Starting the Year with Intent

August 2017

Heading into a new year with intent…

Coming back to school as a veteran administrator has its benefits. You know where everything is, who is doing what, what people expect, and where your focus needs to be.  It also has its drawbacks: you know where everything is, who is doing what, what people expect and where your focus needs to be.  

This year I found myself stuck in a dull lull.  I can help others create a spark, but couldn’t quite find the spark I need to create an engaging opening day for staff.  

That is until today. I met with a colleague to plan a common thread that we are both focused on.  Within 30-mintues we were on a roll and my creative and engaging ideas began to creep back.

I was able to look at my other goals for the year with a new lens.  Working with others is an important part of how schools function.  

So how does this tie into NOW Classrooms?  Collaboration and Communication are the key components of any successful endeavor in school.  This year I will be journaling our adventure through collaboration and communication and how our 1:1 program is a key to our adventure’s success.

This year at Indian Trail we will be focusing on collaboration and communication with a focus on our Learning Resource teacher and Intervention Specialist and well as using SeeSaw to support growth and partnership with our parents.

Thanks for joining the journey!

Robin Brurbach

Principal Indian Trails Elementary School

Downers Grove #58

From Uninspired to WOW!

Today is Saturday, August 26.  I’m nearly two weeks late of my expected blog post.  But truth be told, on August 14, I was feeling a bit, well, uninspired.  I was working in my classroom and getting thing organized, cleaned and looking pretty to start the year, but thoughts of using technology were last on my mind.  It may have been because I found boxes and boxes that looked like this:

Devices that had been stored for the summer, un-opened, dusty and uninspiring.

But then something changed.  The first day of school came, the children walked in and I saw their smiling faces.  I was excited for the start of the year and so were they!  I walked around with a permanent smile on my face for nearly the entire day.

Being a teacher isn’t just about teaching subjects, it’s about making connections, building relationships and fostering a love of learning that runs deep and is genuine.  Remembering that was just what I needed to start the year.

This year is different for me.  I have taught kindergarten for the past 17 years.  I am the author of the K-2 Now Classrooms book which was written from my experience as a Kindergarten teacher.  However, this year, I am the Reading Specialist and everything is as new for me as it is for the kids in our school.  New, exciting and refreshing.

In thinking about what inspires me, I remembered it is the children AND the teachers I work with.  Being able to spend my first two days walking into each classroom and talking with all the teachers in our building inspired me.  I was able to notice things in just two short days, that I hadn’t noticed before.  Themes.  Themes of building relationships,building trust, building learners.

On day two of school.  I was in multiple classrooms that were building foundations for learning.

So, how does that relate to technology?  Well, what I saw, were still dusty boxes of devices, sitting in a closet, but what I witnessed from teachers and heard, was the building of excitement and expectations of how devices are used in the school setting in a MEANINGFUL WAY, long before they are even passed out and powered up.

I saw posters like this:

I heard discussions and excitement about the return of devices to students hands.

In the classrooms that were prepared to hand-out devices, it was done thoughtfully and with purpose, fully explaining every step.


One teacher created a PowerPoint to review all the buttons of an iPad and their importance.  It was a great refresher!

Additionally, she beautifully executed some lessons in our K-2 book in which we outline taking a selfie and uploading it to the home screen.  An activity which greatly excited the students and created a buzz in the classroom that included much chatter and giggling.  What an amazing way to start day 2 of school.

As the weeks evolve, so will the use of using technology.  What is important to remember is that technology also needs to be used to build learning, creativity, problem solving and relationships.

I challenge you to use technology in a creative, meaningful way this school year.  The NOW Classroom team is here to help, and hopefully inspire you every step of the way.

Make this year fun.  Make it meaningful.  Make it creative.  ENJOY every minutes with your students and inspire them to do great things and think beyond the classroom walls.  Enjoy the journey!  Happy School Year 2017-2018!For 8/14/17

For 8/14/17

By: Beth Hatlen


NOW Classrooms Leadership Guide Almost Done!

As our team wraps up final edits we look forward to the October publication of our NOW Classrooms Leadership Guide. Once we are done with this round of editing the next time we will see our work it will be in a book! Our leadership team of authors are school administrators and consultants on the front lines of creating  change-focused schools starting with teaching and learning and adding digital tools. This journey is what this guide is about.

Through this writing project, we have weaved our experiences together to create a guide for other leaders ready to lead change. Our team is made up of five practicing administrators, two retired superintendents and one educational consultant all from different school districts in the Chicago area. Although the journeys to creating digital rich schools have been different we write about the common themes and things we collectively have learned along the journey. We created an easy to pick up guide to share and discuss with your administrative team as you create change-focused schools.

“This book is all about leading a change-focused school. Each member of this writing team is a practicing educator or education consultant, and although our journeys have been different, we all share a passion for thinking about how to launch students into the rapidly changing world outside of school, equipping them with the digital skills to be lifelong learners and change agents. We also share a passion for thinking about the best practices for you—a K–12 administrator who shares these goals—to help your team create the highly engaged and digitally enriched 21st century classrooms that will lead students to develop those skills. It’s with that passion that we wrote this guide for you.” xv NOW Classroom Leadership Guide

There are also four additional books in the NOW Classroom series, coming out this Fall is the k-2 book, the 3-5 book, the 6-8 book, and the 9-12 book. With 27 co-authors on this project look forward to hundreds of classroom tested lessons k-12 and much more to create change-focused schools.

Our Three Goals with the NOW Classrooms Leadership Guide

  • Thinking about how to launch students into the rapidly changing world outside of school
  • Equipping students with the digital skills to be lifelong learners
  • Create change agents
    Future blog posts will focus on the three goals. For now, our administrative writing team is busy launching a new school year as they also finish the editing of the Now Classrooms Leadership Guide. Pre-order your copy today!

Meg Ormiston


Perspective on Education by an Educator, Father of a Freshman and First Grader

I am starting my 17th year in the public high school system in the state of Illinois teaching at a large Chicago suburban school.  My wife and I have four kids; Luke 14, Jack 10, Reese 6, and Cole 3.  Luke started

Picture of the Parker Family

high school today, Jack fifth grade, Reese will be starting first grade and Cole preschool.


I am very excited to see what the coming year as for my three school-age children.  I have the unique opportunity to have three students in three different buildings at three very different points in their academic career. I am looking forward to seeing the environment the teachers and schools provide for them to thrive.

As an educator, seeing the changes occurring in education, I need to express my excitement for the #NowClassroom that I see happening throughout the public school systems.  There is some concern when I see some educators not quite as excited about the shift that is happening in the classroom.  This is where the building teacher leaders will play a role in demonstrating the benefits of the shift in education that we see today.

As in many professions, there is a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy, in education.  Teachers must have enough love for their profession and students to move forward despite all of the noise.  The teacher leaders in the buildings have to have the self-motivation to excel in their profession and the drive to stay ahead of trends in education.  A teacher has to love the adventure of being a pioneer at their school.  They have to be willing to experiment with new ideas, despite the chance of failure, for the hope that all learners in the classroom will be successful.  

Storytelling is a skill that the some of the most effective and memorable teachers I’ve known, possess.  They can paint a picture for the students to visualize and help the students tell their story to a global audience beyond the four walls of the classroom they sit in.  They have to knock down the walls and communicate with the world.  to ask questions, learn, and give the students a voice. Students need to learn how to share their work with an authentic audience, collaborate globally, give and take constructive criticism, and help design solution for global issues.  Teachers have to be innovators, but also give up control, allowing the students to innovate.  

The days of teachers setting up their classroom sitting in rows, handing out photocopy after photocopies of worksheets, all multiple choice test, allowing for no student voice, assigning busy work for homework just because, and several other traditional old school ritualistic practice work and assessments, that frankly do not allow the students to succeed to their fullest potential, are thankfully dissolving in our education system.  The teachers that I have collaborated and networked with, want their students to succeed now and in the future.  The teachers are willing to put in the time and effort for this to happen.  They just need the time and resources to allow for this work to take place.  The #Nowclassroom will prepare the teachers to help the student be prepared for the world outside of the classroom.  The students need to develop the 21st Century Skills and the Four C’s (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication) in order to be successful in the future.  As educators, it is our job to help the students develop these skills.

Students learning how to extract DNA from a strawberry.

My son and daughter are both excited for the start of the school year. Obviously, they will have different experiences in their respective grades, However, both have an excitement for learning that a #Nowclassroom teacher can mold and shape into great achievements throughout the course of the year.  I hope that the teachers that my kids come in contact this year, and their entire academic career, will build off of that excitement.  I hope the teachers help develop their skills of questioning, collaboration, reflection, how to learn and think, empowerment and ownership, ability to capture and share their ideas with a global audience and stay self-motivated.  These are just a few skills that the students of today and tomorrow need to be successful in the real world.

Scott Parker

Downers Grove South High School

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Starting a New Year: Focus on Learning

Typically the start of a new school year marks the implementation of new technology. In some schools, iPads or Chromebooks are introduced for the very first time. Organizations who have equipment might be readying to add new software, or have just trimmed down what was once a long list. It is important to make sure that, whatever the case may be, that student learning remains front and center.

In order to keep the focus on learning, it is important that the district’s plan for technology be based upon learning outcomes and a model that supports that vision. There are two models districts can use to put the learning first: the SAMR Model and TPACK.

The SAMR Model was developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. SAMR is an acronym for Substitution, Augementation, Modification, and Redefinition.  It is designed to provide guidance for teachers to integrate technology in a way that cialis en france will support student learning at the highest levels. Similarly, it is designed to help teachers identify the best method for integrating technology.


TPACK, or the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, framework inter-weaves the three forms for knowledge to help teachers utilize these intersections to integrate technology. Whether it be student demographics, teacher proficiency, or available technology, every situation is unique so each combination of the three forms meets a different need.  Due to the complexity and overlapping nature of this framework, it represents an amalgam of work completed by many researchers.



Districts should explore each option and compare them to other driving factors such as strategic plans and belief statements about instructional technology. This can help bring to light the option that fits best. Then, it is important to train staff on the selected model to ensure it can be applied appropriately, no matter what technology is made available to teachers and students.

by Becky Fischer

Dir. of Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment Skokie School District 73 1/2  @beckylynfischer

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Rose Beaman is a fantastic teacher at St. James in Rockford, IL and our first guest blogger!  Rose took my graduate class last week and I thought her paper about backchanneling was exceptional. I requested her permission to repost it on our blog because throughout our books we cover the topic of backchanneling k-12. Thank you Rose!


I was recently introduced to a word unfamiliar to me:  backchanneling.  It is defined as “the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside the primary group activity or live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication (Jarrett & Devine, 41).”  It is a way of communicating behind the scenes.  According to Wikipedia, the term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about the conference topic or speaker. Occasionally backchannel provides audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

Backchanneling can be a useful tool in many aspects of our lives including workplaces, extracurricular activities, nursing, education, and many more, including politics.  Matt Lauer of the Today Show in the June 28, 2017 interview with the parents of Austin Tice, a five-year Syrian captive, was quoted as saying, “The New York Times, as you know, had an article, I think it was last weekend,  about the Trump administration creating some kind of a backchannel communications with the Syrians……”  It is basically a simple method of using technology to create a conversation within an activity or event.      

As a teacher in a PreK through eighth-grade school, backchanneling could be a new technique to engage students during lessons using technology.  It is a way to easily bring them into meaningful conversations, “eliciting more thoughtful feedback and inspiring higher-order thinking skills (Jarrett & Devine, 41-44).”  It would give every student a voice, especially those quieter students, to ask questions without speaking.  For instance, if a video was shown to a class, the teacher could ask questions and then watch (read) the response of the students to decide whether or not those students understand the intended meaning or concept of what is being discussed.  Further research into backchanneling led me to many different ways to backchannel.

Google Docs allows for conversations within the classroom setting and users cannot be anonymous so the teacher will always know with whom he/she is speaking.  Any user in the conversation can solicit further information about something said by highlighting it, clicking on the “add a comment” icon on the right side of the page and ask a question, ask for clarification, or simply comment on the statement.  It is a great learning tool for Google Doc usage.

Another method to use for backchanneling is TodaysMeet.  It is found at  This source allows for all conversations and data entered to be available forever.  Only a one-word name can be used for identification purposes.  This conversation tool can be paused without closing and started again when it is needed.  In my situation, I would limit the conversation rooms to the students and faculty at my school.  I can use student and/or faculty email addresses for participation within my own school.  Closed “rooms” or conversations can be password protected and the password can be changed at any time.  TodaysMeet also has an option to mute an inappropriate conversation from others in the room without that person knowing so as not to disrupt the rest of the class.  I believe this teacher tool could be a very easy way to maintain the focus of students through questions or topic changes.

Chatzy is another option for backchanneling.  According to the site, Chatzy is a free private chat service which one can use to communicate with people you already know or people who visit your blog or website. With Chatzy one can create a chatroom and send out email invitations very quickly and easily. No registration is required.  Another article describes Chatzy as a “Free tool allows chat rooms to be created quickly. Features include Quick chat: invite people to join via email. Virtual Rooms: password protected (Choi and Hong, 367-373).”  However, it has been reported by an instructor for my class that Chatzy doesn’t always work as it was intended.

Edmodo is a communication tool that is touted as being an easy way to connect students to allow for safe collaboration, achieving organization, as well as assignment and grade accessibility.  It is designed to protect the privacy and security of students and teachers as they collaborate and share content.  According to their website, it is free for teachers and students–and always will be.

The backchanneling choice of SchoolTown according to Meg Ormiston’s book,  Creating a DigitalRich Classroom:  Teaching & Learning in a Web 2.0 World, pages 32-33, is an online learning community designed to leverage an instructor’s time with organizational and workflow tools.  The SchoolTown team is very open to educators’ suggestions and responsive to their needs.  I could not, however, access their website to get further information with regard to their options and whether or not it is a free or paid site.

 Creating a backchannel or exit ticket using Google Docs is very well explained in this screencast by langwitches.  It was an interesting parallel to note that they defined backchannel as a “digital brother of passing notes in class except that the notes are open and transparent for everyone to see”.  Within the video, they list the goals of using Google Docs for expressing thoughts as:

  • Time for reflection
  • Share what kind of support is needed
  • Process of collaborative writing and power of sharing
  • Give the facilitator or coach a point of reference of what was covered and what was heard
  • Give the coach a concrete jump off point for differentiated support
  • Participants will have the chance to see the takeaways of their colleagues, their strengths, weakness, and possible collaboration opportunities.

Continuing to teach students the many ways to use Google Docs including  interactive communication as a technology tool is a great classroom advantage for the teacher and the student.  

Backchannel Chat purports to be a real-time educational discussion tool designed with teachers in mind foremost and provides tools for teachers to manage the students and secure discussion content in an environment suited for the classroom.   No advertising or personal student information collection is a plus for this site, however those come with a cost.  

These backchanneling choices are just a few of the plethora of options available.  One has to determine the media method that would best suit his or her classroom environment and the technology available to the students.  Being in an elementary school, options suited to younger students will allow for successful communication and student engagement in our classrooms.  Monitoring the time and attention taken away from student focus on the topics will provide a learning tool for the teacher as to the success of their backchannel choice.  

Moving to NOW Classrooms

Articulating what the Now Classrooms Project is has been a challenge for me. The classrooms I envision are so different from a teacher focused classrooms in so many ways. I see a teacher-student partnership classroom with everyone learning together while they are engaged solving real world problems. This concept is really a complete shift in teaching and learning from the traditional model of school.

I made the first draft of a visual of the continuum of change. I think this document will change many times, but at least it is a starting point. There are many charter and private schools that have created schools all around the concept of the student-teacher partnership classrooms, but I want to bring that to public schools.

I understand not every teacher, administrator, school system, or community is ready for a new model of school. That is why I founded the Now Classrooms Project team to start working with the educators that are ready for the shift. I would love to hear your comments on the document.

Meg Ormiston

Founder of the Now Classrooms Project