Ten Things I Learned About Teaching Online-Part 2

This blog is the second part of my blog post, Ten Things I Learned about Teaching Online-Part 1. Below are my takeaways from weeks 6-10 of the course.

Week #6-Affiliation is essential for successful online learning experiences. (Dabbagh, 2007).

This was the week when we had the opportunity to dive deeper into various scholarly articles about online learning. I was particularly interested in Nada Dabbagh’s article, The Online Learner Characteristics and Pedagogical Implications. It notes the popularity of building of communities of practice in online spaces. Since such communities rely on the social network to drive learning, it emphasized the importance of affiliation (Dabbagh, 2007). I plan to apply this concept by recognizing that I must build trust early on, community over time, and engage in knowledge building efforts to develop the online community.

Week #7-How will group projects be managed in online spaces? What is the role of management and facilitation in online spaces?

In comparison to a face to face classroom, the dynamics are different in online spaces. This week brought forth a greater awareness about the need to consider how I will manage group projects. (Check out the resources our facilitators for the week assembled on this topic.) A conversation evolved in our course about the differences between management and facilitation and what that meant in online spaces. I consider management in an online space as the instructor’s efforts to set up the structures for group success, as well as effectiveness in addressing situations that violate community norms. On the other hand, I see online facilitation as the efforts taken to empower individuals and the group to go in the directions needed for learning to occur.

Week #8: Know the difference between crowdsourcing and knowledge building so that you can leverage both in your online courses.

For years I have just assumed that these two terms meant the same thing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In short, when I consider using the two, I will start by asking myself the questions:

  • What is my goal/purpose in engaging in this activity?
  • When do I plan to do this in the course?

The answers to these questions are important because if I hope to gain a wealth of ideas/perspectives and am not concerned about the level of expertise or depth, crowdsourcing would be an appropriate choice. However, if I was looking to engage in a shared task with a group of committed members, knowledge building would be a better approach. In terms of timing, it seems most appropriate that crowdsourcing would be done earlier on in the start of the course, when individuals do not know each other well, if at all. Knowledge building would seem to be more effective once some rapport has been established within the group and shared ownership for learning has been maintained.

Week #9: What the purpose of grades/marks?

I recognize this very question can be subject of another blog post. At this point, I am questioning whether I need grades in my course. Assuming I have a choice as an instructor, I would like to have a structure set up where students assess and grade themselves. In situations that require grades, I will be using student created assessments and self/peer assessments as much as possible.

Week 10: Reflection is powerful.

In this particular course our last week was designed for reflection. That was the first time in a course where so much time was devoted to reflection and I enjoyed the opportunity. So often when we take professional development courses, we hurry through the course and may devote our own time either through blogging or informal conversations to deconstruct what we learned. What a great opportunity to do this formally in a course with those you have been learning with for an extended period of time. I recognize that it may not always be possible to incorporate a week of reflection in my future courses, but I plan to build in more than the obligatory course evaluation moment for such purposes.

Lastly, I owe a big thank you to my co-learners for a wonderful ten weeks of learning. I have learned so much because of each of you. Also special thanks to Sheryl for all your expertise and wisdom. This time together has opened my eyes to so many possibilities!

Dabbagh, N. (2007). The Online Learner: Characteristics and Pedagogical Implications. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 217-226. AACE.

Ten Things I Learned About Teaching Online-Part 1

For the last few months I have been taking a Teaching Online and Blended Learning course with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. It was a fast paced, rigorous course which has inspired me to jump into the world of online teaching. The following are my takeaways for each week of the ten week course. This blog is part one of two in which I will share highlights of the lessons learned from the first five weeks.

Week #1-Have a vision for your course and be clear on your purpose and goals.
What skills, habits and competencies do I want learners to walk away with after completing my online course? The answers should guide the development of my future course. Our class work on analyzing various theorists and constructing a learning philosophy helped to remind me that what I plan in both asynchronous and synchronous spaces should be aligned with my overall purpose.

Week #2- Hit the “sweet spot” of planning.
When I asked Sheryl for the advice she would give to new online instructors, she noted the tendency of new online teachers is to either under plan, relying too much on “winging it” or to over plan and not allow for flexibility. I will consider in advance how I can best structure the learning for my students, and also want to be open to the unplanned opportunities that may arise in a course. I would also like to incorporate the goals of my students, so that as much as possible, I can create a program that will result in meaningful learning experiences.

A consideration for instructors of adult learners is the need to be mindful of the juggling act that students face when taking online courses. Sheryl was excellent at considering what format might work best for learners juggling work, family and life. She was able to maintain high standards, while encouraging us to jump in when we can and always welcoming us if we hadn’t been able to pop in for awhile.

Week #3: Leverage your syllabus and multimedia to set the tone of your course.
Having only taught face-to-face courses to this point, I now recognize the importance of and committing to creating an engaging syllabus as this will likely be my first point of contact with students in an online setting. Also, in my first email to course participants, I would like to include two videos. The first will be an introductory video to help learners get to know me and encourage relationship building. The second will be a course video to help students learn more and get excited about the course. To address any questions that learners may have, I will be constructing a course website that students can access and obtain further information. I hope creating these resources will help students to connect with me and the course, as well as allow students to focus on the learning ahead.

Week #4: Online instructors jump into the learning.
In my early years of taking online courses, my interactions with instructors were largely consultative in nature. After taking this course, I know when online instructors jump into the learning, it pushes the learning of all. When instructors adopt a learning stance, they demonstrate all three types of online presence. Understanding social, cognitive and teaching presence and adjusting your approaches to your prospective learners’ varying strengths in these areas are part of constructing a dynamic learning environment. I plan to use the different types of presence as another framework in which I can assess if my approaches as an instructor are balanced and meeting the needs of various learners.
In addition, understanding how a group develops is important to forming a learning community. Through Sheryl’s modelling, I learned that it is important to be very present in the beginning of a course and then slowly back off as the group develops. (If you are unfamiliar with the stages of group development, this may be a helpful resource.) By giving your class more space in the later stages, it helps them to grow as a cohort and lets the class take learning in the direction that makes the most sense for their needs.

Week #5: Community Building is an essential part of online learning, not an add-on.
I have taken a variety of online courses and what strikes me as different about PLP courses is the focus on community. This focus on community building early on and throughout has really deepened my learning as a student. This is because when an environment of collegiality is created and supported in the course, you learn from more than just the instructor. Your peers become a critical part of the learning process. Your thinking gets pushed, new ideas and reflections abound, and once the class is over, you have an expanded network of colleagues to learn from.

So how will I build community? It involves being mindful of opportunities to build community in synchronous sessions and asynchronous realms. It can be as small as incorporating a brief collaborative activity at the beginning of a synchronous session or structuring in larger collective knowledge activities in asynchronous discussions. I plan to incorporate a designated social space such as a virtual café or lounge. This is a place for learners to gather during the course so that they can get to know one another beyond academic discussions. I will also create a community bulletin board to post questions. These small steps will help individuals build rapport and trust over time.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post (Weeks 6-10).

Connected Coaching Is…


As the final days of our course approaches, I wanted to take some time to reflect on my Connected Coaching learning experience. We are finalizing our group projects (the creation of Connected Coaching Toolkits) and having the time to revisit concepts has made me realize how much I have learned as a Connected Coach.

I have often been asked, “What is Connected Coaching?” So the Haiku Deck slides you see below is a brief visual response to that question. The remainder of my post will expand on the concept introduced in the slides.


If there is one key take away from this course, it is the reminder of how important trust is in our work as educators. Time and time again, I was reminded of this in both my own reflections and those of my co-learners. As Connected Coaches, we help educators to connect with one another both in synchronous and asynchronous formats. We foster a learning community by what we do and say, all the while, helping others to build collegial relationships with one another.


One of the biggest stereotypes of coaching is the notion that coaches “fix”, a theme I have explored previously. Connected Coaching bucks this stereotype because it is about starting where the individual is at. As the coach, I am a co-learner and explorer along with my coachee. As connected coaches, we start to do this by being seekers of stories and facilitators of the Appreciative Inquiry model.


An educator’s daily work flies by at a hectic pace, which further drives home the need for mindfulness in our work. Connected Coaches must be present and listen deeply as stories are shared. We embrace not having to be the “expert” and refrain from telling and/or judging. As a Connected Coach, it is so important that I am fully aware of my own assumptions and perceptions, as well as how they influence my responses and actions.


As someone who truly wants to support educators, this was perhaps one of the easiest areas for me to understand, but much harder to put into practice. As educators, we have often been trained to have the “correct answers”. I now see coaching as a journey and have let go of this need to have all the answers. This is because Connected Coaches help educators to uncover their strengths. This is key for individuals to reach their goals and new opportunities. We uncover strengths and opportunities by asking powerful questions, offering tools and support when needed, and leveraging technology in meaningful ways. We relish playing with ideas and thereby encourage, engage in, and support other educators in their own experimentation.


Educators are fantastic at constantly giving to their students and communities and less so to themselves. We can invest in educators by providing them with the environment, time, and tools to reflect, aspire and learn. When we invest in educators, we create vibrant and innovative learning spaces for our school communities.

Embracing the Connected Coaching mindset, utilizing our path markers and offering the most effective means of support is no easy task, but in doing so, we are able to help educators connect as a community of learners. As these connections grow over time, so will individuals, who will be inspired to act within their own communities. At its core, Connected Coaching is truly all about elevating educators and their students.


Special thanks to all my PLP co-learners and our instructor, Lani Ritter Hall, who have provided me with such rich discussions and experiences. These new insights will continue to stay with me in my own evolution as a Connected Coach.




Reflections of a Connected Coach

As the weeks rapidly draw to a close and my mind still swimming with putting all that we have learned into practice, I reflect on several of the Connected Coaching Standards:

  • Persevere in exploring ideas and concepts, rethinking, revising, and continual repacking and unpacking as they build upon and assist in uncovering strengths of those they coach.
  • Engage in discussions on difficult or messy topics from an appreciative inquiry perspective to increase confidence and self-efficacy.
  • Use activities to create a connection to the content and context, to oneself, and to those who are part of the learning community at school and online.
  • Collectively review and analyze with an open mind and without judgment all and many perspectives on coaching.

While I am still learning and reflecting how I can translate these new ideas into my various contexts, there are some definite themes that have stuck with me to date.

The Importance of Community in Coaching

Prior to taking this course, I often thought of coaching as more of a one-to-one activity. When I think about how much I have grown in my learning and capacity as a coach, it strikes me that the growth was only possible by being a part of a larger community. In this online community, I met a wonderful group of passionate, interesting and encouraging group of educational leaders. We were physically located in all parts of the world, serving students (children and adults alike) in varied ways through our professional roles and each one of us from such diverse personal backgrounds. I felt welcomed and encouraged to share my ideas by all. There was consistent and thoughtful application of tools used by our facilitator that enhanced our discussions. Over time, I found myself eagerly looking forward to our weekly synchronous chats, both to learn something new and hear what was going on in the worlds of my fellow co-learners.

Connected Coaching does not provide one linear answer. I didn’t mind the “messiness” of our learning process. The beauty of a coaching community is that we learned through modeling from our instructor and benefited from the unique questions and ideas that each of us brought to our space. I gained an appreciation of other perspectives I had not yet thought of and more questions to challenge my thinking. We interchanged roles continuously from coach/coachee in our interactions and as a result, our learning has been deep and rich.

Having been a school administrator, I have often wondered throughout this course about the value of providing educators with either the option of online learning communities to support face to face coaching or access to an online space for coaching, if none was available. What might happen if all educators had access to such supportive online communities? How could we transform experiences for our students when consistently engaged in robust coaching discussions?

Coaching is About Others AND an Awareness of Self

Unfortunately, education is not a profession immune from judgment. What if we were able to suspend judgment (both conscious and unconscious)–what might we be able to accomplish together?

A large part of the community feel established in our course space was because I did not feel I would be judged by my co-learners. As a coach, I have learned to become even more mindful of the role assumptions and judgments play in how they filter and influence perceptions, and our resulting interactions with others. I have also learned that asking powerful questions can bring these assumptions to the surface so that we can grow and learn as opposed to maintaining status quo. Most importantly, I embrace being fully aware of others, as well as my own thinking and emotions in coaching. Being self-aware allows me to be present in those interactions, as well as mindful of my resulting inquiries and actions as a coach.

Coaching Redefined

Another theme I have been thinking about is that we often associate coaching with the negative. Too often, in educational environments we “coach” when something is wrong or when we want individuals to buy-in with a certain idea/initiative. I myself have been guilty of this at times as an educator. Having seen and experienced the power of a coaching community, I’d like to see us as educators reframe coaching. Coaching should be about strengths, exploration, curiosity and refining -the natural process of learning and growing as an educator.

An online community is the part that makes this learning accessible for busy educators. I envision these online coaching spaces as almost a 24-7 online support center. I should be clear that these are not spaces where one logs in and would expect to walk away with immediate answers (though that may happen on occasion). These are spaces where we dare to ask questions, and share the challenges that preceded them. We can expect to receive support through careful listening, paraphrasing and inquiring questions. We will also experience and use various tools that will help us to refine our thoughts, stimulate thinking and give us the push we need to find the answer that is going to work best for our context. Connected Coaching is not about having the “right” answer. Connected Coaches provide opportunities and  tools, as well as create an environment for individuals to reflect and devise their own pathways for possible solutions.

How can we shift the stereotype of coaching from deficit to strength-based? How do you see Connected Coaches supporting your work and schools?

How Do You Build Trust in an Online Community?

Currently I am taking a graduate course on Connected Coaching from Powerful Learning Practice. In the past year I have been exploring my general interest in coaching. I also have an interest in better understanding how we develop cultures of learning and risk taking in our schools. I do believe that engaging in the coaching process can support the continuous learning and reflection of teachers, staff and administrators alike. This commitment to continuous learning and reflection of practices are essential components to creating change in our profession.

From now through December, I will periodically post about my learning and reflections on my Connected Coaching experiences.   

Creating the environment to build relationships

We are about to embark on week four, but I have been really mulling over this idea of building trust, one of the first topics we explored in the course. My head is swimming with thoughts and ideas, some of which have yet to fully form, so this topic is clearly a work in progress. As I reflect upon our time spent on that concept, I start with the question of: how does one structure the online environment so that trust forms between members?

When I think back to the first week, while the topic was an introduction to trust building, we actually didn’t spend time talking about specific strategies (though that perhaps inadvertently came out in discussions). In fact, the whole time was spent in giving us space and time to share, getting to know one another, and engage in discussions around our stories about learning or coaching. Even in the second week, while the topic of trust was not the explicit focus, this idea was really extended into having us share our values and beliefs about coaching. In essence, we were really sharing values and beliefs that were important to us as individuals, an activity that required a little more risk taking as we revealed a bit more of whom we were as individuals. At the same time, we were building community as we discussed these values and how they resonated with us relative to coaching.

In the third week, our own values were used as a starting point to talk about coaching dispositions. Building on the values we identified allowed us to create our own models of understanding of the coaching content. By valuing our experiences, our instructor was modeling trust. I should add that this was further emphasized in how discussion questions were reframed back to us, asking for further reflection upon past experiences and to share these stories. In essence, we were being trusted to be sources of expertise.

Thoughtful Technology Use

I am starting to see first-hand that as a facilitator in online spaces, one must be just as reflective about the tech tools used to carry out these activities. This is because the use of a variety of tools is important for engagement. Also, given individuals’ varying experiences with technology, ease of use of these tools is critical. A tool that is difficult to use decreases accessibility and the means for the group to build on their work.

Perhaps most importantly, technology cannot be used for the sake of doing so.  I can see a clear purpose for why we are using the tools we do. For example, one of our assignments included having to compare ISTE and IAC coaching standards with the Connected Coaching standards, as well as further insights. We were asked to share these ideas on Voxopop. (For those not familiar, Voxopop is like a message board, but all done through recorded voice messages.) I’m sure I could have done this activity in a simple comparison chart and posted it, but the act of being able to speak to and hear from my co-learners around the world really focused my thinking and led to some unexpected insights. Tech tools are not just about engaging the individual, but must absolutely be about deeper learning.

My take away thoughts on building the foundations for trust in online spaces:

  • Building trust means giving space for it to happen.
  • As a facilitator, a balance is required between the need for structured activities (so individuals feel safe to share and discussions remain on the learning at hand) and flexibility to let individuals express themselves.
  • Identifying the pre-existing values and beliefs of a group is critical to both building trust and identifying a path forward for one’s work together.
  • Valuing and building upon the experiences and voices of others emphasizes trust in the individual and models trust for the group as a whole.
  • In online spaces, take the time to ensure you have selected tools that are engaging, accessible and promote deeper learning. All three qualities will be needed to further entrench group trust.

What have I missed? What other ideas or insights do you have on building trust in online spaces?

Wanted: 21st Century Leaders

Note: This is a post written for the members of Cohort 21 and will also be posted on their blog. I encourage CIS members to checkout this unique professional learning opportunity at cohort21.com.

I also dedicate this post to all budding and active teacher leaders around the world, some of whom I had the privilege to already work with and others that I look forward to collaborating with in the near future!

Read any education newsletter, blog or article and it is clear that how we learn and teach has come so far from what we have often experienced ourselves as students. Teachers all over the world have embraced new pedagogies, technology and how they view students as learners. In these times of change, nothing excites me more than to see the shifts in how the view of school leaders is moving beyond the typical notion of the leader at the top. More recognition and value is being placed on the formal and informal teacher leaders in school communities.

I absolutely believe whether you are in a school or district that recognizes this or not (but hopefully this is not the case), that there are teacher leaders all around you. In fact, if you are reading this, I believe you are one of our much needed school leaders. Perhaps you have already explored and harnessed your leadership talents in your school setting. Maybe you know you are capable, but are hesitant to take that next step. Perhaps you’re not quite sure what to make of all this 21st century learning stuff. Wherever you are in this range, I hope by the end of this that at the very least, you are able to embrace the idea that the revolution in learning needs your perspective and expertise.

So what are the qualities exhibited by 21st century leaders? This conversation can span many blog posts long, so I have narrowed it down to three qualities/skills. I will preface my thoughts by saying that you may notice one obvious quality missing from my list, which is the passion for and belief in kids. This is omitted simply because I see this as a prerequisite for every educator. From my own experiences both as a teacher, administrator and evolving connected educator, I share below what I have often observed in those teachers making change in our schools.

21st century leaders are relationship-based

21st century leaders are driven by the ability to create and sustain relationships both with and for others. They know the importance of relationships and value strong connections with others. They also often leverage technology to create new relationships. These leaders are able to make meaning for others they work with and are able to create connections between the various other individuals in their school and virtual communities.

21st century leaders are able to “create the conditions for learning” (shared by @rita_russo, OISE)

21st century leaders create learning environments for both themselves and others. They embrace a lifelong mindset of a learner. They understand that the rapid pace of our current society doesn’t require the ability to know everything, but rather a willingness to learn. They are able to self-assess their needs and seek opportunities to develop the areas they are not as strong in. These leaders are not only effective in embracing this mindset for themselves, but also in creating it in others. They help to foster environments where saying “I don’t know” is not considered a detriment, but a jumping off point for further learning.

21st century leaders are courageous

21st century leaders must exhibit courage because of the changing nature of schools and the complexity that change with bring. They need to work beyond the traditional parameters laid out to find creative solutions that work for their own school settings. These individuals also know that the path to change can be fraught with challenges, but do not let those things stop them. They are resilient. Setbacks are opportunities to take a breath, reset, and carry forth the intended goal. 21st century leaders are not people without fear or discomfort, but they do push beyond it to do what’s best for students.

Not sure where to find these leaders? Take a look in the mirror the best example is staring right at you!

Still hesitant to lead? Remember, a leader is never perfect, but does embrace being a “work in progress”.  All leaders are continuous learners, so if you are looking to stretch your thinking, take a look at some of the work and thoughts of these individuals:

So what are you waiting for? Wherever you are in your journey, we need you to take that next step to create change for our students and schools. Dip, step, or jump right in and embrace the leader you were meant to be.

Starting Down the Connected Educator Path

With Connected Educator Month starting in October, I thought I would spend some time sharing how I started on the path of becoming more connected, what one gains from doing so, and some tips for those who are starting on their own connected educator transformation.

Developing as a connected educator started last summer when I joined Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall’s The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age book club. I knew this was an area I needed to further improve on and embrace, but I had no idea where to start given the many new apps, tools, and social media.

Deciding to join the book club was the best decision I made. It was just the push I needed to start my exploration into connected learning. My hope in joining the book club was to learn a new tool or two. What I received was so much more. I was able to challenge my mindset about how competent I was with technology and found new confidence in my capacity as a learner. The on-line and weekly discussions helped me to see that there were many others starting out just like me. It was also valuable to see the range of levels and experience with connected learning. Despite this range of experience, I never felt intimidated because of the positive and supportive culture fostered in the community.

I cannot remember when it all finally clicked, but I did have several light bulb moments. I learned being a connected educator is not just knowing and using technology in a meaningful and effective way. Connected educators fully embrace risk taking and continually stretch themselves as learners. As we become contributors, we foster trust and build a global community, one that is poised to work towards change. Connected education is not just for the students in our classrooms. Connected educators are able to prioritize learning through their global networks, modeling what it is like to be an authentic learner.

What does one gain from becoming a connected educator? How do I take the next step?

1.       Access to a Wealth of Knowledge:

You will often hear connected educators expressing gratitude for their personal learning network (PLN). This is because connected education allows you to learn what you want, when you want it, from individuals all over the world. Learning becomes personalized to your needs and tailored to your schedule.

Tip: It is often this wealth of information or the abundance of tools and resources that can be discouraging when you’re just starting out. Pick one tool to start with and get to know that one well before moving on.

If you are not sure what tool to jump into, try Twitter. Know it will be impossible to read everything your followers contribute (as much as you will want to). In the interim, select one hashtag to follow so it filters down posts about the topic you are most interested in learning at that time.

Click here for a great guide on how to get started on Twitter and here for a list of hashtags to suit your needs.

2.       Pushes Your Thinking and Promotes Reflection:

Traditionally, educators have often worked in silos. Being connected gives you exposure to diverse perspectives beyond what you would find in a single school or district. Reading and chatting with others about ideas has given me new lenses to  examine my beliefs, values, and practices as an educator. It has allowed me to refine my thinking and approach for the better when working with students and colleagues.

Tip: Take the time to participate in a Twitter chat. In one hour, you will be exposed to more ideas on a specific topic than any number of blogs or books you could read in that same time. You can start by simply observing a Twitter chat by following the hashtag at the designated time. Then I would encourage you to jump in and participate the following week. Or just jump right in from the beginning and start chatting away!

3.       Remembering What it is Like to Be a Student:

When I struggle with a new technology, I am reminded of the frustration of not understanding or the discomfort of working through mistakes. I am also reminded of how fun it can be to play and experiment, and the feeling of success when I master or implement the new tool. Putting ourselves in the shoes of our learners is not only very humbling, but sheds light into what our students experience every day. Embracing this learning process and sharing it with students is also great role modeling.

Tip: If you are struggling with a new tool or want further information on one, don’t be afraid to reach out to other connected colleagues or my personal favorite is to ask a student. I have found either always eager to help. It’s also a great way for students to shine and share their knowledge with the adults in their school.

Becoming a connected educator starts with just taking a simple step of wanting to learn one new idea. What will you learn today?

 Note: As of this writing, the Connected Educator Month Book Club is back! Next month there will be four book clubs, one of which will be The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age. For more details, check out: http://plpnetwork.com/2013/09/19/connected-educator-month-book-club/