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.
Sara went to Syracuse University to get her undergraduate degree in secondary science education. While teaching, she realized how many students with disabilities were flying under the radar and not receiving the air that they needed from teachers. She decided to attend Southern Connecticut State University to get her Master's in special education with a concentration in assistive technology.
One of the toughest things about working with high school students, especially those on the autism spectrum (as parents and teachers who work with these students will tell you), can be teaching them about accountability. Not just teaching students to take accountability for their own actions, but also helping the adults that work with them model it to support their students. Finding a tool that requires teachers, students, and even parents to accept responsibility can be tricky. This is why I use Kiddom, so I can make everyone accountable without adding any extra work for myself.
Holding Students Accountable
One of the primary goals of my school is to prepare students for independent life. This doesn’t just mean teach them enough to pass tests and get into college. We also work on their social skills, executive functioning skills, strategies to cope when they are struggling emotionally, and much more. In order to grow in any of these areas, students must take accountability for themselves. If they don’t see a problem, how can we expect them to fix it?
Kiddom allows students to be in the driver’s seat with their schoolwork. Not only do they have access to all assignments electronically (no more “my dog ate my homework excuses” accepted in my tech-friendly classroom) but they have the opportunity to take the initiative and ask for help, even when I am not standing in front of them. From day one, the expectation for my students has been that if they are struggling with a homework assignment, they are to try their hardest and let me know ahead of time if they were unable to complete it, otherwise they were not going to get credit. Kiddom allows them to stick to that expectation and take accountability over their learning.
Keeping Teachers Accountable
Practice what you preach — we’ve all heard the saying, but it’s not so easy to do. If our goal is to get our students to take accountability for their work, teachers must do the same. In the same way you add students to Kiddom, your class codes can be shared with other adults at the school too. In this way, teachers are responsible for responding to and have easy access to student data and work.
Each teacher at my school has a learning specialist that partners with us to make sure that what we choose to teach and how we choose to teach it is the best fit for our population of students with ASD. I have seen teachers who don’t quite “get” some of our students and therefore have trouble meeting their needs. Again, this is where Kiddom holds adults accountable andsupports their professional development. I can share my class codes for Kiddom with my learning specialist, and they can see exactly what assignments I am giving to my students. I am held accountable for assigning appropriate work for my students, as well as differentiating assignments for students who need it. This way, when we meet as a group of teachers each Monday, my learning specialist already knows what is going on and can give me feedback along the way before it’s too late and a student falls through the cracks. Teachers can also share classes to really make sure we know what every student is working on in each class. This way, I can help them with their math homework at night, even though I am not their math teacher, because I can see exactly what work they have been assigned. I also see when they get assigned extra work in their humanities class, so I may assign them less work in science so as not to overwhelm them in one day. Kiddom allows us to truly share our work with our supervisors and fellow teachers on an ongoing basis so hopefully no more students fall through the cracks.
Keeping Parents Accountable
I work at a boarding school, so I have the additional responsibility of acting as proxy parent, seeing my students at night, and checking in to ask them if they have done their homework. This year, I have a day student as well, so I have to rely on the parents to push their daughter to complete her work. Kiddom really helps me with this as well.
At the start of this school year, my day student got very behind quickly, and her father said that he had no idea what homework she was supposed to be doing, and that she had just told him she had finished it already. We quickly learned that we had to work especially hard on getting this student to take accountability for herself. We were able to explain to him how Kiddom works, that he could easily see assignments that she had, ones that were late and if they had been handed in or not. He was able to take some steps to support her and ensure that she really was doing her work and staying up to date.
For students who are still struggling to be self-advocates, their parents can double check the work that needs to be done via their student’s account, as well as call their child out when they say they’re done. This also puts an extra piece of accountability onto the student, with one more adult pushing them to do what they need to do on their own.
Accountability is a huge piece of the very complicated student puzzle. It can be the turning point for a student who is struggling in all aspects of school to start to see growth in herself and therefore keep working and pushing. If our students can see the adults in their lives being held accountable and accepting that, we will see so much more in our students than we may have thought.
P.S. Want to dive right in? Click here to access a demo class!
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There is no shortage of news about schools adopting and then quickly abandoning new technology, curriculum, or assessment frameworks. Change is constant in education policy.
As federal and state administrations shift and new research comes out, school leaders race to keep up with trends and purchase or adopt the next best thing. But this ever-swinging pendulum moves at the expense of teacher buy-in and professional training, and the ‘guinea pigs’ of these experiments, our students, can only stand to lose. Often, the failure of an initiative isn’t a reflection of the tool or strategy itself, but the plan for implementing it.
Change fatigue is defined as “a general sense of apathy or passive resignation towards organizational changes by individuals or teams.” Every time a school or district decides to change a curriculum providers, an assessment system, update a gradebook, or adopt new software (and hardware), teachers are going to get increasingly tired, checked-out, or resistant. This is bad for professional development and damaging to kids.
With so many stakeholders involved, and with such high stakes, new initiatives led by school and district leaders must be planned with four key things: vision, time, communication, and reflection.
Have a Clear Vision
What is your goal for using a new tool or strategy? You’d be surprised how many school administrators choose curriculum or other education technology based on brilliant sales pitches instead of first developing objectives and goals for seeking new tools.
Just as teachers are asked to set objectives for learning, administrators should know exactly their intended outcomes before moving their whole school community in a new direction.
Be Mindful of Time
Be more intentional in launching organizational change. Do not select a new system or tool in August, roll it out to your whole staff in September, and expect immediate buy-in and impact.
Build a planning committee made up of a diverse range of stakeholders — parents, students, teachers, and administrators will all bring unique perspectives and needs to the process. This will help you develop a clear action plan for which resources and supports your community will need.
In all likelihood, seeing the results you’re hoping for will take longer than a single school year. Do your research and plan backwards. For example, if you expect all classrooms to effectively adopt 1:1 technology in three school years, you might use year 1 to pilot with a small team of teachers and cull best practices, use year 2 to have successful pilot users train the larger community, and by year 3, your whole community will have had time to train, internalize, and integrate new practices seamlessly into their workflow.
We can’t emphasize enough the importance of setting aside time for staff training and collaboration when adopting new school-wide practices. Without space to safely take risks, refine their practice, and learn from each other, teachers will only implement new tools at the surface level or not at all.
No matter how strong your plan is, if you’re the only one who understands it, it will fail. Ensure that all stakeholders are able to participate through clear and frequent communication.
Build buy-in and encourage feedback with surveys and town halls. Invite your community to participate in the decision making process, test possible tools, and discuss obstacles to implementation.
Develop shared language and help everyone get on the same page — keep an ongoing glossary public for all in your community to be able to communicate effectively and ask questions.
Reflect, Reflect, Reflect
In some cases, as soon as any data, whether reliable or not, indicates a new plan “isn’t working,” schools tend to abandon ship.
Make space for reflection and fine-tuning to adjust course. Collect diverse sets of data to allow for deep root-cause analysis. Anecdotal information from teachers, student achievement data, and community surveys will all highlight different barriers to success.
How do I start?
Despite the possible pitfalls of too much change, at Kiddom, wedon’t believe school leaders should shy away from evidence-based, carefully planned initiatives. In fact, we’ve developed specific resources to support this work with educators around the United States. In this excerpt from Blended Learning 101, we offer some considerations for administrators and teachers transitioning to a new teaching and learning model:
1. Prepare for internet issues (infrastructure and technology). A reliable Internet connection and sufficient bandwidth are vital.
2. On-site IT support and backup plans are critical to buffer schools from the inevitable technology issues.
3. Blended learning coordinators played an important role in supporting schools’ adoption of blended learning.
4. Establishing productive, self-directed learning cultures is important for students to fully benefit from online learning.
5. Single sign-on portals can allow even very young children to quickly access online programs.
6. Teachers’ satisfaction with training associated with the adoption of the blended learning model varied by site.
1. Determine your technological requirements and constraints. How are you planning to use technology? How prepared are you to take advantage of the technology addition? Do you have enough devices or know how to get more?
2. Explore how other educators are implementing blended learning in their classroom and decide what works best for you. There is a video directory of blended learning in action that features different blended learning methods.
3. Get excited about enhancing your curriculum! This is an opportunity to hone your craft: you can revive the joy of teaching that can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day. Finding the right tools to support the procedural skill development to allow you to plan engaging projects is an important part of this process. Try not to feel like you need to reinvent the wheel or record countless videos of yourself (unless you absolutely love it).
Were you thinking about adopting blended learning initiatives at your school or district? A successful blended learning program is the intentional integration of educational technology within classrooms to enhance the learning process. Implementation can take many forms.
Another exciting year of teaching and learning is underway. And while a new school year can elicit mixed feelings, it also inspires educators and school leaders with a desire to try and experiment with new tools, systems, and pedagogies to make strides and improve upon last year.
Introducing the Kiddom Pilot Program for Schools and Districts
This year, Kiddom is also offering something new: a pilot program to help schools and districts meet their goals with custom intelligence reports, administrative controls, a tailored onboarding experience, and ongoing pedagogical support.
Last year, Kiddom helped tens of thousands of teachers across the United States improve their classroom experience with a set of interconnected, user-friendly tools. Today, teachers rely on Kiddom’s reports because they’re visual and actionable, offering beautiful analytics to fine-tune instruction. Teachers love Kiddom’s library because it saves them time by giving them easy access to free resources (e.g. videos, quizzes, and readings) from top-notch curriculum providers. Our Google Drive integration removes the need for teachers to use Google Classroom. And of course, students use Kiddom to access all of their assignments, feedback, and progress from one place, on their own terms.
We’ve been laser focused on the classroom experience and it’s paid off. However, we believe it takes a village to raise a child. If we don’t connect the various stakeholders involved in a child’s education, then we’re not meeting our full potential.
Kiddom’s pilot program helps schools and districts plan, assess, and analyze learning more effectively as learning communities.
Our pilot program offers school and district leaders the opportunity to measure the pulse of teaching and learning in their community, beyond a single classroom. Participants receive custom intelligence reports to identify strengths and areas to improve across school(s), as well as a toolset to make timely interventions. School and district-level controls allow administrators to set up community-level preferences, rubrics, standards, and more. Schools and districts also received a tailored onboarding experience and a dedicated support specialist. We also work with the pilot school/district to design custom professional development resources and experiences. Pilot program teachers, principals, and district administrators also get to shape Kiddom: they take part in product feedback sessions where their input informs future Kiddom features and services. These benefits and services are free for pilots — it’s the least we can do.
Unfortunately, there are a limited number of spots available. We’ve already accepted a range of schools, districts, and non-profit organizations. If reading this got you excited, the best way to get started is to complete this pilot program interest form as soon as possible. If your organization meets our requirements and you’d rather get something on your calendar soon, schedule a call with us so we can learn more about your community’s goals and initiatives.
Features and services for pilot schools and districts:
Teamwork makes the dream work!
Custom class, school, and district-level intelligence reports
Well-designed and differentiated curriculum allows students to more meaningfully connect with content, but designing it can be cumbersome. That’s why at Kiddom, we’re excited to give teachers a sneak peek at what we’ve been working on: curated playlists.
Why curate playlists?
One of the hardest things about planning a blended learning class is finding the right instructional materials. As teachers, we develop and own our teaching style. It’s hard to give up your “teacher identity” by accepting videos or resources created by someone else. Some teachers (admittedly, like us) have spent countless hours recording and editing themselves. While that may feel truer to your teaching practice, it’s difficult to sustain given the time (and resource) constraints of school. The alternative, finding the right resource aligned to your students’ needs, can be equally time consuming. We can’t tell you how many hours of educational videos and songs we’ve watched to find the best fit for our classes.
So why bother if it’s so difficult? Well, one generalized lesson per day to address the “average” student doesn’t do enough to meet the diverse needs of every student in the classroom. It’s also difficult to support soft skills like self-management and curiosity when you’re teaching one lesson to the entire class. This is why we’re thoughtfully curating curriculum resources for you. We encourage you to be familiar with the resources we’ve gathered, but we hope to earn your trust in the quality resources we pulled together to meet your students’ unique needs. We’re dedicated to helping you find more time to connect with and inspire students.
To get all of our curated playlists, click here. Then copy and paste the assignments directly into Kiddom’s Planner.
How do we evaluate our playlists?
Our playlists are peer-reviewed and checked for rigor, flow, and alignment.
FLOW: How well do the topics move from one lesson to the next?
RIGOR: Are the tasks at an appropriate grade level to be accessible and still provide a challenge. Do the tasks require conceptual understanding and application of content?
STANDARDS ALIGNMENT: Are the assessments and standards clearly aligned? Does the content align to multiple standards? How well does the content span across grade levels and across content?
How do we select resources?
Each group of resources, which we’re calling a playlist, is thoughtfully curated to include the best options for learning and practicing a new skill. When selecting resources for playlists, we’re looking for content that meets the criteria for Universal Design for Learning (UDL), “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” We look for lessons that provide multiple means of representation such as audio, visual, and text support. We seek activities to practice those skills that provide multiple means of engagement by optimizing relevance through real life application. Finally, we designed culminating assessments to support planning and strategy development, optimize individual choice and autonomy, use multiple media for communication, and develop self-assessment and reflection.
As a free platform, we first seek the best free resources so that they’re universally accessible. But we also incorporate resources from providers based on teacher request. We also include resources that have limited free practices or a free trial version.
Create your own playlist:
We’d love your feedback on this month’s featured playlists. Are they useful? Are they effective? How would you use them?
We’re building Kiddom to be a place where teachers and learners can work together effortlessly, no matter where they are. Today, we’re proud to release our first version of an iOS app that supports both teachers and learners. Our latest iOS app (optimized for iPhone and iPad) makes it easier than ever for teachers to plan, assess, and analyze student work. But most importantly, this is an app that students can use too, making it an effective way for 21st century students to stay organized, submit work, and get feedback in a timely manner.
Educators love Kiddom because we connect directly to premium, standards-aligned content. With our latest iOS app, teachers can browse and assign any of this content directly from their iOS devices.
Moving forward, a teacher doesn’t have to wait to get in front of a computer to browse Khan Academy’s videos for a student that requested additional guidance on a particular topic. A teacher that is assigned to cafeteria duty can still browse CK-12’s real-world activities to find the most appropriate exercise for students that are ready to apply what they learned in the previous class. And teachers that can’t access a computer because they share a room can still peruse CommonLit’s news articles, short stories, poems, and historical documents directly from the app. Yeah, we’d say teaching and learning just got a little more convenient.
21st Century Students Rely on Instant Feedback
Grading student work can grow to become a daunting exercise this season as quarters, trimesters, semesters, and all sorts of grading periods start to wrap-up. With our latest iOS app, teachers can assess student work and share critical feedback instantaneously.
Students are free to ask their teachers questions on assignments in real-time from the convenience of their own iOS device. The ability for learners to learn on their own time and ask clarifying questions in-the-moment helps create a productive, continuous learning cycle. If students don’t have to wait until they physically see their teachers to get questions answered, then they’re free to learn more and get more done on their own time. We think that’s beautiful.
So, What’s Next?
We’re excited about this first version of a teacher and student iOS app, but we realize there’s more work to be done. We’ll continue to build more functionality for the iOS app over the next several months. In the meantime, download the app and let us know what you think in the comments.
Kiddom’s mission is to unlock potential for all teachers and learners. With today’s iOS app launch, we’re excited to get one step closer to a world where teachers have the time to inspire students and students have the ability to learn on the device they’re most comfortable with, on their own terms.