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?

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

tcea2015-42

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.