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Aug 10, 2022

Back to School: Finding Balance Between Personalized Learning, Tech

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It can't be stressed enough how impactful technology is in the modern-day classroom. But, in spite of all the features, digital tools can't replace a good teacher. Therefore, schools must help educators get comfortable around technology because using it drives better results.

In this episode of EdTech Heroes, our host Nef Dukes welcomes Alice Keeler, a math teacher, EdTech influencer, and author. They discuss technology in the classroom, personalized learning, and the importance of data in creating a curriculum. Alice also shares why good work-life balance is a prerequisite for becoming an excellent teacher. 


👋 Name: Alice Keeler

👩‍💻What she does: Alice is a teacher, author, and EdTech influencer.

🏫 Company: Teacher Tech

✍️ Noteworthy: Alice is a high school math teacher. She's also a Google Certified Innovator, Microsoft Innovative Educator, a Google Cloud Innovator Champion, a Google Developer Expert, and the founder of CoffeeEDU.

📱Where to find Alice: LinkedIn | Twitter

Key insights

Technology can't replace a good teacher. However, no one denies that digital tools make teachers' lives easier and enable them to achieve good results in the classroom. Still, no matter how advanced or expensive technology is, your students need a personalized approach — a teacher who knows how to bring the lessons closer to them. ''Education comes from making connections to your learning — feeling that you can make a difference with it.

You can apply it and use it somewhere. And that doesn't come from a robot, and that's not going to happen anytime soon. You need a highly qualified person who knows every student and what adjustments they can make. [...] I hope we can come up with some solutions that are more creative to allow every student to have someone who cares about them and is able to use and leverage technology to treat each kid as an individual, rather than a progress bar.''

Education systems should become more data-driven. Information is the most valuable asset in the modern-day world. Successful are those who know how to use it. Teachers are no different, as reviewing past experiences helps determine what brings good results.

''Having the data to know that it did or didn't work is going to take me to that next level. I have some level of support to look at. ‘Okay, these are what my students engaged in. These are the students who are successful. These students are not successful, and everyone has a different reason for not being successful.’ So do I repackage the whole lesson again for everybody to do the same thing, or do I think, 'Okay, some students were successful at this, so let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Let's also provide some options and choices so I can help all students to be successful.' And then, I'm looking at the current data. If students aren't being successful at something, do I write down a score and think, 'Well, I hope to do better next time,' or do we think, ‘How could I adjust and modify something to bring those students up?’''

We need a good work-life balance to be good teachers. Every teacher would agree that teaching is a 24/7 job. Still, as Alice says, such a 'sacrifice' doesn't indicate that someone is a good teacher. On the contrary, the best teachers know there's life outside the classroom.

''Parkinson's Law says that a task will take as long as you give it. So if you have three hours to complete the task, it'll take three hours. If you have three weeks to complete the task, it'll take three. So, if you restrict your work hours and say, 'I'm only working these days, I'm not working on Sundays, and I'm only doing a couple of hours on Saturday.'

The only exceptions being like, 'I have to be there for back-to-school night.' So, besides contractual obligations, stick to it; you'll be surprised how productive you can be when you say, 'Nope, I cannot work outside these hours. I'm gonna collaborate, get resources from others, and focus on listening to my students and making adaptations.' That's gonna be the key to having a successful year.''

Related episode

Adam Juarez discusses the importance of the 4C's (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking) in designing lessons. Listen below!

Episode highlights

Alice in ‘spreadsheet land’ 📊

''I like to say that the answer is always a spreadsheet. I have stickers that say that the answer is always a spreadsheet. I'm passionate about data. I think the right data helps us to connect better with students. 

And data is not a four-letter word. All data is a four-letter word. When we can control and manipulate our information, we can do our jobs faster and better. And so, I'm passionate about sharing spreadsheets with people, how easy they are to use, and they are a solution to a lot of problems. But more than that, I'm passionate about students and how we can interact better with them.''

What counts as personalized learning 🙋

''The student has a choice. There's a teacher or someone who's able to make adjustments to the pace and what is assigned, to swap some things out, or to say, 'I'm giving you credit for this. I was able to give you an alternative assessment.'

That's something we do as teachers. They didn't do well on a paper test. So I sit down and have a conversation with them. Maybe they can talk me through it. Maybe they can do a project, but a personalized learning system should have student input. It should have student interests integrated into it, and it should have the ability to be flexible.''

Advice for teachers as new year approaches💡

''If you are able to get hold of a list of students and parents who are in your class, call them. I have gone and knocked on their doors. Meet people and ask them, 'What are your concerns? Tell me about the community and things that you guys are excited about. Where do you go on vacation? What's your perspective on the school? Tell me about your kid.'

You don't have to call everybody but who you are having conversations with. Knowing the community and what kind of things resonate isn't gonna happen because you researched the town on the internet.

Start with having a conversation with the principal. Interview some of the other teachers. But getting out and talking to your stakeholders about who they are, what they value, what's important to them, and their goals — and at least trying. You can't do everything. So let's set one goal.''

Technology alone isn't going to make you a better teacher 🛠

''If the solution to your problem is that you need another tech tool, that's probably not the right solution. So I recommend that you buddy up. When we talk about your PLN, you have a group of close people that you interact with.

That's not your Facebook group. Your Facebook group is a good place to find people and invite them to have a personal conversation. So a Facebook group is great because I love seeing the resources. People are sharing their suggestions. 

But when you put something on there, it's either off-topic or overwhelming, it's not something you have access to, and then you're not sure where to go. So that's where we're coming back to the buddy system. You're like, 'Hey, I got one solid person that I make a point of meeting with regularly and say, ‘These are the things that I saw.' And we talk through it, and you make a decision.

You need three tech tools. You need to learn and focus on three things, and then asking the right questions about how you use them is the key.''

Highly quotable

[03:49] ''Teaching is a creative endeavor, and when we take creativity out of education, that's when we enjoy our jobs less. You wanna know why teachers are leaving in droves? There are a lot of reasons — that's a long list — but one of them is that we've sucked the fun out of teaching in the sense that we used to have autonomy over our class.''

[23:52] ''The teaching community is so generous, so don't limit yourself. Find a solid group of people you get together with and meet regularly. Share, divide, conquer, and commiserate together. There are great parts to teaching and then times when you need a hug. And that's probably true about a lot of professions. But having a support system — you're not gonna make it if you don't have that.''

[36:39] ''Who are the people who are not complaining about teaching but are solution-driven that you can come back to later? So find someone who's there to help you not burn out or feel overwhelmed. I have some friends that are awesome. But when you ask them something, I'm more overwhelmed than when I talk to you. They've got 10,000 suggestions.

So who is telling you, 'You need to put your work away. You've worked enough today!' And that doesn't have to be a teacher. Who's helping you keep that accountability that you have a life outside of teaching? And it's not just okay; it's a requirement. You can't be the best teacher. You can't be rested if you don't set boundaries and need someone to help you because teaching keeps sucking [energy out of] you because you are never done.''

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