to blog as part of reflection. We encourage students to blog updates to their PLPs, to document their research work, and as contributions to group work. And part of that is encouraging them to comment each others’ blogposts.

But that’s a pretty wide-ranging assignment.

Commenting the work of a colleague or peer is very different from leaving a comment on Uncle Joe’s Facebook post, or leaving a comment on an “influencer’s” YouTube video. But you can break it down into two overlapping realms: audience and platform.

Who’s in the room?

When we leave comments for peers and colleagues, it’s just as if we’re in the classroom. A blogpost or a collaborative Google Doc is a piece of writing shared by someone you’re in a professional relationship with. If learning is your profession (so to speak), then both educators and students are your colleagues. There’s an informality to commenting — you rarely begin a blog comment with a formal salutation, for instance — but that informality doesn’t extend to internet acronyms or emojis, unless it does.


If you have created a space where you have talked about:

  • emojis;
  • how they are generally interpreted;
  • how they can be interpreted and misinterpreted (please note that article will likely be out of date six weeks from now, because internet)
  • what you all as a community will agree on as a “lexicon” of emojis

Then emojis may be perfectly acceptable in comments. But! It’s important to note that you all can’t assume that anyone outside your learning community will agree on your emoji definitions. Leave them out of comments in general?

Again, who are you leaving the comment for, and where.

Here are some good prompts for scaffolding a discussion of how to comment each other’s work:
  1. Do you know each other in real life? How have you spoken with this person face-to-face in a similar learning situation?
  2. What kind of a learner are you? How does that factor into what kind of feedback you find most valuable?
  3. Do you have anything to add to our comments policy?

Ah, yes. The Comments Policy.

We have found, through six years on this here blog, that it’s helpful to have an official comments policy. It can be fairly simple (“Be kind. No swears or hate speech. You have to sign in. Management reserves the right to follow up on comments at its discretion”) or more detailed, but having a document at hand that spells out both the expectations and consequences is invaluable.

“I don’t know what to say”

Here are a few commenting prompts to get you started:

  • One Thing: one thing you liked about the post, one thing that made you wonder, and one thing that made you want to know more. “I liked how you cited your sources. I did wonder whether the math is correct on those demographics. I’d be interested in hearing more about the school’s plans for handling traffic in the new circle, though.”
  • Yes And: add a new piece of information to the post. “I loved this post about community radio! Did you know: there’s a new community radio station being built one town over. I’m doing my Passion Project on it!”
  • One Wish: If you could change anything about the situation you describe, [panda conservation, alien invasion, water filtration], what would you change?
But don’t take our word for it…

Los Angeles-based educator Linda Yollis sat down with her students, and they explain what the parts of a good comment can look like, along with additional prompts and demonstrations!


Am I muted? I’m muted.
…I’m not muted? Oh, ^%#$%#$.

After this pandemic’s over, let’s all take a six-month break from Zoom meetings of any kind. Six months, minimum. Face-to-face meetings only.

But until then, let’s talk about scaffolding communication norms for videoconferencing!

We’ve all, at this point, heard apocryphal stories of Zoom meetings dissolving into utter chaos for one reason or another. Some of those reasons will be entirely out of your control. Perhaps a student is minding siblings in the background, or needs to be monitoring a stock pot while y’all debate the socioeconomic pressures exerted on the 1850 trial of “Bristol Bill” (Vermont history, anyone?) or the bandwidth bonks, or any number of other chaotic forces intervene.

Setting those types of things aside, you likely approached the arena of meeting via Zoom with your classroom norms in hand, and those may or may not have been sufficient for keeping your sessions organized.

Now, in general, humans learn early how to take turns. We learn how not to talk over one another. And then technology comes along with a shiny thing and our tiny monkey brains get overwhelmed and we (briefly) forget everything and have to start over.

Again, take it back to your classroom norms.

Post them somewhere prominent — maybe have them up and shared on your screen when everyone else arrives.

This is standard operating procedure at this point for online conferences. When attendees arrive, conference organizers go over the Code of Conduct and take questions on it so that everyone knows. Clarity is kindness. And in this case, you’re prepping your students in a ritual that is becoming and will become more commonplace in the future. Well done!

Hey, let’s talk about the chat box.

*removes lid of box labeled Chat, mouthes ‘oh no’ as multiple evils fly out*

As an organization that hosts monthly online events, part of our planning process involves who, specifically, will be responsible for monitoring the chat box. Chat, in videoconferencing, generally has three functions:

  1. To solicit written responses to a question posed by whoever’s speaking on Zoom;
  2. For attendees to pose questions to the speaker on Zoom without a spoken interruption;
  3. For attendees to communicate with each other during the course of the Zoom activity.

In general, when we assign someone to monitor chat, it’s to pay the most attention to that second function. Attendees — your students included — always have thought-provoking questions that can add to the discussion. Plus, that first function’s a doozy: you can take attendance, or measure engagement, or crowd-source ideas for the next section of the activity.

That’s the good bit about chat.

The more challenging aspect of the chat box comes from, by and large, that third aspect. Don’t get us wrong: it can absolutely go well, such as when a student requests clarification and help and another student answers that request right there in the chat, thus confirming that they both now are on task and ready to tackle the activity.


What happens when the chat gets clogged with conversations that are off-topic, or worse yet, entirely derailing? It’s one thing to blog about your alien conspiracy theories, and quite another to begin expounding on them in the chat box of the 3rd period algebra Zoom.

Here are some strategies you can employ:

  • Decide to stop then and there and focus on the side conversation. Perhaps it’s actually adding in some way to the main conversation. Perhaps it’s important enough to step in and talk to the participants involved. You know your students and your learning community best.
  • Have a norm that specifies how chat should and shouldn’t be used, and draw attention to that norm. Put the norms back up on screen if you need.
  • Turn off chat.

Yep, we said it.

This is, in fact, a lot.

It’s so much that indeed, if you feel like your life would be easier if you didn’t have chat around until you have all your norms in a row, no one will blame you. You can absolutely turn off chat in Zoom.

because internet: disabling chat in zoom

The key, though, is to turn it back on once you have the additional support you need to make it productive, whether that’s additional personnel, or revised norms, or a revised norms discussion, or remediation with the students that need more support. These instructions will work just as well at turning chat back on. Because at the end of the day, students are going to need to know how to conduct themselves in this particular online setting.

Is it KIND? You know the drill.

Your students are amazing. They’re funny and loud and smart and creative and perplexing. They’re opinionated and strong.

And you? You’re even more amazing, because they look to you for guidance and support. And before you all even got on devices, before you logged in for the very first time to your Google Classroom, you all sat down and talked. You got to know them. You did some identity exercises.

As you built your tiny community of learners, you set some classroom norms. As a community, you talked about the ways you each wanted to be treated, and codified them. You came up with a restorative plan for when things went wrong.

And we know you’re doing your level best to create a welcoming, inclusive and supportive learning environment for your students.

The late great Ned Kirsch, longtime educator and Vermont superintendent, used to insist that digital citizenship is just citizenship, but online.

And he was right.

The way we treat each other online — the way we believe we *should* treat each other online — reflects the way we treat each other offline. Even when things get awful and we’re all frayed to a worn nub by the mere thought of one more Zoom meeting.

Boiled down to one guiding ethos:

Is what you’re writing, in chat or as a comment to a blogpost, in that email requesting a project update, or that post to a forum announcing you may have found an error in a pattern, is it kind?

Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson unpacks it here. Before you say anything, in person or online, ask yourself:

  • Does this need to be said?
  • Does it need to be said… by me?
  • And does it need to be said by me… right now?

Additionally — and this is relevant — perhaps the most powerful phrases in any language but especially English and especially online, are:

  • “Please.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “If I’m understanding you correctly…”


  • “I’m sorry.”

All of which carry just as much weight online as they do face-to-face. Because no matter online or off, we all need to learn how to be kind, and reach out to one another. But that’s a topic for another blogpost…

Virtual town meetings

At the beginning of the school year, members of the middle school leadership team at the Lyndon Town School (LTS) in Lyndonville, Vermont, were doing what they do every week: reflecting and planning.

Unlike most schools in Vermont during the current pandemic, from day one they were working with students in person five days each week. And even though they had almost all of their students in school, something was missing.

Although teachers were focusing on building relationships in their classrooms, how would they build community as a middle school? In the past, a key strategy had been to gather everybody together in the cafeteria once a month for a Town Meeting. Obviously that was off the table during pandemic schooling.

Or was it?

Getting creative about Town Meeting

Like many other schools in Vermont, the Town Meeting at LTS had multiple purposes, including:

  • Build community across grade levels
  • Serve as a forum for announcements
  • Provide an authentic audience for student presentations
  • Invite students to help plan and facilitate an event
  • Inject some fun and laughter

Once the leadership team thought through these purposes together, they realized two things. First, Town Meeting was an awesome tradition that they needed now more than ever. Second, perhaps they could capture enough of this magic using a different format to make it worth it.

They resolved to do what Vermont educators have done so much of this year, by necessity: they put students first and, one way or another, made it work.

After kicking around some ideas, the outlines of a plan began to emerge. Each homeroom (advisory group) would join virtual town meetings via Zoom. The new schedule allowed only 30 minutes (compared to nearly an hour in past years), so they shortened the announcement section considerably. But they would do it every single week rather than once a month.

As the group considered this new format, they began to see some potential benefits. For one thing, more frequent  meetings may lead to a stronger community building routine overall. For another, the new format might allow more student leadership than in the past. When the whole middle school gathered, it was often tough for students to effectively address everybody due to shyness, microphone awkwardness, etc. And the announcement portion of proceedings often took up a lot of time.

The new format could potentially solve some of these problems. The team designed it to be tightly structured and easy to engage with in terms of planning, facilitation, and participation.

virtual town meetings

De-centralized planning

A key priority for the leadership team was to avoid overwhelming colleagues with another planning task. Time for collaborative planning amongst teachers was at a premium.

They created a structure that would allow homerooms to “plug and play” on a rotating basis:

  • Each week belonged to a different grade level
  • Meetings followed a predictable flow with three distinct roles – host; quotes, celebrations, and announcements; and activity facilitator
  • Each homeroom would sign up for a role on the week that their grade level was in charge

virtual town meetings Table that shows meeting flow - also found in link to the plan.

The leadership team wrote up the plan and shared it with colleagues via email. Homerooms signed up for roles, filled out the corresponding part of the slide template, and they were off and running.

So far, so good

The new Town Meeting format seems to be working pretty well. Some people even like it better than the old format. Like many things during the pandemic, it requires adaptability and a commitment to making the best of the situation. As one student noted, “I don’t really like having to do it online but we kinda have to.”

Mollie Falk, guidance counselor extraordinaire, summed up the requisite attitude this way:

Recognize that it will be far from perfect, but for kids (and adults) craving connection, it doesn’t have to be. Embrace mistakes, laugh at yourself, go with the flow.

A few particular lessons have emerged.

Focus on fun

When asked what they enjoy most about virtual town meetings, students were pretty clear that the activity portion is the star of the show. So far this year we have seen quiz competitions, an estimation math challenge, Scattergories, and an on the spot haiku contest.

The most straightforward format for interactive portions such as greetings and activities is for most of the action to take place within the homerooms themselves. As one teacher put it, “Something that works well, is to give a task or activity for each advisory to complete, then they share out with the whole group via chat or one at a time.”

For some students, this allows them to feel more connected. Several students echoed this comment: “I love being able to work with my homeroom to try and win at games.”

Teachers agree that the smaller groupings draw some students in more than the larger gatherings of the past. “Being in separate spaces make it easier to compete in competitions and get full participation. It’s easier to see if someone is not participating, since each group is smaller.”

Keep it fresh

The “plug and play” structure serves its function well. On a busy week, if necessary, each of the three homerooms at a grade level can plan separately for their role and the meeting can come together fairly seamlessly.

But some weeks demand a little something special. For Halloween, for example, music teacher Johanna Fournier designed a themed Town Meeting. Allied Arts teachers introduced themselves with Halloween themed facts about themselves.

virtual town meeting

In another example, each homeroom had developed banners and advertisements during their advisory time. It was a fantastic project and Town Meeting served as the perfect venue to showcase the ads. They tended to be both meaningful and hilarious, well deserving of the authentic audience that virtual town meetings can provide.

This advisory ad for Tammi Parker’s 8th grade advisory, otherwise known as “The Robparkarians,” was a hit.

Get your tech squared away

Most teachers are running the Zoom on projectors or Smartboards so that everybody can easily see. In some cases teachers will have two computers going, especially if they are playing the hosting role.

There are a couple of homerooms that have bandwidth issues, which can be frustrating. As one student put it, “The wifi is really hard because sometimes it lags a lot so you can’t hear but you just have to be calm about it and don’t get all mad and upset.” Indeed.

The technology integration specialist helped teachers with initial set-up. A few weeks in, she conducted a survey to understand ongoing technology problems. She is troubleshooting the issues one by one, and the school is upgrading wifi, so hopefully these issues will be ironed out soon.

Share the love

Since these virtual town meetings are shorter in duration, more frequent, and less of a production than in the past, they feel a bit lower stakes. Students can participate from the comfort of their homeroom. This draws in more students and draws out more creativity.

As Mollie put it, “Town Meeting is fun, different and creative each week as a result of rotating who is hosting. There are lots of fun ideas and now we all can share them with each other, rather than it being hosted by the same individuals each week as it once was.”

Hopefully this new format can continue to strengthen community both within and across homerooms/advisories. And once restrictions are lifted, perhaps there will be some aspects of this new format that can inform the next generation of face to face Town Meetings. But until then, LTS middle school will continue to make the best of the situation.

How can you build community across classrooms and grade levels in your school?

Hyperdocs 101

What in the world are hyperdocs?

A hyperdoc is a mini lesson. Almost like a small, self-directed learning module. It usually lives in a Google Doc, or Google Slides, but instead of being simply a collection of resources, it asks students to perform tasks or respond, directly in the doc. It provides scaffolded directions in a way that normal worksheets don’t.

Why hyperdocs?

Our students need us more than ever to provide clarity about what we want them to know, understand, and do in any learning opportunity. Without in-person cues, prompts, body language, routines? Students learning in hybrid and remote environments can get easily lost. But hyperdocs can help us provide clarity.

A well-designed hyperdoc gives learners what they need to succeed: a sequence of learning activities that move toward a clear target.

Rather than a one-off lesson that might not feel connected, we provide context with a clear learning target and easy-to-follow instructional steps with a hyperdoc. And, our learners can experience control over path, place, and pace in our unit or mini-lesson with the scaffolding provided. 

What does a hyperdoc look like?

Here’s a sample hyperdoc that you can run off with: it focuses on Nearpod.


How do I make a hyperdoc?

You can make a hyperdoc from scratch or explore pre-created templates. Simply make a copy and edit it for your context and your learners’ needs. The best hyperdocs build in multimedia rich resources, opportunities for individual practice, and collaborative application along the way.

We created our Nearpod example from one of the templates on Explore, Explain, Apply.

We organized each of the resources and activities under one of those categories so that you, as a learner, could work through the activity of learning Nearpod under a scheme that we feel simplifies the overarching learning arc.

Too many words for a Monday morning. Shoot me a video.

You got it, chief.

Better yet, grab the resources from my recent webinar, How to Use Hyperdocs & Choice Boards for Remote Learning. Here are the slides:

And the recording will be available on 11/30/2020.



5 keys to a successful virtual parent night: 2020 edition

How do you blend a time-honored tradition and an unprecedented moment of social, civil and personal upheaval? Carefully. Very carefully. So, in order to make lemonade from 2020’s truckload of lemons, currently broken down in the fast lane of our lives, let’s look at 5 keys to a successful virtual parent night.

1.Provide choice — for both educators and families

Model what you offer learners and provide choice for families.

Choice can look like different platforms, or different times.

Choice can look like some families not showing up to an event but reading all the handouts diligently and asking questions in your Slack channel. (Hey! Choice can look like a Slack channel instead of a Facebook group!) Not everyone is going to have the spoons right now to attend attentively, but as y’all are diligently using The Scott Thompson 17 Methods Of Family Communication bingo cards to stay in touch with everyone, we know you’ll catch up with those families another time.

virtual parent night

And what’s the best way to offer and act on those choices?

2. All hail the feedback loop

Ask ahead of time what your families need, act on the data, then close the loop with exit tickets.

It can in fact, be just that simple.

Methods on offer: Google Forms sent to family emails, paper forms sent with students or via US Mail.

Sample pre-survey questions could range from most convenient times to preferred video-conferencing (and non-video-conferencing) platforms. Questions on individual student progress, and questions on school policy. Much of this is exactly the same as the pre-surveying you’ve been doing with more traditional parent nights.

And then after parent night, sending out a survey can not just tell you how well you pulled it off, it can also tell you what additional topics families wish you’d covered, or where there’s still some confusion.

Best of all, it’s a way to invite families to continue the parent night conversation with you. Everybody loves being asked for their opinion!

3. Prep as much as you can in advance

Time flies when you’re having trouble finding the “mute” button.

A one-hour virtual parent night will whip by. Time will do wild loop-de-loops; you will struggle to fit everyone’s questions in. Y’all know this. So, take the opportunity to prep as much of the information you want to give families in advance. It will give them time to pre-read, if they’re pre-readers. It will give the people who can’t make it access to the information as well, and it will save your together time as a community for genuine interactions.

Here is a fabulous example from Newark School, in West Burke VT:

virtual parent night

Look at all the information in Newark’s agenda! Links to tutorials and parents guides, schedules and remote plans, and — be still our beating hearts — a Code of Conduct.

(That’s not a joke; Codes of Conduct are incredibly helpful documents, never more so than as we all began spending so much of our lives shouting at each other through lighted, moving panes of glass.)

So in addition to providing this information to families for pre-digest, the document also lives on as an amazing quicklinks resource, after the event! We’d copy that agenda to our Drives in a heartbeat.

Now, we know what you’re thinking: that looks like a *ton* of work, and it is. So. Who do you know who might be interested in writing or recording some tutorials, or tech guides for families?

We’ll give you a moment there…

….rhymes with “shmudents”…

That’s right: students.

Bear with us but: what might it look like to ask your students to write up a Zoom Code of Conduct for their family community?

4. Make it accessible

Embrace accessibility. As we are now all highly dependent on these beautiful beautiful screens for a further couple of months, we’re all becoming much more aware of the accessibility needs related to technology. If you’re going to have a spoken presentation, find out your options for including an ASL interpreter or even getting real-time, CART captioning services.

Include in your pre-event survey any needs for translators. Translation services exist in your community and online both.

Other aspects of accessibility may be less obvious.

But for instance, avoid scheduling your virtual parent night on a high holy day (there are a bunch coming up). Yes, we’re talking about Hannukkah. But we’re also talking about Diwali, Solstice, and Veer Samvat.

Consider re-labeling your virtual parent night as “virtual family night”, as not all students live with their parents. Families take many forms.

Another aspect of accessibility involves choosing the method of virtual delivery for parent night. Platforms or tools that require very modern software or hardware, or lots of bandwidth can unintentionally exclude families who don’t have access to all those things. Offer a phone line option, and record your presentations or conversations for sharing with families who aren’t in attendance (standard consent rules apply for digital recording.)

Phew! That all sounds like a lot, right?

It is, and it’s worth it to make sure all your students and their families feel welcome and can actually access your well-planned and successful virtual parent night.

And again we ask: do you have any students who might be interested in helping plan virtual parent night? Any students passionate about community activism, or disability rights, who might love to research these topics and their implementations?

Sure you do!

And as a bonus, they’d love to get school credit for it. Go off. Turn it into a whole unit, tying to history and public policy, and funding-based math and school boards.

Proficiencies? Transferable skills? WHY NOT BOTH, Y’ALL. Why. Not. Both.

5. Most of all, make it manageable.

Your virtual parent night is going to be amazing. So whatever else you do, y’all, make it work for you and your team or staff. Parent nights are about families, but they’re also about you.

Look, everyone in a classroom, near a classroom, or managing a classroom is about on the ragged edge of having had the smooth rock enough already. Everything’s on fire, everything hurts.

The solitary fact of you pulling off a virtual parent night — whatever that looks like? Is enough.

Hats off to you. You’re doing a great job.

PLPs, Parenting, and a Pandemic

228 days home with my 3 children. 88 days of remote learning, spanning 2 school years and 5 different grade levels. 10 different teachers. 34 Zoom meetings per week (not counting mine). Engagement level: 27%. This is parenting pandemic math.

But who’s counting, right?

At home, my kids are missing school. Or, more specifically, they miss their friends, they miss their teachers, they miss recess, they even miss riding the bus.

They love seeing your face, and their classmates in their Zoom meetings. They love sharing their art, or talking about which Garfield character is funnier.

But once the Zoom meetings are over, the twinkle leaves their eyes, as they reluctantly turn to the pile of spelling worksheets… if we’re lucky. And if we’re not, they refuse and instead start to play with the cat, or look for pencils under the couch. Anything to avoid the stack of work piling up.

parenting pandemic

But in their free time…

Then they are deep in the Lego bin, working together to build an amusement park. Or baking lemon squares. Or building forts in the woods. Designing logos and emblems in SketchUp. Or creating board games. Or training chickens. Designing jet-propelled race cars. Or learning embroidery. Or reading. Or playing Monopoly.

Wait. What?

Did I just say engineering design, fractions, chemistry, physics, writing, fine and gross motor development, literature study and economics?

Despite all the challenges of the moment, kids are doing some cool stuff at home. They are learning things. Maybe just not (only) the things we’ve planned.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could leverage what kids are already doing at home as learning?

parenting pandemic

There are possibilities. And PLPs.

One way we could do this is with PLPs- personalized learning plans. PLPs. Their blend of learning tool-meets-portfolio might be just the thing to help us navigate this moment.

What if we shifted from a focus on content to a focus on skills? Transferable skills, specifically. Things like problem-solving, reasoning, critical thinking, clear & effective communication, or citizenship. The magic of these skills is that they’re, well, transferable….across contexts and settings.

The communication skills a kid hones while working on their Minecraft tutorial video for YouTube are pretty similar to the skills they’d need to write an expository essay on caring for pets: What information do I need to communicate? How can I most effectively explain what readers/viewers need to know?

And if you know the student well, you can probably figure out which context they’d prefer to develop those skills within.  

Less is more.

The last thing any of us needs is more work. We’re all — teachers, students, parents — stretched to our max right now.

So instead, could we shift our synchronous time with students to focus on building relationships, getting to know them and their interests, and then coaching them on how the pursuit of these interests is learning?

Could we teach them to reflect on and document their learning, so that they, too, could appreciate all the learning they already do, every day?

Yeah, we’ll probably still need to teach them to write an effective RACE response, but perhaps it’s focus could be ‘who is the best Jedi?’ or ‘which Lego pieces are the most important.’

parenting pandemic

Personal Inquiry Projects

Finally, one last thought: last spring, my family sprinted out of the gate with some fantastic school-at-home projects. Any of these projects could easily become the focus of student reflection and documentation in a PLP.

So could Lego villages, chocolate chip cookies, or organizing a bookshelf.

Want to go deeper? What about using personal inquiry projects, such as Genius Hour, Passion Projects, or Curiosity projects to help connect students’ interests to the curriculum. They’re practically pandemic-ready.

And it turns out they’ll continue to be amazing even after all this is a distant memory.




Building a blended & hybrid teaching toolkit

Hybrid and remote teaching environments require us to tap into everything we know about designing engaging and targeted learning opportunities. At the same time, the contexts are often unfamiliar. So what we need is a blended and hybrid teaching toolkit.

When looking to design a successful remote or hybrid learning experience, consider thinking about what shifts you’re going to make by starting with educator proficiencies. Proficiencies help you build your own skillsets.

Educator proficiencies for remote & hybrid teaching practices

Here’s what they all look like as a rubric:




I invest time to build and maintain relationships with my students.
  • co-constructing norms and agreements with them and consistently revisit and readjust.
  • learning about their interests and connecting them to my curriculum.
  • Establishing credibility and building trust
I establish clear learning expectations and ensure my students and caregivers know what success looks like. 
  • Sharing via pre-recorded lessons & directions
  • Distance learning weekly planner/calendar access.
  • Providing annotated exemplars
I design instruction that includes demonstrating examples of what students will learn.
  • Screencasts
  • Peer-to-peer collaboration via jigsaws & reciprocal teaching
  • Coaching/facilitating
  • Plenty of opportunities to practice
I select digital tools and resources that are developmentally appropriate with minimal adult assistance and have accessibility features.
  • Closed captions
  • Text designed for screen reader software
  • Faces on video enlarged for readability
  • Not using color change to indicate semantic meaning, etc.
I use methods of measuring the impact of my teaching to  understand each students’ progress and achievement and adjust my teaching accordingly.

I provide feedback students use to become their own teachers so they are assessment capable learners. I include success criteria, feedback about process, and self-regulatory feedback.
  • self-grading quizzes with feedback
  • audio & text comments
  • workshop conferencing
I intentionally amplify student agency by building in choice of subject, path, and pace.
I design opportunities for students to learn from and with community.

This set of proficiencies was drawn from resources in The Distance Learning Playbook: K-12 and Aurora Institute’s National Standards for Quality Online Courses.

Now, let’s unpack these ideas a little further.

I invest time to build and maintain relationships with my students.

One way is to invite students to collaborate in building norms and agreements. And just as importantly, revisiting and readjusting these based on lived experiences.

When we take time to learn about students’ interests and connect these to our curricular design, we build trust in our learning community. Take a look at Bill Ferriter’s Differentiation Learning Profile as a way to gather information from your students. Next, pull from this Imagining School Survey to develop your own questions. And finally, be sure to share the results you’ve culled and the steps you’ve taken with your students. That closes the loop. Students need to know their feedback impacts your practice. They need to see it in action.

Best Practices for Videoconferencing with Students and 14 Socially Distanced Advisory Activities provide you with a ton of ways to create trust in your hybrid community of learners.

I establish clear learning expectations and ensure my students and their families know what success looks like.

One way to provide clarity is to record video lessons for learners to view and revisit. Craft them to provide clear directions, suggested paths, and pacing guides. Consider Using Learning Targets with Students to with goal-setting. Then check out Strategies for Fostering a Productive Distance Learning Experience from the folks at Getting Smart. They advocate:

“Ways to create comprehensive schedules for students; do not rely on families to piece together emails and calendars from multiple sources. And if something changes, make sure that families can easily identify the most up-to-date information.”

How to do this? One middle-level team at Randolph Union Middle School used integrated curriculum to clarify learning expectations. The whole team leaned in on designing a unit that tied curriculum to one compelling theme: clean drinking water.

I design instruction that includes demonstrating examples of what students will learn. 

Learners need to know exactly what success looks like. Using screencasting tools to walk through what makes good artifacts is critical. Design for peer-to-peer collaboration and reciprocal teaching by Improving Student Collaboration in Remote and Hybrid Learning. Use Collaborative Tools like Google Docs & Slides, Jamboard, and Padlet.

Wear both your coach and facilitator hats and give students feedback that includes concrete ways to improve. Also, students need plenty of time for practice and retakes. At Edmunds Middle School, in Burlington Vermont, Sarah Wright rethought assessment and created a self-paced Spanish class. Her students could re-take exams as many times as possible. They worked towards proficiency as it’s defined in the real world: the ability to communicate.

And finally, consider ways for Designing Breakout Rooms for Maximum Engagement using protocols as well as these 6 Ways to Help Students Create the Best Breakout Rooms.

I select digital tools and resources that are developmentally appropriate with minimal adult assistance and have accessibility features.

A plethora of educational technology tools exist. And many actually facilitate teaching and learning. Why not stash Technology Tools Recommendations for Remote environments  in your hybrid teaching toolkit? Additionally, rich content resources are available through these Open Educational Resources:

I use methods of measuring the impact of my teaching to understand each students’ progress and achievement 

Technology tools like Peardeck, Nearpod, Edpuzzle, self-graded quizzes in Google Forms, and Mentimeter engage learners in providing feedback loops to inform next steps. Formative assessment is key to this feedback cycle. Check out this post to guide you in Where are we with formative assessment  for remote learning? Then consider visiting 75 Digital Tools for Formative Assessment from the NWEA to explore ways to invite your learners to provide valuable information. Extend your feedback loop into video watching by looking at How to Use Edpuzzle for Remote Learning and then go deeper into exploring with this Choiceboard for Digital Tools for Active Learning and Formative Assessment in Remote Environments

I provide feedback students use to become their own teachers so they are assessment capable learners

Teachers provide feedback about process, self-regulatory feedback and includes success criteria. Start by reviewing this Create a Feedback Rich Environment hyperdoc.

I intentionally amplify student agency by building in choice of subject, path, and pace 

How might you design and plan for engaging and relevant learning opportunities for your students in these trying times? Consider 6 Student-Centered Projects for the First Week of School. These two hyperdocs  Coherent Unit Design &Meaningful, Relevant, & Significant Learning  can lead you through ways to plan. Or you might want ot increase your capacity to offer choice by reviewing this hyperdoc on Pace & Path Choice with Playlists. Want to know more about student interest projects to increase student ownership and agency? Check out The Power of PIPs in a Pandemic.

I design opportunities for students to learn from and with community.

Remote and hybrid learning can leave us feeling isolated from our local communities. Yet, the constraints of virtual engagement also provide opportunities to connect virtually in new ways. Consider the following resources to help you connect your learners with a wider audience of caring and eager adults:

Want to dive deeper?


6 ways to help students create the best Breakout Rooms

Those of us holding virtual synchronous meetings with our learners recognize the need to build in opportunities to collaborate. Just like in our face-to-face classrooms, we value small group interactions. And that leads us to ask: how best to facilitate effective small group work in our distance and hybrid instruction? Just as collaborative small group sessions work best when we provide clear routines, structures, and role expectations, the same principles apply to online spaces. Let’s look at six ways we can set up maximum engagement and learning in Zoom Breakout Rooms.

1. Invite students into spaces based on their readiness level and work preference

How do you invite students to choose which group to join? As you think about yourself as a learner, what makes you feel welcome? What catches your eye and pulls you in? To be clear, let’s move beyond joining a space where all your friends are. Instead, what are some ways you can help students think about where they are as learners on a particular day? And how much learning are they capable of right now, given everything else going on? In a way, we can compare this to digital flexible seating.

One of the ways to create engaging breakout rooms is to collect that self-assessment data from learners. Throw up a quick poll, or a compelling graphic. And when we say “poll”, know that even something as simple as Jam or Not A Jam? provides you with a good idea of who’s bringing the energy, and who needs a little space.

In this first example, educator Mollie Safran (@safsocialstudy) put up a graphic that asked students to choose a breakout room based on how much explicit support they wanted from the instructors.

And then in this next example, Shannon Surell (@Ms_Surell) created a graphic that asks students to choose a breakout room based on their energy level. Because it’s important that students choose their speed.


2. Clarify roles expectations

Jessica DeMink-Carthew assigns specific roles to her students when sending them off into breakout channels in Microsoft Teams. Why? Because providing the best just-in-time support for students in breakout rooms helps them know they’re in the right place. Jessica anchors the class through running each session using a set of Google Slides. She does this by including the names of each person assigned to each group so students know in advance with whom they’ll be working that day. She creates clear roles to include a Recorder, whose role it is to take notes so she has an easy way, without interrupting the workflow to check in on each group’s progress.

Here’s a  short walkthrough of her process:

3. Use protocols

Troy Hicks describes multiple ways to facilitate breakout room work using protocols based on the size of the group and length of time together in this post:  Designing breakout rooms for maximum engagement.

His main goal is to create structures that “smooth out the roadblocks and provide space for others to lead via break out room structures.” If you want to learn more about using protocols with students, check out this book Protocols in the Classroom 

4. Provide collaborative graphic organizers

Consider creating clear tasks in the break out room by inviting collaboration in graphic organizer work. Matt Miller (@DitchThatTxtbk) shares 25 Free Google Drawings Graphic Organizers to help students work together and organize their thoughts. “Paper versions of graphic organizers can do a nice job of that. But by making them digital in Google Apps, they instantly become customizable. Multiple people can collaborate on them in real time.” As a result, you can save yourself loads of time by getting an editable copy of one of these templates and assigning it to small groups in breakout rooms.

5. Provide choice and structured activities through stations rotations

Stations Rotations provide a facilitated means to foster communication and collaboration among students in breakout rooms. And so this structure allows us to differentiate that learning as well. Caitlin Tucker describes the process in Station Rotation in an Era of Social Distancing. And Jordy Tollefson and Marilyn McCalister share their detailed approach to Virtual Stations Rotations in this Google Slide Deck. Check out their group norms, sample schedules, and meeting structures.

6. Scaffold teamwork

Start with low stakes projects. Help students understand the elements of effective teaming as an entry point for project work. Provide an inviting way to practice by getting to know each other.

Carla Bevins describes how she creates a first team project where she asks small teams to learn about Tuckman’s Stages of Group Formation. And, to share the results of their own conflict management and leadership self assessments before they launch into a small group project.

My colleague Audrey Homan, in her post on Best Practices for Videoconferencing with students writes we want to design spaces where

“Every student wants to take part in the conversation. That every student appreciates every other student, and appreciates this works is currently very difficult, but that these remote learning spaces can offer a place to be centered as a learner, and valued as a person.”

Providing supported facilitation in breakout rooms is one sure step toward that goal.

Want to learn more?

Check out Katie Martin’s 5 Ways That Teachers are Using Breakout Rooms to Create More Learner-centered Experiences in Distance Learning.

And Eric Sheninger’s advice for Remote Learning Collaboration Strategies:

Which of these routines or strategies might you employ to center your learners in breakout spaces?

4 ways to re-take taking attendance

Because being “present” is very different from simply being here.

Everyone reading this blog has very clearly moved on from beginning each day by simply reading out a list of names and putting a big old checkmark next to each one. Everyone.

Those horror stories we’ve heard, about students being marked absent simply because they turned their webcam off, those aren’t you; you would never.

But maybe you’re looking for ways to mix things up a little, keep it fresh. You’re in luck! Here’s four ways to re-take taking attendance.

1. Judge My Jam

Especially in middle school, music makes the world go round. Your students, no matter how quiet or angsty or vocal, have opinions about music. Throw a harness on that energy and get your attendance taken while also a) bringing your students explicitly into a conversation together, and b) picking up some fly new tunes yourself. (Is “fly” still a good thing? This is an old asking.)

Calgary educator Erin Quinn takes attendance each day with “Jam or Not a Jam?” As students enter the classroom, she has a song queued up and playing, and students use Google Classroom to respond whether they like it (“Jam!”) or not (“Not a Jam!”). It’s simple and brilliant and everyone please go follow Ms. Quinn on twitter @luckybydesign.

Of course from there, California middle school educator Chris Flores remixed the jam idea (yesss) for “Bump It or Dump It?”, soliciting additional student feedback in the chat function, as well as setting chat norms (“feel free to have a conversation there as well”). We love seeing educators build and mix and stretch and create online spaces where it’s clear they’ve thought about how to welcome students in and make a space where they can be their whole true selves. Go follow Coach Flores on twitter as well.

2. Use a Google Form to check on your students’ health & wellness …quietly.

“Maybe one would be nice…”

Y’all know that Burlington VT-based educator Laura Botte is a superstar (video). But among the many amazing things she’s done, Morning Check-In with Google Forms has to be close to the top.

Way back in 2014, Laura set up a Google Form for taking attendance that specifically asked about their wellbeing. Not whether they’d finished their homework, but how they were feeling each day, and what was foremost in their minds that morning. But most of all, the Google Form asks if any student could use a one-on-one check-in with their teacher.


Why? Because a Google Form set up in this manner removes any stigma a student might feel about asking for help. It’s a sub rosa way for students to open the door to a responsible and loving adult who genuinely cares about who they are as a human being and wants to make sure they have all the resources they could need to be fully engaged learners for the day. And using technology in this specific way makes sure even the shyest student has a quiet way to connect with that adult. Laura Botte, theydies and gentlethem. Laura. Botte.

3. A Real World Poll

No, not one where you get to decide who stays in the house and who has to go. Instead, consider the Jam or Not a Jam? example above, but make it current events.

WE KNOW. Trust us: we KNOW.

And yet: your students are not living in a vacuum. They know too. They’re seeing the exact same current events you are, and we are guessing they have a lot of questions.

Let’s talk about those questions.

Polling tools are standard on the Zoom and Microsoft Teams platforms, and hit us up if you have questions on how to get them up and running. Otherwise, you can bring in an outside polling tool such as Mentimeter, throw together a quick Google Form, or just have students respond to a current events poll in the chat.

Don’t feel constrained by the conventional shape of a poll, either. Here’s a simple visual one from instagram:

Yes, that’s a very narrow and possibly less compelling version of current events, but now you have a lovely template to make your own from.

And it really just comes down to using this attendance time to get to know your students better. The better you know them as learners in your community and theirs, the better you can help remove roadblocks to them being deeply engaged learners.

4. PLP? Yeah You Know Your Students

As we’re all aware, your students’ personal learning plans, their PLPs, are living, breathing documents that they have open throughout the day, the better to pen journal entries, upload quick photos, or take notes for future plans. Or… they could be.

Students at the Fayston School, in Fayston VT, have crafted some amazing personal reflections in their PLPs.


students tell their PLP stories

Now, asking students to craft a full journal entry right as they come through the door might be a little much. But what about:

  • What’s one word you’d use to describe where you are with your project right now?
  • Where would you like to see your project go today?
  • What are you most focused on today?
  • What do you see as the biggest challenge for moving forward with your project?

It sets up a routine of bringing each student’s personal learning plan or project into the day from the beginning. After that, where they go can be entirely up to them.

It’s okay to just be here right now, but it’s better to be present.

In other words: why are you taking attendance? Is it to know how your students are actually doing, or is it just to tick a box?

…now kick it up a level to your building team: how do they know who’s in the room?

How do they count which educators show up, and which are absent? How do they make the most of your one precious life? And how do they create a space where you’re more than simply present?

After all, you’re a learner too.

Best practices for videoconferencing with students

In some way, shape or form, we are all going to be using videoconferencing with students in the near future, to some extent. And while many of us have experience with this situation, as the situation around us continues to evolve, we feel like it’s helpful to think about basic understandings. Namely:

  • What do you want your students to take away from video-based interactions?
  • And what are your goals for these conversations?

Inviting vs. compelling

We’re seeing a lot of discussion of how to get students to keep their cameras on. So much discussion.

And yes, absolutely: being able to see your students’ faces is vital to gauge how engaged they are with the session. Whether they could use clarification, what could use a change-up, and even just taking basic attendance.

But look at the framing of this goal: “How can I get my students to keep their cameras on”. The goal contains an element of compulsion. Students *must* turn their cameras on, or the sun will boil into the sea and plunge us all into a hundred years of darkness.

What if, instead, we held the goal of

“How can I create an online session where students want to be fully present?”

You’re all already doing that in your classrooms. You’re creating vibrant, welcoming spaces to hear student voice, a space where student choice matters and has real consequences. And you’re dedicated to knowing your students as people in order to connect with them as learners.

So let’s just take that to our Zoom rooms.

Empathy rocks!

When was the last time you, as an educator or as a homeschooling parent, took an online class? (Yes, webinars count.) How did the instructor or presenter treat you? What did you take away from your role as the student?

Slipping back into the student role on a regular basis not only powers up your professional skills (and your non-professional ones; shout-out to everyone making time for hobby classes!) it also grounds you in remembering what it’s like to be a student.

That grounding, that bone-deep empathy borne of being a student in front of a monitor, can provide eye-opening lessons.

Or jaw-dropping ones.

A Case Study

Dawn Kasal Finley, a bomber high school educator, recently recounted her experience taking an online course. Spoiler: she was not treated awesomely.

Among the many issues she identifies in this twitter thread:

  1. The instructor mandated student cameras stay on — even while students were eating;
  2. The instructor commented on the background visible on Finley’s Zoom;
  3. Students were randomly forgetting to mute — which happens — and the instructor didn’t manage Zoom’s amazing “Mute All” feature;
  4. Non-participatory lectures dragged on past 20 minutes;
  5. As a student, Finley wasn’t sure what the goal of each class session was.

Now, we well know that you, educator, would do none of these things to your students.

But these lessons learned all return us to the fundamental guiding practice of respecting students as people as well as learners. Holy cats.

What does it look like to create a safe space inside a videoconferencing session?

Again, we start with empathy.

Every time we enter a videoconferencing space, we’re bringing a host of identities with us. We’re a whirlwind of race, ethnicity, economic status, language fluency, disabilities, and obligations. We are complicated.

Some of us worked a second job last night so we didn’t have time to tidy up the cupboard visible behind us, even though that’s the only chair in the house that doesn’t throw our back out.

Some of us have audio-processing disorders that make us frown or squint at the screen to make out face details. That’s so we can understand the conversation fully.

And frankly, some of us woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and can’t find our slippers, coffee, or the dog. We may not have arrived at class in the best of moods.

So what are the conditions that we can create as educators, so that all the students named in those situations feel welcome? Feel wanted. And feel compelled to participate.

Clear guidelines for the win


These reframed rules are the best practices for videoconferencing with students. And with colleagues, and families.

If you’re cold, or hungry, or you have to pee, or you need to stretch / bounce / growl / shimmy for a moment, go for it.

If you need to blur your background, go for it.

And if you need to take a moment, that’s one thing 2020 has by the bucketload. Go for it.

Back to those goals we mentioned

With all this in mind, perhaps answering the question about our goals for videoconferencing with students becomes easier.

What do you want your students to take away from video-based interactions?

We want students to feel welcome in the online space. To feel like their contributions are valuable and necessary, and infinitely more important than what they’re wearing or where they’re looking.

What are your goals for these conversations?

That every student wants to take part in the conversation. That every student appreciates every other student, and appreciates that this world is currently very difficult, but that these remote learning spaces can offer a place to be centered as a learner, and valued as a person.

Students are people. Educators are people, and we’re all doing our best.

This morning, we’re seeing conversations specifically around the idea that Muslim girls could be wrestling with turning on their cameras during Zoom because they’re adjusting to having to wear a hijab inside their homes. This is a valuable thing to think about, as long as it’s followed by the caveat: whatever each individual girl decides on this topic is absolutely the best thing for her.

If a student gets overwhelmed by the amount of time spent in a videoconference and turns their camera off to reset their attention, or get a drink of water, or use the restroom, that is them deciding on the best thing for themselves.

When you see students as people, you are doing your best.

When you give yourself grace, and when you try different ways of creating community and extending care to students and colleagues and families? You are doing your best.

And we’re so glad you’re here.

14 socially distanced advisory activities

We’re all terrified, anxious, and… back at it in schools! So, as we return, let’s look at this big list of socially distanced advisory activities. Some work for being in-person, some work for being virtual, some work for both.

But let’s face facts: at this point we’re all here to build community and chew gum, and most of us are all out of gum…


1.Fizz Buzz

Fizz Buzz is a counting game where “fizz” is assigned to a certain number and its multiples. “Buzz” is assigned to another number and its multiples.

2. Counting Up

As a group, the idea is to count to ten without two people talking at the same time. If that happens you return to the beginning. Accuracy counts, and speed is bonus points.

socially distanced advisory activities
Image via TeachThought

3. Kindness Bingo

Help students remember and celebrate their acts of kindness. Grab a copy of the sample bingo card (cunningly disguised as a Google Slide) and get to calling! Works for in-person (how exciting to yell “BINGO!” at full volume) or virtual (practice your hand-raising in Zoom) advisories.

kindness bingo socially distanced advisory activities

4. Pecha Kucha

A quick way for folks to share about themselves and learn about others. Works in person or virtual. Once again, grab this Google Slideshow, make a copy for yourself and go to town.

5. Riddles

We’ll be honest: the vast majority of these 25 riddles are terrible. Legit groaners. But when has there ever been a better time to bond over truly terrible jokes? Please, point to that portion of history that’s not now.


Well played, Reader’s Digest. Well played.

6. Heads or Tails

Have students indicate their choice: Heads or tails. Hands on head? Or hands on hips? Flip a coin. If you are correct you stay in the game. If you are wrong, you are outie mcnoutie.

7. Words of Affirmation

No big mystery here: each morning each student and your own amazing self shares a word of affirmation. A word that describes where you want to take that day. Speak them out loud to one another, maybe with a little explanation, but that bit shouldn’t be required. Someone could be taking notes and producing a beautiful beautiful wordle or word cloud everyone can refer to throughout the day. Virtual? In-person? YES.

socially distanced advisory activities

8. Thunderclap!

While in a big SOCIALLY DISTANCED circle pick someone to start with a single clap and choose if the clap goes left or right. The idea is to clap immediately after the person in front of you. Try a few times and see how long it takes to go around the circle. When done really quickly the clap will sound like thunder.

Variation: The groups stands so they are in some sort of SOCIALLY DISTANCED circle. They can pass the clap with clapping once, reverse the clap by clapping twice, or share the clap by pointing.

This variation sometimes goes by the name “Pass the Clap”, and if that’s a choice you’re going to make for a middle school classroom, best of luck to you.

9. Rainstorm!

Make the sound of a rainstorm with your body. Look, we were a little skeptical at first too, but check it out. With a group, you can do it with a combination of rhythmic clapping, stamping, shushing, whistling and finger-snapping. Amazing!

10. Energizers & Icebreakers

Here we go: 

40-Second Blah Blah Blah! Yes, really. Each person gets forty seconds to just say whatever is on their minds. Free-write stream-of-consciousness in a judgment-free zone. The only rule? You can’t stop talking once you start, until the forty seconds are up.

Whose …. Is It Anyway? Whose shoes? And whose pet? Pick a subject and everyone shows their own implementation of the noun. We’ll be honest: this one needs some careful handling, in terms of both equity and trauma. Be careful not to choose a topic that could make your students feel exposed in terms of socioeconomic need or privilege, and also a topic where you’re less likely to exacerbate existing trauma. For instance, if you’re asking whose pet is this and a student just lost theirs.

Walkabout: Get up and go for a walk. Sounds simple, but is super effective.

11. Two Truths & A Lie

Does what it says on the tin. Each student comes up with three statements about himself. One should be completely made up, but plausible (more or less), and the other two should be true. Students take turns sharing their three statements and having others guess which statement is the truth and which are the lies.

12. Community Poem

Create a poem together. Pick a topic and have a student start the poem with a few words or a sentence. The next student needs to continue the poem by adding their sentence so it still makes sense, and so on.

13. Collaborative Crossword Puzzle

Virtual: Queue up a crossword puzzle on your screen. Your students can now — using only the comment function of your videoconferencing platform — share their answers (ex. “13 down is ‘Amazon'”). See how far you can all get in five minutes.

In-person: Mark up some pieces of butcher paper in a canonical crossword format. Entirely blank squares. Lay them down on the floor (commandeer the gym, cafeteria, or outside spaces as necessary). Ask students for a word. (“Right! Let’s start with 1 down. Five letters. Who’s got me?”) Now, either you’ve got students with giant marker pens writing the letters on your butcher paper, or you’ve got students with a stack of scratch paper, taping the letters onto the butcher paper so y’all can revise on the fly.

As each word gets tacked down, move your way as a group through the crostic, contributing words as you go. Hey, blend this activity with the Words of Affirmation, above. Build an affirmation crostic.

Once the crossword’s filled in — or as you go, you do you, kittens — ask the group to come up with a definition for each word. Talk about it. Work through it.

And still feel the satisfaction of completing a crossword together.

14. Tunegroove

Begin each day with a song in your hearts and over tiny speakers on your desk or playing in the Zoom room. Throw a dance party, cameras optional. And don’t restrict this one to the Morning Meeting, feel free to bust it out any time during the day when y’all need a little energy boost.

And of course have students suggest songs. You might find the FCC guidelines for radio airplay helpful here: no mention of genitalia, genitalia activities, excretion or excretion activities. That covers quite a bit, but y’all can talk about what energy you want to bring into your class with these songs and make up additional inclusive and kind ground rules.

To get you started, we’ve pulled together this quick Spotify playlist of songs you can pull from for morning meeting, advisory, or whenever you need a little boost. And yes, it includes Hamilton. But also yodeling, because that’s gonna be amazing to sing along to as well.

Reach out if you need us; we’re all in this together.


What do public exhibitions of learning look like during a pandemic?

The days of hosting public exhibitions and showcases in the school gymnasium appear to be over. For now.

Some schools and educators, however, have been very clever at hosting socially distanced and virtual exhibitions of student work and learning, despite the pandemic.

Why provide an audience for student work?

We know that student engagement and motivation increase when educators design an authentic audience for their work. When students create work that can be of service to the world, or they share work with people who produce valuable critiques? That motivates students. It gives them the incentive to develop quality products.

Ron Berger produced a useful Hierarchy of Audience that boils down to this: the more authentic an audience is, the higher the student engagement. For instance, families are a more motivating audience than teachers. The school community is a more motivating audience than families. Once the public outside the school gets involved, the stakes are higher.

Think of it as upping the ante for presenting.

Now the challenge is: how can we continue to provide authentic audience during the pandemic?

Here are 10 ways to provide socially distanced authentic audiences for student learning.

1. The virtual conference

Yep: Zoom rooms.

At the Middle Grades Institute this summer, educators selected from a schedule of workshop events and attended those workshops in a dedicated breakout room. This takes some organization and logistical planning, but the feedback from attendees indicated it was a huge success.

pandemic public exhibitions of learning

2. The Livestream

Platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube allow users to livestream an event. In some cases, participants can ask questions or provide comments in a live feed. Presenters can choose to answer these as they come in, or let attendees know whether there will be follow-up after the event. These events can also be recorded, and included in a student’s PLP.

This past summer, two students in Essex VT, set up Facebook livestream concert to showcase their classical music performances. The two had been performing in person at libraries around Vermont. When the pandemic hit, they learned how to host and publicize those same performances in a way that brought them to the same public, authentic audience.

3. Embrace Flipgrid!

At Williston Central School, in Williston VT, teachers used Flipgrid in order to host a “virtual open house” Flipgrid is a platform where users can record videos to share with a select audience (videos are password-protected). The audience can then respond with their own videos. Through this platform, students were able to connect and engage with parents and other community members for feedback.

public exhibitions pandemic

4. Get outside and stretch

A useful strategy for social distancing is getting and staying outside — away from other people. As such, we’re seeing a huge rise in the popularity of Story Walks. A Story Walk is a trail along which an organization installs plaques on sticks, like you have in state and national parks.

Students at Lamoille Union Middle School, in Hyde Park VT, constructed a story walk along the Lamoille River trail. Each plaque showcased a student group’s historical research, along with a QR code linked to a short student-produced video.

Right now, many libraries are constructing Story Walks, and would love to feature student work to share with the community. Get out, stretch your legs and learn!

5. Get your audience outside!

Middlebury opera educator Sarah Cullins runs the Youth Opera Workshop, in Middlebury VT. The Youth Opera Workshop provides opportunities for students to learn and perform opera for appreciative Vermonters — who are usually an older demographic.

Once the pandemic hit, heading out to nursing homes would have been a disaster. So instead, Cullins worked with elder care homes and public utilities to bring the appreciative audience out onto large green spaces. They were able to remain socially distanced while students presented their performance pieces in public exhibitions.

5. Make headlines in your local paper

One unexpected aspect of the pandemic is that subscriptions to local papers have gotten a hefty boost. People are more interested than ever in local information. And a lot of them read that paper online. And that can be a boon for students.

Local papers live for community-submitted items. Contact your local paper and pitch a student series of op-eds, or articles. That’s taking the audience for the learning out beyond the teacher, beyond the families, and out into the community.

Looking for critical feedback? The online publishing of local papers provides a robust platform for engagement with community members. Lay down ground rules for commenting (for community members) and work with your students to decide what their policy on responding to comments will be. For an extra boost, encourage students to send the link to their articles to experts in the field they’re studying. We’re all looking for a little extra connection right now.

6. Get your video out there online

While we’re all staying home to flatten the curve, we all still love a good video. Embrace video as a way for students to record themselves in the location of their choice and get it online. The link can be public and shared through school social media or unlisted and just shared with families.

At Mt. Abraham Union High School, in Bristol VT, students did just that to perform a rendition of Vermont’s state song, “These Green Mountains”. They wanted public feedback, so they reached out to the local community access television station in Middlebury as a way to build their audience.

Mt Anthony’s choral ensemble did something similar (video) and a big takeaway from both of those videos can be found in the comments. The comment sections to these two videos are filled with love and appreciation. They are from real people. They are positive and supportive.

7. Go big with your videos at the drive-in

During the pandemic, drive-ins are making a comeback. They let families get out of their houses and go the movies while still socially distancing (flatten the curve!). But The Warren School, in Warren VT, took it one step further when it came to their graduating sixth graders. The students traditionally prepare a reflection of their learning on video to share at the school exhibition. In order to keep that tradition going, the school worked with local drive-in The Big Pic to arrange a community showing of the student-made video. The Warren sixth graders’ authentic audience turned out in droves, and tuned in on their car radios.

You can do this.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on creating authentic audiences for student work. It may take some creativity and innovation and learning a new tool, but the technology and resources are out there. More than ever, students need to feel like their work matters to more than themselves and their teacher.

More for the door:

Share Your Learning have developed some resources to support educators with virtual exhibitions of learning, virtual student led conferences, and virtual presentations of learning.


Physical education & remote learning

We know the importance of physical activity to our health and well-being. So, when we educators needed to pivot quickly to remote learning last March, physical education teachers faced a unique challenge.

Educators in the Kingdom East school district got busy quickly to respond and provide ongoing learning opportunities despite the constraints.  How might we build on their collective efforts?

A collective effort

Theresa Young is the curriculum coordinator for the Kingdom East School District. The collaborative effort of Physical Education and Health educators in her district stood out to her. It is an example of an impressive collective effort to meet needs. These educators moved quickly and creatively to launch a district-wide website with the necessary tools, strategies, and resources for families to take next steps. Take a look and you’ll see why.

The KESD P.E. & Health page is a landing space filled with resources for students and their families from kindergarten to 8th grade.

Site highlights

physical education and remote learning KESD homepage


On the site, students can access an array of engaging resources.

Middle level students were invited to:

  • explore the calendar,
  • pick out one of the suggested activities to try 2 or 3 times a week
  • And, share / reflect on the experience with this Google Form 👉


physical education and remote learning
Click or tap to enlarge the image.


Sharing student work

In addition to a resource collection and feedback form, the site helped educators highlight student work. First grader Carter Boivin published his own book: Bike Safety Manual! And KESD is happy to share it broadly.

Carter’s interest in biking translated into advice shared with a wide audience through this collective space.


Other ongoing supports

As the educators were building out the site, Jeremiah Bias found a creative way to engage his students in physical education activities. He video recorded himself sharing and modeling a physical activity easily replicated at home. Many schools in the Kingdom East School District use Seesaw.  Jeremiah delivered these engaging videos through Seesaw postings.

The key: engage learners to be active and healthy, even when we have to do so at a distance!

Further exploration

Want to know more about ways physical education teachers can work to keep students and their families active this summer at a distance and plan for the fall?

Check out:


Re-connect & re-imagine this return to school.

The return to school is usually filled with excitement, anticipation, and maybe a little nervousness. This year though? Much more nervousness with the excitement.  How can we anticipate what it will take to keep teachers and students safe? While each of our communities and school leadership put their hearts and minds into that question, we’re looking at what we know works for a return to remote and blended learning. We’re going small, and keeping it simple. Returning to the basics. We asked each of our professional development coordinators for their best piece of advice on the return to school in this exceptionally challenging year.

What one word would they provide as a guidepost?

Emily Hoyler: “Re-center.”

Emily Hoyler return to schoolI tend to dream big and that’s great. But when it comes time to bring those ideas into reality, all my grand plans can be a bit overwhelming. (Can you relate?)

But the best advice I’ve heard lately was: how can you make it smaller?

This is a reminder to create manageable and focused goals. Peel back the layers to find the best bits, and focus deeply and intentionally on those.

But the hard part can be figuring out which bits. So I offer this:

One of my favorite books to begin the school year with is The Three Questions by John Muth. In this tale, which is based on Tolstoy’s work with a similar name, a young boy is seeking answers:

  • What is the best time to do things?
  • Who is the most important one?
  • What is the right thing to do?

Spoiler alert:  I’m going to tell you Tolstoy’s answers to those three questions. Here are they are: The best time is now, the most important one is the ones you are with, and the right thing to do is to do good for those you’re with…right here. Right now.

I typically use the text to set the scene for my classroom culture and community, to help students think about how to show up for each other. But I think these questions can guide us here.

What does it look like to do good for our students right now?

I think it means scaling back. Paring down. Focusing deeply on what matters. Relationships. Connection. Purpose. Reflection.

So when you look at the long list of all that you’ve been asked to do, can you ask yourself:

  • What is the most important?
  • What can I let go of (for now)?
  • How can I make it smaller?

Let’s give ourselves permission to let go, narrow our scope, make things smaller, and honor what truly matters.

Jeanie Phillips: “Hyperdocs”.

Jeanie Phillips return to schoolIf I were headed back to the classroom this fall my head would be spinning!  Should I plan for remote learning? Should I prepare for in-person learning?  Or both?  What is an educator to do?

The solution I’m offering is the Hyperdoc: an organized way to plan for your learners that works virtually, in person, or in a hybrid model.

What’s a hyperdoc?

A hyperdoc is an organized instructional unit that curates all of the resources, materials, practice, and assessments in one place. Using UDL and backward design, educators can plan thoughtful instruction that is aligned to proficiencies and provides voice and choice for students.

And while the typical hyperdoc is designed so each student has their own copy, this format could also be used by collaborative groups so they can work together at a safe social distance.

Rachel Mark: “Re-connect”.

Rachel Mark, Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education return to schoolOne of the most fundamental purposes for re-opening schools this fall is to rekindle human connections and relationships.

In my capacities as both a parent and an educator, I perceive daily advisory to be absolutely essential for this school year.

Whether it’s face-to-face, virtual, or a hybrid of both, there are many ways that educators can use advisory to build relationships, develop community, and help students feel a sense of belonging. Earlier this year, I wrote about a format for conducting virtual advisory with students. In that post, I called it morning meeting, which I consider to be a very similar concept to middle school advisory.

Advisory sessions should be an opportunity for people — adults and students — to relate with one another, feel connected, and have a little fun. And as educators, let’s find ways to help students feel safe and supported and individually willing to turn their cameras on. Let’s behave like guests in their homes so they’re willing to be face-to-face with us for yes, more connection.

Last year, we published ideas on our blog for activities that could be used in a virtual advisory or morning meeting.

In June, I taught a graduate course for educators that promoted virtual advisory as a critical component for this upcoming school year.

It was my favorite part of the day.

And I believe it was a similar highlight for my students.

Life LeGeros: “Project-Based Learning cycles.”

Life LeGeros return to schoolTeachers are being put in a tough situation right now (understatement of the century, I know). You’re being asked to put relationships and connection first while developing curriculum that is more engaging than ever. And to do so in a situation where the format might be face-to-face, remote, or hybrid, or all three with different students.

My suggestion is to do as much planning up front as possible to provide time for individualized feedback and support when students kick things into gear. This will also allow creative energy to be funneled into community building.

Where do cycles come in?

If you can create choices that students can explore through a consistent process, then you can run a few cycles where students get to choose a focus area each time.

For example, the Humanities team at Orleans Elementary School (Andrea Gratton and Kyle Chadburn) created the Humanities Expeditions Project last spring. Students start each two-week cycle by choosing to explore an “expedition” area such as sports, the future, heroes, or social justice. They spend time with resources in that topic area for the first week and reflect on what they learned. Then in week two, they write about it. Students receive feedback on informational writing skills and self-direction. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Another example comes from the Imagining September project from MIT and Harvard. In the “School as Basecamp” storyboard (p. 11-12), students engage with a career exploration project during the first two weeks of school and then choose from modules that have been pre-designed by teachers. Modules blend skills and content, such as Writing to Persuade or Reading About Science. Modules last a month and culminate in a creative exhibition of learning.

Both of these cases require a fair amount of up-front work to structure the delivery method (may I suggest Hyperdocs?), provide resources for students to explore, and figure out how to introduce and scaffold the process. But like many project-based learning approaches, once things are underway teachers get to focus on being there for students.

It’s also an asset-based approach that capitalizes on the power of choices and builds on the self-direction skills many students deepened during the spring.

Scott Thompson: “Ask.”

Scott Thompson, Tarrant Institute for Innovative EducationLet’s just acknowledge that this year is different. All your emotions are okay. And while significant challenges lie ahead, we cannot admire them. Educators are amongst the most talented, innovative, and passionate folks around. WE CAN DO THS! So let’s wonder what could it look like? How can it be different and better at the same time? Students will be showing up in some capacity and their energy will give us energy.

As we show up, and as our students show up, let’s not be afraid to ask for things. Ask for help. Ask for reassurance. And ask for space.

Let’s be kind to ourselves as we focus on coming together for such a mighty, mighty lift. Let’s step back when we need, and let’s make noise as we plan. Advocate for ourselves and our communities.

And above all, let’s listen to students.

Susan Hennessey: “Plan P”.

return to school collaborative digital tools for faculty meetingsWe all need to build learning opportunities based on multiple scenarios. Think of it less like having a Plan B, and more like a Plan P: pivoting to new contexts with intention.

One way to do so is to have a multitude of content in a number of different media at the ready so students have choice of access points to engage with content. If they can’t benefit from an in-person lecture / discussion, they will be well served by an engaging video with short stopping points for reflection built in via EdPuzzle, or a podcast followed by a collaborative discussion board via Padlet, or a piece of informational text they can collaborative mark up in ActivelyLearn of

Flower Darby in Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes advises:

“Take a little time to find relevant videos, audio recordings, and images…Find and share impactful pieces of content that add depth and breadth to your existing instructional materials. This will help students gain a richer understanding of the nuances of your subject.”

So, how to do so efficiently and effectively? Take advantage of Open Educational Resources like CK-12, OERcommons, and Curriki to find ready-to-use content. And don’t forget CommonLit to find texts for all reading levels and needs. These tools allow busy educators to easily search by content standard, grade range, and topic.



Teachers, we want you to be: safe.

We are excited for the possibility of seeing this fundamental disruption to school as we know it, as an opportunity to explore and create new ways of learning. Ways that honor student voice and drive, that create truly flexible pathways for students to move out of school buildings and into their communities. We are hoping students can explore what intrigues them about this world, and share who they are and what they’ve learned through their PLPs, and via student-led conferences (whatever those will look like). What are your students learning and doing during this time? How can we assess the new skills they gain? And how do we level the playing field in terms of racial, social, economic and intersectional equity?

But all of these questions are immaterial without teachers and students being truly safe in their learning environments.

Reach out if you need us. We will support you however we can.

The power of virtual field trips

Do you remember those pre-COVID days?  All of the exciting plans, the face to face collaboration, the FIELD TRIPS?!

The teachers and students at Two Rivers Supervisory Union had *BIG* plans: a four-day, four school, in-person Sustainable Development Goal Academy.

Fifth and sixth-grade students from Cavendish Town Elementary, Chester-Andover Elementary, Ludlow Elementary, and Mount Holly Elementary would converge to learn more about the UN’s Global Goals.  They would choose one goal of interest and join a team of scholars to dig in and learn more.  And they would present their learning, and their recommendations, to local community members and organizations.  BUT… you already know what happened… social distancing put the kibosh on all of the collaborative fun and learning.

Sort of.

Once TRSU teachers got their remote learning feet under them, they realized that this project didn’t have to be canceled. They could rework it for an online environment.  And that could be done more easily because of the kindness and generosity of one open-source oriented teacher.  Let’s give it up for Mr. Kyle Chadburn!

TRSU SDG Academy Website

You see Kyle had also been doing some work with his students on the SDGs. He had developed a pretty extensive website to curate resources for his students. AND Kyle being Kyle, he made a copy for TRSU  and invited them to make it their own.  Blessings on all generous educators! And so they did. They added resources, adapted assessments, developed their own supporting materials, and tied it to the critical indicators defined by their district’s proficiencies.

There was only one thing missing: expert community members and field trips.

Enter the Zoom-trip? The field Zoom? Well, anyway, enter local community organizations and folks with a ton of expertise!  Who are also not afraid of Zoom (or fifth and sixth-graders)!

When asked, community partners overwhelmingly said yes to engaging with TRSU students. These organizations were eager to connect with our students and share their experiences. Kelly Stettner from the Black River Action Team was more than happy to answer students’ questions about local water clean up and its importance to Goal #6: Clean Water. The Vermont Institute of Natural Science VINS was delighted to talk about Goal #15: Life on Land, and to bring along a few animal ambassadors as well.

Goal #2: No Hunger was discussed by Jessie Carpenter from the Vermont Foodbank. Rutland educator Erica Wallstrom has traveled to Greenland and Antarctica as an Einstein Fellow; who better to engage students on Goal #13: Climate Action?

You can see the full list of offerings here.

Students went to at least one presentation on their own goal, but some students decided to attend more.  Rebekah Hamblett is a public health student at Villanova University and she presented on Gender Equality.  She reported that one 6th grade boy said,

“This isn’t my goal but I feel like I should know more about this.”

It was surprisingly easy to host 15 field trips in three days.

Really, it was!  Here is how it worked:

  1. Choose dates and times that will work for students and teachers.
  2. Brainstorm local organizations that do work related to the Global Goals.
  3. Send out email requests to community organizations with a specific ask: 1 or 2 presentations of 45 minutes or less explaining your work.  We definitely shared the focus of the particular Sustainable Development Goal we had in mind but encouraged them to talk more about their work than the goal.
  4. Once we had confirmed guests, teachers stepped up to chaperone.  Chaperones provided Zoom links, introduced the guest, served as a chat checker and observer, and thanked the guest at the end.
  5. Share the calendar with families and students.
  6. Enjoy the learning!

The result?!  TRSU teachers reflected this week and they felt this unit was a big win for students.  The elements they saw as most contributing to the success: student voice and choice, relevant and meaningful topics, and community engagement.  You can take a look at their exhibitions of learning here.

Meanwhile, check out how Kyle Chadburn and Andrea Gratton shared the origin of their Sustainability Academy here.

The power of PIPs in a pandemic

Middle school is not a Zoom room.

When the quick switch to a remote environment was required, Charlotte Central School decided to go with what they know. And these folks know their students. Specifically, they know “Personal Interest Projects” (PIPs, aka passion projects, aka Brainado, aka curiosity projects) work for their students. Charlotte Central students in grades 7 and 8 had both worked through a few rounds of PIPs, providing educators with rave reviews. And as the distance (learning) lengthened, honoring students’ individual joys and passions seemed the best way forward.

It generally always is.

But for these PIPs, remote learning environment removed a lot constraints in terms of time and place. This middle school truly wasn’t a building, but instead a networked community, working remotely to support, engage and more deeply know their students.

Keep it simple:

Educators Marley Evans, Lisa Bresler, and Allan Miller started to wonder how to make this work in the wild new environment of emergency distance learning. First, they started with some guiding statements for students:

  • Pick something that’s engaging
  • Fun and not overwhelming
  • Something you’ll stick with

They were hoping for something that created a meaningful back and forth dialog. Something that could be synchronous or asynchronous. A dialog that supported a growth mindset and a little self-direction.

Plus, they really, really missed their students. And this would be an opportunity to reach out and connect. But however would they cope with the virtual reality of the situation?

Roll Call:

An email went out to staff and other interested educators, requesting a little help.

The response? Overwhelming. 17 adults in the school community stepped up to the plate and volunteered to be a PIPs resource. That represented a 240% increase over the last round, and created a 1:5 ratio for adults supporting students. Take a moment and think about what a 1:5 ratio could look like for student learning year-round…

And onwards!


Marley, Lisa, and Allan let students know that spring PIPs were on their way and there would be a virtual rollout.

They framed this round of PIPs with Head (thinking), Hand, (doing), Heart (feeling). Not a new idea for the students but new to tie it explicitly to the PIPs. Students then joined their advisors in small groups. They talked possibilities and posed questions, until each student had the tools to create a single slide, capturing the basis of their PIP.


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The support

Each Monday the team sent out a reminder through Google Classroom, then each Friday small groups would meet to answer questions, share progress, or problem-solve. It’s the little nudge that keep momentum going. The planning group shared a list of prompts, for people who were new to this type of project.

Student Progress Tracking


And the results were GLORIOUS.

Charlotte Central has always tried to say yes to a PIPs proposal. But, sometimes the gym wasn’t available or the art room booked up, so the answer had to be no. Well, this round of PIPs produced work that wasn’t possible in the traditional school structure.

Some students worked at 6am, others at 8pm. Students worked with their family’s needs and their own biorhythms, based on the sheer joy of going for it.

One student launched a lawn-mowing business. Another student learned a backflip. And still another planned out his garden *and* built bike jumps for his backyard. And one engaged his dad in a conversation about chickens. If you build the coop, dad said, we’ll get chickens. Blueprints appeared almost immediately.


“How was this assessed?”

It wasn’t.

…thank you for coming to our TED Talk.

No, but in all seriousness, assessment was pretty much the furthest thing from anyone’s minds. The idea was really: let’s engage students with what they want to study, and give them a venue for showing us who they are, then sort assessment out for next year. Because the rest of this year has just been a whole DEAL.

Lessons learned?

Now, while many students embraced the opportunity to follow their joy, student participation was not 100%. Some students did their projects but skipped the check-in meetings. Not every student felt comfortable meeting virtually, especially with the 1:5 adult-student ratio (small groups can be awkward). Before the school closure, not every student had a strong relationship with an adult in the school community, and that… didn’t improve by going remote.

Friday afternoons were the perfect time to meet when school was in session, but during distance learning? Not so much.

Plus, let’s name it: equity remained a problem. Access to resources was an issue in school and it became a greater issue away from school.

Let’s go back, Jack, and do it again:

The only certain thing about school next fall is its uncertainty. No one knows for sure what it’s going to look like. But the Charlotte Central team do know they want more PIPs. Here’s their quick list of takeaways for the next round, if school stays remote.

How could this be a part of your learning?

Remoteness does not meant devoid of rigor, relevance, or relationships. This is one way to honor student passions and create a venue for them to show you how they learn. It’s a way to open flexible pathways to student’s goals. And for Charlotte Central, it was a way to connect with the students they missed so very much.

Where are we with formative assessment for remote learning?

Who could have predicted were we are today? Many aspects of education have been challenging the past few month. Most notably being distant from your students. They give you energy, bring you joy… and also provide lots and lots and lots of feedback.

Teachers, we see you out there designing remote learning with your whole hearts. We see you digging deeper into your toolboxes than ever before. The learning curve has been steep, but you have made sure to keep your priorities in order. Safety. Health. Relationships But, how do you know what’s working?

It’s formative assessment time.

Why formative assessment right now?

Now that school and home have crossed the streams, remote learning — or as it should be more properly known, “emergency distance learning” is really highlighting the equity issues that have always existed in our systems. So we ask:

  • Who has support?
  • Who has access?
  • Resources? Safety?

If we consider bringing summative grading into the picture now we might be rewarding privilege and not learning.

“Do you know where you are?”

One of our favorite questions for starting to take stock of a situation. Let’s take a moment to see where you might fall on this learning progression on formative assessment.

Formative Assessment learning targets


Putting it into perspective

Charlotte Central School learning coach Allan Miller recently framed the challenging situation like this:

Is it possible to successfully combine:

  • High Engagement
  • Proficiency Based Learning / Targets
  • Formative Assessment
  • Personalization (choice and feedback)
  • Remote Learning
  • Social Emotional Learning
  • Focus on Relationships
    • Student to Teacher
    • Teacher to Student
    • Student to Student
    • Teacher to Parent/Guardian

That… seems like a lot. Because it is. However, if you took away the remote learning situation, these have always been our goals. We have some prior knowledge to lean on before jumping into formative assessment for remote learning.

What would it look like if we were doing it well?

Borrowing again from Allan Miller:

“By June 2020 I will be able to design and implement remote learning instruction that:

  • Is aligned with my chosen academic learning targets and provides authentic opportunities for improving core skills (academic and transferable)
  • Is highly engaging for students – meaning they choose to engage not just out of compliance
  • Provides formative data that I can use to modify and personalize my instruction through timely feedback
  • Allows students to interact with each other in authentic and engaging manner 
  • Allows for choice, personalization and differentiation – in a sustainable way for a teacher with a life.  
  • Provides a safe, supporting environment for all students”

Right. And that leaves us exactly… where now?

It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s just important to have the conversation. If you need some tools and strategies we have you covered.

At the end of the day you want to know what’s working for your students. And how to keep them engaged.

So… where are you now with formative assessment for remote learning?

Formative Assessment learning targets


How to throw culminating events — online!

It is spring. I know, snow has fallen and it has been cold lately, but it’s officially May. And while school might not look like every other bustling year with our end of the year celebrations, showcases, exhibitions, and events, we can still find ways to celebrate and share student learning. You might find yourself having to PIVOT your passion projects, project-based or service learning units celebrations online.

In this moment, we can still find connection, audience and purpose. It’s just (like everything else right now) going to take a bit of planning and pivoting.

So, rewind!

What are culminating events?

culminating events for project-based learningThey’re the lovely finish line of a project-based learning unit. They celebrate the projects and the learning in an authentic, community based forum. And they’ve been a key motivating factor for the project. Generally, they’re in-person events, like school exhibitions, community nights, or guided tours.

I think you see where we’re going with this.


But all is not lost: culminating events can still happen in meaningful ways online.

The essential elements of culminating events are exactly the same online

A culminating event should be:

  • an authentic way to share projects to a wider community
  • the audience is one that is important to the students– they are stake-holders on the issue
  • students see and feel how their work is connected to a wider community
  • students present their work publicly and feel the value in this

Make it work!

Learning fairs & exhibitions

In learning fairs and exhibitions, students present to parents, the school community, and other interested groups. These usually take place in gymnasiums, courtyards, and classroom spaces. Now? We need to consider how to bring folks together online.

There could be various formats for this, both asynchronous and synchronous. A quick review!

  • Synchronous is when students are learning at the same time, in real time. This allows for instant personal communication and connection. Examples of this include video conferencing, live chats, and live streamed videos.
  • Asynchronous is when students are learning at their own pace, at different times. Communication is pre-recorded in some way. This is sometimes more convenient and flexible for learners. This includes emails, screencasts, messages on Google Classrooom, Flipgrids, and blog posts or comments.

Next, consider what might work best for your students and families. And right now? Many folks are understanding how important education is (um, yeah!) and are able to support students with feedback and celebration.

Synchronous options:

  • A live Zoom/Google Meets presentation. This could be a time when students do a short video presentation live. They could share their screens to show their digital work. Survey caregivers to see what time might work best for them, and provide different options. If students were unable to be present live, or if a bandwidth / tech issue prevents successful synchronous meeting, the student could record a screencast presenting the work, then submit their videos to their teachers before hand, who could show it.

Asynchronous options:

  • A shared padlet. Students could publish their work to a padlet. What is a padlet, you say? It’s like a virtual bulleting board, where you can pin up work and links. You can set them so that anyone with the link could comment; then grandparents, neighbors, other invested community members (and even the general public if you desire!) could comment.
  • A shared Flipgrid. Students could post their presentations to a Flipgrid for your class. A new topic, called our community celebration/demonstration of learning, could be set up and students could post their presentations. Again, students and families could post comments and reactions. They could even record their own videos responding and giving praise.
  • A YouTube video. Decide what level of audience you want: an unlisted video, or one linked to your school’s account. I would leave comments off for this, but you could encourage folks to give feedback in another format.



  • A published website of a gallery of images. This could be shared with various audiences via email or social media. Other ideas include online maps, blog posts, or online magazines and websites.
  • E-book creation. Book Creator is a great tool for this! Students can work on part of a book and demonstrate their learning that way, and the teacher can publish the e-book for any audience. For example, see this recently released e-book from the researchers at Ottauquechee School.
  • Seesaw Journal or Blog entries. If your students are regularly sharing their learning on their Seesaw digital portfolios, or in a public Seesaw blog, this is a perfect venue for them to share their presentations with teachers and families.

These provide a great way to assess students use of the transferable skills of communication as well!

Student-to-student presentations

Students can present their work to younger students in this moment too. Sometimes the most valuable audience is peers. Especially younger ones that motivated older students to engage, be role models, be friendly, and connect. Can two classes connect for a presentation of learning via videoconferencing? Or can your students sent a video or photo of a project to younger students for feedback? This is a great option for this moment of prolonged remote learning.

Digital showcases

With so many digital sharing tools, students can create something of value in their PBL projects to share with the wider world. The culminating event can include the act of sharing that creation.

These can include educational YouTube videos, online maps, blog posts, or online magazines and websites. Take a look at this YouTube video from the historians and newscasters at Proctor Elementary School, in Proctor VT.

Targeted shares

Did your students do projects based on a favorite book? Maybe they could share their work directly with the author! So, one collective padlet or gallery of projects could be shared directly with the author on Twitter, and imagine the excitement of a response, if not by the author, then by lots of fellow readers. This could work for scientists, writers, performers, politicians, CEOs, and other leaders of their fields!

Or reenactments of a scene from your favorite books could get noticed by the author…


Reflection and practice makes progress

When finishing a project, take a few moments to help students get ready to present by reflecting on their experience. Ask questions like:

  • What did you learn?
  • How did you work through challenges
  • Describe new skills did you gain?
  • How do you feel about your work?

In addition, students will still need to practice a lot to get ready to present, no matter what format! Students have different levels of comfort with presenting and will need practice time, scaffolding, and some feedback about how to improve. Family members, siblings, or even stuffed animals can make good practice partners.

Lastly, don’t forget to have students reflect at the end of the culminating event, too. This is a great time to capture student thinking after sharing their work to an audience. Here are some ways to facilitate these reflections. 

Share your Learning has fabulous resources for ways to share your learning remotely, with step by step guides! 

How might you help students share their learning with an audience this spring?

How to conduct a virtual morning meeting

During this COVID-19 crisis, we as adult educators, are collectively mourning the loss of our everyday routines and face-to-face interactions. And students are too.

As educators, we know that routines are important, and so is face-to-face connection. Meaningful connection with other humans is critical to a young adolescent’s health and well-being. Right now more than ever, we need to provide students with those regular connection routines. And as we make use of video conferencing to connect with students, here’s how to maximize our human connection: virtual morning meetings.

Virtual morning meetings are essential

In Southern Vermont, as soon as schools closed, sixth grade teacher Robin Bebo-Long instantly went virtual with her morning meetings. Every day of the school week, she gathers with her students from Cavendish Town School on a Zoom call. It begins each morning at 8:50 am. And Robin greets each student by name as they join the call.

In Northern Vermont, Jared Bailey joined with his teaching team in getting virtual morning meetings up and running. Every day, Jared spends time with his 21 fifth- and sixth-graders via Google Meet. And he too, greets students as they join the call before its 9 am start time.

Virtual morning meetings help preserve and strengthen relationships

Jared says,

“At this time, we have had such an abrupt disruption in schooling, and we have to focus on what is essential for students – to see their teacher’s face and hear their voice. Those relationships come first, and that we see that our students’ emotions are healthy.”

While so much in students’ lives has changed, it must be comforting to these young adolescents to see both their peers and their educators each morning.

What are the elements of a powerful virtual morning meeting?

Robin and Jared are masters of facilitating the virtual morning meeting. Each of them loosely follows the same structure (which is incidentally pretty similar to the one I proposed in Host your morning meeting from home).  It’s a structure that encourages students to connect, share and build relationships; it could follow this simple format.

1. The Greeting

As mentioned, Robin and Jared greet every student by name, every morning. Each of them greeted students by name as they entered the call. “Good Morning, Lydia…. Good Morning, Neko….”

What does it feel like when you hear your name spoken by a familiar and expected voice? Does it help soothe any anxiety you feel?

2. Daily News or Announcement

If the teacher is the leader of Morning Meeting, then he or she gives some updates and news briefs about the day.

In one session I sat in on, Jared told the students, “Today you have a virtual ELA session at 10:30 am, and a Math virtual session at 1 pm. I know that the art teacher sent out a link to you about some art resources, and there is a time tomorrow for you to pick up Spanish packets at school”.

Try to behave like the central hub of communication for kids on that day. Centralize the information they need for the day. Try to organize it for them. Repeat it to them so they have your voice as a touchstone. There is a lot coming at students in their email in-boxes every day, and many students need someone to assimilate that information for them. If you think it’s helpful, you can use visual news or reminders.

3. Sharing

Next, open up a prompt for people to think about and share.

I’ve seen that done well as a prompt *combined* with the greeting. Jared did this in the session I attended. “Please say good morning to us and share with the class what book you are currently reading”. That sharing creates a set of student-contributed resources for other students to consider. It creates community.

I attended one of Robin’s virtual morning meetings on a Monday. So she asked students to reflect on their weekend activities, utilizing a protocol called Roses and Thorns: “Share with us a high from this past weekend and a low.”

Using that protocol is clever, as it captures the reality that many students are going to struggle with weekends, as well as finding joy. It opens the door, on one hand, for students to look for joy in their lives. At the same time, it invites them to share a place where as the morning meeting leader, you might want to check in and ask a student if they need additional support.

4. Game or Activity

Last, the leader can choose some sort of short activity or game.

Robin shared an activity her class loved: “Find a MEME that shows how you’re feeling!” Again she created that space where her students could invite themselves to share joy or positivity but also open the door to asking for additional support. Meanwhile, for his activity, Jared had the class contribute to a Flipgrid where each student shared a joke.

A note of caution about virtual morning meetings:

So many of us are learning a “new normal”, and video-conferencing has taken the place of the handshake. We are quickly learning the benefits and drawbacks of video tools. Some of the positives: students seeing familiar faces, and hearing familiar voices. The power to provide in-time, synchronous support to students.

And the drawbacks: privacy & security

Security and privacy are real concerns, so choose your tools wisely. Whether you are using Google Hangouts, Meet, Zoom, or some other platform, teachers should take precautions to keep virtual spaces safe. For instance, do you know how to keep students from joining or rejoining a Meet without you?

(Speaking of Meet, they just recently added the ability for teachers to run Google Meets from within their Google Classroom platform. Learn more about that here.)

Now, in some ways, video conferencing can be a great equalizer. But they can also unearth certain inequities. You may be joining the call from your (second) beautiful, sunny solarium with high ceilings, while I am sharing myself from the messy closet of a bedroom that I share with two siblings.

If you use a Zoom call, you can allow your students to change their backgrounds. Microsoft Teams allows users to change their background as well, or simply blur it out. These features allow students to show their own clear faces, but not show a less than ideal backdrop. Teachers might even choose to ask all students to hide backdrops, so that everyone can focus on the person, not the setting.

Additionally, some students may simply not feel comfortable enough with their appearance (or surroundings, or the technology) to participate in video-conferencing either regularly or in a particularly challenging moment. In these cases, what’s your backup plan?

Morning Meeting, meet Advisory

While I have been writing about the Morning Meeting, I want to acknowledge its intwinement with advisory.

Often, an effective advisory structure uses morning meetings on all or most days. Morning meetings can take place across many learning settings, hence my dependence on the term “morning meeting” instead of advisory.

We need Morning Meeting now more than ever

Now back to our program…

For me, there are two main outcomes that make Virtual Morning Meeting so essential.

For one, it’s important that students have this opportunity for connection with peers. I observed both Jared and Robin artfully manage their meetings while still keeping it focused on the students and their voices. Some students might make animal sounds, and the chat window might be fluttering. As much as possible, let the meeting be about their authentic student voices.

The second piece that I noted is that a Virtual Morning Meeting provides this critical window of observation for the teacher. The teacher gets a quick glimpse of each student and hears the tone of their voices. That’s really important data for educators while we attempt to run school remotely.

Speaking of data…

Williston Central School asked parents and students to give administrators and teachers feedback about the remote learning so far. Not surprisingly, Jared and his team received clear and positive reactions about the importance of the virtual Morning Meeting. Here are what some of his parents had to say:

  • “Keeping the daily meeting with her core teacher has been AMAZING! Her whole class was in attendance again today – so pivotal to their happiness!”
  • “… the Google Meets in the morning, right from the get go, have been the glue holding this House together.

Now more than ever, we need educators to create very intentional spaces for our students to connect with their peers and their teachers.

Please tell me if you are using a virtual morning meeting with your students. What is working? How’s it going? I’d love to hear from you.

More Ideas for Morning Meeting Activities


Introducing: The Joy Project


Lots of educators, students and families are telling us that we can’t simply replicate in-classroom learning via video conferencing and assignments. It is *too* much for teachers and students and families. It doesn’t offer the kind of hands-on learning we know students enjoy, along with the flexibility families need in this moment.

Plus, students need more joy and creativity to build up their sense of selves, their resilience, and their connections to the world.

A student-driven, thematic project could provide this.

Hear us out: it’s time for Joy Projects.

You may have heard the terms before: genius hours, passion projects, curiosity projects. But for this moment in time, we feel like we need:

  • a student-driven interest-based project
  • that can be done remotely
  • featuring analog and virtual options
  • focused on JOY + CARE + RESILIENCE 

Take a moment with that idea, because it’s a big one.

How can educators and families support students in doing personal interest projects done with flexibility, creativity and curiosity? What kind of guidelines could students use to provide structure and direction for passion-based learning?

The Basic Recipe: 7 Steps to Joy

We want to help educators and students do personal interest projects that feature the following seven steps.

1. Discover your interests

Students, what brings you joy during this time? What do you want to explore? Will your Joy Project be wide open and free choice? Or will you focus mostly on one subject area, or a Global Goal, or a student-determined theme? And educators, what kind of joy do you see relating to where your students were, as a group, or where you’re all going on this new journey?

2. Discover your community.

Who are the people around you? And who do you see pulling together as a community right now, what do you notice happening? Who is in your community during this challenging time, and what are some of their strengths and some of their needs?

3. Find the overlap.

This one’s key: where are the places where your interests as a learner overlap with the needs of your community?  Think of this in terms of finding a key that unlocks learning in your community, or that of your students. Your community’s needs are a lock; when the needs are met, they unlock better health and happiness in the community. Your learning interests are a key: you can use them to unlock that better health and happiness.

4. Enlist help.

We are all stronger together: as you undertake this learning project, who are some of the people or organizations in your community who can provide you with support. Are they some of the same people with the needs you’re trying to meet? Or, are they people who simply have strengths that you may not have explored, who could lean in a little?

5. Choose a reflection.

As you learn, you’re going to want to keep track of what you’re learning along the way. You could use a learning journal, or a scrapbook. You could create a podcast, or start a YouTube channel. Or could you could free-write, or explore mixed media? Or create a class padlet for all the students in the group to document their learning? Choose a method in advance, then…

6. Get it on the calendar

While learning is a lifelong process, let’s put some milestones down, and make the wide-open unknown of time work for student learning. Will you do a month-long project? A semester-long one? Are you a student who just wants to take a week to explore one of your passions, then a break, then take another week to explore something different? Set your boundaries.

And as you set your schedule, keep that end date in sight, and plan for how you want to share this learning. And who will you share it with? Are you a class of learners who want to gather in Zoom? A student who wants to write an article for the local paper? Do you want to record a TED Talk, or conclude your podcast series? Will you send your podcast to the local radio station, or just share it on your family website? Will you snail-mail your journal to a far-away beloved relative? Choose a method, then set and share the date.

7. Do the work (learn + create).

This is the funnest part! Now you have a plan for what you want to do, get in there and follow your passion. Help your community. Be the change.

Some examples:

Perhaps you’re an educator whose class was studying Lake Champlain when All This happened.

Host a discussion with your students as to how they want to use the seven steps to structure a two-week culminating project around their own personal explorations of the lake. You might set three check-in points for students along the way, taking them to the calendar in your Google Classroom, and ask students to contribute their learning to a shared padlet. Perhaps one of your students videos his interpretive dances about the lake and adds those to the padlet. Another student writes long-form in a journal about observing the aquatic snails at the shoreline. You’ve informed families of the date for the share-out gala, which they can enjoy from their own homes.

Or perhaps you’re a student, working on family meals.

You’ve always been interested in gourmet breads, and a little online research has led you to be curious about cardamom buns, or Georgian khachapuri, or discovering the recipe for your grandmother’s cast-iron no-knead bread. You announce May 2020 as The Month Of Breads. As you experiment with different bakes, you snap a quick photo, and email around a quick survey to the members of your household (yes, you have to transcribe your little sister’s answers, in that you ask her in an interview style). You add your own thoughts and research and combine the whole in a Google folder. You’ve promised your family and classmates a cookbook for the end of school. Not everything’s delicious, but you learn more every time.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language.

You’re a busy caregiver working from home and staring at your children. One of them showed you the free option for studying Hebrew in Duolingo. You scrolled through and talked over what could be learned in six weeks time. A little negotiation while prepping the garden bed and you get to check in with your student weekly, seeing their progress on the leaderboards and the points they accrue. Your student also reached out to their rabbi and the rabbi made some suggestions for additional materials to try. They’ve been looking for someone to help translate some materials online. The rabbi promises to speak with your scholar next time you go to temple.

Grow into your joy.

You own a nursery and now is GO TIME, corona or no. As your nursery runs on child labor (ahem), you and your student talk about how said student could be in charge of the strawberry starts this year, from incubation through to marketing. You show them the accounting software you use, and set them up with an account. They tell you their love of jam, and the two of you look at what it could look like to incorporate the added-value product to your farmstand for the official start of the CSA season.

And SCENE. It’s Joy time, y’all.

Options options options

  • The project could be broken down in a slide show format, which could be reviewed on a phone, and completed in a journal, notebook, or Word document. 
  • Project pages could be printed off and stapled, delivered to students, and used as a place to gather reflections and learning for the entire project. 
  • Also, what about Google Docs that could be printed and distributed as a passion project with phone check-ins?
  • To simplify, students could use one place to record their Joy Project experience. Preferably their PLP! Seesaw works well for this, as it is a digital journal and could be used for students to post updates about their progress. 
  • Students could also create reflections right in a slide show version of this, if they have their own student copy. And then post this to their PLP. 
  • Or lastly, they could create a digital way to share, like Book Creator, about this project, and post on their PLPs.

Structure structure structure

Here’s a full-fledged, education-forward Google Doc template with all the bells and whistles you need to craft deeply personalized, service learning-oriented personal interest projects with students. If that’s what brings you (and them) joy.

And here’s a simplified .pdf template that just contains the seven essential elements.

The Joy Project

Advice for educators on Joy Projects

If this feels a little daunting, totally feel free to use our service learning template, completed and revised for this moment, that you can use with or as a learner. It’s the full-featured item, and will work best for teachers or teaching communities. And you absolutely can reach out to us here with questions or concerns.

But we bet you’ll see so many connections between this project and service learning that the whole project can be designed around the idea of using your interest/joy to benefit your community. You got this.

Advice for caregivers

We know you are busy. My goodness. If your school is not providing a structure like this, you can do this, and either check in with your student to provide feedback and structure, or invite a friend, an elder, or someone who knows a bit about the subject area to provide support, feedback and an audience.

Start the day with a quick check in to help your child focus on what part of the project they will work on that day, with small, doable, engaging tasks. Have them record their project progress back to you at the end of the day, with a photo and a caption, describing what they did today, what they learned and what they want to do next.



Pivoting! to remote PBL

Oh, remember back when we had our project-based learning culminating events all mapped out? Students presenting at Dynamic Landscapes! A school wide community celebration of Cabot Leads! Presentations at Cultivating Sustainable Pathways.. and the Vermont Rural Education Collaborative conference. So many plans, spring days, joining together to celebrate and witness each other’s efforts!

Full. stop. Enter, school cancellation until the end of the year.

First, we can mourn for that loss. The spring celebrations and culminating events for me are one of the most fulfilling and inspiring parts of the school year, when students proudly present what they have created, in their own voices, and how it has changed them, and often positively impacted the world. It is moving, important, purposeful.

*Sigh* After we have mourned this loss, we can pivot. Project-based learning can still happen remotely, and students can still find meaning, purpose, collaboration, joy and share their work with their communities. It’s just going to look different now. We can still feature:

  • relevance
  • purpose
  • collaboration
  • hands on work
  • community partnerships
  • culminating events

We can still use this PBL template, but consider how we can do each part virtually and remotely. So, let’s go! Pivoting to remote/distance PBL. We got this.

Exciting Virtual Launches

Often one of the first, most exciting and important parts of PBL is launching the entry event. These are critical to engage students in the learning, by tapping into relevance, motivation, and excitement. They are something novel, high-interest, that can give students a reason to dive into a driving question for inquiry. Luckily, many organizations see this opportunity to engage students and are giving us resources to do so.

Here are some examples of high interest virtual launches:

The idea is experience something new and exciting… then ask students to generate questions or to pondering a driving question you have created, and launch all sorts of inquiry and thinking.

Moments of Collaboration

It is easy to think that the shift to remote PBL means that students will be working on projects by themselves. But this is not true! Student can work collaboratively on projects with many of the same supports you designed at the beginning. Collaborating on Google Docs and slides? Yep. Creating a timeline and due dates? Yep. Giving each other feedback on work? Indeed. Students will need support with how to do this, as in schedules, dates, expectations and times. This could look like a weekly post describing how they worked as a team that week, or daily exit tickets with this check in.

Here are a few tools that support collaboration in remote project-based learning:

Scaffolding and support

PBL requires lots of support and scaffolding from the teacher, and in the remote environment, this is even more important. What might this look like? It might be providing one slide show of the entire project, step be step, that students can follow, and the announcements that day can say what step your class is working on. It could also be creating a Google Site for the project, with weekly plans and task listed on docs embedded in the site, like this one from Learning Lab participant and 3/4 teacher from Burke Town School, Chrissy Park!

Or it could be clear instructions on Google Classroom in an announcement: “Hey class! Today, use this research note catcher to document your research using the Padlet of sources for your team. Add your main takeaway as a comment to this post sometime this week.”

Remote PBL could take the form of a playlist as well, guiding students through a series of steps to complete the project. Here, you will see Burke teachers Amelia Wurzberg and Courtney Murray continued their year long focus on the United Nations Global Goals with a choice board to pivot their PBL to a remote environment, and provide flexibility to the project.

In thinking about UDL, offer all students support like you might in the classroom: graphic organizers, note catchers, clear instructions and steps, and ways to get more support. Here are the principles of UDL as they apply to remote learning environments.


Regular reflection is a key part of project-based and service learning. Schedule weekly reflection opportunities digitally or on paper, just as online journals such as Seesaw or create digital books such as Book Creator. Or, have students post reflections on Flipgrid. The key is regular reflection with multiple modalities for doing so. Students can reflect on their learning of the transferable skills or other learning targets. All of the strategies in this post are doable remotely with some minor tweaks!

Community Partnerships

These are still possible and important! Many community partners want to be available to support students. Creating a community partner contact list is a good first step, either with students, in your teaching team, or on your own. Then, coordinate ways teams of students can meet with community partners online or get feedback on their working drafts. Check out how folks at People’s Academic Middle Level have partnered with their communities in project-based learning. 

Culminating Events

While these will certainly be different, they can still provide an authentic audience. Any of these ideas could be remote as well.

Students can:

  • send a video presentation to legislators or interested in community groups
  • curate and present a slideshow of work via video or audio to a school and community audience at a virtual event
  • livestream a presentation to a wider audience (with family approval, of course)
  • create and share YouTube video presentations
  • create an Adobe Spark and share online
  • other ideas!

Another example

One example of remote PBL that I recently saw was this one, created by over 100 educators, PBL about this moment in time. A caution, however, that this might be too overwhelming and scary for students who are experiencing loss and anxiety right now. They could focus on other aspects of the project, such as building community, self-care, or other issues related but not directly exploring the virus and its impacts.

Another word of caution

We need to make sure that the design of remote PBL is  equitable and trauma informed. First, any PBL that requires any fancy materials, or any materials actually, that are not usually readily available in the home environment. And before a student uses any home materials, have them check with caregivers at home. Resources right now are challenging to find and manage.

To be trauma informed, the plans need to be flexible and open ended. Plan in student choice, asynchronous opportunities, and adjusted timelines to allow for students who are experiencing difficulties at home. Provide, as Alex Shevrin-Venet shared during a recent webinar, make sure to let “flexibility and empowerment to guide you: offer choices, differentiating, and one choice might be to opt out.”

PBL can be remote, with some planning, and shifting mindsets. How are you moving toward with purpose, motivation and relevance with project-based learning? The keys are flexibility and relevance. We’d love to hear about it!

Trauma-informed distance learning, with Alex Shevrin Venet

The need for trauma-informed practice is particularly salient during the current global pandemic, when many if not all of us are experiencing trauma daily. And educators are working hard to translate trauma-informed practice to emergency remote learning.

Luckily, we have experts like Alex Shevrin Venet engaged in the current moment. She’s a local Vermont educator with global reach, writing on trauma-informed education at her blog, on twitter,  and for publications like edutopia.

In concert with Tim O’Leary, co-director of What’s the Story, we organized a “Lunch n’ Learn webinar” for Alex to take a global audience a little farther in unpacking trauma-informed distance learning. We asked attendees to read a couple of Alex’s recent articles, then tune in for an hour and send Alex their questions. The 500 seats at in our Zoom room filled up in a matter of hours. The questions? Were amazing.

Tim produced a video of the conversation with Alex, and a full transcript is available below. Spend some time listening to Alex and her recommendations for how we as educators can be responsive in supporting students with trauma-informed distance learning.




Alex:  Hi, everybody. Hi, everyone. Welcome, welcome everyone. I’m Alex. I’ll introduce myself more in just a moment.  Welcome to all. I want to draw your attention on the slide in front of you that we have a link to a resource page. If you were tweeting, this launch and learn, feel free to use the #vted hashtag.  That’s our Vermont education hashtag and we love to see your thoughts on there.

A couple of quick introductions, I’m Alex Venet, coming at you from Winooski, Vermont.  I’m a professional development facilitator and educator.  I teach community college. And I teach in-service teachers through graduate courses, and I write and I do a bunch of other stuff. My focus is on trauma informed education and social emotional learning and equity.

Life, do you want to introduce yourself? 

Life:  Sure, thanks, my name is Life LeGeros. I’m in the foothills of the Green Mountains here in Vermont, in South Duxbury. I use he/him pronouns and I’m just so excited to be here. Thank you, Alex for inviting me.  I know how much your work is respected across Vermont, with partner educators who I work with as well as across the country and the globe.  I always learn a lot from you, so I appreciate it.

Alex:  So, Life and I are going to be basically just having a conversation about our current state of emergency distance learning, and trauma, and how we navigate all of this.

A couple of logistical things:

  • I’m going to do a couple of really quick getting ready to learn things activities for us to get in this space together. 
  • Then I’ll have just really quick opening thoughts just to situate us.
  • And then we’ll really dig into some questions and answers, including questions that you all have asked ahead of time as well as questions that folks in the webinar, put into our Q&A, which I’ll talk about again in a second;
  • then we’ll wrap up.

With that we’re going to do a couple of really quick getting-ready-to-learn pieces that I like to do whenever we start our learning experience.

First, I like to take a moment and just get grounded. Check in with yourself.

In a moment what I’m going to do is turn off my camera for 30 seconds and just take a second to get settled. And I encourage you to take that moment for yourselves as well.

Some things that you might do:

  • you might drop your shoulders;
  • or see if your jaw has clenched throughout your day;
  • you might want to notice your breathing and just kind of check in with how that’s going;
  • you might want to stretch, or move your body a little bit.

If it doesn’t feel right to check in with your body right now, maybe just look at your surroundings. Ground yourself in where you are, what’s around you or what’s in your environment.

And if you’re in need of a little bit of an energy, you can do just this really simple exercise: rub your palms together to create a little energy and heat, then press one hand over your heart. Just feel that energy that you have. 

Or you can just sit there and stare or check Twitter — or do whatever — for 30 seconds. It’s really up to you. But I’m going to take that moment for myself and I will see you back here in 30 seconds.

**thirty seconds pass**

And I’m back. I hope that was a good grounding moment for you.

The other piece that I like to do as we come into any learning experience is to check in with those around us and see what folks are bringing to the learning space.

So, the activity I like to do is called Rose and Thorn. Really simple, you just say a Rose, which is something going well for you today, and a Thorn, which is something not going so well.  

If you are watching the livestream, feel free to drop your rose and thorn on Twitter, using that VTed hashtag or turn to someone in your space and share a rose and thorn or just think about what that is for you today. Life, what’s your rose and thorn today? 

Life:  My rose? This morning I woke up to a coating of fresh snow.  It was really refreshing and nice.  And it’s kind of interesting because yesterday that same thing happened and was more of a thorn for me.  So to me that shows we’re very quick to adapt, and also things hit you differently in different moments.

For my thorn… I think you know this is an amazing opportunity.  We have people all over the globe who are joining us.  That’s super cool, but now that we’re actually here and chatting, I wish we were together.  You know, I wish we were hanging out.  I could talk to you about this stuff forever, maybe in a big room with all these folks too.  But we’ll make the best of it.

Alex: My thorn is that snow from this morning. Partially because here in my town it didn’t stick, so we didn’t even get the benefit of it looking nice outside or anything. And my rose would be just this opportunity. I guess my rose and thorn are exact opposite of you; my rose is the opportunity to talk to folks this morning.

So actually we ended up with a weirdly great example of how the same exact events can just hit really different for people.  I’m seeing in the chat that a lot of people also have roses and thorns connected to the weather.  Thorns connected to the stress and isolation that we’re all feeling. Roses include some of the connections people are having.

Life:  I see a lot of roses around hiking and getting outdoors more these days. things like that. Which is really important. 

Alex:  I like the rose and thorn activity in part because it allows us to just be mindful of what other folks are bringing to a learning experience, or to a collaboration experience. I highly encourage folks to use the activity when you go out to other meetings and gatherings. 

All right. So: a couple of reminders here before we get started, around taking what you need.

The first is that anytime that we talk about trauma, mental health, or stress, it can be difficult or stressful for people to engage with that topic. So feel free to give yourself permission to take breaks. To step away from this if you need to. Just take care of your needs.

I am definitely not here to tell you what to do. You are the person who knows you and your students; you know your situation best. I’m here to offer some thoughts and take what you need out of them. And I also just want to clarify that we’ll be talking about trauma, and maybe some things that might be traumatic. But I won’t be sharing any specific stories or details or images of traumatic things.

And finally, I want to remind folks that this is the public space. So if you’re asking questions or using the chat, just encouraging folks not to be sharing any personal information or stories about students that are not yours to share.

So with that, I’m just going to talk for a quick moment about some overall thoughts around trauma in our current situation. 

I hope many of you have had the chance to look at the resources that we provided. And really, you know, my thoughts are going in many places these days, but I keep coming back to this idea that: we can be mindful that trauma looks different for everyone. But as a globe right now, we’re kind of living through a large community trauma. And that’s going to impact everybody differently.

So as educators, we really want to think about how to center care in everything that we’re doing. We want to be responsive to the hardship that a lot of people are going through.

I have these things I call Four Priorities and those are really my guideposts for how I think about my trauma-informed practice. Those are:

  • Predictability
  • Flexibility
  • Connection
  • Empowerment

I really come back to those a lot of times when I’m thinking about how to structure an activity, or how to do outreach or change policies or anything like that. So I may be referring back to those as we chat. 

Now let’s just dive into some of these questions we have.

Life:  Fantastic, thank you Alex.  I so enjoy the readings. And I appreciate the opportunity today to dig a little deeper or to expand a bit. The first question we’re going to start with: Alex, a lot of your writing — not all of it, but much of it — is directed towards supporting students who have experienced trauma.

How can districts and schools support educators who might be experiencing their own trauma during this time?

Alex: This is such an important question and sometimes this is the last consideration that we get to when we talk about student trauma. When in fact, it really should be the first. If we as caregivers are not well, it is really hard and sometimes impossible to really provide care for others.

So one thing I want to say to every person out there, whether you’re a teacher or a parent or really any role of humanity ever, is that, it is okay to not be okay right now.  Ae all need to drop the expectation that there is an okay right now.

We’re living through a global pandemic. And regardless whether on any given day you feel safe, or settled, or not safe or anxious. We’re still in this big context where the planet is not okay right now.  I keep seeing this phrase “The new normal.” And I may have even used that one myself, but there isn’t really a new normal. Because this isn’t normal. So I think the starting point really is validating that all of that is all right and starting there.

Beyond that, you know, I kind of think about two layers, right?

So, one is directly speaking to teachers. Reminding folks that it is important to take care of ourselves so we can take care of the kids. But that doesn’t mean you have to somehow elbow through on your own, you know? Healing and resilience comes through our community and our relationships with others.

I encourage folks to think: who are your support people? How might you be vulnerable and lean on them?

I highly, highly, highly encourage everyone to check in with your therapist, if you have one. And if you don’t have one, therapists are moving things online. There are apps like Talkspace, where you can access somebody, virtually.

If you have a faith leader you connect to. If you have a supportive group of folks you can talk to. Or if you have a partner or a family member or friend. Really reach out. It’s okay to ask for help.

I encourage folks to use those supports and to take it slow, right?  We’re in a marathon, not a sprint. So don’t burn yourself out in these first few weeks.  Because this is going to be a little while that we’re all doing this.

The other thing I want to say in response to this is around school leaders.

For those of you who are watching this who are maybe administrators or principals, or have any type of leadership role in a school, I want you to think about: what is the community care that you can offer to your teachers?

I know that you as an administrator are pulled in many directions right now.  But it really needs to be a priority to care for your teachers. So:

Actually check in with them without an agenda. Don’t tack a check-in onto a business meeting. Actually make time and really listen to what’s going on for your teachers.

See what you can take off teachers’ plates. Let them focus on what matters. See if there’s any way you can pull some of the, you know, administrivia (or whatever) off their plates.

Remind them what resources are available. So many schools have an EAP — employee-assistance program — hotline that teachers can call. Those are those supports available to them.

Also: model your own self-care and your work-life boundaries. Don’t email your teachers at 10:00 at night and expect that they’re going to get back to you right away.  Encourage your teachers to step away from the computer in the evening. It really has to be a community effort really to take care of ourselves.

Life: Thank you, that was so interesting. As for boundaries, I’ve even seen districts go so far as giving guidelines for how much time teachers should be putting into their school work per day.  Like I saw one district said, you know, teachers should only be working five hours a day. And I’m wondering from, you know, educators’ perspectives. Do you have tips for people to be in touch with themselves, to understand when they’re nearing, kind of a burnout point?

Working with educators, I see them work so hard; they’re so dedicated. Just on the regular day-to-day, without this whole pandemic thing hanging over them.

Any signs people should be watching for within themselves that kind of say like, oh, that’s a sign that I should be slowing down a little bit, or I should be taking a break? 

Alex:  I mean, it’s tough to answer that. Because with the general context of what’s going on, I think it’s probably going to be hard for people to separate out like:

  • What is my general anxiety about our world right now?
  • And what is my anxiety connected to work?

I think the simplest way is to just take breaks. Check in with yourself throughout the day.

There’s different apps you can use that are like mood-tracking apps, if that’s something that folks are interested in. Or you can literally just set a timer on your phone so that every two hours, you’re going stop, turn to a piece of paper and just write a sentence about how you’re feeling.

But if you’re with your family or a partner, try to have a consistent check in each night. Maybe reflect on your rose and thorn of the day or your high and low. “On a scale from 1 to 10, how did I feel today?” Kind of create routines so you can witness each other’s states. How you’re doing. I think it’s truly just taking that time.

know for me it’s very easy to just get sucked into the computer. It feels like there’s an endless stream of things I could be doing on my laptop all day. So those lunchtime breaks have been really helpful to check in with my partner. It has been really helpful in just slowing down.

Life:  Awesome, thank you. So, this is another question that came up before today. A lot of people were interested in this. It references the fact that you focus on relationships with students as an important part of educator practice, and a key to resilience during this time.

How can teachers foster relationships among students during remote learning? 

Alex: Yes, so this focus on relationships if you look at, you know, all of the literature and what we know about trauma-informed practice, relationships help.

Bruce Perry, who is a leading child trauma expert researcher, says that the best intervention for trauma is anything that increases the strength and number of relationships in a child’s life.

So I recommended to people to really center that relationship. I think many of us can think of ways to do that as teachers, right? We can be working with students and connecting with them and things. So, this question about how do we encourage other relationships for kids *in between* students is a great one.

One asterisk I put on all of this right is that we don’t want to force anything, right? And something I think a little bit about is students who were stressed about social interactions before. They may actually be enjoying their reprieve from that right now. Or they may continue to be stressed because social media is daunting. So they’re still experiencing the stress of those social relationships.

We don’t want to get into like a forced group work situation where kids are now having more conflict because they have to collaborate on something, they didn’t really want to collaborate on.  So, couching it in that choice.

But beyond that, I think about, you know, what are the things that your students connected with when they were face-to-face? Did you have class in-jokes?  Did you have fun, silly things that you would do? Or did you have routines around, you know, stuff that you would do as a class together?  Did you have circle time where there were specific things that you talked about?

I would really think about any of those things that will feel familiar, how can we continue to incorporate that. And just making space for that silliness and fun, right?

So, I think sometimes I know when I sit down to type up instructions for my online learning stuff, I sometimes will go into this really formal register where I’m like first one must enter their password into the Google classroom.  Like it just get really formal for some reason.

But try to write like you speak, use gifs, use emojis, make a video of yourself, put a sound recording.  Try to create that like human centered space and synchronize ways too that kids can check in.

I know in my Community College class that I had to move online, we used to start with rose and thorn every week.  Now I just put up a rose and thorn discussion every week. And they check in with each other.

We’ve also started doing a little extra each week where like last week we shared Spotify playlists that we liked.  And then we shared TV recommendations.  This week we’re talking about what video games and apps we’re all playing at home.  So, really just anything that helps kids connect.

And then the last thing I’ll say about this is remembering that the students at your school are not the only peers that your students have.

So, many kids are involved in extracurricular sports youth groups, all those kinds of things. And so, you might prompt your kids to be, you know, writing postcards or sending the emails or selfies or whatever it is.  But it doesn’t have to live just within your class.

Life:  That’s such a great point.  I love the asynchronous ideas around check-ins. And I’ve seen teachers doing that with tools like Flipgrid or Padlet where students can leave pictures or links or in some cases little videos to each other.  And it’s actually a very strong way to connect when you just start talking like, you know, like this and you can see each other do that.

Alex:  Yes, I would shout out our friend Christine Nold, middle school teacher extraordinare! She’s been sharing on Twitter each day the prompt that she’s using in her advisory class. I think there’s like 21 days that we’ve been doing so far? So there’s lots of ideas in there, different prompts and reminders.  Just a great example of someone expressing care through those posts.

Life:  Yes! I love one of the lines from one of your pieces of writing where you say: “You know, the way that you are delivering distance learning is an expression of care right now.” And that includes both through these kinds of things as well as curriculum. Awesome.

So, the next question that we flagged is kind of somebody sharing a personal example; I’m asking for your take on it. 

A teacher was noting that they had a student who was upset with them, specifically that the teacher had shared information with the student’s guidance counselor. 

Now, this is a case where the teacher and the student didn’t have the best relationship in person before remote learning.  And now this information-sharing has hurt the relationship.  So, the teacher is asking for advice on how they can improve their relationship with the student now.

Alex:  I just appreciated this question because it highlights just how complicated things are, always! But especially right now, around boundaries and information-sharing. What is the role of a teacher?

So, I get really excited about boundaries. 

This is a topic I’m really interested in. Especially when we talk about trauma-informed practice.

I think a lot of teachers wonder: does trauma-informed practice mean I should be engaging in therapeutic interactions with my students? Does this expect me to become a social worker?

And my answer to that is no.

It’s important for teachers to have strong boundaries. And to be able to recognize when should I pass along information to someone who has the skills, training and expertise to better respond to it. If you want to prevent a situation like the on described, I really, really strongly encourage people to be checking in with your administrators and school counselors about what are the information-sharing processes and expectations right now.

I think about that especially because teachers are mandated reporters.

So if there are things that cause you to suspect neglect or abuse for a child, you’re mandated to report that. And every state has guidelines about how that happens.

But, then there’s a whole category of other kind of concerning stuff that comes up in school.

Oftentimes, we address those things more informally at the end of the day. Maybe I wander into my colleague’s room and I say: “My students have this thing today and it’s kind of bugging me. What do you think about it?” And we have that kind of check-in and then can make those decisions about passing things forward.

While we’re all in our separate houses, I think that’s harder to do.  

So I really encourage people to be proactively communicating about that stuff and figuring out when and how should I be passing along information and what types.

We should also be really transparent with students about that information-sharing. In what situations do we pass forward information, and what should students be aware of when sharing info?

And it’s a great time to have that conversation, because we’re also online!  So, there is a difference between sharing a thought in a classroom circle and sharing a thought on Google Classroom where one of your peers could screenshot your post and share it to Instagram, right? We should just be openly having those conversations.

All that doesn’t answer this teacher’s question because this has already happened for them. If you have a rupture in a relationship with the student the thing to do is try to repair that. The principles of restorative practicesoffer some really nice guidelines of how to do that.  But really looking at who is impacted and how we can make it as right as possible.

I would just add that, if you didn’t have strong relationships with students before, it is going to be hard to build those relationships, but you shouldn’t stop trying.

Maybe add some extra time to your week to reach out and connect with the students.

Life:  I’ve also heard teachers talking about cases where all of a sudden, they’ve seen their relationships with students  blossom. They’re connecting with students in a way that they didn’t before, with particular students.

But thinking about what you said about drawing boundaries, being really clear about guidelines, and transparent with students around that, have you seen any really good models out there from a school or district that you would want to shout out for people to see? Do you have a couple in mind?

Alex:  Yes. So, you know, I think this isn’t an area where a lot of folks are proactive.  And I haven’t — I can’t call to mind a specific school example where I’ve seen something they’ve put together.  One article is have is Role-Clarity and Boundaries for Trauma Informed Teachers. That’s about boundaries and information-sharing. And I think it might help people conceptualize how to talk about this stuff.

I’m also a big fan of encouraging people to use the local resources available to you. Child abuse prevention organizations which many of you have in your communities. Local chapters of Prevent Child Abuse, a national organization that has all kinds of stuff about internet safety for kids. They have stuff about not keeping secrets with kids, that kind of stuff. Schools could be reaching out to those groups and collaborating on things that could then be passed on the kids and families. 

Life: Looking at the Q&A we have a few questions that have popped up during the chat. There’s one here that I think might be interesting to talk about. You mentioned the importance of pass-fail grading, and they have a question about it.

If school boards or administrators are requiring something other than pass-fail grading, do you have recommendations to ensure the least amount of stress on students and teachers in terms of assessment?

Alex:  Great.  So, the most recent post on my blog is about pushing back against unjust policy that’s happening. And in that I use as an example pass-fail grading.

When we look at issues of equity right now, it feels very odd to be using a letter grade because there’s so many factors going into whether a student can engage in their learning right now, and what resources are available to them.

For instance, I know that schools have been really scrambling to try to provide special education services with varying degrees of success. So it just feels like: how could we really capture all that in better grades? 

I have seen some great examples that different districts and schools are moving to pass, fail, or to complete/incomplete kinds of grading. I can’t say for sure what is going to be right for your school, or your classroom, or your environment.  But overall, I think that these are conversations we need to be having.

That post goes into a little bit more about if you’re worried about how you’re supposed making decisions about this stuff.  I have a couple of conversation starters. How to maybe send a message to your school board or your principal to say,

“I have some questions about this because the way that we’re operating doesn’t feel like it lines up with our values.” 

Life:  I love that post! You have this phrase: “creatively non-compliant”.  I don’t know if you came up with that but that’s such a cool turn of phrase.

Alex:  I saw that phrase originally in a book by Debbie Meier who is a great education thinker and progressive educator.  She gave examples of: “I’m technically complying with this thing. But actually, I’m doing what I know is right for my students and what is in line with my values.”

And that phrase just has always stuck with me. 

Life: Just on that, I’m wondering, with the pass-fail or the complete-incomplete: how do you define the criteria for incomplete? I was trying to think like, what would be fair? What would be fair for assigning a student an incomplete? And I was trying to think like, you would have to in some way determine that that student had, you know, every opportunity and all the resources needed to be able to complete the work. Otherwise, like you mentioned, you’re just grading their environment there. And then I was thinking: how could you do that? Do you confer with the guidance counselors? Or their families?  I was kind of a little bit stuck on that. I don’t know if you have thoughts.

Alex:  Yes! I mean all this stuff about grading — I really feel for all of you who are in positions to make decisions about this policy stuff, because it feels like every choice is the wrong choice.

I linked to Chris Lehmann who is a principal in Philly. He wrote this really wonderful post about leadership at this time, and he talks about making the least bad decision that you can right now.  And I think that’s a great framework.

But when I think about like, how do you assess, like what resources the kid has? One understanding from trauma that I come back to is that you can’t ever really know if someone else is having a traumatic response to events.

You might *think* that you can know because some of the symptoms may look more obvious, like depression or anxiety or aggression. These may be things you could observe. But one of the other symptoms of trauma response is perfectionism. Kind of doing the best that you can so that you can float under the radar and just get through.

I don’t know that there’s a way to look at a kid — I should rephrase that. I *know* there’s not a way to look at a kid and know what’s really going on.

So it just becomes really complicated to then try to make judgments about these kids. Did they do the best given what was available to them at the time?

Again, I don’t know what the right answer is around grading, but I do know that we can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing. Because it’s not going to work.

To me it’s like we just have to lean into the nuances and lean into the mess and just get comfortable with that mess. Because there is really not going to be any one size fits all approach is going to help us through this thing. 

Life:  You know, the mess we’re in impacts people differently. Here’s a question from our Q&A:

How can we best support students of color?  Black, Indigenous, Asian, students of color who are experiencing equities and racism through an online platform.

When you’re thinking about trauma informed education, you have to consider not just trauma outside of school, but the trauma that students experience *within* schools, and even sometimes *because* of our school systems.

So! Thoughts on supporting students of color within the context of remote learning?

Alex:  Yes. Great question. And I think that there’s been a lot of really interesting conversations about how this is all impacting students of color differently.  Like there’s the impact of, you know, systems of oppression and racism, meaning that students of color and their families might not be getting access to the same medical support,and other types of supports. And they are being put more at risk through those systems of oppression.

There’s also some interesting perspectives about how some students of color may be experiencing a *more* affirming educational environment being educated by parents or family than they were at school.

I would point people towards Kelly Hurst who has a really wonderful post on Medium that explores this.

I would go back to that and think about, you know, again, leaning into that complexity. Just think about all the different experiences. Just listening and talking to our kids and their families about what’s going on for them.

It sounds like the specific question was around harassment or racism on an online platform.  And I don’t know the specifics around that question. But I would say that if that’s happening in your online platform, right, in your Google Classroom, that’s your responsibility as a teacher to be shutting it down.

Maybe that’s what you need to do to ensure safety.  But it’s your responsibility to be addressing that the same way it would be if folks were saying stuff in school.

And if your school has not talked about this, like if your group of faculties or your principal’s, whoever has not had a conversation about this yet, that would be a great one to put to the group and say, how are we addressing this as a school?

Given that whatever we were doing for discipline before is not a thing now in remote learning, how are we addressing this? How are we making sure that students of color are not experiencing this? Or if they are, they’re having some kind of repair happen.

But yes, it’s all complicated. I would say that, you know, we do have to pay attention to this. We do have to talk about this.  Go back to your faculty and say: let’s talk about this proactively. So, should something happen, we’re not caught off guard.

Life:  Yes, and, you know, that makes me think about how so many schools in Vermont and across the country are doing lots of anti-racism teaching. And anti-bias teaching. Really thinking about diversity, inclusion in new ways. And it’s just as this thing has hit, you know, so much of that really complex important work in some ways kind of got back-burnered for a moment while people were just trying to deal with the transition.

So how ambitious should people be with what they’re trying to teach students in this moment?

Whether it’s anti-racist teaching, whether it’s project-based learning, you know, the things that we know are so engaging and authentic for students. Do you have thoughts on how people can strike that balance?

Alex:  Well, I want to pick up for one second on your comment that for some folks, some of that diversity, equity and inclusion stuff has been back-burnered.

Because for a lot of folks it’s not on the back burner, right? They’ve put it really at the center of how they’re designing things for this moment. Equity, inclusion and access are  really at the heart and center of what I’m doing.

And I think there’s a lot of tension for folks where schools that have been talking about this but maybe not doing it, *did* put it on the back burner. Which then kind of indicates that it didn’t really stick yet, right?  If we truly care about this, it’s not on the back burner. And so, I think that’s an interesting tension that’s happening right now.

As you said, I’m really interested and passionate about this idea that to be a trauma-informed school you can’t just look at trauma that’s happening outside of school that would be impacting kids when they come in. You also have to ensure that what you’re doing as a school is not traumatic. That it’s not causing trauma or perpetuating it within the school walls. So, that’s one thing I’m thinking about.

In regards to the curriculum piece?

Again, you know, it’s going to be something so different for everybody, but I think that as much as possible, folks should be thinking about how do I engage in having kids *do* stuff and *make* stuff and *explore* things as opposed to just *completing* things.

And I think that especially if we’re not feeling that comfortable with technology, it can feel like, well, maybe what’s easy for me is to put up, you know: Video! Response! Article! Response! I totally get that. Sometimes I’ll default to that if I’m just like: “I’m so stressed!  I don’t know how to do this right now!”

But I saw a model of picturing your online space as a journal, and looking at helping kids think about what they’re actually doing and engaging with in whatever space they’re living in right now. Then they can come back to just journal and report out on what they did.

  • Can students go build something in the living room, snap a photo and report it back? 
  • Can they have an interesting conversation with somebody and then come back and talk about it?
  • Or can they make a TikTok and then, you know, show us what they made or talk about, how it felt to do it?

I think that moving to that kind of model is cool. This morning I saw a really cool resource on project-based learning and problem-based learning connected to COVID-19

And my caveat to this is that some kids are going to feel really anxious and overwhelmed by being asked to engage with learning directly *about* the pandemic. Some other kids are going to feel really excited and empowered to be engaging in that learning and thinking about the stuff that’s really happening.

Life:  So, to handle that, would you say that you give students an option? 

Or if it’s just like overwhelming, that there’s another thread or something that they can pick up?

Alex: Yes, and in general I would say, you know, going back to those Four Priorities, right? Two of them are Flexibility and Empowerment. And so, I think about the students really having options for basically everything.

If you do need kids to be creating a certain product, then giving them choice about what’s in the content, right? We learned about differentiation; you might differentiate the process, the product or the content.

But really just going back and differentiating, providing choices and also recognizing that one of those choices is to *not* choose a thing. So you may have kids or families that say, “You know what? We’re actually going to do this other thing.” Or: “We need to rest” or “we need to take a break”. Really honoring that, and giving that space.

Life:  I love what you said about the different tasks around documenting things. It really reminds me about something I strived for as a math teacher, to give tasks that have a low floor and a high ceiling. Everybody can enter. You can take a picture of something, or you can just go with it and create a cool little movie or something if you want.

One question that caught my eye and got quite a few upvotes from webinar participants was one that described where teachers are holding an online meeting and there’s something happening in the background that’s concerning.  It could be abuse, could be family disfunction, and teachers feel that they might need to follow up in other ways.  But I think the question here is:

What can a teacher do when they see something inappropriate to prioritize that student’s dignity and well-being in that actual moment? 

Alex:  Yes.  One quick answer is that if you are running a Zoom meeting, you can mute other people’s videos. And you can do that from the participants panel.  Ideally you have the ability to just help kind of give students that privacy screen by muting their video.

But then in the follow-up? I encourage people to think: what did I see, that was concerning? And why did it feel concerning?  This is where having accountability partners, co-teachers, checking in with the school counselor, administrator can be really helpful.

Because we also really have to be checking our own biases and assumptions right now.  Something that maybe feels unusual or different to you, that could be totally normal and fine. We have to check those implicit biases, you know differences just in how people are in their homes and families.

I would also add that we shouldn’t be requiring students to have their video on if we’re doing synchronous calls. Really give students the ability to have some privacy.  If they don’t want their classmates or their teacher looking into their home, we shouldn’t require that, right? That’s really a basic privacy thing.

Knd of going all the way back to one of our first questions: follow through on the information-sharing. Talk to the school counselor. Talk to the administrator, whoever it is you’re supposed to be sharing information with, and make a game plan together about what you can do.  

Life:  The last question is about how to work with colleagues in this moment, to help them provide empathy for students. 

This person is saying:

“I’m at this webinar learning a ton.  How can I open dialogue with colleagues? What’s the best way to try to help bring other people into this conversation?”

Alex: I think about using kind of those sentence starters of: “I notice…” and “I wonder…” with their colleagues.

If someone is sort of, you know, going off on, “Well, this kid? I know that things are fine for them. You know they’re just not trying hard enough!” Or whatever it is.

Can you reflect back to them like:

“Hey, I notice that you seem to be really frustrated with this student. What’s going on for you?  Can you tell me more about this? Hey, I wonder, even though we may assume that things are cool with this family.  I wonder if there’s hardships that could be happening?”

I recommend posing some of those questions and trying to dig in a little with people.

Also, if you’re comfortable with it, using your own vulnerability can be powerful. The more we can model that piece of it’s okay to not be okay.

I’m also really passionate about the idea of de-stigmatizing topics around mental health, and getting mental health support.  Could you say to your colleague like,

“Yeah, you know, it might look like things are fine, but just to be transparent, *I* look like I’m fine but I’m only that way because I had a call with my therapist and I have access to self-care resources. It must be *really* hard to be a kid and not necessarily have that. You know?”

Can you use your own vulnerability to help just increase people’s awareness that what things maybe look like on the surface isn’t there beneath?

Life:  I love that. And again, I just appreciate so much the conversation. 

Alex:  So, here are my last couple of thoughts.

First of all, I just really appreciate everyone who took the time to be here today.  And I really appreciate the organizations that made this happen. Huge, huge, huge shout out to Tim O’Leary, who was behind the scenes in all of this and really made all of the technical logistical stuff happened.  I really appreciate you. And thanks to Life, for being here.

For those of you who are really interested in learning more about trauma-informed practices, I have a resource round up on my website that has a bunch of different kind of getting started resources. I’m also on Twitter literally all the time and so you can always ping me on there if you’re looking for something in particular.

And I just encourage people to really look at all of this as a learning journey. There is no final version of being a trauma-informed educator perfectly. 

It’s more about embracing the complexity; embracing the challenges and leaning into some of the nuances.

I’m just encouraging people to ask questions, have conversations and keep your students at the center.

The last thing that I will say is just that this is hard for a lot of people. This current situation we’re in is just really difficult. So  encourage folks to reach out to people around you to get help — or to offer help.

Keep up your connections. And please forgive yourself for anything that you do these days, even if it doesn’t feel like the best version of your teaching self. Because it’s hard to be the best version of your teaching self in a pandemic and that is fine.

I just really encourage people give yourself some grace, give one another some empathy and grace, and keep going.  We all got this.  So, thanks again for being here.  I really appreciate all of you and I hope to stay connected.

How to get physical copies of books to students

Getting books in the hands of students is crucial to supporting their sense of well-being and reducing anxiety during the Stay-at-Home order. And while we here are massive fans of ebooks, we also don’t want to overlook the importance of the good old-fashioned paperback.

To recap: paperbacks are good.

Ebooks are good.

Audiobooks, graphic novels, Choose-Your-Own Adventures, romance novels, online articles — all these things are good. They all count as reading.

Now, we’ve exhaustively covered the ways to get hold of digital reading materials, so right now we’re going to talk hard copies. Hard copies of books don’t require bandwidth. They don’t fall off the wifi and they’re remarkably nonchalant about whether you have a device available or no. At the same time, they can provide students with ways to stay in touch with friend networks or connect with their larger community about reading.

Let’s read!

Did we mention the libraries? We should mention libraries. Just a little.

Libraries are kind of amazing, y’all. For the princely sum of zero dollars, libraries will let you waltz into their living rooms and make off with their primo reading material. Or, at least, they used to. In order to comply with Governor Scott’s stay-at-home order, libraries have gotten creative.

Let’s get takeout!

Yes, libraries are now doing takeout. A number of them here in Vermont — and at a minimum we’re shouting out Carpenter-Carse, Brandon, Lincoln, Starksboro, Quechee, Swanton, and Shelburne — are taking phone and email orders for books.

Let’s pause here for a second and admire the fact that you can pick up a landline, phone your librarian and place an order for books. And these libraries package up the books for you in a neat, individual parcel and let you do curbside pick-up.

Quechee leaves your books outside the back door. Brandon has you drive up during normally “open” hours and a librarian will place your paper bag full of books outside the door. Carpenter-Carse does hands-free transactions in their parking lot. So many solutions.

Also: Brandon’s takeout line sizzled so hot they ran out of paper bags and had to crowd-source more from the community to meet demand. True story. Ten points: Brandon (town and library both).

(The Brandon Free Public Library has also begun hosting an online trivia night, online community meditation, and Zoom-based Dungeons & Dragons games, but that’s another story. Analog. Focus.)

Actually, I’m more in the mood for delivery.

Curbside pick-up is amazing, but a lot of your students may not have their licenses, or not have access to a vehicle, or might, realistically, be in households that are isolating or in quarantine. That’s fine, because pandemics rarely stop librarians. Have you met them?

At least one school librarian has sent books home with their school’s food deliveries and at the printed packet pick up. #unstoppable

But recognizing the ongoing need in their communities, many of the public libraries around Vermont are finding a way to deliver books directly to homes. Shout out to Carpenter-Carse, Swanton and Starksboro AT A MINIMUM.

Meg Allison, librarian at U-32 Middle & High School, in Montpelier VT, (and previous #vted Reads guest) created a unique solution by partnering with Montpelier’s local bookstore, Bear Pond Books:

I used encumbered money from my budget at Bear Pond Books to purchase a substantial gift card. I order books for kids & BP mails to their houses. I’ve only done this for a few students, but plan on having a book group  one more time this year w/books sent from the store.

Kids will need to return them in the fall to be catalogued.

That is a whole lot of good work in one place, y’all.

Cross the streams: online & off.

Taking a different tack, the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington VT, is offering patrons a chance to asynchronously earn digital badges to track their reading. That’s right, it’s like reading logs, only sexier. If you’re working with limited wifi or bandwidth, this is a great way to minimize your usage for maximum payoff.

Hop on: read the badge requirement, sign up. Hop off: go read a book for hours and hours. Then hop back on and grab your badge.

Fletcher badges

Tiny free libraries: they’re free & tiny

One community solution to running out of reading material: the tiny free library. Small, decorative, unmanned weather-proof boxes exist in communities around the world for you to leave a book, and take another book.

And right now tiny free libraries are hopping.

How popular are they? This rural writer can think of three within biking distance of her home. And since the stay-at-home order the turnover at tiny free libraries has been brisk.

They’ve also been responsive: at one tiny free library, a patron wrote in the log that she was disappointed there weren’t more books available for the 3rd and 4th grade reading levels. Within the week, books aimed at younger readers began appearing. Speak up, and ask for what you need.

Not seeing your tiny free library get much action? Hop on Front Porch Forum and ask your neighbors how they’re feeling about the selection and if they’d like to refresh their stock.

Not seeing a tiny free library in your neighborhood? Here are some detailed instructions about what you need to build a tiny free library in your neighborhood, including dealing with zoning laws and construction. We also recommend you hop on Front Porch Forum and ask if any of your neighbors are having the same idea about building one. That way you could pool resources (“I’m great at design and angles, but a bit dodgy with a saw. How are your wood-cutting skills?”) and meet other people who are looking to swap books.

Now, before we get too far down this road, a note about safety.

Please use the utmost caution in sharing physical items such as books and comics, whether from your local community library, the little free library down the road or your friends next door. Wash your hands. Set the books outside for 48 hours and wash your hands again. Wipe down the plastic covers of hardbacks or jacketed library books with a bleach wipe, and then wash your hands again, just for us. One more time.

Wash wash wash. Soap soap soap.

Thank you. And don’t think libraries themselves aren’t thinking along similar lines. At the Starksboro Public Library, in Starksboro VT, they instituted book deliveries only after the librarian and trustees drafted this whole entire protocol for book-handling:

As the virus is believed to live on paper for up to 24 hours and on plastic for up to 72 hours, items will be bagged on Monday by the library director, wearing a mask, and delivered on Thursday by a volunteer. The materials will be in a plastic bag marked with the patron’s address. Reading selections will still be confidential as they have always been. Deliveries will be made on Thursdays between noon and 3pm by a volunteer wearing a mask and gloves. Patrons may wish to further quarantine items at home before touching materials. Packages will be placed on the front porch of your home or another specified outdoor location and social distancing will be maintained. A text will be sent upon delivery. Patrons are encouraged to borrow more material, less often, to lessen exposure to other people.

Wash your hands after reading this post, too. Just to be on the safe side.


That’s: Build Your Own Book Circle.

One of the best ways to express your love of books is to share it with other people. The book club thing gets tricky once you take it offline, and accounting for safety protocols.(Go wash your hands again. It’s not getting old, treat yourself to some delightful smelling soap.)

So we suggest: Book Circle!

You and a few friends sharing and reviewing your books together in sequence. Decide what you’d like to read and set norms for talking about each other’s books. Set clear boundaries with each other by asking things like:

  • What level of peril are you okay with in your reading? (G, PG, PG-13, R?)
  • Are there any genres you aren’t familiar with that you’d like to become more familiar with?
  • Is it okay with you if we read spiritual or religious books, or is that something you reserve for your family?
  • Are there any subjects you absolutely positively don’t want to read about?

You and your friends can do this over email, or kick the process off over email and leave notes in each other’s mailboxes. Or, to be totally off-line, one person sets a notebook out — in the little free library, for instance — and you all take a page to write in. (Teachers, I’m sure you have a thousand great ways to coordinate this.)

Then everyone in the Book Circle contributes a book.

Pick a central location, like one person’s house, where you stash a special milk crate (or box or satchel — something distinctive but weatherproof) where everyone drops off their book. The idea with book circle is not that you’re all reading the same book at once, but that you all wind up with a different book one of the other’s has read, and the books keep flowing. Put a list in the milk crate so you know who has which book at any given time.

After you each read your new book, write up a quick review on a sheet of notepaper, sign it, and paper clip it into the back of the book. As the book circles, the reviews will accumulate, and the original owner will wind up with some reflections from friend on their favorite reads when the book comes home.

It can be tricky to just whip up a book review out of thin air, so maybe as part of setting up your circle, you can pull together a set of pre-determined questions for everyone to answer about their reads. We have some ideas!

Sample Book Circle Questions

  1. What did you like best about this book?
  2. What, if anything, would you have changed about the book’s plot?
  3. Did anything in the book remind you of your own life?
  4. Did anything in the book remind you of any of your own favorite books?
  5. If you could write a sequel to this book, how would it go?
  6. Did the ending surprise you?
  7. Would you read something else by this author?

Also remember that not everyone gets super jazzed about writing, so be prepared to make accommodations, such as recording answers to the questions on Voice Memo, or accepting typed responses over email. Teachers, again, will likely have all the best ideas for coordinating this part.

You could also reach out to your local library and see if they have any ideas for helping run or manage your book circle. After all, they’re pretty much doing everything else under the sun these days…

Happy #NationalLibraryWeek, everybody.

How to set personal boundaries with remote learning

Educators? We need to talk personal boundaries for remote learning.

Every day, you used to dress and pack a bag for school. You walked out the door and into a classroom, where you spent eight hours with dynamic, interesting, and beloved students, made space to listen and laugh with co-workers and administrators, and waved to families as they arrived to close out your day. And all of those steps are now blurred. Right now, we are struggling to make a distinction between home and work.

It’s an understatement to say this change in working conditions can feel overwhelming.

While it is lovely not to have to commute, and never to have to change out of comfy pants, the shift to remote teaching and learning is fraught with challenges. And one of the biggest is how to make this type of work sustainable for teachers.

In this situation, you could work for hours and hours with no breaks, forgetting about your own needs. And from what we hear, many of you are doing that! And that is not healthy or sustainable.

So: we need to set up some boundaries.

Brene Brown’s work focuses on boundaries, and she often addresses them as what is and is not okay. She says,

Generosity cannot exist with out boundaries. Nothing is sustainable without boundaries.

Whoa. Let that one sink in.

Nothing is sustainable without boundaries.

Teaching is already hard enough work. And now, teachers are at risk of burning out more than ever before. The conditions are *beyond* challenging. Connect with every student while simultaneously caring for your own family and monitoring this global pandemic? Sure, and let me just tackle world peace while I’m at it.

Enter: boundaries. As in:

a protected space and time

  • what is okay for you,
  • what is not okay for you
  • and what you require others to respect about your life.

It is important that we all set boundaries with a focus on staying self and healthy. So, how do we do that?

Some recommended boundaries

Let’s dig in:

1. Designate work hours

And that includes office hours, and the hours you will be working each day.

First, think about what hours you are going to commit to work, while considering how many hours you worked before, and what your school or district is asking.

In the before-time, many teachers worked at schools somewhere between 7:45am to 3:30pm, sometimes staying later for meetings or work. But this might not work as well for you right now with your family at home. Teachers might get up early to do their planning, and then change the work hours based on this.

For me, I can do a lot before everyone in my house wakes up and I need to check in with them. I’m an early bird.

But you might designate some evening hours for planning or touching base with your colleagues or students via email. Own your night owl self!  Decide what your “work hours” will be — when you will be responsive and available — and then decide when you will shut your computer for the night. Yeah, I said it. When. You. Will close your computer… for the night.

2. Design support systems

Okay that sounds hard, but we all need to figure out what is going to work for us to take care of ourselves during this time, with a full-on daily commitment to our own health as educators.

This looks different for everyone, but a few ideas are:

Get outside

Being outside is linked to so many good health outcomes for us physically and mentally. Even a short walk brings benefits.


The science is clear here too. Meditation reduces stress, improves memory, mental health, and focus.  I use the Calm app for this each day, and honestly, it has made my life and this moment a lot better. There are also lots of focused sets of meditation based on what you are working with that day. There are other great apps for this too, like Headspace, and 10 Percent Happier. Find one that works for you.

Set reminders to take breaks and move

If you are anything like me, you sit down to work, and look up hours later, dehydrated and disheveled and a little unsteady. I found an app for my phone  that cues me to take a standing break every 30 minutes: Stand up! The Work Break Timer. I find it very helpful.

Also: short sessions of yoga interspersed throughout the day are lovely. The downward dog app is free for teachers and students and is my go-to for movement. You can pick the duration, the music, and what you want to work on.

Family meals

Right now, connecting with family is super important. And dinner is a good time to do that if you can. Make it screen-free and settle in. Share some highlights from each of your days. Live alone? Invite a family member or friend to dine with you over Zoom.

Check in with friends

Since everyone is homebound, this is more important than ever. There is so much strain on everyone’s mental health, especially those who are older and might live alone. Who can you call instead of text?

Play a game

I know! It can be easy to think WHO HAS TIME FOR GAMES? This is a pandemic, people! But this is the very time to find moments of humor and levity. Just last night, my daughters and I played the online drawing game Drawful 2. It was so fun! We were all in stitches within minutes — and that was certainly the first time I laughed that whole day. My daughters and I have also lately been playing Heads Up using my phone, which is quick and fun and can turn whole BIG moods around.


I am *trying* to make more time for this. Right now I find my eyes closing quickly when I try to read. Right now, I am drawn to stories that take me to far away places and need to work on giving myself more time to enjoy them.

3. Simplify your life when possible

Everything is complicated right now! Even trips to the grocery store. So what can you simplify? Is it more open ended assignments or choice menus for your students, so you don’t have to collect completed work each day? Is it simpler meals?  What can be pared down? This is no time to be taking on complex, arduous tasks that are avoidable in any way.

4. Let go of pressure

Cut yourself some slack. Social media will have you believing that many people are using this time to homestead and cook perfect loaves of sourdough from scratch every six hours. And sure, maybe some people are, but you my friend, you don’t have to, if sourdough feels overwhelming. See where we’re going with this? Doing home projects or working our or creating incredible art, or writing the next big novel — all lovely. None mandatory. Just seeing all of this is exhausting. There is no pressure on you to anything but what gets you through. Let go of other people’s ways of handling this moment. There is no one right way to do this. Do what works for you, and let go of pressure to produce, create, or “better yourself”. You are enough right now. You? Are frankly amazing right now.

Maintain those boundaries like a well-tended garden.

Once you have these boundaries in place, they take tending and care. There are always resources, people, and tasks that require your attention, and they are present and persistent 24/7. But the work is in recognizing this, and saying to yourself, “Not now. I will get to this, but not now. Now I need a break.”

And you might have to say no a bit.

Saying no to that extra task or meeting. Or saying what you have created is good enough. Or frozen pizza for dinner is good enough. It is all okay. You might have to communicate to your kids or spouse that this time is your time for yourself. As in, no, I am not open to negotiating whose turn it is on the iPad. I am reading.

Week to week, your personal boundaries for remote learning might change.

They might need tuning. And they might need to change based on your work load and living conditions, and that is okay.

Thinking of you all #vted. How are you setting personal boundaries for remote learning? What is one of your boundaries to help you with this moment? I’d love to hear.

Other articles on personal boundaries for remote learning:




Scaffolding students with Padlet and Flipgrid

Collaboration is not just fun for students, it’s also a crucial skill they will need to be successful in life. Yet with our need to stay home these days, students are desperately missing the social connections a classroom provides, and many are seeking other channels to maintain these connections.

We know our students thrive when they can connect socially with each other. Yet we are all still figuring out how to help them work together safely, effectively, and most of all in a way that meets their needs for fun.

Good news! Properly scaffolded, we can continue to foster opportunities for our students to connect and create meaningful work together.

#BetterTogether: Padlet & Flipgrid

Heidi Ringer, a 6th-grade teacher at Warren Elementary, searched for ways to support student collaboration in this remote learning environment. She chose to invite students into a collaborative Padlet board. And, planned intentionally to start with something familiar to introduce them to the tool.

Learning how to use Padlet

“Students created a One Pager as a culminating activity for their independent reading book. They posted the One Pager and then students commented on their work. This was the first attempt at commenting as a way to collaborate. Students are learning to use the same guidelines they use for peer conference in writing. It was a great way to present students’ work and gather comments. Finally, they are reflecting on the kind of feedback they received and what that told them about their work.”

The importance of scaffolding collaboration

Next, Heidi launched a Discussion Questions Padlet. Students had four questions about the class novel and jotted down an idea for each question. Later, they used their notes in actual virtual discussions.
Tips for peer feedback

Often students need help knowing how to comment effectively on others’ work in shared spaces. Here are some prompts from Kathy King-Dickman from her post Mini-lessons that Support Effective Bookclubs:

  • Using Center for the Collaborative Classroom prompts “I agree with______ because…., I disagree with _____ because…, or I agree, but I would like to add….”
  • Questioning another’s ideas or thinking: use prompts such as “Why are you thinking…, Can you explain why you think…, Where in the novel did you find that…?”

Taking it to the next level with Padlet: Literature Circles & Project Planning

Finally, now that her students have experienced collaborating via Padlet, Heidi is planning Padlet-based Literature Circle Discussions. This collaborative discussion process, with the very clear roles and tasks, can take place asynchronously, especially when students have had experience using the tool. Lee Araoz’s Lightning Thief padlet will give you a good idea of Literature Circle Roles in practice.
Another great way to use Padlet for asynchronous collaboration is project planning. Rachelle Dene Poth shares this idea:

“Taking all of these themes into consideration, I decided that one student in Spanish IV would be the ‘Team leader,’ and their ‘mission’ would be finding a job and moving to a Spanish speaking country. They had to create a collaborative space, could be using Padlet or Google Slides or another format, and share it with the their ‘team.’ Team leaders had to write a list of requirements to their “Travel Agent,” “Community Specialist” and “Realtor” (students from Spanish I, II, and III) to let them know their travel needs and preferences for moving abroad. The team members would use this information to plan the travel, a tour of the new neighborhood, and find a house.” Tips and Tools to Encourage Classroom Participation

Asynchronous video exchanges for collaborative remote learning with Flipgrid

We’ve written about Flipgrid before and are big fans because of the way it creates a virtual video-driven discussion space. Consider the asynchronous possibilities for your students; they can video record their responses to a prompt and then engage in a threaded video commenting stream.

An easy entry point to scaffold a Flipgrid experience for students is to ask a fairly straightforward question and give students a short time span in which to answer. Here’s an example of the folks at Tarrant Institute sharing one quick idea for a back-to-school get-to-know-you activity.

Courtney Elliot, a teacher at Proctor Elementary, starts her daily communications with her students making good use of Flipgrid for asynchronous collaboration. This week’s prompt: Tell us about a book you are reading!


In addition, Courtney uses Flipgrid video responses for Number Talks. Students post an answer to a math question and then respond to each other, just like they did when together in their classroom. Check out how she does it here.


Kick it up a notch

Once students are familiar with the post and response routine in Flipgrid, you can bump up the level of collaboration. Just like how Literature Circles can be run using Padlet, Flipgrid also provides a similar collaborative space. Lee Araoz describes in her post how to set up Flipgrid for Literature Circles. The prompt: state your name, your book title & chapter, the name of the Literature Circle job you are discussing, and what you did. Simple as that. But so powerful when students can see and hear each other from a distance as they collaboratively share.

Matthew Frattali, a middle school teacher who advocates for using Flipgrid with students to teach the Sustainable Development Goals advises “Asynchronous video is training wheels for synchronous video, which in turn is training wheels for video production and citizen journalism.” Think of the possibilities!

Updates to Flipgrid now include the ability for educators and learners to record their screen right inside a Flipgrid video post. That’s right!

Now it’s your turn:

How are you facilitating student-to-student collaboration in a virtual environment?

Bonus material

Finally, don’t forget that Morning Meeting is a powerful way for students to connect socially – with you and each other – during these days apart. Just like Courtney, you could run Morning Meeting asynchronously using Flipgrid. This post has some great ideas for connecting with each other, and you may even want to consider doing a morning meeting with your housemates as well!

However you go about it, let’s keep maintaining those connections that sustain us!

Balancing your new work and home situations

What happens when your work and home ecospheres become one and the same? For many of us this is part of the new normal.

As we are responding to a global pandemic, the need to redefine space, roles and schedules has presented itself. Educators are amongst the many feeling disrupted and experiencing the growing pains that accompany forging new routines. Personally, I’ve tried to keep these two aspects of my live separate and now, that is not longer a possibility. No doubt many of you have seen my daughter making faces over my shoulder when in virtual meetings.

Regardless of your situation at home this is hard.

Whether you are parenting and working simultaneously, dealing with social isolation, worrying about your health or any of a million other scenarios — this is new territory. And it will take time to find the right balance.

So how do we respond?

I’m reminded of the movie Ghostbusters (hello 1984!). Throughout the whole movie, the Ghostbusters were cautioned never to cross the streams from their proton packs. But in the end? Crossing the streams turned out to be… not so bad. In fact, it kind of fixed everything.

Stay with me on this.

Setting new routines

What’s the new normal? We know that school will not physically reconvene for the rest of the year. Distance learning is now the norm. Schools are presented with the challenge (or opportunity, depending on how you look at it) to reinvent new structures for learning. Recreating what we know as school at home just doesn’t seem to feel right. With new guidance coming almost daily how can we feel comfortable with our new normal?

I’m still working on this one but I have a few things to share as the dust settles:

  1. Get out of your pajamas. And not just a nice shirt with pajama bottoms for those virtual meetings.
  2. Create time for physical activity or being outdoors. Sunshine and movement is a must.
  3. Set boundaries. Twelve hour work days are not healthy! (Maybe no more than 3 cups of coffee, too).
  4. Find joy and excitement in something. Be creative and inquisitive.
  5. Don’t forget to have fun. It’s okay to laugh and be silly in faculty meetings. Even play a game.
  6. Embrace your two worlds merging. My animals frequent meetings too, FYI
  7. Be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it! Hard but necessary.
  8. Continue with empathy and kindness. You may never know who needs it.

Be human and embrace your supports

It’s okay to be human and let down your shield. Which aspects of these two worlds coming together can we embrace? After the first few times my daughter put in an appearance on my Zoom, folks began to ask me when she would next appear. She changes conversations for the better. It’s a boundary I’ve taken down and it allows me to be my full human self and bring my best to the work.

Photo bombing!


Hard to find good help these days


Educationally speaking, resources have been coming across social media, in emails, and just about every other possible delivery method. Many have been examples of online tools, equity focused, and connected to supporting learning. Many have been making sure people are fed, needs are met, and resources for support . The lesson here: take advantage of what you need. The popular sports phrase “it’s okay not to be okay” seems to apply here to. If you are struggling help is available. And that includes nuking your inbox and not even finishing this blogpost if you don’t want. Do the thing that helps you be okay.

Owning the discomfort

I fully admit I was paralyzed the first few days at home after Governor Scott announced he was closing our schools. I mean, I knew it was coming but at the same time… it just snuck in there. Time to regroup!

First, I didn’t have the right workspace set up.

Now that colleagues would be seeing my home it made me think. What about that pile of dishes over my shoulder? Or the stack of overdue library books? The casually discarded toys? Or the general disarray that changes from day to day in my house? All fixable. I simply turned my kitchen table around. Now there’s even a nice picture in the background. And it’s helped me much more so that I thought it would.

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It doesn’t even have to be your space

Videoconferencing tool Zoom has a feature where you can swap out the background of your call for one of your choosing. You don’t have to share any part of your house with co-workers. You can convince everyone you teach from Hogwarts. Or the moon.

So privacy can remain yours. (And a sidenote: the Zoom background feature is much more than a cute moment. It can help people who need their living situations to remain confidential — for whatever reason — do just that.) Again: do the thing that makes you feel the best.

Second, as mentioned above, sometimes my family just shows up.

The cat has a Jedi sense of when meetings are happening. My dog, Maple, likes to bark every time the mute button is off. It’s just part the deal. And I’ve let go of worrying about those aspects. It helps. Everyone’s doing their best, everyone’s adding to the chaos.

What have we all learned from this?

It’s all still a bit new but I have definitely learned a few things about myself. Forging new routines has taken a solid two weeks to feel like it has mitigated my anxiety. But… things are starting feel “normal” (if you can believe that). Yet it took some pushing and difficult learning to get there. In the bigger picture, I wonder what we can all take away from this experience? How can this period of upheaval inform our growth as educators and people?

In the interest of full transparency with the home/work overlap, let me share our newest backyard learning: maple syrup.

Since we were home, we decided to learn how to make maple syrup. It was our own take on a genius hour/passion project to help distract from the world. We borrowed taps and buckets from our neighbor. Looked up how to identify sugar maples. Tapped 10 trees. We started every morning, coffee in hand, collecting sap buckets. Who knew that 10 trees could produce so much sap? It was a welcome addition to our new reality and routine.


The last word

I found this calming. Hope you do too!



How to run an in-person morning meeting at home

Parents, how are you doing at home with your new “homeschool classroom”?

I’m with you. I’ve been waking up every day for the past two and half weeks feeling like I am in the movie Groundhog Day.


Despite having been a middle school teacher for nearly 20 years, I feel like nothing has prepared me for the task of working from home and managing the academic lives of three children — two of them adolescent boys. Like many of you, I am the homeroom teacher, food service, custodian, counselor, art teacher, PE teacher, and behavior specialist.

And I am struggling.

For two weeks, nothing has felt normal. My home has felt chaotic, and I have been stressed.

I finally had some time to reflect this week upon our home school system. I thought about what is working (snack break) and what is not (sustained work without whining). Then I thought about what I would do if I was a teacher in the classroom again. And finally, I realized that what my home school needed was a sense of community and some routines.

Enter the Home Morning Meeting

Today was our first day, and I designated myself as the leader of today’s morning meeting. I told my family to arrive fully dressed, at the kitchen table, for 8:30 am. I served everyone a bagel, and announced the purpose and structure of our new morning meeting. We would gather together every morning to connect, have a bit of fun, and set the stage for the day.

Now, I live with real humans. This is not some Pollyanna life that I lead.

My husband stared straight ahead like he was enduring a dentist visit. The 16-year-old may have muttered, “This is insane”… My nine year old daughter suggested we put hands on our heads when we were ready to share. Each of us came to this meeting with varying degrees of acceptance and enthusiasm. I fully expected this outcome, and we did it anyway.

It’s important for our kids to have routine and structure. Adults need it too. We are realizing very quickly during these times that face-to-face connection is critical to our human needs. If you can handle it, please consider trying a morning meeting at your home. It takes about 15-20 minutes, and this has been my happiest morning yet.

Here’s my structure for a Home Morning Meeting:

1. Greeting

Start the meeting by greeting each other. You decide how that works, but the basic requirements are to greet a person by name and with eye contact. This morning, we greeted the person to our right with a “Good Morning, Dad” and a fist bump. (There will be snickering)

2. Daily News

The leader of Morning Meeting gives an update and news brief about the day. I said, “Today is Thursday, April 2. It’s a school day with academic learning from 9-12, lunch at 12. Lunch is hot dogs. If you don’t like hot dogs, you can make yourself a PB & J sandwich. From 12:30 – 2, it’s free choice time for extracurriculars. You can do art, music, PE, foreign language, or other projects. Devices stay off until 2 pm”

Keep it short and direct. If you think it’s helpful, you can use a visual.

3. Sharing

Next, the leader opens up a prompt for people to think about and share.

Ours was, “What’s a place in the world that you would like to visit someday?”

The real world responses:

  • Harry Potter Wizarding World in Orlando
  • Amsterdam
  • Costa Rica
  • Lake Louise in Banff National Park
  • Siberia

Bet you can’t guess which one is the ironic 16 year old response.

4. Game or Activity

Lastly, the leader can choose some sort of short activity or game. You can even get outside for a game or a walk. Today, we played one of my favorite advisory games, Count to Ten.

Then, I closed the meeting and wished everyone a good day. Yes, it felt a little hokey and forced, but it also felt good.

We said good morning to each other. We knew what day it was. And we laughed together.

Plus I learned that my husband wanted to visit Amsterdam. So it was a positive start to the day.

Please share with me if you do your own Home Morning Meeting. What ideas do you have? What’s working? The struggle is real, and I’m with you.

Connection activities for virtual morning meetings

Ideas have been flying around the interwebs. Teachers want ways to connect with their students during remote learning. Creative ways to check in with students, provide a safe space with belonging and community and care at the core.

So! We crowd-sourced activities from the incredible #vted community and other trusted resources. You’ll see them credited in the doc. Here is a doc of ideas for ways to check in and support your students remotely.

virtual morning meetings

Have more ideas? Please post them as comments and we will add them to the doc!

Setting online norms for faculty meetings

We find ourselves in a new frontier, suddenly in each other’s homes with online faculty meetings. Now that we are here, how can we make sure to continue to build community, plan, coordinate remote learning, create resources, while upholding some boundaries and norms?

Here are some ideas for online norms for faculty meeting that might be helpful, and recommendations for teachers meeting with students virtually, all in the spirit of setting and protecting healthy boundaries and trying to keep everyone safe and comfortable.

Be flexible: with guests

So, with all of the best laid plans (your designated meeting place), your child, or your pet, will likely find you. Everyone understands this and will say a quick hello. Honestly, we all could use that distraction and quick bit of humanity. It will take some practice to figure out what works best for you and how to manage this.

Know you are not alone in this struggle! I spend the first part of every Zoom call just incredibly grateful to see the faces of my colleagues, and then moving my cat, who really wants to be a part of the conversation.

Be flexible: with differing technology skills

Before all of this, some jumped into technology, used it daily, and felt quite comfortable with this format. Other folks have been picking up skill by skill and find this whole shift completely overwhelming… with all levels in between. 

Did your first first meeting go like this, or some version of it?


So support each other with clear steps for how to do things!

Talk folks through it, step one, step two.

When we first called my mother-in-law on FaceTime, she held the phone to her ear. This makes total sense! It is how we have answered phones since Alexander Graham Bell. A new practice gets adopted forever once practiced a few times.

Be gentle on your colleagues that are making these new practices work in a short amount of time. 

The mute button is your friend

Not talking during the meeting? Mute your mic! We love your dog, but it is already hard to concentrate around here. This helps everyone focus. And if you are ready to say something, you can hover over that mic with your mouse, ready to click it and jump into the conversation at the right time. 

Let your family and/or housemates know you are meeting.

While your dog might not get the memo, your family and housemates should probably know there’s a professional gathering happening somewhere in their home. If nothing else, it will make them think twice about just what they yell when they stub their toes.

Stick with your regular schedule and agenda as much as possible.

Folks — adults and kids — find routines comforting. We of course need to make adjustments but we are teachers, we know what to do. Teaching is our jam. So try to shift your mindset to being about helping maximize learning and human connection and the faculty meetings are there to support you with this. 

Consider the regular school day, and regular meeting times. Teachers will need time away from their computers to be with their families and handling their own personal needs. They are not available 24/7, so while we are in this new frontier, consider, how to help teachers set professional boundaries for their work. Otherwise, this could consume their every waking hour, which is not healthy. 

Bring in the joy

Everything is hard right now. How can online norms for faculty meetings encourage wellness, reflection, and joy? It has always been a challenge to do this in faculty meetings, but this even more important now. How can you promote joy, wellness, and connection?

Maybe a simple prompt at the beginning or end of each meeting:

  • How are you finding joy today?
  • How have you moved your body today?
  • What was the best part of remote learning today?
  • How will you care for yourself today?

And finally, accept two things.

One, we’re all still learning. Every day, something new, something challenging, a button toggled by accident, an intensely weird virtual background deployed through honest mistake. Still learning!

And two, this is a time of unprecedented change, challenge and anxiety, and the people who show up to your meetings — yourself included — may be in flux. They may be struggling, or experiencing loss. But they showed up. They’re still here. And they’re doing their best.

Just like you.


How to use Flipgrid for daily check-ins

I just got off a Google Meet meeting with teachers. They were trying to decide how to engage with students every day. Starting Monday, this teacher team will share a morning message in Google Classroom, and ask students to post a note back. Simple, and yet a way to see who is there and showing up, and who might need more support.

And they’ve decided  they want to add Flipgrid to their Google Classroom setup.

There are 4 steps to getting Flipgrid going.

Really. They are:

  1. Start a Grid for your classroom. This is the mothership for all of your discussions (topics). According to this Getting Started Guide “A Grid is the “home” for your class in Flipgrid, and you can create as many Grid’s as you want. Within your Grid you can post unlimited discussion prompts. We call those Topics.”
  2. Next, select the community type. For school emails, use the school email community type. This will be the best choice for most schools.  For the embedded  example, I selected the PLC and public option. If you want students to be able to use personal emails, you can use this option, and share unique student ID.

3.  Add topics

In this case, our topic is daily check-in. But these can be anything! You could post a book club question. A math problem. A PE assignment and reflection. The whole is your oyster. But wait, back up. We are simplifying. And this is for morning check ins.

Back to the regularly scheduled program!

4. Share with students via a link.

This can be posted where you are sending links.. via Google Classroom, email, sites, wherever.

Some tips:

  • Kids can add stickers, use filters, so be prepared. You can limit these things, but why? Kids (and adults) need fun right now.



  • The default setting is not to allow kids to like each others posts, but you can change this. Students can also add attachments, digital sticky notes, and can download their video to their computers to share with family in another way.
  • Flipgrid features captions by default, so they’re available any time you need or want them.

Making decisions right now feels very hard. There are so many options, and so many people with advice. It is a *lot* to wade through. One thing we have to keep in mind is how to keep things streamlined, simple, and useable for not only the kids, but for the educators.

Because these are not easy days. It is so important that you don’t burn out in the first few days of switching to online instruction. Start small, and build on that.

Play with us! (link to Flipgrid here too)

How GRCSU is responding to remote learning

Just like our colleagues across the state (and world, really), educators in the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union (GRCSU) have risen to the challenge of completely transforming the way education is delivered — practically overnight. GRCSU is responding to remote learning.

I’m fortunate and grateful to have been working with GRCSU for the past three and half years. In the GRCSU I consider myself part of the proficiency-based coaching team. And lately, much like everyone else, we’ve been honing our remote learning skills.

Have we figured it out? No way! We don’t even know exactly what will be required of schools yet. But we’ve started with what matters most:

Prioritizing communication and connection

We were supposed to have a two-day in-service this week. And yet we started to get an inkling that perhaps plans might… need to shift. Luckily, we’d already designed a teacher-directed PD model in GRCSU.

Well, as it turns out, schools closed before in-service could happen. And teachers have needed every minute to get ready for the sudden shift in direction. So we switched direction again. Here’s what we’ve been doing to support our teachers and students through this transition:

First, we surveyed staff & families

From staff, we wanted to find out what they needed, if they had internet access at home, what questions they had, and offered space for anything else they wanted to tell us. Not surprisingly, many told us they had the situation under control!  We handled individual queries one on one, and complied a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list and began seeking answers.

Surveys went out from central office to families as well to assess technology, transportation, and meal needs.

We gathered some resources

Actually, first we collaborated to build a few guides and resources, and then decided to pull them together in one place for teachers. The website includes JumpStart Guides, sample schedules, content collections, and a calendar of live streaming education events. It’s a work in progress!

Then, we built spaces to connect

We believe that the most important things right now are promoting community and providing continuity. As GRCSU tackles remote learning, teachers are working hard to do this for students and we want to do it for them as well.

To provide some continuity of connection and nurture wellbeing, we have started a “GRCSU Staff Lounge” group on Facebook, and will be offering daily challenges to staff via SeeSaw (post a picture of your pet! what is the view from your home “office”). This will serve not only to connect us, but also to introduce a new (to some) digital tool.

We’ve also opened a ‘Virtual Helpline’.

It’s a Google Meet “room” (accessed by a static shared link). At least one of us staffs it all day. That way teachers can pop in if they have a question. The first day we only had one visitor, but already we’re seeing an increase: today, before 10am, we’ve already fielded two inquiries and provided support for some Google Classroom troubleshooting and log-in issues.

We meet together as a team for an hour each day to check in, problem solve, brainstorm, and respond to emerging needs.  We’re planning to launch virtual hangouts next week, depending on what the needs are.

Finally, our IT department has opened up the tech ticketing process to families and students so that they can access tech support if needed.

We’re sure that this is only the beginning.

Despite the gravity of the situation, we are grateful to be of service to our community at this time.

Finally, I want to take a moment to offer a shout out to ALL OF YOU!  We see you all out there doing amazing, caring, and responsive things.

We’re here. We’re figuring it out. It’s messy and uncertain. It’s changing from moment to moment. We are building the plane while it’s taking off.

But we’ve got this. Steady now.

Switching to online student led conferences

We had been preparing for spring student led conferences for months. Feedback had been reviewed. Plans had been coordinated. Schedules were created. And now? Poof. Everything changed. One option is switching to online student led conferences.

Okay. Deep breath.

Change of plans.

We got this!

At some schools, this means a pivot to distance conferencing for this week. There are several ways to do this and still put students at the center.

The Google Hangout Conference

Tried and true, Google Hangouts are probably the easiest way to do online student-led conferences. Assuming you have a gmail account and domain, which most schools do. Here’s how it would go. You can use the calendar feature, or call someone directly.

  • Calendar appointment:

You can reach out to families with a conference time via email. Once that time is agreed upon, set up a calendar event in Google calendars. Here is how to do that.

Then, invite the family to the conference using their email address. When it says “send invitation” say yes. And the family will be notified of the calendar event. See this link  for more specific information on how to do this.


  • Directly through email:

In Gmail, you can open up the chat feature, and type in the family’s email address and send them a message. Something like, “Hello! I am hoping to set up an online conference with you. I would like to use Google Hangouts for this. Please accept an upcoming invitation to Google Hangouts, and thank you so much! Looking forward to talking with you.”  If they haven’t used Google Hangouts before, it will send them an invitation, which they can accept, then you can video call them at an agreed upon time.

Conference via Zoom

Zoom is an online video conferencing tool that’s a lot like Google Hangouts: you can have a speaker present and screen share while seeing all the other participants.

FYI – Zoom has offered free conferencing during this time of social distancing. Zoom is a low-entry tool that requires you download their software and create an account in order to *host* meetings. To join a Zoom meeting, however, all you need is the virtual location of the “room”. Getting up and running hosting Zoom meetings is relatively straightforward.

Structuring your online student-led-conference

The online conference structure can be what you had planned for to begin with! *But before that*

These are difficult times. Check in with the family. See how they are doing, what might they need. Point them to helpful local resources. And resources to help them stay healthy, and if they are sick. Offer up connection, empathy and support.

Have the student and parent/guardian sit closely together. If there is only one computer, the student can reduce the Hangout screen to take up half of the screen, and their reflections or portfolio to take up half of the screen. If there are two computers to use for this at home, one can be connected to the hangout, and the other can be used to have the student share their work and reflections.

Need a new structure? Try this one:

Possible outline:

  • Welcome! How are you? This is so hard! What do you need?
  • Student presents work.
  • Family asks questions.
  • Teacher asks questions or makes comments.
  • Celebrate student progress
  • Ponder next learning steps together.
  • Close with gratitude for everyone.

Useful tips & tricks

  • Mute your microphone when you are not talking.
  • You can share your screen at any time. If you (the teacher) wants to show an assessment, or anything, see the three dots in the right hand corner. Click share screen. (Note: make sure you really want to share your screen! Your entire screen will be shared. You can reduce that recipe or playlist if you want). You can hit “stop sharing screen” at any time to return to the live Hangout camera.

Bandwidth an issue? Keep it analog.

Schedule a group phone call.

If using a cell phone, the family can put it on speaker and sit together. If the student has a device, they can still share verbally about their work, and show the parent in real time. You could use the above format, but via phone on speaker.

If the student doesn’t have a device home, they can still offer up a powerful reflection that is more than a regular parent-student couch chat. They can reflect on questions like:

  • What are you most proud of from this semester/trimester and why?
  • Where do you think you’ve shown the most growth?
  • What is a goal for the next semester, where do you think you should focus on next?
  • Are there any transferable skill going well for you (and please share and example)
  • What transferable skill do you want to focus on improving?
  • How can your family and teachers better support you?

You might only get to some of these! And leave some time for family and teacher questions. You might also have the student jump off the call (or Hangout) to talk privately with the family member. And that is okay! Use your judgment to figure out what is right for the situation.

Okay. We are pivoting. We are doing *hard things*. What are your questions about this? How can we help support you with this shift?

Creating your school plan for distance learning with limited internet access

There is not one right response or plan for school closures. Each school community faces different needs, contexts, and situations. And we know in some regions of our beautiful state, access to high speed internet and digital devices are limited.

So, not all #vted schools are going to have the same plans for remote learning. Some communities will have access, some won’t.  We will need to constantly work on addressing these inequities now and well into the future.

But for right now, we wanted to share with you a plan to continue learning with limited internet or device access.  How can we make sure that all students have opportunities to connect, learn and grow while away from school?

Today, we will take you through setting up a school plan and share an example from White River Valley Middle School, and how they are centering students and equity as much as possible in this fast moving, quick changing situation.

5 things to consider when designing a plan for distance/out of school learning:

  1. Access. Remember that not all students have access to online learning platforms. When designing learning activities consider multiple access points including the almighty paper and pencil and email. (Don’t forget about postal service!)
  2. Support. If we apply what we know, students’ support at home can vary. Given many parents maybe working from home as a recommendation of social distancing. Their attention and support might need to be spread across many domains. Consider learning opportunities that students will be self-directed or with minimal support.
  3. Resources. We cannot assume that students have access to resources or materials when at home. When thinking about asking them to create or build something the materials they have access to may vary. Please consider a menu of options where they could or could not choose to build or create.
  4. Communication. Schools strive to be an inclusive community. Communication is key to a sense of belonging and support. Remember, not all students have access to online interfaces. Please consider multiple types of communication including online but also phone or snail mail. Also, educators who also may be at home might have other responsibilities to pay attention too. Just a consideration.
  5. Use existing structures. Many hands make light work. How might you use existing structures to support this transition? Advisory might be a great way to keep an already cohesive group feeling connected and supported.

Everyone needs to come together right now, to feel connection and support.

Families need your leadership and your voice in saying that education will continue, though in a much different way, while the school is physically closed and remote learning is in place. Families and caregivers need to know that the school is working hard to make sure that children are cared for, given opportunities to connect and to learn.

The faculty at White River Valley Middle School (Bethel) developed a plan that takes many of these into account. Their plan dissolves the boundaries of subject specific disciplines and focuses on learning.

The brain is a muscle and the goal is to continue to exercise that muscle in this time transition.

We all recognize that the immediate future will just look different. How different? We’re not sure, yet!

Connection with students

Connecting with students
Photo by Sam Loyd on Unsplash

Consider, how will you touch base with your students each day? Will it be a morning meeting for those who can on Google Hangouts? Will it be a group chat? Or email? And if there is no digital access for a few students, a check in phone call? This connection is one of the most important things to maintain.

Think about how you want to structure checking in with students each day and then establish those procedures and norms with your students. Once it begins, ask how it is working and how the system could be improved based on your group’s experiences.

For middle school teachers, this could be your advisory group. For elementary teachers, this could be your homeroom class, and maybe you could group students into smaller groups with a co-teacher. Decide how you will connect and then make sure everyone has that information.

Menu of learning activities for students

Think simple. What is one learning activity kids could do, even with limited internet access, each day?

See this menu of learning experience ideas created by White River Valley Middle School teachers. Have students pick at least one activity to do, then record their learning on the distance learning activity reflection planning sheets (with no digital access) or they could fill in a google doc (after they have made their own copy).

Inform the parents

Parents need to know the plan. They are likely feeling overwhelmed with work, family and decision-making. Here is a sample letter from the White River Valley Middle School, sharing the primarily offline learning experience menu and reflection document.

Sample letter to families

Distance learning activity reflection plan

Universal design calls for reducing barriers for everyone. Universal access for White River means that each student at White Rive Valley Middle School will receive a hard copy of this plan (though on this copy, we changed it a little bit). On it, students say what activity they did, select the subject it was in, and reflect on their learning. This can be done with paper and pencil or make a copy and written on a personal Google Doc

It can be extended in a few ways. Students could pick from a list of transferable skills and explain how the selected learning activity showed growth in that skill.

Also, despite limited internet access, students could have a daily suggested schedule, with lots of flexibility:

  • Teacher/class connection activity.
  • Read for 30 minutes each day
  • Practice math for 30 minutes each day
  • Select another learning activity for 1-2 hours
  • Reflect on their learning for 15-20 minutes each day.

This of course will take a large bit of self-direction and support. But it is a simple plan that could be replicated, adjusted, and used in any way possible to support remote learning.

How are you planning for distance learning? What would you change or add to this plan?

Thank you for all you are doing to keep kids safe, healthy and learning. We are here to help you. Please leave a comment or questions or need and we will get back to you.


Creating a new schedule for remote learning

So you’re moving to remote learning. There’s a lot to prepare for, and before anything else, relationships to maintain, strengthen and nurture.

One important aspect to consider is how you can adapt the schedule of the learning day to provide structure and reduce anxiety during this period.

Consistent schedules help.

With so much in the air, it’s incredibly helpful to lay out the times you’ll be definitely doing certain things. While building remote learning, create a class schedule, including “live” online times, independent work time, and breaks.

Here’s how.

Focus on connections and relationships by holding online advisory/morning meetings

Here is a structure developed with some teachers from the Two Rivers Supervisory Union for maintaining normalcy and community.

Morning meetings (30 minutes each morning at a set time)

1. Share and review norms, then check-in as a group.  Some possible prompts:

  • What’s your weather?
  • If you were an animal, what would you be?
  • Tell a six-word story about yourself
  • Rose, thorn, bud
  • What emoji represents how you are feeling today?

2. Outline a schedule for the day. Share the learning and assignments for the day.

  • Consider an outdoor learning task.
  • REMEMBER to have realistic expectations: academics are a way to create a sense of normalcy and continuity, be reasonable about what you and your students can achieve. Focus on building skills or reviewing key content, not on introducing new learning.
  • Don’t forget about non-core classes: assign PE, Art, or Music activities that kids can do on their own.

Here are some reasonable expectations that you might modify for your students:

  • Elementary students: 60 minutes of academic time a day, 20 minutes a day of:
    • literacy
    •  math
    • integrated arts (PE, Art, Music, World Language)
  • Middle school students: 120 minutes of academic time a day, 30 minutes a day of
    • literacy or humanities
    •  math
    • science/social studies
    • integrated arts (PE, Art, Music, World Language)
  • High school students: 180 minutes of academic time a day
    • 45 minutes per core subject area

3. Highlight an aspect of a transferable skill to focus on for the day or the week. TRSU teachers will be focusing on self-direction.

4. Encourage students to sign up for “office hours” or 1:1 connections with a teacher. A GoogleDoc or online form can help facilitate this process.

5. Finally, don’t forget to have some fun together.

Celebrating the small things will help you and your students with mental health, and distract from anxiety.

Here are some ideas for fostering the relational glue that is laughing and feeling good together:

  • Readalouds!  Read a chapter aloud to your students.
  • Mindful moments (try the breathing exercise above together)
  • Jokes and riddles
  • Morning announcements
  • Meme of the day
  • Assign a Flipgrid dance-off inspired by the teachers at Edmund’s Middle School

Above all, be gentle and let students who don’t want to engage this way also be okay. This. Is. A. Lot.

End the day well with a closing check-in

TRSU teachers are planning a 30 minute (or less) check-in at the end of the afternoon.

  1. Share outs: how did today go?
  2. Reflections on transferable skill focus
  3. Follow up on challenges from earlier in the day (meme of the day/dance-off/etc.)
  4. Sign off in a positive way

It is a bonafide challenge staying connected while practicing social distancing!  Let us know how you are fostering community from afar. And don’t be afraid to ask us for help, we are here for you.

Remote learning: relationships first

As schools consider moving to remote learning, you may be pondering how to continue the supportive and carefully developed community you have been building since day one of school at home. Perhaps you are worried about your students, especially the ones who might not have much supervision, resources, or even high-speed internet, because folks, this is Vermont. And we have been struggling with that for *years*.

First, let’s take a few deep breaths:

We are seeing a barrage of online resources coming the way of teachers and that is great. But we are reminded that the very most important thing right now is for kids to feel seen, loved, supported, and cared for.

You likely want to continue to foster a sense of belonging, because it is loneliness and isolation that could harm our students.

So let’s focus on how to stay truly connected to your class during this time.

One thing that can help educators and students feel more grounded and secure is this: connection. By creating opportunities to connect, not only will students feel more seen, but they will build all sorts of coping skills to use later in life.  We are going to share a plan for a humanistic, relational approach for distance and remote learning.

First — if you have time — how might you prepare for remote learning?

Start with this.

1. Know who has online access and who doesn’t, and plan accordingly.

Ask about online access, especially if your school is hanging onto devices. This might mean emailing plans to caregivers to share on their phones, or printing out plans on paper and sending them home that way.

2. Set up some remote learning agreements

Or you can adjust and extend your current classroom norms! Here are some suggested norms from this helpful resource, Humanizing Online Teaching, modified for a K-8 audience:

  • Be present. In a digital environment, it is easy to get distracted. Attention is caring. Focus on listening to each other and connecting.
  • Try not to interrupt, mute when not speaking.
  • Make space, take space. Encourage everyone to fully participate.
  • Be open to learning and acting in new and different ways.
  • Support the learning community in this time of change.

3. Make sure students take what they need

Library books, art supplies, paper, etc. If it’s not nailed down, it can be sent home at this time.

We know this school disruption is about to cause or exacerbate some food insecurity issues for students. We’re seeing communities brainstorming ways to get involved through Front Porch Forum (Send the bus drivers round with boxed lunches! Let librarians drive foods around!) and… it’s complicated. Focus on the learning supplies you have on hand for this bit.

4. Prioritize checking in with students 1:1

Prioritize students who do not have online access, find ways to connect and support students emotionally and academically. A phone call can go a long way in helping students feel cared for. Be sure to make space to surface any needs or concerns students might have.

In preparation for these conversations, know who you should communicate with when issues surface.  You cannot do this alone, so be clear about the support network you need should issues arise.

5. And finally, don’t forget about your needs

During stressful times it is important to prioritize self-care, personally and professionally.

Here are some suggestions for taking care of yourself and each other:

  • Continue to meet with your teacher team to collaborate and stay connected.
  • Take care of yourself and your family; breathe, rest, and take downtime.
  • Ask for help when you need it!

We see you, educators, working hard to take care of your students and each other! And we thank you for your hard work and your big hearts!

Preparing for remote learning

As we consider widespread school closures and how we might adapt, it’s important that our aim isn’t to recreate a typical school day, but instead, leverage strong teacher and student relationships and available technology to prioritize connection and support each other, and to create and document learning experiences and activities.

We are in uncharted waters. It’s okay to not have all of the answers. We’re all in this together.

And speaking of being in this together, I want to share some thinking I did with my partners at the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union (GRCSU). The following thoughts were developed with the GRCSU coaching team. We hope this helps. Together, we got this!

Before a closure:

Instead of launching into remote learning mid-stride, consider taking a step back. What if we imagine instead that we are beginning a new, online school year? How would you be preparing for remote learning then?

Think back to those first days and weeks of school. How did you scaffold and set students up for success and new routines? How can you apply that here?

What norms and expectations can you develop so that students’ online experiences feel as safe and engaging as face-to-face time?

If your school is still open, consider what skills and materials students might need to access learning online and plan for those before a closure. Consider how you might scaffold online learning.

Also consider: Can students bring their devices home? What is the plan for students who don’t have device access (or adults available to help?)

Keep it simple:

  • What are your norms for online engagement?
  • How will you communicate with students? How are you going to disseminate information and resources?
  • Which apps or tools are students familiar with? Let’s freshen up those skills.
  • Are there any essential new tools students need to learn how to use?
  • Can you (or your students) create screencasts on how to use or access tools for reference later?

Shifting from content to transferable Skills

It will be incredibly challenging to offer equitable opportunities to all students remotely. Therefore, it seems that we may want to consider what is most important, what is realistic, and how we can use our resources so that students who need extra support can get it. Many families will be experiencing incredible challenges during this time — from childcare coverage, from economic hardship, and from actual illness.

It’s unreasonable to think that we’d be able to continue to meet all of our content area proficiencies under these circumstances. But this is a great opportunity to shift focus to transferable skills, and engage students through reflection.

Why? Because the transferable skills are likely the skills students are using, or could use, to navigate daily life: clear & effective communication, problem-solving, citizenship. As educators, we can help students connect their lived experiences to these skills, and hold space for reflection. This is learning.

Changing the structure

We can’t recreate the school day online. And we shouldn’t try. So how might we simplify things, while remaining connected with students?

Tending to social-emotional needs may be a priority during this time. Can you hold a virtual “morning meeting” for students who are able to attend? Can you offer 1:1 check-ins with students to keep them moving in their learning?

For students of any age, consider:

  • Holding a (morning/afternoon) meeting to check-in with everyone. Use this time provide emotional & social connection (and to deliver any whole-group instruction if necessary);
  • Using a (familiar to students) Learning Management System (LMS) to communicate work and assignments;
  • Holding office hours or scheduling virtual (or phone) meetings with individual students;
  • Using a reflection tool like Flipgrid, so that students can reflect or respond to prompts, assignments, or conversations.

Middle/High Schools:

Students in these grades often have multiple teachers. For some students, this is challenging enough in person. How can your faculty streamline this for students?

In addition to the suggestions above, consider:

  • Having advisors or another faculty member be the ‘point person’ for each student, instead of expecting students to connect with all of their teachers.
  • Work together as a faculty to develop expectations and assignments, have the advisor/point person communicate that to their advisees using the LMS.
    • At one school, teachers have been using Google Classroom as a faculty to share curriculum and student assignments related to Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs). This way advisors all have access to the PLP materials and can deliver them to their individual advisees, this model could work in this situation as well!
  • Check out the Distance Learning JumpStart Guide

Building on what they know

This is probably not the best time to introduce a lot of new technology or tools. What do students already know how to do and use that you could build upon? Are they already familiar with Google Docs, or Google Classroom?

Synchronous vs asynchronous delivery

Delivering synchronous instruction may prove challenging. If you aim for this method, try to keep it to a minimum.

Asynchronous formats might be simpler, especially if/when bandwidth is a consideration. This means offering an assignment or learning opportunity for students to engage with at their own pace. Consider tools such as VoiceThread or Marcopolo. Online forum software. Chat.

Determining what’s essential

Helping students find a way to practice and retain their skills is a great place to start.

How can you pare down and focus on the essentials? Which texts are you using? Which skills are you focusing on? How might they translate to activities outside the classroom?

Stay connected

Perhaps the most important priority at this time is staying connected, providing some sense of continuity, and emotional support. Learning targets, skills and practices may need to be disrupted as other priorities take center stage in students’ lives, due to this unprecedented move. And that’s okay. Reach out, and encourage connection. Provide humanity. Encourage students to communicate complications. If nothing else, provide simple understanding: “I hear you. That’s challenging. How are you doing? Are you okay? I want to keep hearing from you, all right?”

And this applies to you as well, educator friend. Let’s take this opportunity to slow down, step back, and breathe. We’re in this together.

Let us know how we can help.

How to use Google Docs so students talk to you

Using technology to help build relationships

[Editorial Note: We originally ran this post back in 2014, but have updated it for today’s unique and challenging remote learning situation. Let us know how things are going! We’re incredibly proud of all of #vted for putting students first during this momentous shift.]

Laura Botte, 6th grade math educator at Edmunds Middle School, in Burlington VT, shared with us how she’s been using Google Docs to encourage her students to open up about what’s going on in their lives, and how that affects their ability to be present in the classroom. This is how you can use Google Docs so students talk to you.

Continue reading How to use Google Docs so students talk to you

How to use Google Hangout for screencasting

NOTE: Whoo, five years is a whole *eon*, in tech time, people. So, the original updated version of this post, first written in 2015, then updated in 2018, remains below, because it will work to set you up for using Google Hangouts for screencasting. But there also two easier ways.

So here’s three ways to use Google Hangouts for screencasting.

One, pair it with screencasting software

Pair it with a conventional screencasting tool such as Camtasia, Screencast-o-matic, Snagit or Screencastify. Open your screencasting tool, then kick off a Google Hangout like you would normally.

Two, turn Recording on in Google Enterprise Suite.

But the updated version is that Google Hangouts have a button that simply turns recording on, if you have Google Enterprise Suite.

Here’s Google’s video tutorial on the topic:

And three, set your Google Hangout to be broadcast On Air.

Which gives you a recorded broadcast at the end.

Original 2018 post. (Oy.)

There are a plethora of screencasting tools available for Mac, PC and Chromebook, but one way to create a super-quick screencast when you want students to be able to see you in the picture, is to use Google Hangout for screencasting. Super useful for Google schools, and did we mention it’s free?

Step-by-step, here’s how to use Google Hangout for screencasting

1. Go to Google Hangouts on Air

how to use google hangouts for screencasting
Click the yellow “Create a Hangout on Air” button

2. Set it to private

Name your hangout, give it a description, then click on the X in the green “Public” button if you don’t want the whole thing posted to your Google+ profile. You do need to pick one person to share it with, but it can be your own alternate email address. Click “Share” to get to the Hangout. As shown in this 30-second, audio-free video snippet:


Troubleshooting tip: You do need to verify your YouTube account, if prompted, but it takes seconds.
Yes, I appreciate the irony in having used Camtasia to create that screencast. Stay tuned for “App-smashing and creating instructional blogposts” 🙂

 3. Click “Start” to enter the screencasting studio

how to use Google Hangouts for screencasting
You’ve been popped over into Google+ and on the lefthand side of the page is a Hangout window. Click the blue “Start” button.


4. Start your broadcast

how to use Google Hangout for screencasting
Now you are in the Hangout window. Click “Skip” to queue up a percentage progress bar at the bottom of your Hangout window. When it’s done, the progress bar will turn to a green “Start broadcast” button. You’ll get a little countdown up there in the corner, then boom! You are now recording from your machine.


5. Screencast with anything on your desktop

To do a voiceover of your slides, hover over the lefthand edge of the Hangout window until a column of icons appears. The third one down is Screenshare. Click it, and choose your slides from the set of options that pop up.


how to use Google Hangout for screencasting
The options will consist of every application you have open, plus your Desktop.


6. Start talking!

Once you choose your slides, navigate over to them on your machine as if the Hangout wasn’t there, and start talking. And what you wind up with as a finished project is something like this:


After you finish the broadcast, what you wind up with is an unlisted YouTube video. And from there, you can decide who receives the url to view the finished project.


tldr; a screencast showing soup-to-nuts how this works

For a complete look at how this works from the driver’s seat, I used Camtasia again to record what this whole process looks like from the back end. (Did I mention the app-smashing for instructional blogposts?)


Troubleshooting tip: obviously, this works best for schools with ready access to the Google suite of products. If, for instance, you find yourself staring at something like this:


how to use Google Hangout for screencasting
Then it’s likely time for an inservice conversation about fettered internet access, security and digital citizenship as a school-wide culture, but that, my friends, is a whole other blogpost.