Education, Learning and Development, Technology

Teacher Tools

Happy Quarantine!


While I am targeting this post to the many teachers who are figuring out how to reach their students through virtual classes, it is good information for anyone working virtually with others. There are a number of free applications and programs. There are even more subscription services.  For today, here is a list of things to check out.  This list was provided to me by a program coordinator at UNCC (The University of North Carolina at Charlotte). My favorites are in color.


PowerPoint:  Yes, I know. We have all experienced torture by PowerPoint.  Do not underestimate the power of PowerPoint!  It is a VERY simple tool to do so many things. You can create presentations of course, simple and fast infographics, and other things you may not have tried.  Sometimes I need an infographic to be animated in my video. Rather than build it in my video program, I create the graphic in PPT, add some animation, then save as an MP4!  It cuts the time in half.  

ScreenCast-o-Matic: Present your instruction and add yourself in the picture so students feel a little more connected.  

Animoto: Turns your photos and video clips into professional video slideshows in minutes.  (

Flipgrid: Students record short videos and can reply to each other’s videos. Educators are 100% in control with video moderation and access controls. (

HP Reveal (Used to be Aurasma):  Video; take document and record a video- record a video over text. (

Infogram: Helps with creating infographics (

Kahoot:  Kahoot! A free game-based learning platform that makes it fun to learn – any subject, in any language, on any device, for all ages! (

Lucid Chart App that is available in a browser; great for charts to put in presentations or share. Sometimes you just need a good chart. (

Lumen PDF: Allows you to work with PDF documents, sign and edit. 

Pixton: Create comics and storyboards (

Pixtochart: Creating infographics

Post it Plus: Capture Post-It notes on a wall or flipchart with your smartphone, then edit and reorganize your notes in the app.

Takes the momentum from your collaboration sessions and keeps it rolling. Simply capture your notes, organize and then share with everyone. It’s that easy. When you’re finished with an arrangement, you tap to either share the board via text, email, social media or other apps you use like Dropbox or Evernote, or you can export the board to PDF, PowerPoint, Excel, .zip, or the Post-It Plus app’s own file type.

Powtoons: I love this one!  Use their free account – takes 5 minutes, can’t change characters, but very user friendly; create animated videos; combine characters, music, graphics; they will do voice-overs.

Sway: Microsoft and it’s free. A simple web-page style. Great to create and share interactive reports, presentations, stories.  Excellent for building an assignment and including all resources in one place. While I do not like the limited customization, I found it excellent to use for research type assignments. I used Sway to outline instructions, requirements, share related content and videos, and add questions on the research material- all on the same project page.  If you have used Discovery Education’s assignment builder it is similar in look and feel.  

Google Classroom and Google’s suite of products. It is much more user friendly than Microsoft and allows you to interact with those collaborating in a document or presentation.


Good luck teachers. I know it is difficult. I know you are being asked to do more with less. What else is new? Just remember a few things:  You can do it!  You are not going to break it. If it fails, you tried and that is a great lesson to teach too!  Hang in there. Stay healthy. Wash your hands.


Live life. Give joy. Be at peace…while social distancing.


Career, Education, Empowerment, Learning and Development, Self Improvement


If you’re not coachable, how can you be a good coach? When you think you can’t learn something from someone or an event, you won’t and that’s a dangerous place to be.

Coachability means employees have an awareness of those around them and how they impact them positively or negatively. Coachable employees are also willing to relinquish control to improve their work performance and accept feedback without becoming ruffled, angry, or dejected.

According to coachable people share five different traits.

  • Humility
  • Willingness to action
  • Purity of purpose
  • Willingness to surrender control
  • Faith

Coachable people recognize they still have something to learn and they can’t always learn it on their own. They are willing to make changes and are more interested in personal growth for the sake of growth rather than pure financial or power gain. A driving force for the success of a coachable person is the willingness to accept being coached, even if they can’t immediately see results. They accept that change and self-improvement is a journey and have faith that the time and effort will be worth it.

According to a Huffington Post article by Laura Di Franco, What it Means to be Coachable, coachability is a key element of success in health, happiness, and attitude. We’ve all experienced those who feel they have nothing to gain from a workshop or they’ve been doing something so long that checking for a new way isn’t worth the time. The negativity is frustrating. It can also be contagious.

Being coachable doesn’t mean you have surrendered and don’t have an opinion of your own. It means you have the awareness, perseverance and determination to seek out someone to help you be better.

Huffpost:What it Means to be Coachable

Self improvement is hugely satisfying and can have both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits. By being coachable one can improve their own coaching. Coachability is not just for those starting out, it is a trait to be embraced at all levels of an organization. Everyone has something they can teach you, and everyone has something they can learn from someone else.

Education, Instructional Design, Learning and Development

Training: Manageable, Memorable, Measurable

Why have a training program?

It’s simple, employees desire opportunities.  Learning and development provides opportunities for employees to gain skills, acquire positive behaviors, grow knowledge, and become empowered in their jobs.  Effective training improves retention as employees feel that they can learn and grow in their role.   To be effective, training initiatives must clearly define goals and objectives, and communicate those to participants.

Effective training is manageable, memorable, and measurable and it starts before the training session ever begins. Design and Development of the learning program requires time and evaluation. Obstacles to effective training must be anticipated. Goals and competencies must be established before content can be created.  Why is the training important? Who is the audience? What is the desired result? How will the results be measured? What is the best format to use?  Does the content meet the goals and adjectives? Will the content and method of implementation achieve the desired result?  These questions should be repeatedly addressed in the development process.  After delivery it is important to evaluate the training from both a presentation standpoint, and receive feedback from participants. Review the feedback, document results, and strive to improve the next time. It should be a learning and development cycle and it does not stop.

Training can rarely be thrown together and effective without careful development, addressing the questions above.  The half-hearted approach will be recognized by the participant.  Training also should not be like drinking from the fire hose. There must be a reasonable schedule with time to digest the content. We’ve all sat through marathon learning sessions and walked away overwhelmed, retaining virtually nothing. A jam-packed agenda with no opportunities to digest content is counterproductive. Training sessions have to be manageable. Breaking content into chunks with breaks for both discussion and pause are essential.

Participants need REAL application of content and need to interact/reflect on it for the content to “stick”.  Interactive game based learning isn’t just more interesting and engaging, it works.  Blended learning strategies offer a show, do, review approach. The participant engages multiple senses, and therefore increases content retention.  In person training should have interactive components as well. Show/Do/Review makes training memorable.

Learners need to be engaged and able to connect learning to their day-to-day life. Building engagement involves building interest, identifying how to make the learning content relevant, and delivering content in a way that is appealing and promotes retention. If well executed the learning becomes authentic and important to the participant. They are then motivated to engage, seek further knowledge, and to implement what they have learned.

Learning must be measurable.  If you can’t or won’t measure effectiveness, what’s the point?  Just to say it is done?  So many times this is the case and employees know it and training completion becomes just another box to check, which leads to inattention and no retention. Without measurability there is no way to see what works and what does not. What may be fun and engaging, may not solve the problem.

What makes training effective?  Essentially, the little things add up.  A strong, well-organized learning program with sound principles and objectives is ineffective if the environment is uncomfortable and riddled with distractions.  If learners are participating strictly to check a box, little of value will be taken away.  Negativity breeds negativity. If training is poorly planned and poorly executed, it is a waste of time for everyone involved. The training environment must be conducive to learning. Basic human needs must be considered. Snacks and breaks are important. Goals, objectives, and implementation strategy work in tandem with participants and place to build an effective training.

Best Practices, Education, Learning and Development

A Few Presentation Tips

For years I attended teacher training seminars. Many were laughable. Someone who hadn’t been in a classroom for years stood in front of a room full of teachers reading a PowerPoint about how to teach. First rule of presenting, try not to insult your audience. Secondly, reading to them is boring.

Engage their mind, get the attention of your audience.  Start with a question or statement relevant to your topic. Try to come back to the introductory thought at the end.

If you are bored presenting, your audience will be bored listening. Speak in your natural voice, with confidence, and be yourself. Many of us are nervous when presenting. Remember this, your audience is not rooting for your failure. That would be very uncomfortable for them. Finally, care about your topic. Passion and excitement is contagious.  If you demonstrate how important your topic is, your audience will feel it and you will connect with them.

Another tidbit I learned in the classroom, everyone loves a good story- and story teller. Present your information. Don’t read to your audience. That’s boring. If you are the presenter, you probably know the content better than your audience so present with confidence. Whenever possible, provide a relevant example that helps to reinforce your content. I used to teach what many students said was a boring subject. When I could find a relevant story to tell about a particular historical topic, the students were riveted. At times it was alarming. I would realize they were listening and have a moment of stage fright. The story brought the history to life. They were able to make connections and the history became real, not just something that happened a long time ago and doesn’t matter now. Having something relevant to share engages your audience and helps them make connections.

Sometimes it isn’t our confidence, spelling errors, or information on the presentation that is distracting.  Sometime it is our body language and actions. Try not to stare at the screen. You’re speaking to the audience and if you do not look at them, they are not engaged. If you turn your back to them, you lose engagement. Also, don’t stand in front of the screen- especially if there is a projector that will make you glow or project content across your forehead.  If you are using PowerPoint, there is a presenter mode. If you use the notes section of each slide, your audience sees only the slide. You see your notes. Rather than facing the slide you can face your audience, and when necessary refer to the notes in front of you.

And finally…

Connect with your audience. Try to make eye contact, or at least pretend to. Look in the vicinity of your audience and move your eyes to different parts of the room.  When asking for questions, ask someone specific what they think of a topic, or if they have an example they could share. When appropriate, encourage your audience to participate and engage. You may have to encourage specific individuals. If you have questions you really want to answer and hope people ask, solicit assistance from friends in the audience to ask those questions at an appointed time. Someone willing to start participating will encourage others.

Best Practices, Education, Learning and Development

Be a Better Communicator

Communication is more than speaking your mind. Being a good communicator is not the same as being a good speaker. A good communicator knows how to listen as well as speak. In fact, listening is one of the most important tasks for effective communication.

It is not enough to just listen to what is being said. It is important to hear as well. Listening is being alert and attentive to the speaker, focusing on what is being said, not how you want to respond. You may not agree with the speaker, and that is OK. However, it is important to understand perspective. A good communicator is open minded enough that they listen and hear what is being said and seek to understand where the other person is coming from. Our experiences shape our views and perspectives. You do not have to agree in order to respectfully communicate!

When responding, think first. Do not say the first thing that comes into your head but instead take a moment and pay close attention to what you say and how you say it. Be clear and direct, get to the point. Being wordy is not beneficial. Try to be specific and deliberate in your response. Say what you mean, and do not make someone try to figure out what you really mean. Do not assume your meaning will be understood. If you are giving instructions, give all of the instructions. Explain the details. You cannot expect someone to achieve the details if you do not set clear expectations. Time frames are also helpful. Saying soon, or within reason, does not help. What is soon or reasonable to one person is not the same to another. When possible, give examples, but keep it relative to the topic. If there are boundaries, state them. If there are not, try to provide parameters, or explain that creative license is acceptable. If expectations are articulated, even if broad, everyone stands a better chance of being happy with outcomes.

If you are on the receiving end of instructions, seek clarification. Reiterate for understanding and remember…listening is key to good communication.

Really, good communication is based in respect.

Live life. Give joy. Be at peace.

Education, Instructional Design, Learning and Development

ARCS Model thoughts

It’s not enough to design great eLearning. Learners who are not interested in the topic, who do not buy into the goals, who generally resist change, or who fail to see the big-picture reasons for learning the new material or skill have what Guild Master Julie Dirksen identifies as motivation gaps.

Know your audience, establish relevance, and build confidence for the buy-in. Satisfaction is achieved and the learner does not feel time was wasted on another boring training.

Pamela Hogle‘s article on the website for Learning Solutions MagazineARCS Model Aids in Designing for Motivation is a well explained piece on motivation and barriers to learning.  As with most learning modules relevance, motivation, and usefulness are the primary frustrations designers must overcome in order to create an effective tool. Where the ARCS model differs from others is making confidence a key indicator. Applying new skills and implementing new strategies is a daunting task, takes time, and can be overwhelming. It is much more comfortable to keep the status quo, sticking with the familiar.  Reinforcing relevance and offering clear implementation strategies will build confidence necessary for a successful use of learning content. Establishing relevance is not enough. Many will be able to see how the training is relevant to them, but may be overwhelmed with precisely how to utilize the acquired knowledge. Concise examples, clear instructions, and modeling give the learner a vision for how the strategy can work for them. Sometimes the most difficult part of learning a strategy is visualizing its use in your own situation. Examples help provide clarity and the buy-in that what is being learned can actually be used.



Best Practices, Education, Instructional Design, Learning and Development

Bells and Whistles: Engagement


A few basics for creating an engaging lesson/learning module:

  • Plan. Don’t wing it.
  • Determine your objectives and desired outcome.
  • Establish how you will determine mastery.
  • Mine your resources.
  • Outline the lesson/course.
  • Build it.
  • Add the bells and whistles.

The course is just part of an overall process. For an instructional objective to be met and the course to be effective there must be ongoing performance support outside of the course. The learner must be motivated to engage in the content and to motivate the learner, relevance has to be clear.  Motivation can also be driven by opportunity. Meetings, projects, deadlines, task lists, family, and life in general are barriers to training. When categorizing tasks for the day training is not likely to be in the urgent and important category. Training is usually put in the “I will get to it when I can” or the “Oh my gosh it is due tomorrow” category.  If designers create training with time management in mind everyone’s life is made a little easier and training is more effective.  Compress activities and implement/suggest opportunities for practice to make training relevant to the participant. A few minutes here and there is a lot easier to manage than a sixty minute required commitment. There is a time and place for long sessions, but periodic required training is not it.  Saving progress is an essential feature. Chunk the module in such a way that there are natural breaks.

Planning is the key to breaking up the content into natural pauses. Story-boarding is an effective planning tool for planning. A storyboard is an organizational tool to establish the order of presentation, what resources are needed where, and where best to place learning checks. That is an oversimplification, but it explains the idea. PLAN for engagement. Preparing learning checks will chunk the material and engage the learner. Within the learning check, you have an opportunity to re-loop and review- TAKE IT.

Most understand that learning and presentation is a cycle. You explain what you are going to tell them. You tell them. Then you tell them what you told them.  I do not think of it in a circular pattern of instruction.  For me, loops are preferred.


In your loop learning, stimulate prior knowledge. Offering examples that relate to what the learner already knows can provide relevance as well as an opportunity to review prior material. Another opportunity to re-loop is by providing the chance to interact with the content.

Before building, gather all the resources necessary for success.  Mining of resources can take place before story-boarding or after. I prefer both. I gather the resources I know will be required. After outlining I usually find it necessary to add to my resource list.  Think of it like cooking. Before cooking you must check to see if you have all of your ingredients then purchase what you need. If you have all of your ingredients out, measured and ready for use you are not in a frantic rush to heat, stir, measure the next ingredient, and add it before whatever you are cooking is ruined by a delay.  Having all resources ready for use in an easily accessible folder or bank will make your instructional design process smoother and  less stressful.

When building your learning module, keep content frames clear, concise and uncluttered. Words, words, and more words is not necessary. Stick to the major points and add narration for explanation. Add images to enhance the topic and assist the learner in making connections.  While bells and whistles can be exciting and provide a tool to grab attention, don’t over do it. Too many bells and whistles become obnoxious after repeated use.  Keep in mind, just because the learning module is professional and serves a learning purpose, that does not mean it can’t be entertaining.  Lastly, if you are bored creating it, how will the learner required to complete it feel?

Keep it simple. Make it relevant. Plan and don’t wing it.

Education, Instructional Design, Learning and Development

The Powerful Impact of ELearning

Reading this article:   7 Benefits And The Powerful Impact Of eLearning In 2018

The headline summary states, “eLearning is not a new concept, but not many people recognize the impacts it is making on educational platforms. Since education is aimed at life development, eLearning is a privilege that can boost improvement across fields of knowledge and innovations.”

No doubt elearning is big. No doubt it has a major impact and is an amazing tool.  However, approach with caution. It is a tool.  You wouldn’t use a hammer to fix everything that goes wrong in your house would you?  Some fixes need a different approach.  The sole use of elearning is a dangerous move.  Students are losing the ability to focus for more than a few moments. The traditional classroom is boring, they would rather shut their brains off and play a game. This is where elearning, combined with direct instruction can force them to turn the mind back on and be challenged.

When combined with traditional methods elearning is an amazing supplement to the learning experience. Students can be introduced to new content using elearning. The instructor can build on that introduction with other resources and direct instruction. Elearning can reinforce previously acquired knowledge. It is also a great tool for application of learning concepts. If used with directed focus, it can enhance conventional and traditional methods. We don’t have to throw away the old ways, but we must learn to weave the new in with the old. Meet learners where they are and challenge them to be more.

Finally, as much as I love a good paper book, I love carrying my books everywhere…just in case a moment to read presents itself.  Elearning has certainly lightened the backpack of 21st Century students.



Best Practices, Education, Learning and Development

Strategies for SQ3R

SQ3R is a strategy to facilitate reading depth. Survey. Question. Read. Recite. Review.

How do you get learners to participate in the five steps? It’s easier just to read the material and hope you remember enough to get the learning coordinator to stop asking you questions.  Let’s look at a step by step approach that may have your audience participating in all five steps without realizing what you are achieving.


Scan the reading. Looking at headings, sub-heading, pictures, captions, intros and summaries.

Before your audience has the opportunity to jump right in, ask what the reading is about. Then conduct a brief discussion of what is already known.  Ask questions about charts, graphics, basics of the reading content.

For younger learners:

My students love a word search. I feel there is value in this as they learn to look at the big picture and improve their scanning skills.  When we have a reading that I want to focus on, students will begin by performing a word search. They have to highlight specific words that I have chosen and will only have a limited time to perform this task.

We then discuss each word and I ask them to predict the content and purpose of the reading. Discussing what they already know and how the topic relates to previous discussions.


The audience should then take time to read the work. Ask them to focus on questions previously discussed. Remind them to read captions, titles, and subheadings.  Give time for this and don’t talk through it!  Most people cannot focus in there is chaos and conversation around them. If it is important enough to have your audience read, then give them the quiet time needed to absorb the information.

For younger learners:

Depending on the reading ability of your students, you can have them read silently or read aloud.  Sometimes I will read to my students, and sometimes we will popcorn read. I will call on people to take over at various pause points in the reading. Everyone is responsible for reading along, and knows at some point it may be their time to read.

Reading to your students models good reading. Students prior to high school can absorb more difficult content when it is read aloud to them. Reading aloud helps to foster literacy and reading appreciation.  It lets students know that reading doesn’t have to be boring.  Here are few good articles for the benefits of read aloud:

Reading Aloud: Is it worth it?

Reading Aloud to Build Comprehension

Read Aloud: What are the benefits?



Note the text. Highlight key points. Make notes in the margins. Write questions that the text raised. Challenge the text. Take this a step further and discuss what was read, raising questions and challenges. Make connections. The more senses that can be used in this step the better.


The review stage is an ongoing process and depends on the purpose of the reading.  For a step off of the learning topic, it may be simply referring back to the reading during the time frame. For classroom instruction it may be making the connections to learned content and new content.  Is this a resource to be studied later?  If so, more notes about the work and writing answers to the recite stage questions may be necessary.

SQ3R does not have to be a long drawn out process. Each step can be condensed and adjusted for learner needs and presenter purpose.  It is easily adaptable for individual needs.

Education, Learning and Development

Smile File Affirmation

Face it, in the professional world affirmations are few and far between.  There are many who will not hesitate to tell you what you are doing wrong or what they are unhappy with. Sharing a thank you or great job is not something that everyone will take the  time to do.

Years ago someone told me to start a smile file.  This is great advice for anyone, not just teachers.  A smile file is where you keep words of encouragement received from clients or co-workers, affirmations of a job well done, or just something from your work environment that makes you laugh and smile.  When you really need to remember why you do what you do, take a look through the file.

I received an addition for my smile file today.  The parents shared that the student said I was:

“very good at explaining and making kids feel comfortable about letting you know when they are confused. ‘She tells us to start telling her what we know and then to say when we get to the part we don’t understand.'”

In the past I have had students express that this technique is intimidating.  It would take more than a semester for me to get students comfortable with Socratic questioning. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable response in my classroom.  You know something so let’s see if we can get you thinking in the direction needed.  For this student to share, unsolicited, with a parent is validating.

With all the frustration of this year, something must be going right.