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?

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


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.


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.