What is my WHY?

Recently my assistant superintendent, Rob Thornell, wrote a post titled “Never Forget Why You Started?”  It got me to thinking.  After sharing with fellow #blogamonth-er and creator of the #BlogAMonth Challenge, Drew Frank (@ugafrank) via Twitter, the importance for educators to constantly be mindful of why we do what we do, I had a plan for my next post, or so I thought.

I know why I do what I do.  I know why I got started in education. Sharing it… well that is in a very quiet place I don’t normally share. Even more intimidating was a conversation not too long ago where a colleague told  me they use my Google site to learn about my achievements and accomplishments, they read my blog to know my heart.

I was an incredibly shy child. So afraid to speak up, I would hide at the back of the room or shrink in my desk to avoid being called to answer. I hated reading in round robin reading and even suffered the embarrassment of being  moved from the high reading group to a lower reading group because I struggled so much with the reading aloud… even though my comprehension was spotless.

In shyness there is an unusual amount of shame as well. I struggled for my own voice, a peer group I was accepted in, and adults that understood that just because you were blonde, blue-eyed and had the appearance of a stable home environment there was more going on just under the surface.

I was a different kind of child. My father told me that. So different he struggled to connect with me. There was a constant state of discord, discontent and disagreement in our home and for some reason I carried a burden of responsibility for that climate.

I had teachers that added to that burden. My second grade teacher is the most negative memory of that. To this day I can note the time and place I stopped believing I was a smart, creative and wonderful person and began believing I was less than. That was a reason I do what I do now… to be the opposite. To inspire children, believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves and help them know that they have a unique purpose in life that only they can fulfill.

To the world quoteBut I also had teachers that inspired me in quite the opposite way. Mrs. Mayes, my third grade teacher, was my first memory of what a good teacher was. She was always brightly dressed in both clothing and her smile. I know I learned things because I would go home with my head bursting with new thinking. She was the first to show me what learning passionately meant. I was expected to complete my required work but she also encouraged me to pursue interests, create unique products and share my ideas with others… perhaps a type of Genius Hour.

I also had the driving force of Coach Crab in American History in Junior High who shared his passion for History in such a way I fell in love with the real life stories of the past and how those past events impacted the world I presently experienced.

However, the greatest reason I became a teacher came down to one person, Mrs. Akins, my high school yearbook teacher. After many years of singing in choir in both Junior High and High School, I was not feeling the dedication to the program I once did. I personally had seen students who stayed in that had felt like me and it was painful for them and those that were still very dedicated. I didn’t want to stick it out just because that is what I had been doing. So I applied to be part of the yearbook staff my Senior year. It was an unprecedented move. Normally you were supposed to take the journalism class as a Sophomore. Even so, I was accepted and began my Senior year as part of the Yearbook Staff. Who knew that what seemed such an insignificant decision would save me in so many ways.

Mrs. Akins cared about all of us. She was always with us, encouraging us, editing our work, showing us how to say something controversial without creating a scandal. She knew us and though she never asked me directly she knew what was on the surface wasn’t what was really going on in my life. We published an incredible yearbook that year… it was all based on choice… students even got to pick what color they wanted for the cover (I still have both choices on my bookshelf at home). I laugh now as I see how even then my teaching philosophy was forming even when I was a student. She taught us about choices… not that there are right choices and wrong choices, but choices that lead in different directions. She taught us that choices can be made for us or we can make them, but all choices are a learning opportunity. She helped me see that even though I had been in place where many choices were made for me, I was about to step out and make choices of my own. More importantly though, she believed that I would make choices that would make a difference in not only my own life but in the lives of others. She believed I had a very important purpose and she helped me believe it too.

Mrs. Akins related well with High School students. I soon found I had an uncanny ability to relate to middle school students. I have taught at all levels, but I find I feel most at home in the midst of a conversation with a group of students ranging in age from twelve to fourteen.

Anne frank Life quoteBefore you put me in a box, though, let me make it clear,  I absolutely love all students. I find nothing more fulfilling than seeing the light in a student’s eyes, no matter the age, when what they have learned ignites a drive to learn more. I want to be the educator that inspires teachers, builds relationships and is a catalyst for change. Not change on a global, national or even local level, but change for each student. Everyone can have choices made for them, or choose for themselves. I want to empower every individual. Empower them to believe they have a profound purpose. Empower them to make choices for themselves. Empower them to believe in the possibility they offer to the world. Empower through relationships so that we do change to world for the better.

I want to empower those around me to believe they are MORE than… just like Mrs. Mayes, Mr. Crabb and, most of all, Mrs. Akins did for me.

Why do you do what you do? How do you empower others to be MORE than?

#TCEA15 Reflections: Pedagogy & Heart

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This was my second year to attend #TCEA15 (Texas Computer Education Association) Convention and Expo. Often I found myself wanting to attend multiple sessions at the same time or being torn between spending time having incredible face to face conversations and making the next session.

I can’t say I solved my dilemma, but I was so appreciative of the fellow Twitter peeps who shared links and ideas. This helped facilitate my collecting of session resources that, within my first day at #TCEA15 in the Google Academy, necessitated the creation of a new Scoop.it board I titled in haste, “My Own Learning Curations.” These curated sessions were selected based on interest and my intent to go back and further investigate and learn. Some sessions that are curated I attended in person, others I pulled from Tweets shared via the #TCEA15 thread.

It was an incredible time for me of learning, collaboration and reflection.  Early in my present position I might have written about my new favorite tools I learned about during my time at #TCEA15, but this week I took a “big picture” approach to my learning and stepped back from the harried need to learn and come back with new tools to share.

I wanted to be able to come back and empower others. I wanted to foster change. I wanted inspire. Tools can’t do that. Learners can.

So there are two things I will keep at the forefront of my mind as I move forward and move other learners with me.

#1- Nothing replaces good pedagogy.

pedagogy

Illustration by Eric Patnaoudes

I had a wonderful “coffee-chat” with Twitter colleague, Eric Patnoudes (@NoApp4Pedagogy). Once a classroom teacher, he now is an educational consultant for CDW-G. Why? The technology industry is realizing the need for those who know about what good teaching is. The technology industry is seeing that learners need support to successfully integrate devices… it doesn’t just happen. Cool tools and devices alone will not get good academic results.

#2- Creating change or redefining learning is a matter of the heart.

George Couros connect to the heart

I was reminded of this as I sat in George Couros’s sessions. I have heard him before this past summer and although the message was much the same, it was a message I willingly listen to over and over. He connects with his audience through the heart, and that is how we motivate and change in our own learning communities. To make meaningful change we must focus on the relationships that we build and provide opportunity to build, not just in our schools but globally. Knowing where we fit in this big world and how each one of us matters is what drives us to change, to be better, to know and do more.

While I hesitated to link my Scoop.it of the resources I curated, because I do want those that read this to focus on the pedagogy and the relationships of the learners around them. I also know that the resources we share are essential to our continued learning and sharing of content. Please utilize these sources in a way that facilitates change and empowers all learners to connect, grow and live with purpose.

I would love to hear what other attendees learned about from their #TCEA15 experience.

I had a wonderful time, and in the spirit of the #selfie I post this picture of myself with George Couros (@gcouros).

George Couros

He has inspired change in me, and I hope to do the same for other learners.

 

Redefining Homework Through an At”TACKK” Strategy

Recently my son was assigned a Science homework assignment. He was sent home a ‘fold-over’ booklet where he was instructed to record the high/low temperature, wind speed and precipitation every day for 5 consecutive days.  Students were encouraged to go “beyond the assignment.”

When I received the parent email communicating the task, I immediately knew that if this was to be done in the ‘fold-over’ booklet it would be a long 5 days at our house.  To avoid this misery I emailed the teacher and asked if the “weather log” could be done digitally. Permission was granted.

After talking to my son about different digital platforms to record his learning we decided to utilize TACKK. The ability for him to add video and photos that matched each day’s weather data was powerful. Additionally, he learned about citing sources, inserting pictures and video retrieved from both websites and email, and adding various features to TACKK. To add to this, from the research he learned that during this time of weather data collection in the year 2000 an extreme winter weather event occurred in the home town of his grandmother.  Using this personal connection he conducted an interview to add a historical feature of interest to his TACKK. Changing from a non-technology platform to the TACKK allowed us to have great conversations about why using his first name only on his product was important, asking good questions to have a better understanding of weather events and the significance of those events, what was a source that needed to be cited and writing captions to inform his audience. The greatest reward was after completing the TACKK when the Elementary Science Coordinator for my district commented on his TACKK. He couldn’t wait to respond and the pride in his work reached an all time high.

Just the simple task that initially began as just a substitution for a paper pencil task to help my son engage in the experience, truly evolved to a product that redefined learning. Additionally, he added additional digital literacy skills that this authentic experience made meaningful.

Here is his product:

Kristophers Weather TACKKClick on Image to got to Full TACKK

What started as a way to keep my son engaged in a task turned into a learning experience that required collaboration, research, connectivity and critical thinking a paper pencil task would have not have happened due to the fact he would simply not have been motivated or engaged in the process. This is a simple example of how, when nothing is limited, possibility with technology redefines the learning.

How have you witnessed when simple steps toward integrating technology have catapulted learning from substitution to redefinition? Please share your comments and thoughts.

10 Ways to Assess Learning Through Technology

Educators are constantly looking for ways to check for prior knowledge and understanding of content facilitated in the classroom. Constructivist learning environments require ongoing quick assessments to ensure that there is a progression of learning and mastery of content. Well crafted worship model designed lessons, purposefully planned guiding questions and learning targets that students utilize to evaluate their own learning are key. Additionally, as engineers of the learning experience we must find a variety of ways to assess the learning.

Recently I presented with teacher leader, Hayley Sample, to teachers in my district on the variety of formative assessment approaches and technology tools that can efficiently facilitate that process.

To ensure optimum utilization and variety, Hayley and I created a quick reference sheet that teachers could access, review and use when planning formative assessments as part of purposeful planning for instruction.

Here is the Quick Reference “Purposeful Tech Integration for Formative Assessment” resource provided.

These tools were designed to meet the needs of our district where our elementary campuses share both iPad and netbooks, and our secondary campuses are 1:1 with Dell Latitude tablets, but have a BYOD policy for those students that opt for another device.

What are ways that you and your district formatively assess through technology? Please share your thoughts, comments and ideas.

#BeUncommon in 2015

be uncommonThe year of 2014 has been a year of tremendous growth for me as an educator and personally. As I began to consider my first blog post of 2015 already a week ago, I struggled for words. When you are in a state of continuous improvement and growth, resolutions seem a bit unnecessary. I didn’t feel that way last year this time, but some events happened along the way that have changed my perspective.

The first event should be a celebration. I achieved my resolution to run a marathon in late February. I was foolish to think that it would be easy to continue to keep my running habit going. It was about mid-April when my running had decreased significantly that I realized I had lost my motivation.  I needed to set new goals for running to keep myself motivated. So then began the challenge of finding new ways to keep me motivated.marathon

The second event was the passing of a dear friend in June.  We were close many years ago, but time, distance and busy life stuff had its impact on the intimacy of our friendship. She was a one-of-a-kind friend. She help me find my way when I became a mother, coached me through the early years of marriage, and taught me why it is important to laugh and be silly. I had not stated anything in my resolutions to deepen the relationships with friends I had lost contact or make those friendships that mean the most a more significant priority. That was a critical change in direction of thought and time for me at that moment.

So I am looking at the beginning of 2015 and making resolutions a little differently. I wasn’t sure how I was going to blog about this and was having a bit of writer’s block (my apologies to the real authors out there who I may have just insulted). Fortunately, my pastor Chuck Macheca’s pre-New Year’s message helped to inspire what follows.

My plan for this year is to set specific times through out the year to assess my life.

First, I became more reflective in 2014. I want to continue to reflect. Blogging both on my professional blog and my family blog have helped me to reflect in ways I have never before.

A few key things I will ask myself:

  • What was the best thing that has happened? (professionally and personally)
  • What has been the most challenging thing that happened?
  • With who have I had the most valuable relationships and what am I doing to continue to foster those relationships?
  • What am I learning or have learned?

At this moment I have three words that I could use to describe 2014…

Focused      Relational     Faith-building

My goal is to every few months re-assess and ask myself what three words describe how I am viewing life at this moment and if those words have changed since the last reflection, examine why and is it for the better.

Secondly, I am going to take time to prepare.

I re-assessed mid-2014 and decided I needed to focus my efforts. I am still working on that, but I also need to prepare for the where I want to go next.

Questions that I will ask through out the year this year will be:

  • What am I doing that I need to continue doing?
  • What did I do in 2014 that I need to stop doing?
  • What do I need to start doing?

As of right now I know I need to continue to focus on relationships with all the people I come in contact with both professionally and personally. I need to continue to blog both professionally and for my family. Finally, I need to keep praying and running.

What do I need to stop… well that list could go on forever. I seem to find all kinds of vices, but two things I will focus on is getting more quality sleep and eating better. It seems simple enough, but for me this will be a minute by  minute, thought and action process.

Finally, I will commit to the basic mission of an educator.

What I do and say to both the teachers and students I serve is of significance. I must create in myself an “anything is possible” mindset and an attitude that an underdog situation is the best situation for creative solutions and overall student success.

gladwell_david_and_goliath_business_insider

I am midway through the book David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell where he relays the story of Vivek Ranadive’ coaching his daughter’s basketball team that lacked talent and whose coach knew nothing about the sport. It was in the sentence at the top of page 37 “He was an underdog and a misfit, and that gave him the freedom to try things no one else even dreamed of,” that I realized the gift of being an underdog. You have the freedom to try, to risk, to believe when the world says “impossible.” That is what I commit to, seeking the spirit of the underdog and to #beuncommon.  david and goliath quote

It is there that educators make a difference in the lives of children, unlock the magic of a learning strategy that makes what a student once thought un-learnable the stepping stone for ideas that lead to new inventions, and showing others that they are of great significance.

Yes, I will coach for significance.

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So this year is the year I will not have resolutions, per se, but quarterly reviews and ongoing check ins. I plan to #beuncommon.

What are your ways you are taking stock and coaching for significance?

Giving the Perfect Gift…

 

giftgiving

As I sit in front of the fire relaxing with presents wrapped, Chex mix baking in the oven and homemade chilli on the stove, I reflect on the profession that I and so many other educators love with a deep abiding and passionate love.

I consider myself and these educators expert gift givers. Time and time again we provide for our students, their parents and the community the perfect gift… much like the gift that was given to us thousands of years ago on the first Christmas.

How does one determine the perfect gift? Well, it was keenly captured in a message delivered by the Haslet Fellowship of the Parks Pastor, Chuck Macheca, this past Sunday.  There are three things that make a gift THE perfect gift.

First, the gift is sacrificial.

There isn’t an educator out there that has not given sacrificially.  I have seen fellow colleagues take from their own pantries to feed others, when they barely could feed their own families.  I have witnessed the generosity of teachers as they gave of their own time to volunteer for community outreach after spending countless hours at school volunteering for extra-curricular clubs and programs. Of course, many are aware of the many times school supplies and items to teach lessons that engage students resulted in purchases from an educator’s own pocket.

Second, the gift is going above and beyond.

Educators are also known for this. There isn’t a campus in my district where this is not evident this time of year.  Educators are not just generous to their students and go above and beyond with them, but they are equally kind to their colleagues. Finding their teammate the perfect colored pen, or baking the counselor’s favorite homemade bread. Educators are so busy this time of year with all of the festivities, but they seem to never forget or extend good will to others and make the time to do so.

Finally, the gift should honor the recipient uniquely.

What greater gift does an educator provide to their students than to provide an individual and unique experience that fosters a life long passion for learning? Every day of the 180 day school experience educators purposefully plan, deliver and target their instruction. They identify areas of need via progress monitoring, formative assessments and scaffold instruction to best meet the needs of every student that walks into their classroom, joins them through live video feed or connects through online courses.

So as I sit here warmed by the fire, it also warms my hear to know that I am part of the greatest profession on earth that daily, not just at Christmas time, provides a most perfect gift to their students, parents and other educators. An act that was perfectly modeled to us 2000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas God Bless

Why is Organizing Our Thinking Important?

john-f-kennedy-jfk-quotes-11

I am the main organizer of our district instructional technology Twitter chat #nisdNOV8.  This fall we made a purposeful move into a series approach to our chats.  In November we focused on #voiceNchoice for a 3 part series.

In December we focused on the concept of “Organizing Our Thinking” for 3 of our chats.

keep calm and curate

The first chat focused on curation. We discussed not just collecting online resources, but organizing them, sharing with others, reflecting and evaluating.  What I have realized in my learning and experience with curation is that it is necessary in the digital world we live.  So many times ideas come to us when we are not ready to act on them, yet they are important.  We have also learned when we try to retrieve those ideas when we are ready, we cannot always relocate them unless we curate them.  I had a very good conversation with an amazing and vibrant teacher.  She had been very active on Twitter, but lately had not been present.  As we talked I realized she was in information overload. She loved the ideas that were shared on Twitter and wanted to act on them immediately. However, it was causing her to spin around like a Tasmanian devil and not truly do things as well as she would like… in came the skill of curation. Now she participates in Twitter with the abandon she is used to, but with a plan. She favorites resources and ideas as the discussion occurs, then curates the resource links into a site like Scoop.it or Pinterest, and takes action on items that are relevant for her in this moment. (To learn more about this discussion on Curation go to the Archived Chat.)

THINKING_MAPS

The second chat focused on the way in which teachers and students organize their thinking and capture learning through Thinking Maps.  During this chat teachers and administrators shared how they use Thinking Maps for anchor charts, note-taking, planning professional development and organizing instruction. More importantly the discussion emphasized how at every level we need to be transparent in how we use Thinking Maps in every way for content, planning and student work so that we can learn through and with each other. (To learn more about this discussion on Thinking Maps go to the Archived Chat.)

Julie Adams book cover

Finally, in the last chat in the “Organizing Your Thinking” series we had the privilege of having Julie Adams, author and Professional Development consultant/presenter expertly lead a discussion on Note-taking. Her insight and questions pushed us to reflect on how note-taking is addressed.  It was apparent of how essential the skill of note-taking is (Marzano says it is the top 9 skills for a learner to master) for students. Many teachers remarked in the chat how it was a skill lost on them and needed when they went to college… having to learn for survival. The discussion inspired me to revisit my note-taking skills and become familiar with Cornell Note-taking. My hope is to learn this skill to the point of mastery and then integrate technology in such a way that I can support both teachers and students in a fundamental, yet trans-formative way. (To learn more about this discussion on Note-taking go to the Archived Chat.)

eye of the future

This series was exciting for me and my colleagues. The discussions and transparency was incredible. The urgency to take the ideas and practices palatable. Our Students take in more information in a day than our parents and grand parents filtered through in 10 years. They must be able to organize, prioritize, annotate, share and reflect. How are you purposefully teaching these skills that prepare our students for success in learning and with their future?