Blazing A Trail

Few will go where none have gone before. Most need a path to follow, and that means someone has to go first.

Every learning journey has to start somewhere. All the strategic planning in the world makes little difference if steps aren’t taken to put those ideas into practice in the classroom. And like any journey into the unknown, few will go where none have gone before. Most need a path to follow, and that means someone has to go first.

As a strategy for their 1:1 Chromebook rollout, Carteret County (NC) identified sixty of their teachers to carve that path for their colleagues. Alongside a team of ALP coaches, these Trailblazers will take steps out of their comfort zones to explore the impact that 1:1 access to technology devices can have on their students’ learning experiences.

Below is the story of a day in the life of a small group of those Trailblazers at two of the district’s high schools during their first round of coaching. (At least, as much of that day as I could capture as their Trailblazer coach weaving a path between and among their classrooms.)

As the bell rings to start the day, a social studies teacher and I co-teach a lesson we planned together earlier that week. He asks students to identify “What I Wonder” questions driven from their current knowledge about a certain religion, while I model the use of Socrative Quick Question’s voting capabilities to build consensus on the questions that would drive their research on the topic. He employed that strategy with his two other classes that day on his own, and plans to take similar approaches in future units of study.

Upon learning about this approach, a math teacher reflects during a planning session on how this strategy might apply to her own content area. “KWL strategies work fine with a general topic like a religion,” she notes, “but what about in math when students don’t come in with prior knowledge?” Diving deeper into this question inspires her to shift toward building on students’ background knowledge through an experiential focus to her next unit.

One of her teammates next door explores use of Kahoot not as an assessment tool, but rather as a way to increase personal response for each student during the lesson. Through conversation within Google Docs’ comment section as well as over email later in the afternoon, she and I were able to reflect on the day’s relative successes such that she can continue to incorporate more personal response opportunities in future lesson designs.

Down the hallway, an English / Language Arts teacher tests out station rotations with her ninth grade students. While selected trios engage in peer editing of each other’s essays via Google Docs, she helps another small group kick off a Gallery Walk to unpack a short story that the class had read the day before. In the meantime, teams of students face off in a series of Quizlet Live “Battle Royales” to review the vocabulary words of focus from the past six weeks. While each station took a little more time than we initially expected, students expressed general enthusiasm about learning in such an active environment.

Across the district, a business education teacher seeks to increase engagement in the course’s more technical competencies. She invites her students to complete Thrively’s personal interest inventory, a resource we chose in the hopes that having students weave potential career pathways into the course’s predefined requirements for certification would lead to a more authentic experience. For example, instead of writing generic business letters, students would craft actual correspondence to send to professionals in their field of interest.

Meanwhile, her colleague upstairs tries her hand at a video-based approach to delivering math instruction. Students move at their own pace through an alternating series of instructive videos and independent practice, while she moves from student to student checking for understanding. An unanticipated benefit of the lesson design: we noted through observation that she increased touchpoints with each student for individualized instruction by a factor of 10. During our next coaching session, she decided to weave the practice into more differentiated approach in the future, using the strategy within centers so as to meet a wider variety of needs.

In the trailer outside, an earth science teacher considers how best to package his curated troves of interactive simulations for student access to anywhere / anytime learning. He is a true maven on the topic in the Tipping Point sense of the word– a collector of resources great and small that students can use to help them understand even the most granular of concepts. We began the process of weaving the collected resources into playlists, and plan to monitor students’ ability to access them via the school’s learning management system.

And that’s just one day.

These stories are but snapshots of singular moments in the lives of these seven teachers. However, each of these steps- and the steps of the dozens of other Trailblazers across the county- starts to make a trail. Continuing to take these steps throughout the semester will clear a path for their colleagues to follow as the district continues to make these devices available to every student every day.

Whose courageous steps have given you the confidence to push yourself out of your comfort zone? And how might your own steps inspire others to do the same? Share them in the comments below.

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