Restoration of my Blog…

blog about starting again prof blogSince moving from a Instructional Technology Specialist to a campus based instructional coach and now an Elementary Assistant Principal, I have struggled with writing blog posts. It isn’t so much about the content, but where the ideas come for the content.

In my current position, and the last position as a campus based instructional coach, building trust with the educators on my campus as well as parents and students is critical. It is in those very relationships and experiences that ideas and stories result that would inspire by blog posts. Hence my conflict. I am concerned that in my efforts to share the stories and experiences through blog posts I could compromise the trust that these relationships are built upon. So, the last few years I have often opted not to write.

However, writing is how I process and reflect. It’s where the greatest ideas happen and the fine tuning of my own practices benefit. Knowing this need and conflict, I become paralyzed. I am actively working to figure out how to move forward, write, reflect and restore my blog process.

For those of you that have followed me and been patient with me in the interim, I thank you. For those just now joining my blog journey, I am trying an approach that will keep me consistent. It will be simple, short and perhaps a little unrefined.

Our campus has been working as a group of educators to be transparent in our work as we move toward authentic collective efficacy, and I would not be living by the expectations of our campus if I did not demonstrate that same transparency in my own work.

Share your thoughts, reflections and ideas on how you transparently share stories and reflections in your experiences, while protecting the relationships/trust built in your community of educators.

 

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Relevance, Rigor and Research #TCEA17

Last week myself and Sue Fitzgerald (the library-media specialist at Pike Middle School- where I previously served as a Campus Instructional Coach) and I presented on an instructional collaboration we had designed together for our students and 6th Grade World Geography and Technology Apps teachers in 2015-16 at TCEA 2017 in Austin, Texas.

The title of our presentation was “Designing Relevance, Rigor and Research.” As we prepared and then presented, I was struck by what happens when good professional learning (through training with the International Center for Leadership in Education), a recognition for a need for change in instructional approach and a collaboration between educators with experiences and complimentary skills creates a framework experience for students that transforms learning.

Here is the result of the collaboration and presentation:

Sue and I are no longer on the same campus. However the desire to collaborate, create and transform learning still drives us both. There is nothing more rewarding than to create opportunities that drive student learning deeper and makes it more meaningful.

So I am faced with a new challenge… to find others where I am now, in my role as an Elementary Assistant Principal, to do the same collaboration and creating. Change is inevitable, whether it be creating the change or being thrust into it. However, change doesn’t take away our passions and our drive to continue to learn, strive for continuous improvement and collaborate with others.

I know that Sue will continue to create opportunities for her students on her campus, and I hope to do the same. Preparing to present “Designing Rigor, Relevance and Research” reminded me of that part of me… that part that seeks to find opportunity to take instruction and learning to the next level, the part that loves to create innovative learning experiences that spring board from my own new learning, and the part of me that loves to collaborate and co-create. Hattie talks about collective teacher efficacy… there is nothing like it. And why not do it? Research has proven that collective teacher efficacy beliefs “contribute significantly to the school’s level of academic success.”

Originally, change was what I was hoping to cause, now change is challenging me to action. What is change in your learning environment? Are you the cause for change or is change the cause for your action?

Donohoo, Author: Jenni, Author: Elise Foster, Author: Tom Hierck and Garth Larson, Author: Thomas R. Guskey, Author: Stephen Johnson, and Author: Jessica Allan and Nicole Franks. “Fostering Collective Teacher Efficacy: Three Enabling Conditions.” Corwin Connect. Corwin Press, 29 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

The Good in the World…

It has been a long time since I have written in my own professional blog. Hundreds of posts have been crafted in my head. Yet, they never make it here, to the place and space for those ideas to become more than murmurings and ideas of my own. A place and space to share my own learning with hope that it becomes part of a collective process to inspire, encourage, challenge, empower and grow us all as lead learners.

I haven’t been completely radio silent. Every week I write a blog post for my campus. It is designed to come from where we have grown, the pulse of our present need, and provide focus for where we need to go. This is where some of my murmurings and ideas have found their place and space: SRE Longhorn Learning.

Still, I find other things that I want to share in regards to impact as an educator that do not fit the purposes for my campus blog if I want to keep it focused to the needs of the campus.

Still these other things need a place and space. For that I come back to the “Tag… you’re it!” personal professional blog to share. I will have to say, it’s been a battle. I have reasoned with myself it wasn’t necessary. However, I couldn’t shake that there was a need for me to write again in this space and place after I read a recent post “Why Aren’t You Blogging More…” ,from the blog “The Principal of Change” by George Couros. I was challenged. I stopped the excuses.

In George Couros’ post that I mentioned, he says “be kind, be thoughtful, don’t overthink it.” So this is where I begin to share again. It starts at as a murmuring about being kind and thoughtful, and maybe leads to an idea…

Today I was asked to help one of my sweet students. He is an adorable little boy who, like many adults, doesn’t like the things he creates or his belongings to be moved or “messed up.” He was upset. His Rube Goldberg project that consisted of a chain of dominoes had been “messed up” by another student and thus ensued a disagreement. After some deep breaths, empathetic listening and talking through things, I shared some wisdom. I suggested he apologize first. His sweet little five year old brain felt he had been wronged first and it puzzled him that I asked him to apologize first. So I explained, sometimes to help others see what upset us, we first have to be the one to say “I am sorry.” I reasoned with him, “If we say sorry first, we lead the way. We are the leaders for making things peaceful.” I then asked him, “Do you want things to be peaceful and to get along with the friend you were upset with?” He nodded. Then he shared, “I don’t think I can do it by myself.” As I offered to go with him, I pondered… if only, when we struggle to make amends, we admitted we can’t do it by ourselves and accepted the help of others would so much be resolved.

We walked back into the classroom. He walked right up to his classmate and genuinely offered his apologies… his classmate in turn apologized with the same measure of sincerity. The Rube Goldberg project was back on and the students were at peace.

peace-quotesThere is good in the world. This moment is evidence. So I encourage us all… be the first to apologize, even if you were the one wronged. Be the leaders for making things peaceful. These students learned a valuable lesson in life. Let us continue to be the example and look for ways to be thoughtful and kind. Let’s work to create a world that creates peace for the future… for our students.

 

 

Learning to “TEAM”

teamwork-and-collaborationMany times when we see the word “TEAM” we think of its association with sports. Quickly we make the connection to winning. With a sports team every individual has a role and is trained and ready to fulfill that role so that the “TEAM” will hopefully win.

However, in education, we come with all kinds of different skill sets. Each team member will, over time, gain the knowledge and training we need, but if the idea of “winning” is finishing first, some team members may not have the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to be the best team possible.

This became very clear to me in another part of my life. I participate in a group exercise program called “Camp Gladiator.” On a very early morning in Mid-August the trainer split us into two teams. One team had to unload a numerous amount of weighted sand-bells from the back of the truck into designated spots across the parking lot until the truck was completely empty and then return the sand-bells to the truck. The other team was assigned to do multiple mat exercises and tally each time they completed a cycle until the team with sand-bells had finished the unload/load task, then they would switch. At the end of the given time, whichever team had the most tallies, won. The key was getting the sand-bells moved quicker than the other team to minimize the opportunity to rack up tallies.

There was very little in the way of guidelines. What took place was a few very physically fit carried many sand-bells at a time while the rest working toward physical fitness were left standing with little to contribute. Was it efficient? Yes. Was it effective in regards to the “team” winning? Yes. But what was sacrificed? Not everyone was given the opportunity to be challenged, to be a valued team member, to grow in their personal fitness.

As an administrator it became very clear to me through this experience, how important it is to communicate effectively expectations and outcomes to teachers both for the team and each member in regards to the work done in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Additionally, emphasizing the value of the process of learning and growth of both the team and the individuals of the team must be made paramount; not who finishes first. If the focus is on finishing first as the idea of “winning” it could lead to team members not having the opportunity to be challenged, to feel valued as a team member or grow in their own professional learning.

Coming back to that morning at Camp Gladiator, the trainer quickly realized that the lack of guidelines and the drive to “win” was creating a “loss” of fitness for some. He corrected with new guidelines that required each sand-bell to be carried individually, emphasized teamwork in the way of cheering one another rather than carrying all of the sand-bells, and created value for all contributors.

In the same way, as leaders we can course correct to ensure high functioning teams and effective PLCs. Then as educators and team members we are all truly #winning.

Having a “Can Do” Attitude…

Image result for can do quotes

I have had the unique experience of transitioning from Middle School as an instructional coach to Elementary as an Assistant Principal.

If you put a kindergarten parent side by side with a parent of an entering middle schooler, I am sure their fears and concerns would be very similar.

One thing I think educators and parents have in common is we often rescue our children when rescuing them only inhibits their potential.

When I was at my district’s convocation, George Couros reminded us of the importance of the learner’s struggle and the learner working through the “problem.” He showed us a video where a boy had created a “marble maze” with several dynamic and intricate pieces. The boy hypothesized that it would take him at least 100 attempts to make the maze successful. On his 4th attempt he achieved success. The setting of his goal, working through the challenges and momentary failures, and then being successful on his 4th try was amazing. Why, because he persevered and never thought “I can’t do” only that “I can do.”

I wonder, if we had seen this kiddos plan and intervened as his educator or as his parent, would we have limited him unintentionally in an effort to shield him from “failure?” Yet, without any input or intervening this child was successful and celebrated, that while his first three attempts were not a successful attempt, his fourth was, and was way sooner than his projected one hundred attempts before he reached success.

I have come to see how I as a parent, educator and coach can either encourage growth and a “can do” attitude or limit it (even if my intentions are to protect the learner). This past weekend, just before our district began our new school year, I learned of how Target took a new approach to their Back to School advertising campaign. They believed in the “can do” of children ranging in ages 8-17 and let those children develop, design and ultimately launch a series of seven commercial.

Here’s what happened when coroporate Target went from a corporate advertising team to a advertising dream team of students:

http://www.today.com/video/meet-the-team-of-kids-behind-target-s-new-back-to-school-ads-747775555841?cid=eml_onsite

My favorite part of this is that they felt that the adults “listenened” and “learned something from us.”

Going forward in this school year, how can we change the moments when we say “I don’t think our students/children can” to opportunities where we say “I know  you can!”?

I challenge anyone reading this to stop the next time  you catch yourself thinking my child/student can’t and re-think… how can I provide the opportunity so my child/student CAN? It will be a great adventure and in the process our children/student will know that we listened and we learned something from them.

Genius Hour Comes Full Circle…

As this year came to a close it marked four years ago I closed the end of a school year as a classroom teacher. It was four years ago that I stepped out and tried Genius Hour in my classroom and it was four years ago that I began to put together my story to share with others in my region of Texas and later the state of Texas the message of Genius Hour.

About mid-February of this year requests for proposals to present for Summer professional developments in my region and state started to hit my inbox. I had pursued and presented for the last three years on the topic of Genius Hour. Personally, my life as a mom and event coordinator had become exponentially busier. I had not gained a lot of traction where I had the most direct influence to implement Genius Hour. I felt like, while I whole-heartedly embrace Genius Hour, I did not have the same relevant message to share with audiences when it came to the implementation of Genius Hour.

As I was making the decision to “stand down” from presenting, a teacher in my district on another middle school campus reached out to me. Amy Nolan, an 8th Grade Speech and Communications teacher, contacted me to tell me her story with Genius Hour. Evidently she had attended two of my sessions over the past three years and had taken the leap to implement this past year. She was full of enthusiasm and full of individual student success stories. Crazy thing… she said it was all due to me. What?!?!? How could this be?

Funny how sometimes when you decide you might be done with something, events and circumstances say otherwise. Shortly after Amy shared her story with me I received an invite from a neighboring district to present on Genius Hour and within the same week an invitation to present to pre-service teachers at Texas Women’s University. I knew I had to accept, however, not as a sole presenter, but as a co-presenter with Amy. My message with her current experiences and successes brought relevance and fresh experience to the table.

As Amy and I planned, Amy realized there was yet another educator that was impacted by the Genius Hour message shared by me. This was yet another Speech and Communications teacher at an additional middle school campus in our district, Tambra Goode. Through Amy sharing with Tambra the information from one of the presentations of mine Amy attended, Tambra ran with the idea of Genius Hour. From the information shared via a PLC came the Truett Wilson Middle School “Project Change The World.” Of course, she too needed to be part of the story.

Ashes Matches Sparks Flames blog picToday, all three of us shared our stories with another group of educators in a neighboring district. I love how my presentation has evolved to include an even better way for students to begin the process of discovering their passions via Amy Nolan’s design called “Ashes, Matches, Sparks and Flames.”

We are still fine tuning the pieces of our presentation together, but now my story has come full circle. What I have shared is now being implemented and shared with those that I inspired and then inspired others. I am renewed and inspired once again as I first was with this message of Genius Hour. I am reminded again of how important it is for our students to learn from a place of passion, to learn with a desire to serve others with their learning, and confidently share their passions through uniquely and creatively designed processes and products. As Derek Sivers states, “Everybody’s ideas may seem obvious to them… but what is obvious to me may seem amazing to someone else. We should just put it out and let the world decide.”

I am once again renewed in my message of Genius Hour and it is all thanks to Amy Nolan and Tambra Goode taking the time to let me know that the message I shared impacted them and the many students they taught and will teach.

I wonder how many who have impacted me along the way needed to hear the difference they made in my life and as a result impacted the lives of my students? I am making my list right now. Make someone’s day and let them know. Let’s be part of bringing it full circle.

(To know more about Genius Hour, please visit my Google Site: Genius Hour by Kirsten Wilson)

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.

sas science.jpg

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.

SAS revising and editing.jpg

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/.