From Graveyard Rows to Artificial Intelligence: EdCats Unlearn to Lead

By Tonnie Martinez, Ph.D.

“We still have a lot students seated in graveyard rows,” lamented the graduate student as she sifted through hundreds of sketches. The future teachers had been asked to sketch a classroom and interestingly, most of the sketches depicted chairs in rows with the teacher as the focal point of the classroom. There were apples on teachers’ desks and alphabet letters bordering the walls but the most prominent trait in the sketches were smiling students in single file rows.

The sketch activity reminds us, although we’re in an innovative era in education, we still have students coming into education programs with old ideas about what classrooms and instruction should look like. The challenge for progressive educator development programs like K-State’s is to make sure that deeply held beliefs– desks always in rows or one-way-my-way math problems–are replaced with new paradigms in student-centered learning. Our K-State College of Education faculty work hard to prepare educators with the expertise to develop the next generation of innovators and creative thinkers. We do this by conducting research, testing promising practices in curriculum and instruction and collaborating with innovative schools.

There can certainly be justification for all types of teaching and learning (and even putting desks in rows now and then) but innovative teaching practices are vital for teaching today’s learners– digital natives who are able to pose higher order thinking questions to themselves (and to Siri) and obtain the answers without an adult in the room.

Readers have recently recommended some great resources for infusing new ideas into stale lesson plans. The resources are listed below with links EdCats may want to explore:

Turn excitement into action with Edutopia’s 5 Ways to Bring Passion into Learning. My colleagues and I are big believers in Genius Hours–which made their list. So much so that EdCats can earn professional development hours (and get a micro-credential and badge) for implementing Genius Hours into professional practices. Here’s a link for more on K-State College of Education Micro-credentials.

Top Picks are editorially curated lists of the best ed tech tools reviewed by Common Sense Education. EdCats can browse through a full library of top picks listed by grade, subject, and/or skill.

Our own Cyndi Kuhn has some great resources on her web page. Subscribe to her Think Different newsletter for tips and tricks for integrating technology in your classroom.

The STEMIE Coalition has a goal of every student becoming an inventor. They make the case for invention education and offer a FREE curriculum divided into four grade ranges: K-2; 3-5; 6-8 and 9-12. As of this post, STEMIE says they will have the curriculum up any day. In the meantime you will get great ideas by clicking on the “resources” button.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the classroom? You bet! EdCats may want to fantasize about  using AI to grade papers while Matt Lynch offers 8 Must-Have Artificial Intelligence Apps and Tools here .

The long and important journey that takes future teachers from graveyard rows to smarter classrooms with AI (and beyond) is both exciting and possible. By the time EdCats graduate they recognize that engaging digital natives requires mastering edtech tools, inspiring creativity, and integrating future-ready skills. I hope you’ll continue to reach back to the K-State College of Education professors and resources like EdCat Chats to continue your journey as leaders in education.







EdCat Guest Blogger: Tips for Communication with Parents/Guardians

By Meshell Thornley

Parents/Guardians. Many teachers agree that they are one of the scariest parts of our job. I can remember feelings of anxiety that came with meeting parents my first few years on the job. I wish I could say those feelings do not crop up now that I’m a veteran teacher, but I cannot. But I have had my perspective change over the years. So without further ado, these are my top five tips for working with parents/guardians.

1. Be on their side.

At some point in time during my first one-on-one contact with a parents I try to express my belief that I am on their team.  Good or bad, they are the first and most important educator of their child.  As a result, we as teachers are secondary.  I don’t mean to down play our importance.  Without a doubt, we have the power to make or break a child.  By expressing our support of them as parents they are then free to be open with us and to share and brainstorm about working with their child.

2. Frequent contact is important.

I am ashamed to realize I did not learn this lesson fully until I became a parent.  If you make casual contact frequently you can get by with less of the formal, more time-consuming types of contacts.  Keep in mind this only works if you have made an initial effort to make a more formal, time-consuming contact towards the beginning of the year.

You see, your first formal contact that is not required sends the message to parents that you do actually care about their child.

Being able to say something positive and be able to discuss the parents’ recommendation on how to handle their child allows the parents to see that you will work with them.  After that, your little notes and social media posts will have a positive connotation connected with them.  And as a result, you can get by with less phone and face-to-face contact.  Keep in mind that with some students, you are going to be the one desiring the contact because the parents can empower you when working with their ‘difficult’ child.

3. Remember, they know their child best.

Every year I smile as parents look at me and say, “Are you talking about my child?”  Students are different for us than they are for their parents.  Whether it’s that they are super neat at school, but not at home.  Or that they are quiet at school, but not at home.  The reality is we see a different side of students than their parents do.  I know this has given me the impression that I might know a student better than their parents do, but the majority of the time this is not true.

As a parent, we are present at the birth of the child and for the majority of developmental milestones thereafter.  Obviously the parent is going to know their child best.  They have been around a great deal more.  Keeping this in mind will help you to meet that child’s needs.  Thinking back to my own daughter’s second grade year I can remember feeling as if her teachers were not recognizing this very fact.  They were trying interventions with her and I only found out about after the fact.  I can remember thinking, “If they had only asked me I could have told them that that wasn’t going to work.”  Parents know things we do not, even if they are not the educational experts we are.

4. Admit your errors.

We all make mistakes. Hopefully they are not big mistakes. And hopefully they do not negatively effect a child–but when you do make a mistake, own it. If possible, catch the mistake and let the parent know prior to them finding it themselves. Apologize. Don’t make excuses or try to explain. Admit you were wrong and apologize. If they want an explanation they’ll ask for it. Now here is the REALLY scary part. Make sure your administrator knows of your mistake first (especially if it is a big mistake) and they can be supportive as you make the parent contact. In some cases they may advise you not to make a contact and you should do as they suggest.

5. No, parents cannot do your job.

After all of these words about how important parents are–you need to realize that you are too. There are ways we can influence students their parents cannot. This is why parents need us to be their partners!

Also keep in mind that just because parents might be professionals or be able to talk educational theory does not mean they can do your job. You are highly trained. You are skilled at forming relationships with students. You are skilled at recognizing the needs of 25 students all in the same day (and usually all at the same time)! You are professional and intelligent even if you use first grade words all day!

You are great and your superpower is teaching!

MeshellThornleyA K-State College of Education graduate, Meshell is a gifted facilitator for Manhattan-Ogden schools. She has worked in gifted education for the past 12 years. A mother of two children who attend Manhattan-Ogden schools, she is currently working on a graduate degree in Building Leadership in K-State’s College of Education.



Easing Back Into the School Year

It’s time to go back.

The transition from winter vacations to back-to-school days can be challenging for all. Readiness to return can differ enormously–from students in dire need of food security to students that have been on luxurious ski vacations. Somehow teachers must find their own place in the school readiness continuum while supporting students as they make their journey back to relationships, relevance, and rigor at school. Here are some tips for navigating your way to second semester.

  1. Tidy up your classroom. You may have felt desperate to start the vacation and left some chores undone. Look at the learning space with a critical eye. Could a first semester tub be used to clear away items that will not be used anymore? How about your desk? Perhaps you want to revisit some of your ideas for setting up your classroom in the fall. Some Pinterest hopes may not have been practical. Other Fall ideas may still be viable now that you know your classroom community well.
  2. Review your curriculum. Everyone may struggle physically and mentally towards the school schedule. Ease into the curriculum by reviewing academic vocabulary and concepts. Make the first weeks more fun for you by collaborating with a colleague on an upcoming unit or project. If you are starting from scratch as a brand new teacher, it is okay to ask for help! New teachers need to keep in mind some “thank you’s” (a bottle of water and a granola bar on a desk can go a long way) for veteran teachers that take time to mentor and support.
  3. Anticipate challenges to the work-life balance. Frozen meals in the freezer? Grab and go snacks in the fridge? What types of time-friendly supports offer you and those you love some time together? Sometimes setting the alarm for 15 minutes of uninterrupted time can be a boost that lasts the whole day. One follower of this blog offered: This may sound crazy, but “Taco Tuesday” is sacred. We get caught up on each others’ lives and make our rest-of-the-week and weekend plans.
  4. Organize your mindset. This blog is a huge fan of Carol Dweck’s Mindset materials. Our mindset is the key to how we and our students experience reality. We may need visual reminders to help our minds land on thoughts that are energizing, empowering, and affirming. We may need to remind ourselves to compliment our students’ work efforts, not the just end product.
  5. Model your coping strategies. It is a new year, a new semester, and a new chapter of life! What are you doing to make 2017 a great year personally and professionally? As a successful professional, YOU have goals, grit, and a reflective practice to propel yourself into the new year. These good habits may only be available to your students from you. Including your students as you plan your work and work your plan may model some of the most important skills your students learn this semester.

As you all ease back into the school year, don’t forget to have fun! has some great ideas for you and your students to kick off the spring semester. We’ll be here, cheering you on and bringing you more ideas as we celebrate all things EdCats! #WeAreEdCats