Teresa Engler, instructional technology coach in McGuffey School District, promotes teacher badges as a fun way to encourage collaboration, build relationships, and support ongoing learning with teachers in her organization.
started my instructional technology coaching journey in the summer of 2017. This was the same year our district applied for a Google for Education Dynamic Learning Project (DLP) grant. I was lucky enough to be one of the first 50 educators selected to participate! It was during one of the digital training sessions that I was introduced to using badges with teachers to encourage them to try new apps and tools with their students.
Although I was familiar with digital badges—having earned a few myself over the years!—I felt as though this was a personal accomplishment, one I would be self-motivated to achieve. The idea of using them as an incentive with others, a prize, or even an award, was new to me.
The implementation of teacher badges at my school helped kick-start communication, allowed for vulnerability, established trust, and most importantly, led to the establishment of strong relationships with teachers in a fun and enticing way. Read on to learn more about teacher badges and how you can get started, too!
As with all new things, I wasn't quite sure how to begin. I drew inspiration for awarding teachers with digital badges on Twitter from Jen Kozier, a fellow DLP coach from Pennsylvania. Not only did she give out badges to her teachers, she printed the badges on poster printer paper. It looked polished and professional! I visited her school and witnessed her success in action, plus I saw the positive impact it had on her coaching program. Her teachers were motivated to learn new skills and I was instantly motivated to use this process myself.
How it works
Building relationships with teachers is one of the very first challenges any new coach can face, and it is often tricky. Motivating teachers to try new techniques or make changes to their teaching practices can be difficult. However, keeping the focus on student success while highlighting positive moments is a good starting point, and teacher badges can help.
1) Create the badges
Putting a personal stamp on the way I would create badges and use them with my teachers was a challenge. My school did not have a poster sized copier or printer, so I had to manually copy and paste each badge into a Google Doc. Then, I found a color printer, printed the pages, and cut each badge into squares.
Teresa's badges, ready for distribution!
Once the badge prototypes were complete, I placed them on a desk in my room in a visible location. That's when the magic began to happen! Teachers started asking, "Hey, what are those?" I explained the program and invited them into a conversation about which apps and tools they were currently using. This created an opportunity for me to observe lessons when those apps and tools were implemented with students.
While observing the teachers, I began to notice a pattern: many of the teachers were using at least two or three of the same apps and tools, so I used that common thread to generate the first badge charts.
2) Start on a fair playing field
At first, I kept everyone on a level playing field by distributing the same poster with the same badges to each teacher in the building. My intention was to promote collaboration, not competition.
Mrs. Cizmek's badges after finding some creative social outlets for her classroom.
Once I established a rhythm with deep coaching on a cycle, teachers began sharing classroom challenges with me. Together, we met to determine which apps or tools might best address the challenges and would then co-plan to find ways to implement new tools successfully. From there, I visited classrooms, assisted teachers with using the apps and tools, reviewed the data, and reflected on the entire process.
3) Reward teachers
Once the teacher successfully and impactfully used the suggested apps or tools with students, I placed badges on their charts. It was a ceremonious process: I popped into the classrooms, announced that the teacher was about to get a badge, asked students to give the teacher a round of applause, put the badge on the chart, and gave prizes for the accomplishment!
4) Celebrate successes
Twitter has been a great way to spread the news and celebrate success stories. I tweeted often and frequently, tagging our school district along with the apps and tools highlighted in the lessons. Before long, a natural collaboration began: ideas were shared, best practices were highlighted at faculty meetings, and a professional community emerged. The teachers created their own posts about apps and tools that they’d integrated into lessons and generated their own followers, reaching out to other educators to expand and grow their PLN.
Badge fever has spread. The charts are placed in highly visible locations outside teachers' classrooms. The original idea was to spark conversation: it did this and so much more! A culture of collaboration has emerged. The badges brought forth a new level of teacher agency, and now we talk about universal design for learning (UDL), and differentiation for instructional practices.
While remote and at-home learning situations put a hold on our badge system for a while, when we opened for our hybrid model, this teacher immediately asked for a badge, and I couldn't have been prouder!
About our Guest Blogger
Teresa Engler is a K-12 instructional technology coach in the McGuffey School District. In addition to her role, she is a Google Certified Teacher, a Google Certified Coach, and a part of the Dynamic Learning Project.
Outside of her organization, Teresa is a Keystone Technology Integrator (KTI) involved with Southwest Region - PAECT and has began a series of online training opportunities with #LunchOnLine where she invites colleagues to share their educational experiences. Her passion for education doesn’t stop there! Teresa has presented about coaching and The Dynamic Learning Project at Pete&C, participated in the Google for Education Playground in Philadelphia where she presented topics about integrated technology in middle school ELA classes and using digital badges with K-12 teachers, and continuously shares her passion for EdCamp by being active on Twitter via #edcampRL.
Be sure to follow Teresa on Twitter @MrsEngler1!