#BeUncommon in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few key things I will ask myself:

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

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

Focused      Relational     Faith-building

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

Secondly, I am going to take time to prepare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I will coach for significance.

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

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

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Sowing Seeds and Reaping the Harvest…

I have been reflecting a lot lately on my role as an Instructional Technology Coach. This position in education is at the cusp of innovation and change.  A wonderful place to be if you are all about “new and different” and a very uncomfortable place to be if you fear change.

My practice of reflection sometimes brings me solutions in lightening bolt fashion. I like that, it’s efficient and helps me move quickly into action. Lately, though, the reflection has been a slow cooker realization.

What was this realization?  In order to gain buy in and move ALL educators I work with toward full technology integration I was going to have to do some work.  Work that would seem insignificant to some, menial to others and mundane to those that like the “spice of life.” I was going to do have to be like a patient farmer… and not just any farmer, a fruit tree farmer.

Seed quote

It all begins by sowing the seeds.

How does that look?

1.  Being a servant-leader: Often the fruits of students and teachers are rooted in the soils and seeds I have planted and nurtured.

2.  Working behind the scenes: That means keeping the equipment running, watching the forecast and trouble-shooting the challenges so that when the flowers of creativity bloom for teachers and students and the fruits of excellence grow heavy on the limbs, then the harvest of learning is plentiful.

3. Rolling up the sleeves and be willing to make difficult climbs: One must be able to climb high into the tops of the trees and take risks to prune so that the next year the harvest is plentiful. Sometimes I am left alone to climb, but often with coaxing and encouragement I find brave souls that will climb and prune with me. They are ready to soar to even higher heights with even greater harvest the next year.

4. Humility and hard work is necessary and three-fourths of the process: If the preparation of the soil, the plowing of the ground, the sowing of the seed, the pruning of the limbs and the weeding is not done, then the other one-fourth… the harvest will not happen. The focus is always about the harvest (end result), not about the planting (although essential to the end result).

5. Celebrate the harvest and the one who reaps it: I am a lover of even the smallest results of the harvest. Whether it be great or small, I still celebrate and value every fruit. Whether there is plenty or it is scarce, I celebrate, because ultimately fruit was produced!

6. Be unconditional: Provide the growing crop unlimited enthusiasm, joy, grace, forgiveness, and… yes, unconditional love.

So what does this all mean? I love the quiet, behind the scenes, servant-leader; hands-on, pruning, weeding, hard-working coach I am. I am working on being a humble, bottomless resource of joy, enthusiasm, grace, forgiveness and love. Why? Because it is how I plant seeds, it is how I move my teachers and students forward.  It is how many of my mentors have treated me.

I am here to win people over to best practices with the integration of technology.  If that means I run an errand for a teacher to develop trust, listen to a difficult conversation to support a teacher leader when it doesn’t directly relate to integrating technology, or patiently accept a substitution activity when the possibility of a modification activity is there because that is  one step closer to integration than last time for that teacher, I do it. I do it because I am planting seeds, so that someday there is a harvest.  A harvest that students will benefit and feast upon. A harvest of critical thinking, problem solving, creative, future-ready students who will change the world we know today for the better.

That’s the harvest my planting will reap.

I would love to know about the seeds you are planting. Please leave your comments and thoughts.

 

 

ROLE Reversal Observed

ROLE book

A few months ago I was introduced to the ROLE approach via a discussion with 7th Grade English/Language Arts Teacher, Sara Hutson.  She had been talking with friend and fellow colleague, Kat Julian, an 8th Grade English/Language Arts Teacher at Coppell Middle School East, from Coppell I.S.D..

After Sara shared her contagious curiosity about this instructional philosophy and approach, I wanted to learn more and turned to my Twitter PLN.  Very few were familiar or had implemented the approach, but many were intrigued.  I turned my search to the internet.  I found some information and learned that ROLE (Results Only Learning Environment) derives its approach from Daniel Pink’s Drive philosophy on motivation which inspired the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) approach in the work place (I curated resources in Pinterest and ScoopIt).  In both ROLE and ROWE the premise, from what I learned so far, is based on the following:

1) the individual (not the boss/teacher) setting goals

2) working toward those goals with set checkpoints or deadlines

3) continuous feedback and purposeful reflection guided by the teacher/boss connected to the checkpoints/deadlines

4) self assessment of goals achieved/mastery of task(s)

I was intrigued and as curious as Sara was at this point.  Together we made plans to go and see ROLE in action.

Upon arrival to Coppell Middle School East, it looked much like any other Middle School, active, social and bursting with teenage energy.  We were escorted to Kat Julian’s classroom.  She had introduced us to the idea and was now sharing how it played out in the classroom.  As we walked in students were working on MacBooks and iPads bringing a year long PBL into its final stages for presentation the last week in May.  Some student groups were in the hallways recording, others were working together on one product, while others were in sitting in groups but working on individual components of their group PBL.  No one was off task, no one was asking the teacher what they should do next.  They all were self-driven, self-directed and self-reflective.  How was this self-regulated learning just happening?

We soon found out.  The vertical team of English Language Arts Teachers at Coppell Middle School East, had worked hard, struggled, re-structured, and ultimately succeeded to get to this point.

The team: Kat Julian, 8th grade; Megan Boyd, 7th; Laura Melson, 6th grade; and their principal, Laura Springer.

First, the entire team had the following: same planning time, support of their principal and school board, and one school day per six weeks to meet, collaborate, brainstorm, vertically align and problem solve.  Secondly, the team was also directly trained by the author of ROLE Reversal, Mark Barnes who has continued to support them throughout this whole process.

Most importantly, they were intentional and purposeful in how they presented the ROLE approach to both students and parents.

Parents were supplied a “Standards Card” that lists all the standards students are expected to work toward mastery throughout the year.  Students are expected to self-report on their learning, and “negotiate” their level of mastery and provide evidence that they are progressing toward the learning goals for the year every 6 weeks via a one to one grade conference with their teachers.  Teachers create an open Google Doc Spreadsheet that shows the standards addressed, feedback and whether or not mastery was met.

Parents have access to the Google Doc at all times.  They have several tasks throughout the year and goals, but there is one year long PBL all students are expected to complete.  The PBL focused on individual learning first, then group terms are set (a rubric is always present to establish terms… teacher written early in the year, then later student written), and finally collaboration of research occurs with students in their groups that leads them to a final PBL product.  In all cases the teacher is a facilitator and provides feedback at certain deadlines.  The teacher is not the supplier of information.

Feedback from the teacher follows the process of 1)Summarizing what learning is evident 2)Explain what has met mastery 3)Re-direct what may not have met mastery and 4)Provide new deadline date to Re-submit work.

Most would ask next… does it work?  Answer: A resounding yes!  While it isn’t just about a state test, this approach seems to have not only addressed the whole learner developing a passion driven learner, but resulted in unprecedented results on the state test.  In the 8th grade ROLE classes 100% of students passed with 80% scoring at the advanced level. Additionally, of these students 62% improved or showed growth from the previous year. Even more than that was to observe the self-directed, self-regulated, self-motivated passionate learning driven by the student at a depth that I knew was possible but had not seen fully realized with such a large amount of students.

Furthermore, in the 7th grade Mrs. Boyd saw tremendous improvement in her students’ with their campus 25 book campaign.  As we observed in this classroom, students were evaluating their year long reading logs.  Students had consistently read, recorded their reading, written a recommendation posted to the class blog and reflected on their reading.  Many moved from only reading 2 or 3 books the previous year to reading 25-30 books this year.  When asked why were they more successful, students remarked that it was because they had consistently evaluated themselves in their feedback conferences with their teachers and had their fellow classmates blog recommendations that helped them find books of interest.  The day we were observing students were creating their celebration picture.  We were able to grab a few to share.  I did not have these students myself, but I was overcome with emotion as I saw the excitement of students as they proudly shared their achievement.  Additionally, without provocation they shared the understanding they had gained about the correlation between abundant reading and their writing. (Insert the cheering and applause of every English Language Arts Teacher HERE!)

ROLE reading goal 2 ROLE reading goal

To see this all in action and working successfully was amazing and fantastic.  I am anxious to see this happen in my district.  I know it is possible.  We already have so many pieces that lend themselves to this approach. We utilize the workshop model, PBLs, document based questioning, and standards based bulletin boards to move emphasis from a grade focus to mastery of skills. Watching students be self-regulating, self-motivated and self-directed with intense passion and commitment I am eager to see how it could be implemented.

I am eager to read the book ROLE Reversal by Mark Barnes and learn with others via my PLN and fellow district colleagues about this student focused approach to learning.

What are your thoughts on ROLE?  Do you have experience with this approach?  Please share your thoughts, ideas and comments.

“Like a TECH BOSS”

This phrase appeared in our district Tuesday night Twitter chat #nisdnov8.  One of our district’s proactive, tech-savvy administrators @yolanda_wallace signed off saying:

Yolanda Tweet

 

I love walking into a classroom and seeing students engaged and creating relevant product guided by specific learning goals. However, I know many teachers this time of year fall prey or are tempted to slip, allowing knowledge level content games or overuse of “content videos” to fill the instructional time. Often the previous situation is practiced instead of using technology in the last few weeks to revisit skills or objectives that warrant review through student product at the redefinition (SAMR) level to ensure carry over to the next year.

This is a time of year that can be a slippery slope of mediocrity and countdowns to the end of the year.  I don’t intend to be harsh, as I enjoy the unstructured pool time that a summer offers.  However, there is precious instructional time to be mined.  Many schools, such as our district campuses, have access to devices (4:1 on elementary campuses and 1:1 on secondary campuses).  Now is the time to take risks, try new platforms, experiment with practices… it is a time to be brave.

I love the perks of an educator’s profession where we have time to enjoy the sun, don’t have to wake every day Monday through Friday to an alarm (except for my administrator friends and those of us facilitating professional learning courses), and can read uninterrupted our favorite novel.  However, there is still so much precious time for work to be done.  I honestly miss the school time with students during the summer. Seeing those “aha” moments and the exhilaration of crafting meaningful instruction that reaps a great yield is something that feeds my soul.

When I see count-down posts on Twitter or Facebook it saddens me.  I don’t think it is intended to send a negative message… after all, it is just a statement of how much we love summer.  However, to a parent, community member or student, it makes a statement that school is over, there is no value in the learning that could happen in the next few weeks, and downgrades our profession to a lesser profession. Instead of being recognized as the respected professional educators have worked so hard to elevate and be respected on the same level as a lawyer, doctor or engineer, our caution-less posts become a detriment.

We are educational engineers.  We design learning… ALL SCHOOL YEAR LONG.  Do as my fellow colleague @yolanda_wallace challenged and “own these last few weeks like a TECH BOSS!” Seize the opportunity, take the risks, and be the boss… send students the message that learning continues to happen for all.  In fact, I challenge you to present learning in such a way that it ignites your student’s passion for learning and sends them home for the summer on fire to continue the learning all summer long.

When we “Be Brave”…

ferroni quote with canvaWe all have celebrated the moments when we inspire our students.  In those same moments we have become inspired as well.  Often the inspiration takes us on a journey through the reflective epiphany of a fear to take a risk with something or a realization that we have purposefully avoided a challenge.  However, in the face of this inspiration, we know we must seize the moment, push forward and “Be Brave.”

As an instructional technology specialist I am constantly looking for this dynamic between student and teacher inspiration that leads to risk taking and being brave.  After seeing this in many of the teachers and students I work with, I chose to capture through video some of the benefits of heeding the “inspiration boomerang” in hope that more “inspired bravery” would occur.  This video is just a small picture of the teachers and students in my district that daily inspire one another.

One of the teachers, Mr. Suhr, was recently featured on our district Instructional Technology blog, “Making IT Click.”

As Teacher Appreciation Week ends and we begin to bring our instructional year to a close, I hope 2013-14 provided many moments inspired bravery.  As we reflect, think forward, and set goals for 2014-15, how do you plan to continue to “Be Brave?”

The “E” in ePortfolio- A Reflection

This past fall our Superintendent shared with us her four main initiatives.  One of them to have every student K-12 create a living portfolio that showcases student learning.  The platform to deliver this… Google Sites.

What happened next was a concerted effort by our instructional team to help train teachers, support students and intentional time spent with students to get started.

When the educational world is in an uproar over testing and common core, ePortfolios show what can happen when effective instructional practices are in place and high expectations, married with freedom of choice, are communicated with students.  ePortfolios is authentic learning at its best.

But authentic learning aside, what happened with students is the story worth telling.

Students embraced the ePortfolios.  Eager to have choice in design and input on what would be included changed how students and teachers viewed learning.  It suddenly became about what is best about the student and not a compliance about products that “must” be included.

Follow the link below to our District IT blog to see how one student,  with teacher’s guidance, fully embraced the idea of ePortfolios and ran with it..

(Northwest ISD Instructional Technology Blog: “Making IT Click”)

 

When Control Sinks Your Ship…

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Co-authored by Middle School Tech Club Sponsors Susan Fitzgerald, Library Media Specialist and Kirsten Wilson, Instructional Technology Coach
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In days gone by, the teacher was the sage on the stage –  the expert in the room.  Today educators are working with a population of post-modern learners with needs and learning styles that are very different from their industrial-age parents and grandparents.  Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until  2003, according to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt.[3]
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With that in mind, it is unrealistic nor good instructional practice to presume the teacher remain the expert and captain of the ship.  For motivation, passion and creativity to be fostered in students, we have to stop being the tyrannical Captain and become the endearing Love Boat Captain Merril Stubing.
When we started this voyage, the intention of the Tech Club was to foster student engagement with the district’s implementation  of ePortfolios through Google Sites.  What happened then was much like the legend of Blackbeard, in that our well-intentioned Tech Club was “hi-jacked” and the resources were pillaged for their treasure by a group of Pirate Coders.
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These Pirate Coders, a group of 7th graders, took our Tech Club premise and revamped the course.  They needed a place to congregate, collaborate and create.  Perhaps they saw something in us that we weren’t even aware was in us… but somehow they knew we were up for a mutiny on the Bounty.  They wanted to overhaul the Tech Club for the purpose of learning coding and programming and we seized the opportunity for the challenge.
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The realization that there was a treasure to be discovered was during the HourofCode.org event in early December.  It was at this point that our students began presenting self-written code that created things such as browsers, calculators with square root function, and operating systems.
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As facilitators we shared the message of coding, created an online course to help access resources and allow for collaborative discussion forums.  Every time we met they collaborated, learned, and coached one another.  Soon we knew their message and passion-driven work needed to be shared beyond our school.  Our districts technology showcase TechnoExpo was the perfect forum to share the Pirate Coders’ treasure chest of learning. To a standing-room only audience, the Tech Club presented their message of passion about coding, goals and big ideas.  They were even solicited for their autographs… our Pirate Coders were legendary.
Pirate Coders (Tech Club members)  took the helm from there.  They were ready for their next voyage… they were headed into the winds with full sails. Together the Pirate Coders knew, to achieve their goals, they would have to organize their resources.  A constitution and bylaws was written, an executive council was elected, they collaborated through their Google accounts, and a platform for sharing lesson plans on coding (including languages like batch, c++, dos, and java script),  was developed.
Who knew letting these Pirate Coders take over our ship would have taken us to this place.  We haven’t reached our destination but we are so glad we changed from the traditional educational route.  We are here to keep them in safe waters, but not keep them from taking an exciting new course.  They set the course with their coordinates.  We are here to help maintain the ship… but they are here to navigate the ship.  For that we are glad… had we not seen the beauty in the horizon, we might had never left the port.
All photographs compliments of Sue Fitzgerald and Kirsten Wilson.

[2] “Clipart – Teacher Lämpel – Open Clip Art Library.” 9 Mar. 2014 <http://openclipart.org/detail/10362/teacher-l%C3%A4mpel-by-stefanvonhalenbach-10362>
[3] “Eric Schmidt: Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information As We ...” 2010. 7 Mar. 2014 <http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/schmidt-data/>
[4] “The Love Boat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” 2004. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Love_Boat>
[5] “Blackbeard – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” 2004. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackbeard>
[7] “TechnoExpo.” 2013. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://technoexpo.nisdtx.org/>

This post is also cross posted at Tech Super Coders Blog.