Committed to providing contextualized support and professional development to schools using the platform to drive student achievement and support teacher learning. Her passions include women’s history and literature, vintage fashion, cats, and she hopes to stamp all 195 countries on the globe in her passport someday.
Last month, we released our newest product for schools and districts, a Responsive Curriculum Management tool that allows for collaborative, aligned curriculum development as well as access to achievement data in order to refine and improve the curriculum.
As the Kiddom design and product teams showed the school success team what these tools would look like and how they would function, I felt a pang of nostalgia and jealousy for the teacher teams and curriculum developers that would get to work their magic with these features.
I began my career in education as a high school special education teacher in 2009, and while we had some access to technology in the classroom, it was limited.
Primarily, we used our school Outlook accounts to share attachments via email. That was the way my co-teachers and I worked on unit plans and lesson materials; one of us would create a Word document with a scope and sequence or a weekly outline, mark where the other person was meant to fill in, and then we’d email updates back and forth.
It was messy, inefficient, and forced us to meet at coffee shops on weekends if we wanted to authentically collaborate.
We struggled to make the experience easy for all of the teachers on our team, and often found ourselves digging for hours through our Google Drive folders to find dated curriculum docs that matched the standards we were teaching.
A few years later, our school switched from Microsoft to Google and we started to use Google Docs for curriculum development and storage. Sure, now we didn’t have to rename and track each new version of a document that came our way, but there were still issues.
This was what the first step of scope and sequence mapping looked like in an 8-person English Language Arts team:
It was hard to process or look for alignment, too overwhelming to share with students or families, and isolated from the actual materials and resources we would be providing students.
We struggled to make the experience easy for all of the teachers on our team, and often found ourselves digging for hours through our Google Drive folders to find dated curriculum docs that matched the standards we were teaching. It’s unsurprising to me that in an MDR Market Report from 2016, teachers reported spending 12 hours a week searching for or creating curricular materials.
We decided to launch an internal curriculum development team in order to test the product, provide feedback to our teams for future versions of the product, and develop creative and authentic professional development materials for our users.
Our curriculum development team was comprised of a product manager, customer support specialists, product success managers, and was facilitated by me, the School Success Lead. My role is primarily to ensure that all schools and districts using Kiddom have the tools and training they need to effectively use the platform, so this project will be an important piece of my work this year.
…it was like being back in a curriculum planning professional development session, only better.
The first session launched this week, and it was like being back in a curriculum planning professional development session, only better. The first time around, we built curriculum focused on core literacy skills, imagining we’d be developing reading intervention curriculum for middle school students reading below grade level.
Role-playing as an English department lead (a real role I held once upon a time), I imported custom literacy standards developed based on the Common Core’s foundational reading skills and research around the seven habits of highly effective readers. I set unit descriptions, estimated instructional days, and provided my team of “teachers” with suggested resources from our Content Library and texts I’d used in the past.
Here you see a view of the units in Academy, our product for administrators.
Over the course of 90 minutes, five “teachers” (Kiddom team members spanning our Support, Success, and Product teams) added resources in the themed and leveled learning Playlists to the shared units in Planner. We then discussed what resources or assessments we would need to seek or build, and shared ideas about what could make the process even more seamlessly collaborative.
Here you see a view of the units in Planner, a feature in Kiddom Collaborative Classroom, our free app for teachers.
Here’s what we learned:
Click the image to visit our new On-Demand PD Portal
1. The School Success team learned that teachers need a clear set of guidelines and exemplar resources to confidently and successfully collaborate on curriculum, so we’re going to add a workshop about this in our On-Demand PD portal.
2. The Product team will investigate ways to support teachers in the process of developing curriculum that mirrors design thinking principles. This often starts with gathering a lot of possible resources (divergent thinking – think of all those tabs you open after a Google search for worksheets) and later narrowing down to the best idea (convergent thinking – choosing that perfect worksheet you link to your lesson plan before you go to bed on Sunday night).
3. The Customer Support team will be preparing to launch new tips and tricks on our help desk now that they understand the new platform inside and out — so they’re equipped to get to our users’ questions quickly during busy school days.
We recorded the session for our own internal use, and have listened back to the session to refine our processes. From it, we hope that engineers and product designers can learn what kinds of issues users experience when trying new software, our support team can better anticipate questions from our customers, and our school success managers can create protocols and training materials for our Academy teams.
We hope that as an ed tech team, participating in a type of professional learning community will make us more attuned to the needs of educators, more creative in how we support them, and quicker to adapt our platforms to the needs of the classroom.
You can look forward to more updates from our Curriculum Development team as part of this blog series.
Kiddom Academy picks up where the LMS leaves off, offering an operating system for K-12 schools and districts to measure and act on classroom intelligence. We define a K-12 operating system as a set of interconnected tools to enable schools to operate more productively, increase student outcomes, and improve upon their respective instructional models.
In the third of our blended learning series, we cover two models that are the best fit for classrooms with central learning labs. The individual rotation model, included under the rotation model umbrella, has students rotating between different stations and…
Sarah has 10 years of public education experience, including being a founding staff member of a STEM high school in Pennsylvania. If you're no stranger to Kiddom, you know that our curriculum sharing capabilities make working with colleagues easy, even if you can’t...
Building relationships with administrators and teachers demands thoughtful inquiry, care, and reflection
Education is awash with efforts to personalize learning. But what does it mean for a company to personalize its support for the teachers who use its product? School leader, Jordan Silvestri and Kiddom representative, Melissa Giroux, describe what it takes for an edtech company to deliver the kind of personalized experience to its customers that teachers give to their students.
Jordan Silvestri: Our school focuses on preparing our students during their final years of academic involvement to gain and hone the skills that they will need to be successful after they graduate. We started Torah Academy in September 2016 with a strong vision for how and what we want our students to learn. Every class, student interaction, social setting and community learning experience is another opportunity to help our students see their potential and grow.
After our first year of running the school, we realized that one of our major challenges involved how we were tracking students’ progress. We needed a student-centered program that would be easy to function for the teachers and bring all of our work into one place.
Melissa Giroux: Our initial planning session with Torah Academy was extremely energizing. We were excited to meet a school leader who had great clarity around his team’s strengths and goals: Jordan wanted his team to become more accustomed to using data to drive daily instruction and he wanted technology to support consistent routines so his students could become independent learners. His concrete goals made us confident we could support his staff’s day-to-day work from afar.
Working together over the course of the year, we — at Torah Academy and Kiddom — together learned three powerful lessons about how to deliver personalized support to educators:
1. Lead with Inquiry
When teachers in professional development workshops push back on learning a new tech tool or question if a new platform might mean more work instead of less, it would be easy for a principal to double down on mandates and take a hardline stance.
Empathetic leaders respond with questions: “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” or “Can you walk me through the steps you currently take?” and most importantly, “How can I help?”
When teachers hear their administration pause to learn a little bit more about them, learning becomes collaborative. Rather than fighting, they work as a team to figure out if the platform can adapt to meet the needs of a range of educators.
Companies, too, need to build that kind of inquiry into every step of their work with educators.
Educators at Torah Academy teach courses that cover everything from Common Core mathematics to Judaic studies, as well as provide services including speech therapy and vocational training. A one-size-fits-all tutorial about edtech product features wasn’t going to cut it with such diverse staff goals.
The first session between teachers and Kiddom invited the educators to express their concerns so that together we could customize the platform to their teaching styles and goals. Teachers learned how to move their existing curriculum from Google Drive into collaborative Kiddom classes. Other workshops, using the Question Formulation Technique, helped teachers frame collective inquiry goals for professional learning communities.
The Right Question Institute frames this process well: “The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school.” We believe that same kind of questioning skill should characterize how teachers interact with edtech companies.
2. Walk the Talk
There’s nothing worse than a classroom full of students staring at you as error messages prevent you from moving on with a lesson. As an administrator, I (Jordan) was worried that some of my teachers might have technical difficulties with onboarding to new technology. The “competency test” for real customer service is simply this: Will it deliver when you need it?
One teacher, in particular, had reported that as she was working to set up her class over the weekend, she hit a snag. She struggled to figure out what was going on. Finally, she contacted Kiddom through the app and had a live troubleshooting conversation on a Sunday afternoon. I was floored by both the teacher’s proactive approach — and the fact that the company walked the talk, big time!
Just as important as responding quickly is speaking the language of the people you serve. The company’s support team has grown from a collection of part-time interns into a team of former educators — people who natively speak “teacher talk” — and avoid the kind of tech jargon that can confuse just about anyone.
No school is the same. Investing the time to send a company’s support team to visit schools and observe users in the field means that teacher advocates learn how to ask questions to troubleshoot and to gain context. They are not merely following tech support flow charts and giving standard responses; they’re relying on their knowledge of pedagogy and the challenging realities of everyday teaching to frame their responses.
3. Stop and Reflect
School-based staff don’t always have time to step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities and reflect on successes and challenges. But particularly when you start a relationship with a company, educators must ask their partners: How are you measuring success?
As a school for students with special needs, Torah Academy does not use letter or number grades to assess student progress. Teachers focus on helping students master the skills they will need to be productive members of their community. This approach to assessment — with the ultimate goal of having students apply their goals to new environments and interactions — has been core to our program.
During one of our first joint meetings, the company introduced its mastery grading feature to Torah Academy teachers as if it were a new concept. Hardly the case! In response, teachers showed the Kiddom team how that construct fit right in with the school’s methodology, so that teachers could correlate lessons to goals and assess student progress in one fell swoop.
Throughout the year of working together, our joint team relied on routine check-ins to collect feedback, plan targeted professional development and to provide administrators with a sounding board for worries or celebrations.
But by mid-year, it became clear that educators were adopting the platform in very different ways and at different speeds. We consequently scheduled a mid-year professional development day. The Kiddom team spent the day working with individual teachers during their prep periods, to better differentiate and leverage relationships. Each conversation was private, which allowed for candid feedback and questions and supported individual needs. Some teachers desperately wanted more support in analyzing reports; others were still working on building classroom routines using the platform.
Building relationships between teachers and students takes thoughtful inquiry, care and reflection — and the relationship between an edtech company and the teachers who use its products demands the same. When both groups invest the time, authentic learning happens.
It is appropriate that these celebrations are days away from each other — every mom is a teacher, really, and the National Center for Education Statistics estimates 76% of teachers are women. You’ve played both roles with passion and grace throughout my life, so it’s no coincidence that both Saraand I ended up in teaching.
You modeled a love of books so masterfully that I was convinced I could read Jane Eyre at age 3
As a mom, you exemplified what it means to love learning, in and out of school. Each summer, you shuttled us to the library on the first day of vacation and encouraged us to borrow as many books as we could carry (and we did). When you woke us up at three in the morning to watch a meteor shower, or dented the bumper of your car trying to get us a closer look at a wild turkey, we learned to appreciate the science all around us. I’ll never forget the summer experiments making sunprints in the front yard, or collecting only the best and brightest autumn leaves to preserve them before they crumbled (my partner still doesn’t really understand why you sent us leaves in the mail last October). Remember how sometimes friends showed up at our house for school project supplies because they knew “Momma G” would have pipe cleaners and hot glue guns ready for action?
Sometimes you say, “I know I’m not a real teacher…” when we’re discussing education policy, and I can’t begin tell you how wrong you are. You can’t go to our hometown grocery store without being surrounded by kiddos and their parents shouting “Mrs. Kathy,” like Glinda the Good Witch surrounded by the munchkins in Oz. They love you because you pushed them to explore, to question, to create. You even teach a class called “Let’s Get Messy” — there is nothing more revolutionary than encouraging young people to make mistakes by making a mess. You bring endless curiosity to the preschool baking, science, and art classes you teach, despite low pay and lack of access to resources. In fact, one of my favorite memories of you is hearing your purse clank and rattle as you bolted from the garden at a strip mall where you had taken perfectly smooth stones for your students to paint as a project. A teacher’s resourcefulness knows no bounds.
I asked Dad about his funniest memories of you collecting materials for classes, and he reminded me of the time he cut his feet at the beach trying to find you perfect shells for a lesson in marine biology, or when he scaled the side of our house to get you an abandoned bird’s nest so you could show your class how it was constructed. When you’ve thought of just the right craft or project to connect your kids to Van Gogh, the constellations, or the science of baking, the sparkle in your eye is contagious, and you’ve brought us all along for the ride.
I find myself mimicking you when I engage with young children, from kneeling on the floor so I can be at their level and help them feel comfortable to asking lots of questions instead of giving answers. I hope to have half the impact on young people over my career that you’ve had in your 20+ years of innovative teaching.
I love you, and the googly eyes and glitter that cover the floor of your car. You’ve taught me more than I can express, and the kids of Guilford are lucky indeed.
I love you, momma.
P.S. Don’t get mad at me for publishing this on the internet! You can’t ground me anymore 😉
Going on spring (or even summer) break doesn’t mean that students have to turn off their brains. One analysis in the Review of Educational Research found that students can lose as much as a month of learning during school breaks, and teachers know how difficult it can be to rebuild academic routines after time off.
Creating flexible, creative assignments for students to work on over a school vacation can help them imagine new worlds, stay connected to their classrooms, and stay mentally active. Here are some ways you can use Kiddom to facilitate these types of assignments, so your students can keep learning and you can take some well-deserved rest.
Send your Students on a Virtual Vacation
Google Arts and Culture allows the public to access high-resolution images of artworks, take a virtual walk through real museums around the world, or look at thematic collections of exhibits — all for free!
Choose a specific museum, work of art, or theme and send to you your students with open-ended questions for them to explore and reflect. Or, send them the link to the overall site and let them choose their own adventure! Find even more tips for incorporating art in our teacher-developed arts guidefocused on standards-based, interdisciplinary instruction.
Everything is bundled into one Kiddom assignment: (1) a teacher-created assessment via Google Drive and (2) a link to a Google Arts and Culture exhibit
Each student submits their work separately via the Google Drive attachment
Pause to Journal and Reflect
Break is a good time for students to dig into social emotional skills while they take a step back from a purely academic focus. Kiddom’s Google Drive integration allows you to send journaling prompts to your class, and Kiddom automatically makes a copy for each student to write their individual reflections. You can also have students reflect on their own progress towards mastery using the reports that they find in their Kiddom dashboards. You can even align these assignments to CASEL’s standards to track progress towards healthy social emotional development.
This folder, created automatically by Kiddom when sending an assignment, gives each student an individual copy of the journaling assignment to save you time
Send Content for Remediation or Exploration
Ahead of break, take a look at your mastery reports in Kiddom and pick one or two standards for students to work on. You can search for these topics or standards to find extension or remediation resources and assign directly to the students who need them.
Kiddom library of free curriculum and teaching resources
Each of these suggestions can be reworked to fit your class needs with Kiddom’s flexible assignment structure and student-centered communication tools. Comment on assignments as your students work, and keep consistency going so the re-adjustment is a little smoother on the Monday after break.
In the months since launching our school and district pilot program, the Kiddom team has collectively spent thousands of hours meeting with administrators to better understand their workflows, facilitate contextualized staff workshops, and support ongoing partnerships. Our goal? To build Kiddom Academy, a platform that allows every stakeholder in a school community to be connected and informed to drive student achievement.
We’ve learned so much from these passionate educators about what makes a school leader successful in driving achievement, and which qualities act as barriers to school success. With the goal of helping school leaders reflect and refine their practices, we’ve distilled our learning into three model administrator profiles — and two not-so-great ones. We share these learnings not to pass judgement, but in the hope of supporting the needs of teachers and students everywhere.
Our strongest partnerships with the greatest teacher engagement to drive student mastery all stemmed from leaders who fit a combination of these three profiles:
These leaders understand their staff strengths and growth areas, and leverage strong relationships. Empathizers frequently check the ‘temperature’ of their staff to ensure a balanced workload and plan responsive professional development. In our partnerships, these leaders carefully select education technology tools that leverage the skill sets that individual teachers and teams are developing rather than add another layer of work to busy teacher days.
Visionary leaders set aspirational goals for their teams and communicate them clearly. Because visionaries understand that large scale change doesn’t happen overnight, they plan intentionally for incremental steps towards a larger objective and set aside time for reflection to refine — sometimes over the course of several school years. Many of these leaders choose to pilot tools with small groups of teachers, distill learnings, and then use exemplar artifacts from within the school community to bring new strategies to life for the whole school community. These leaders react to failure with coaching and reflective data analysis rather than negative consequences.
In some of our partnerships, administrators met with us for only a few minutes before seamlessly handing off partnership responsibilities to teacher leaders. While this might seem like an overly hands-off approach, we often found that this staff development strategy led to increased buy-in from teachers and a quicker onboarding process. Principals are not just instructional coaches, but also CFOs, public relations managers, and human resources reps. They simply can’t do it all alone, which is why it’s smart to grow your capacity by building leadership skills in staff. This plan can also prevent staff turnover and foster more collaborative relationships between team members.
Unfortunately, not every school has had the opportunity to bring new tools to their teams due to constraints on time, money, and other factors. Many of the principals we’ve met along the way have had lofty goals for their schools, but struggled to implement them with unsuccessful leadership styles. Here are some models to avoid.
On occasion, we meet with an administrator who makes decisions swiftly and unilaterally, without regard for the current staff skill or student mastery levels. In professional development workshops at these kinds of schools, we heard teachers talking fearfully about what their administrators would be able to see in their accounts, and compliance-based worries about completion of tasks rather than real learning. The key difference between the authoritarian and the visionary was a lack of support for teachers to reach the mandated goals and the punitive consequences for not doing so.
The Impulse Shopper
There are a lot of edtech products out there with convincing sales pitches using trendy buzzwords. We have met principals who go for sparkle over function and fit, and choose separate software to solve every problem facing the school community. Adding tool after tool on top of standard teacher responsibilities causes a whole host of problems. Teachers don’t have time to learn the logistics of each one, and then abandon them, which means wasting precious school funds. Student data becomes fragmented and can become difficult to use in meaningful interventions. When tools are purchased based on marketing materials, they don’t necessarily align to long-term school goals; every year becomes another swing of the pendulum for staff — leading to change fatigue.
The Bottom Line
We share these learnings not to put anyone down, but to share what we’ve had the privilege to witness at schools around the country. We hope that these lessons help school administrators reflect on their leadership style and better support their teachers and students. Based on these experiences, we’ve built Kiddom Academy for schools and districts to include actionable, aggregate data and curriculum controls to help administrators coach, plan, empower, and experiment with intention. Plus, ongoing partnerships with our experienced success team means contextualized support and intentional planning throughout the year.