Going Back to 7th Grade…#shadowastudentchallenge

shadow a student imageI am not sure many know how deeply I love working on a middle school campus. This passion for investing in middle schoolers comes from a less positive place in my own life. When I was the age of today’s middle schoolers it was not a time that would be categorized as “fond memories.” In my youth it was a time noted by descriptors like: awkward, unaccepted, unloved, misfit, and misunderstood.

Today I champion the cause of the early teen. The middle school student is enthusiastic, passionate, constantly challenging and exploring their world and defining who they are. They hold fast to the ideal, “if you can dream it you can do it.” They believe, as I do, that they will change the world.

When I took on the “Shadow a Student Challenge” I decided to shadow a student I had come to know earlier in the year when she enrolled at my campus in late November. I had already gotten to know a little bit about this delightful 7th grade young lady, “D,” while helping her get acquainted with our district’s student issued device, online learning management system and district provided Google account. I was eager to spend a day with “D” and get to see how school-life was through her eyes.

I joined “D” first period in Theater 2. She was in a collaborative group with two other students (one was absent) and were already working collaboratively on the finishing touches of a skit in Google Docs before the tardy bell rang. As the bell rang they never looked up, and with minimal distraction the teacher took roll as the rest of the class worked in the other groups pieced together around the room. All of the students were collaboratively writing a modern day Greek myth script. About 10 minutes into first period they all moved to a make-shift stage (raised platform (stage) with chairs in rows for the audience). Each group presented their skit. The audience provided feedback on different techniques used with dialogue and how they transferred the original Greek myths into a modern day skit. My knowledge of Greek mythology was a bit rusty, and my understanding of theater techniques were greatly lacking, so I decided my feedback would neither be necessary or beneficial. I did note that when “D” and her partner performed their skit with the assistance of a “stand in” for the absent student in her group, her explanations and justifications during the feedback/questioning after the performance came from a place of passionate understanding and deep well of knowledge. Not to mention, this girl can act.

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We went from Theater Arts to Science for second period. There was a sub for this class. Her teacher was writing curriculum as part of our district curriculum writing team. The class was mid-way through a “Biome Project.” Students were working in groups. I was impressed how “D” took charge of the group. There was one student that was sitting back and “waiting for it to get done” but “D” persisted and would not let her sit and do nothing. Her persistence with that student indirectly motivated the other group member and before too long all of them were working collaboratively to complete their “biome project” via Google slides. I probably slowed them down, as I kept asking questions about vocabulary (I was needing a refresher) as they added certain academic vocabulary into their slides at the appropriate places. I was able to show them a couple of tech skills to create a more visually pleasing slide presentation. Now their information is not just being shared through text, but they now have images and symbols to represent their knowledge.

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The next class period was a double blocked PreAP Language Arts class. At this point I was in dire need of a restroom, but classroom policy is to wait until the 45 minute break. I tried to pay attention, but I was constantly watching the clock and wondering how can 45 minutes seem so long!  We worked on revising and editing both for the “Do Now” and in two different passages with different multiple choice questions over the passages. I have to say it wasn’t like when I was in school where we diagrammed sentences. Many times when it asked us what the best transition word would be for the situation, I either didn’t like any of the multiple choice options or thought more than one answer could work. Aye yi yi! Whew, was I glad to make a run to the restroom when our break came! I asked if “D” was going to take a break too, and she replied,”No, I am going to read while I have a moment.” When the second half of the class began  we took a summative assessment over our revising and editing skills. I couldn’t wait for my results so I asked the teacher if I could grade mine… I have some work to do! As a former 7th grade Language Arts teacher, I was not real thrilled with my score of 84%.

Our next adventure was lunch. I was truly amazed at how many students DO NOT eat lunch! Oh was my mama instinct in over drive. “D” didn’t completely abstain, but all she had was a bag of Doritos! Not even a water or milk (probably why she isn’t having to go to the restroom!). How do these kids brains function without some sort of fuel for their thinking? I also noticed how many students were on their devices. I asked “D” what they were doing. She said that many of them were working on homework either due after lunch or due tomorrow; or they were playing games. I also notices that there were a few side conversations, but many were doing their own thing side by side. They were in what preschool teachers would call “parallel play.” I hesitate, though, to say they weren’t interacting. I observed and noted that students are more accepting of one another now than when I was their age.

After lunch we headed to Lifetime Nutrition and Wellness. They were learning about the 6 Essential Nutrients. The teacher had provided a document and a PowerPoint on his Moodle with information for us to reference as we filled out a note sheet on paper. “D” worked with one student while l worked with another at the same table. It was a solo project, but we talked quietly with one another, asked questions and conferred with one another. We didn’t finish the work for the class. “D” had homework- finishing the notes on the 6 essential nutrients.

At this point we had to go one hall back from where we were to get to our 6th period class…Texas History. It did seem like the school grew by 200 people during this passing period. Not sure why all the congestion, but “D” navigated it like a stealth lion. I, on the other hand, stepped on a few people, was stepped on equal to my own personal trampling. Oh, and I needed a restroom, again! We pushed our way to Texas History and then I ran to the restroom. I made it back into the classroom just as the bell was ringing… and lucky for me the teacher was still talking to another colleague in the hall and didn’t notice I was not yet in my seat! We had a bell-ringer activity and then moved into finishing up questions based on information in their textbook. Many students opted to grab one of the classroom copies of the textbook rather than reading the digital copy located in the teacher’s Moodle page. I asked “D” why she would rather grab the actual book instead of accessing the information in the online textbook. Her response, “I remember it better when I read it from a ‘real’ book.” Hmmmm…. something more to contemplate.

The next class I journeyed to with “D” was 7th Grade on-level math. It took a little time to refresh my skills but before long I was working the problems with the rest of my table group. I liked the format of the class and “D” and her classmates seemed to respond well to this style as well. The teacher utilized a “catch and release” style of instruction within a workshop model framework. The constant conferring between table groups, sharing out with classmates and the teacher’s continual monitoring and specific feedback made me feel like I was a mathematician rockstar. It seemed to have the same effect on “D.”

As we were getting ready to head to the last class of the day, “D” was picked up early for an orthodontist appointment. Frankly, I was secretly relieved. We were headed to P.E. and at this point there wasn’t much fuel left in my tank! Being a 7th grader is hard work.

This day is still rolling around in my head. I have reflected over and over about this experience. One thing I know for sure #shadowastudent should be an ongoing event. I would love for students to select teachers and administrators to shadow them, rather than us picking them. Perhaps we could do “mini-shadows” by class instead of by day, and shadow more frequently.

empathy

 

Every time we have an opportunity to “walk” in the “shoes” of another we gain perspective. I have loved this experience and the new perspective I have gained. All that aside, I am just excited to have spent the day with “D.” She has made an impact on me, and I hope, in some way, I have made an impact on her.

For  more information on the “Shadow a Student” challenge visit: http://shadowastudent.org/.

 

Resolutions, Intentions, Goals… Always Progressing

2016 new goals

From the moment the ball dropped and we ushered in 2016 I have watched the goals, mantras, claims of personal “one word” and resolutions come across my various social media feeds. To say the least, I am amazed and sometimes a bit subdued. I admire the ambitiousness and timeliness of my virtual and face to face colleagues and friends commitments for 2016.

I almost talked myself out of even writing my own #goals. Then I read my assistant superintendent, Dr. Rob Thornell’s blog post about the topic (Make 2016 About Goal Accomplishment). It prompted me to reflect on my goals from last year, the things I had accomplished and the progress I plan to make this year. So then I felt compelled to at least write it down and share with a few of my close mentors and friends.

steve mariboli goals 2016

Then my virtual #blogamonth colleagues and PLN tagged me in a post. It urged us all to “jump start” our blogs. We had all had changes in our educational careers in 2015 and, at least for me, my blog(s) had taken a back seat. After some thought, and encouragement from this precious group of educators, I decided to go ahead and share my #goals for 2016.

blogamonth 2016

They are a little late, but here goes…

My #goals for 2016 are meant for all aspects of my life. In each of the following it is meant to impact my family and friends, my personal and professional life.

  1. Grow… mostly this is about my spiritual growth, but I am in an ever constant state of learning and growing. This requires me to journal more, read more and seek more opportunities to learn from others.
  2. Listen…I could explain, but this blog post “People Who Possess This One Skill Are More Likable In Social Settings” says it best.
  3. Celebrate… I have so many times in my life I could have celebrating small accomplishments, moments, blessings and I postponed or waited because it wasn’t “THE BIG THING” I was striving for… well no more!
  4. Invest… see #2 and pour myself and my resources into things that create meaningful results.
  5. Be Gracious… allow myself the opportunity to reset; give myself and others a break; laugh and cherish life in every moment.be kind and gracious
  6. Be Real… blog from the heart, bravely share mistakes/failures, share imperfections, own the “I don’t know,” and mostly ask for others to share this journey of life, learning and experiences with me.
  7. Be Healthy…keep running, be more consistent with weight resistance and core (pilates/yoga) training, make healthy food choices, and above all GET MORE SLEEP (4 hours a night is NOT sufficient)!
  8. Pursue with Passion… go ALL IN, don’t let a list dictate what’s going to be done (I am a habitual and obsessive list maker/follower), do whatever it is because it “drives” me.

consistency in 2016This list won’t happen all at once. Some of these things I have done, but I let go of them in my daily doing of life and are bringing them back to the forefront. It will be done a few things at a time, with thought, purpose and intention. Sometimes it may be awkward, it will be messy, but most of all it will bring me to a better place within and make me a better me.

Additionally I hope my efforts to make personal progress in turn enriches, inspires and encourages others. Nothing brings me greater joy than to see others succeed, and when I have had the opportunity to be part of that journey I thrill in the knowing I was a part of something great with someone else.

Adams quote for 2016 goals post

May we all inspire others through our own pursuit to be always progressing.

Ways to #pumpitup Now and All Year

Over the past two weeks I have had the distinct privilege of hearing keynote presentations from George Couros, Michael Wesch, Dave Burgess and Travis Allen. In every message the ideas of wonder, risk-taking, relationship building and passion.

As we embrace the beginning of another cycle of instruction we have the unique opportunity to reflect, re-frame and redo. As one of my colleagues said, “Education is the only job where you have the opportunity to take an approach to a lesson, an assessment, and/or management technique and take action to do it differently and better than before.”

I could offer some very concrete “to dos” to start the year, but I think there are already some very good blog posts out there that have already done that. So what I want to offer is some suggestions that will help you stay connected with your inner passion and your students.

1. Create the opportunity for wonder in your classroom.

Move from posed questions and known answers to a learning environment that creates controversy, ambiguity and wonder. Design learning for wonder, not answers. Is the learning you are asking of your students “worth it” to them? Are you offering them an experience that is worth crying for?

Within this opportunity relationships are key. It takes risk to wonder, to share one’s passions and to fail. Are you, #1 modeling that and #2 creating a safe learning community that fosters a learning habit of wonder. Will your students want to take chances in your learning environment and more importantly are you taking chances right in front of them.

Michael Wesch2. Embrace the limitations around you.

My superintendent spoke to our campus leadership about a “beautiful constraint.” It requires one to ask propelling questions, have “can-if” thinking, see the gifts within the perceived limitations and ignite motivation. As Mark Bearden said,”The limitation became the impetus for a better outcome.” I finished reading “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell this summer. Over and over again, in different ways, the overwhelming lesson was that perceived privilege or disadvantage was not always the truth. Many times what was perceived as a privilege was a hindrance and what was perceived as a disadvantage was the tool to move toward success. (Read the book… it talks about a “growth mindset” without ever mentioning the popular educational catch phrase.)

A great way to demonstrate this idea is captured in the following TedTalk “Embrace the Shake” by Phil Hansen.

3. Learn something hard.

Often we educators become completely immersed in our profession. We do what we do well. Why can that be a pitfall? We lose touch with the struggle it can be for our students to learn something new and sometimes just learning in general. How can we truly understand our students and their difficulties if we are not putting ourselves in those challenging situations as well? Dave Burgess asked us in his keynote “What are you passionate about outside of your profession?” and then went on to add, “It is a must for us to find a passion outside of our profession to be relate-able to our students. Unfortunately, many of us struggle with this.” His advice? Rekindle that passion, now. We want our students to graduate knowing us “not just for my curriculum, but who I am.”

If you haven’t read Dave Burgess’ book “Teach Like a Pirate,” I highly recommend it. Not only does it have practical strategies to transform your lessons into amazing learning experiences it will leave you more passionate about your first calling… teaching.

These are my 3 things that I believe will help any educator #pumpitup in their classroom, building, and learning community. I am excited about this upcoming year and can’t wait to get this year started.

How are you planning to #pumpitup now and throughout this exciting new year?

Living the digital Life… It’s not a Generational Thing

Everyone has a storyRecently my twelve year old daughter asked my husband and I the following question: “I feel so upset when elderly people tell me I don’t have it as hard as they did, was life more difficult then than it is now? I think it’s different and we have challenges that they didn’t have, but it’s not any harder or easier… right?” Good question.

This went on into a discussion about research used to be making a trip to the library, decoding the Dewey decimal system to find the right book and spending hours looking through microfiche film versus now everything is just a Google search away. True that this may be, my daughter quickly pointed out that today learners have to know how to tell the difference between reliable sources and unreliable sources. #Win for the digital citizenship that has been consistently taught by her teachers and library media specialists.

This conversation got me thinking and changing my filter for how I see life being lived via the use of digital devices. I know how I use my digital tools… but how is my daughter’s generation using it?

Often it is assumed that these kids, who never knew a world without a personal computer, lap top or cell phone, automatically have technology skills. It is also assumed that those of us that who received all or the majority of our education before computers or ease of access to a personal computer lack the technology skills to survive fluently in today’s world. I know I don’t agree with either of these assumptions.

The digital connected world of today has created a leveling of the accessibility to information. Wifi, smart phones and more digital content than there are stars in the universe have made this possible. The question is… How are we leveraging this knowledge? What do we do with this knowledge?

I have been contemplating this for some time now. It is going to take a community of learners young and not so young, willing to listen to one another, willing to take risks, willing to communicate in different and new ways, willing to learn from one another and willing to collaborate.

We all can sit in our igloo of isolation and claim that one group of individuals or another has it harder than another, but that isn’t a benefit to anyone. A community of learners is ageless, fearless, pride-less, knowledge-seeking, group-minded, passion-focused and connected.

Every day, many times a day I learn from other educators and students. Honestly, as an instructional coach I am not the keeper of knowledge, but merely a one of many vehicles to pass on information, ask questions, brainstorm ideas and facilitate transformational learning. Almost anything we want to know we can Google, YouTube or utilize Social Media to access that information. However, it is when we connect with others beyond surface information to create, solve and collaborate that all our lives are enriched. Both the pre-digital device learner and post-digital device learner need that and best thrive when they leverage their digital resources via this approach.

I know this not just because the job that I do, but as a parent of two savvy digital kids. Some would say we are too connected to our technology. I disagree. I know my children, their passions, their fears and their weaknesses… and they know mine. Together we learn from one another and grow. This happens because of how we leverage our learning both digital and non-digital. Just ask my son who watched a YouTube on the “Not-so-Secret” In-N-Out Burger Menu to know what a “Flying Dutchman” was and ordered it on our last visit, or my daughter who sent me a Pin from Pinterest for a “Snickers” Frappucino when I offered to pick up a Starbucks drink on my way home from a meeting. Beyond food I see my students and my own children utilize technology with everything. Want to learn a new song on the piano? Watch a YouTube tutorial. Want to improve your Minecraft skills? Read three or four of the top Minecraft blogs. Stuck on a problem in Math? Check out the tutorials on Kahn Academy. The list goes on and on. The trick for learners of all ages is not finding content, but creating original creative content of their own. So as we move forward in this digital age, it isn’t what we each do alone, but how we move forward collaborating, learning and creating together.

How are you connecting and creating a community of learners young and not so young? How are you and those around you leveraging your digital resources? What has access to digital resources done to create greater access to knowledge in your learning community?

Achieving Balance…or NOT!

balancequoteThere is a lot of talk about balance, work-life balance. At one time I read a book about achieving balance. It recommended you plan out your day and prioritize what percentage of your day gets that amount of your focused attention. While in theory that sounded like a great idea, in reality it didn’t work… at least not for me.

I am naturally a guilt ridden person. It seems to have been part of my DNA. When I attempted the prioritize and percentage-ize approach, my guilt compounded. If, for example, I had spent too much time working on developing new relationships with people and not enough time building my professional learning… I would kick myself. This did not seem like balance. Balance was supposed to bring me a sense of contentment, happiness, if you will.

Since that time I have been married for 20 years, become a mother of two (now 12 years old and 9 years old), owner of numerous pets, and home owner 5 times over.  I have also been an educator for over 15 of those years.

Colossians 3 v 14I have learned that it is important to have goals, a schedule, a plan, and, of course, a life.  Most important, though, is a life that has purpose and that doesn’t always seem very balanced… but is very fulfilling. My day may be scheduled with all sorts of tasks, but the most important things will be the moments I didn’t plan for that utilize the purpose I was designed to fulfill. I cannot turn away an educator, student or parent in need… whatever that need may be. If I am to truly believe students come first, or rather people come first (Love others above all else), then when a need arises that becomes what must be addressed. Their need is the most important thing happening to them, and in my role, if I am to put people first, I can’t turn them away because it simply doesn’t fit into my pre-planned schedule. So how do I stay the course on my own journey and impact the lives of others? I plan for the unexpected. Never do I put more on my calendar than an unexpected event can’t be accommodated. If I have a very busy schedule one day, I plan for a more open day the next. If I have a deadline coming up, I work in time to accomplish that task piece by piece so that I am not with my back against a wall to meet that deadline and faced with a dilemma at the same time of someone in need.

So I believe there is not a real “balance” per se. You plan for the unexpected, set goals for yourself, and ultimately seek to fulfill the purpose you were designed to be. Some days your schedule may look like a perfect pie-chart of prioritized percentages, but if you are like me…. the pie chart is never the same on any given day… but the life I leave is divinely wonderful. I am satisfied with my life when I end my day, my week and my school year knowing my impact and connections with students, educators, parents and community has made a difference in the lives of many in such a way it will send ripples of positive change for years to come.

How are you choosing to choose the life un-balanced but completely fulfilled and purposeful?

Learning Is “Egg”cellent Even for the “Egg”spert

EggspertFor the past few springs in our district our Elementary Science Coordinator @tkmotley attempts to provide every elementary classroom K-5 a “live animal” for the life science curriculum. In first grade this means “chicks.” Yes, the furry, yellow, cheeping kind.

However, the “chicks” don’t come chirping. Our students, district-wide, get the thrill of waiting 21 days and learning about the developmental process along the way before the the little yellow chirpers break from their protective white shell.

The “potential chicks,” or eggs, are kept in an incubator in each campus’ library. A live U-Stream video through a webcam is set up so that parents, students and teachers can monitor the progress 24/7. Along the way the first grade students research, learn and develop an understanding of this animal’s life-cycle.

In the past they relied on safe research databases like NetTrekker, books and other resources for the majority of their information. This year, however, some of the campuses wanted to bring in an outside expert, a poultry science major.

Now for some finding this type of expert might seem daunting, but not me.  You see, I know one personally. This wasn’t just any expert, this one happened to be my very own husband. We met while attending the University of Arkansas. We actually worked together for income, while in college, at a poultry research facility ran by the College of Poultry Sciences at the University of Arkansas. So this Poultry Science Major, my husband, coaxed by me, agreed to a Skype session with 6 first grade classes at one of the elementary campuses I support as an Instructional Technology Coach.

I have done other Skype sessions for a variety of purposes with a variety of experts. So it started off as just another session to transform learning for the teachers and students I support.

The session was perfection. My husband, Eric, shared with them his knowledge of egg hatching and chickens, the process, specific technical terms beyond their own need-to-know academic vocabulary, and graciously answered all of their questions with the right amount of detail and specificity a first grader should have. He carefully addressed the questions of morbidity and shared statistics of viability, without a single child becoming upset.

When it was all said and done, the teachers were ecstatic, the students were buzzing with new information, and my husband was grinning a big dopey grin.

Later, once I was home, we talked about the event. He was thrilled. Mind you he hasn’t been near any kind of poultry in over 15 years and presently works in a plant the produces confections (candy) of all kinds. However, today he was the “Egg”spert for over 100 first graders and his knowledge was valued.

What I learned from this is that often the expert for any event like this receives just as much as the students with which the knowledge is being shared. Connecting real world people to our classrooms is not just needed for the students, it is invaluable to those we invite to share their knowledge with us.

Connecting one another on a global level, connects us not just through knowledge but through our humanity.

On a side note… Eric plans to connect with two classrooms, maybe more… and he cannot wait.

How are  you connecting your classrooms with the world… or better yet how are you sharing with the world the opportunity to connect with your learners?

A Quarterly Review: Progress, Process and Persistence

It has been 3 months since I posted my New Year’s post #beUncommon.

We all set goals, but what makes those goals achievable is revisiting them and assessing if we are making progress to meet them, what is the process we are utilizing to work toward those goals and what level of commitment… in many cases persistence are we employing to accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves.

The following were the “Resolutions” or goals I have set for myself for 2015 related to the #beUncommon post.

2015 Resolutions I have not blogged as much as I would have lilked with my family blog… but I am very content with the amount of content I have written for my professional blog.

Our family has continued regular attendance with the church we are members… we only miss when we are sick or are out of town. Our kids make sure of it. This habit has been embraced by our children as much as it has been a desire for my family to attend regularly.

I am well on my way to achieving my #500in2015. As of this post I have logged 148 miles.  I have run one half marathon and am making plans running the other 2 this fall.

The weight loss is probably my greatest challenge. I am happy to report that my exercise, healthy food choices and water intake has become a lifestyle change. I am confident that with patience the weight loss will follow.

I do continue to struggle with the friend time in the purposefully planned family and friend time. I have great ideas but my follow through is a bit lacking. I am not sure if it is my schedule or my friends’ schedules, but I know this has continued to be a resolution that is not improving. I will say family time has improved. So I am going to celebrate what I have made progress on… and persist a bit more to make time for friends.

Finally, the seeking God, sharing his love and trusting his plan for me and my family. I will be honest, this comes in waves. However, one thing I know is the gift I have been given to work with the youth program with my church. Every Wednesday I get to know, share and love on the 6th grade girls that come to life-group. I have watched these girls grow in faith, love for one another, and a passion to pray for others. It is such a privilege to see first hand these girls learn, share and create a little community of support. They have taught me so much about patiently waiting for the right timing and simplistic joy. I was supposed to facilitate spiritual learning as they sought answers, but in the process they taught me. Most of all, they have my heart.

As I look back at the first quarter of 2015, I am blessed. I have progressed, it is still a process, and yes, I will persist.

As you reflect over the first quarter of 2015… how are you progressing, processing and persisting through your goals?