As We Look Toward Fall, Let’s Remember To Start With The Learning

As a tech coach, one of the things I think surprises people the most is when I say that it’s not about the tech or the tool… it’s about the learning. I’m like a broken record at times (and annoying I’m sure!) but this is important to me.

Nothing we do at school should be about the tools or the tech. Let that sink in. When I plan with teachers (one of my favorite parts of my job!) I pretty much ALWAYS start our discussion by asking

What do we want students to know and do?

It’s so important to be absolutely clear on this before we start planning anything. It doesn’t matter what you call this step… throughout the last 20 years in teaching I’ve heard these called all sorts of things. Learning targets, objectives, at one point we wrote TSWBAT on the top of every lesson plan (The Student Will Be Able To) and on the board. The terminology and the requirement for posting this will change, but the reason will not.


When we look at plans for the fall, it’s so easy to get caught up in all the logistical questions:

  • What video conferencing tool will I use with my students?
  • What tech tools do I need to learn now?
  • How will I share lessons?
  • What will I use to give and get feedback?
  • How will I collect papers if I’m not in the room with my students?
  • Which students will I see on which days?

The most important question is again, what do we want students to know and do?

In my division we function in a PLC (Professional Learning Community) cycle within teams. This means a focus on the four guiding questions of PLC throughout our meetings:

  • What do we want students to know, be able to do and understand?
  • How will we know that students have learned it?
  • How will we respond if students haven’t learned yet?
  • What will we do if students have learned?

I think in a lot of cases we skip over the most important question – what do we want students to know and do (see, I told you I was a broken record!) to plan for what the lesson and assessment will look like. Why? Why does this happen – we go to a tool or a plan or an assessment. I think it’s because these things are tangible and make us feel productive. It’s something I can check off and move forward with and feel like I’ve accomplished something. We have LITTLE time to do this collaborative planning time and everyone wants to make progress.

I have a theory that the same thing happened with distance learning. When times are stressful and tough, when time is limited, moving to something that feels more accomplished is often the easier path. We can’t finish everything, so let’s do SOMETHING we can finish! However, focusing on tools, tool training and logistics is not the most important path for planning learning opportunities.

We must start with examining the standards we’re teaching – what is most important for our students to know and do. How do we pace that in a new reality? In a normal year, and for some content areas or grade levels, this work is done by the division in the form of planning and pacing guides. The objectives are spelled out for you. While this is done (in my opinion) to standardize the experience of students across the division and ensure that all teachers are on pace to teach the same objectives, it also means we’re out of practice for examining this ourselves.

When we start with the tool, and the tool fails, we are STUCK. When we start with the learning objectives and what we want students to know and do, we can use a variety of tools to meet those goals.

Teachers – as we go back to school this fall, in whatever fashion, please remember to start with what we want students to know and do. Your SBTS (school based technology specialist) or tech coach will be so excited to start a conversation this way and help you plan for student learning.

Coaches and School Leaders – Try starting the conversation with teachers by asking what they want students to know and do. It’s so interesting to see how that opens up the plans. AND make sure your professional learning focuses on this. It’s challenging and tricky, but doable and will lead to greater learning for your teachers! Here are some examples:

  • Instead of a session on Google Forms – offer a session on formative assessment. Focus on the strategy AND THEN add in tools that achieve that goal (forms, edpuzzle, posting open ended questions in Google Classroom
  • Instead of a session on Flipgrid – offer a session about student voice. Focus on the benefits of the strategy AND THEN add in tools that can be used like Flipgrid, adding videos to slides, using SnagIt to record videos, collaborative slides.
  • Consider how your resources are organized on tech-support site. Is that separate from your PD site? Is it organized by strategy?

It’s a shift in thinking for sure and a necessary one. START with what we want students to know and do… then plan for how to get there.


One thought on “As We Look Toward Fall, Let’s Remember To Start With The Learning

  1. Kendra, This is great advise. Honestly, It is not the teaching, or being in front of kids to get the message/objective across. I am worried about properly and effectively using Canvas. I am excited to continue to learn, but this article nails it on the head, in terms of my apprehension. Looking forward to the process though.

    Thank you for your help last week. I am excited to keep on learning Canvas.
    Eric Hansen
    LBHS Art Teacher


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