Teachers need to be “Seen” too…

I am a year in at my current position as Director Curriculum and Instruction with our public state virtual school. I have moved from a role where I was primarily expected to take care of administrative matters in regards to building safety, student discipline, and jobs delegated because no one else wanted to do them or somebody else’s plate was too full. It meant long hours and many evenings and weekends tying up loose ends so I could still be what I wanted to be, an instructional leader (lead learner).

Now I am in a position that lets me focus on the part I desire most, being an instructional leader (lead learner). I have grown so much in the past year in this area as I have been handed the baton to continue to guide my amazing educators through the process of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Let me first say that I was extremely blessed that the framework/foundation for PLCs had already been developed before I arrived. Having procedures, routines, and rituals in place make for the process of continuous improvement much smoother. This allowed for the room needed to experiment, take risks, and ultimately move organically and authenticism.

This process of experimentation, risk-taking, and authentic learning began early in the year. I had a teacher who came to me that was “trying something new” in her online AP course. She had decided to pre-record her typical “what’s coming up for the week in the course” that had typically been delivered in the synchronous zoom time. In theory, she was hoping to build a more active synchronous time in her Zoom and at the same time allow time for deeper conversations with and among her students. She wanted to know from me if this was “ok” to do. I was so excited! Without even knowing it, she was attempting flipped learning! I told her to go for it. I also told her that I planned to check in with her from time to time, and if she was feeling things were going well, I wanted her to present to the rest of my teachers her “risk.” In the interim, I shared short articles of strategies and research that supported her decision. In November she shared her “experiment” the initial successes, and strategies she was using with the entire organization.

IMG-4105What did this take? I am not 100% but something I said or did early on in the back to school professional learning, the openness that I presented, and my eagerness to see teachers trust their instincts and what they knew was good teaching and run with it somehow sent a message “Give it a go! You never know unless you try!”

Since that November, others have presented. What is shared is always more meaningful than if I had shared it myself. No matter what it is, every situation comes back to being able to do what is best for students and provide excellent learning opportunities for students.

What has been key to making this happen?

  1. Valuing the PLC process not for the benefit of the organization, but for the benefit of the student, with the teacher at the center of the process.
  2. Listening and noticing the nuggets of greatness and teaching others to “mine for the gold” that teachers have but sometimes think isn’t all that special- (I have been known to share “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others” by Derek Sivers)
  3. Being vulnerable, I mean really vulnerable. If you haven’t read Dare to Lead by Brene’ Brown. Start there and lean into leading with whole-heartedness and tough conversations. The result will be amazing and brave work.
  4. Finally, let teachers know they are seen. Really seen. This means making an effort to be observant to the tiniest of things. Listen to the cadence of an email that changes. The post on their social media that shares a celebration or hints at heartache. Meet them where they are and WALK with them. Do for them what you would hope as an administrator your teachers would do for their students.

It isn’t enough for us to ask our teachers to personalize learning for our students, build unique relationships with each of them, and identify and meet each situation by name and need if we as lead learners aren’t willing to do the same.

This is how we are making progress as a Professional Learning Community. This is how I hope we continue as Community of Educators who profoundly care for one another and the students we have the opportunity to impact.

How are you working toward whole-heartedness, teachers being “seen,” and at the same time developing a healthy PLC culture? Please share in the comments!

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.

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)

The Tried, the True, the Google…

Many educators on Twitter, when discussing the collaborative features of Google, know it’s not a novel concept.  It is interesting to me how a new tool or an updated platform can get our blood pumping. Yet, in a few weeks we are thirsty for another new platform, update or idea.

What I have found, as an instructional technology coach, is that the tried and true tools become consistently my go-tos for myself and for the teachers I support. Google accounts, in particular the accounts created for our district, have become that tool. I love the share feature in all platforms of Google.  Learning how the share feature works in one facet of Google transfers to other platforms in Google.

Collaborating in Drive for items like lesson planning, drafting an outline for professional development, or setting up questions with an expert panel for an upcoming Twitter chat, increase efficiency, focus on collaboration and provide intuitive features like the instant updating, which is priceless.

Students working together in Slides to co-present a Professional Based Learning product, plan a student-led session on coding or collaborate on a product cross content areas and then sharing globally provides a sense of purpose and student ownership to learning.

And then their is the magic of Forms. Counselors are using it to create a way for students to request a visit. Teachers are creating a short-cut to the form on their iPad so they can do their progress monitoring without stopping instruction. Principals are utilizing the form to collect data on focused walk-throughs and then taking the responses they have recorded and sending immediate feedback to their teachers. I could go on.

We have just barely begun to tap the potential of our Google Accounts on the campuses I support, but already I see transformation. Even more exciting is how students, teachers and administrators are embracing the power of the Google Site. The initial intent with Google Sites were to create ePortfolios and will continue to be our main focus with Google Sites, but the other ways Sites are being used to continue to make our learning environments global and our audiences authentic amazes me.

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Google Accounts are a tool that has continued to develop and grow.  It is through the collaboration of people at Google, the creativity of learners worldwide and the willingness to take a great tool and continue to explore its abilities, that make this a platform that I will continue to encourage my teachers to go to for transformational products and learning. Other tools may come and go, but Google Accounts is here for the long haul. It is, after all, tried, true and most of all transformational.

The #nisdPalooza anticipation builds…

TechnoPalooza

This Wednesday, July 30th and Thursday, July 31st my district is hosting “TechnoPalooza.”  Three years ago it was a in-district choice menu Professional Development focused on Educational Technology Integration. Last year it grew within the district in popularity and was open for other districts to attend as well.

This year the planners led by Karla Burkholder (@techiequeen), NISD Director of Instructional Technnology (which includes the NISD Instructional Technology Team I am a part) decided to go BIG or go home.  We opened up for presenters beyond the keynote from all over, invited attendees from all over, and brought in vendors.  On top of that, there is a staggered schedule of presentations, choose your own session menu (via app designed by our very own Rory Peacock, Northwest ISD Coordinator for Instructional Technology) and choose your own lunch hour and lunch via Fort Worth Food Trucks.

I am not just a participant this year.  I have been given the privilege of presenting 5 different sessions.  How does one go from not being a session presenter to 5, you ask?  Well, that is for another time and another post… but briefly it has to do with Twitter, my PLN, my mentors and “What’s Obvious to You…” video by Derek Sivers.

Aside from that and being amazed at the offerings for learning, there are a few things I am even more excited about.  The amazing presentations coming from my team and the campuses I support.  From my team consisting of Charles Cooper (@Thrasymachus), Cara Carter (@caracarter1), Brittany Horn (@Brit_Horn), Ashley Chapman (@AshChapman3), Rene Egle (@ReneEgle) and previously mentioned, Rory Peacock (@rorypeacock) there are over 10 presentations just from our team.

In addition to our Instructional Technology Team are the Northwest ISD teacher leaders that are presenting.  Many of these teachers I have worked with over the past year or learned about their innovative approaches through our district Tuesday night chat #nisdNOV8.  Their commitment to great instruction, student learning and technology integration make them the perfect presenters for an event like TechnoPalooza.  A special HT (Hat Tip) goes out to Nicole Wallis, Kristin Dougherty, Christie Crocker, GailAnne Smith, Penny Rosen,  Sara Thomasson, Christa Pospisil (Popsicle :-)), Melissa Griffith, Rebecca Redman, Donna Thompson, Sue Fitzgerald, Hayley Sample, Nicole Covarelli, and Shelly Stringer for their risk taking in the classroom, transparency, collaborative spirit and enthusiastic willingness to present. I am beyond excited so many are presenting at TechnoPalooza.  So sad that I cannot be at each and every one of their presentations to cheer for them and learn from them.  The choice offered from this group is staggeringly amazing. Sessions vary from using Technology and Trash to Create Musical Instruments and Music to using several technology tools to create a platform via the BookCreator App to publish student written  stories (see recent blog post from our IT team’s “Making IT Click” showcase).

In addition to all this, there is an even more personally exciting aspect to TechnoPalooza.  Through the power of Twitter I have met some amazing people along the way.  The only shortcoming to Twitter is that the people I meet globally, I don’t know how I can possibly meet them all face to face.  So when I do, I am like a 6 year old on Christmas morning.  At TechnoPalooza I will have the great privilege of meeting co-cooridinator/moderator of #MTedchat Crista Anderson (@cristama) and Revdel representative, Jason Rincker (@JD_Rincker) which I now, because of our connections via Twitter consider as friends.  She will be presenting on Wednesday about harnessing the power of Twitter for connecting and learning. With Jason’s assistance, she will also present on Thursday about ways to utilize and target school communication as effectively as possible.

If you didn’t register for TechnoPalooza this year, follow the #nisdPalooza Tweets.  Next year don’t miss it.  I have insider information that the Keynote for 2015 will be amazing!

When being connected is more than a PLN…

My one year anniversary as an active participant on Twitter just passed.  In that time I have become a regular participant in several Twitter chats, began the very blog I am writing this post for, read “Teach Like a Pirate” and did my first online book chat, attended my first #edcampHOME, launched Genius Hour in my own classroom, encouraged others to embrace the idea of Genius Hour, entered into a new position as an Instructional Technology Coach and wrote my first educational magazine article (see my previous post- Genius Hour- From Another Perspective).

While I give oodles of credit to the impact of being connected through the formats of Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google Hangouts…. Twitter having the greatest influence; the whirlwind of growth stems from much more than just being connected through Social Media.  Being virtually connected is an exercise in vain if the learning/knowledge gained isn’t carried back into the live learning environment of classrooms and colleagues.

It amazes me that when the senses are heightened with learning and growth how every contact, conversation and connection lends itself to strengthening and affirming that process. The articles that are shared with me, conversations of collaboration, current events, books, a sermon, and/or reflection, without intention, will present a common thread or threads of truth about this process of learning, teaching and connectedness.

My church’s recent sermon series is one such example of how being aware of our personal learning and the affirmation of the process comes from a multitude of formats.

The series was called: The Red Zone (it’s Texas and it’s Super Bowl season)

While the implications of this lesson were an inspiration and challenged me, I immediately saw the application of the five key words (Connect, Grow, Honor, Serve, and Share) in the realm of the professional educator.

Connect- To be effective we must connect through Social Media, in our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and with our professional associations. We can no longer be an island on our own.  We need each other, we need the knowledge; our students deserve a well-connected educator.

Grow- We must have a growth-mindset.  Learning is vast and inexhaustible.  At every turn new learning/knowledge is being created.  What was once a hard and fast rule has more than one way to get to the same solution.  We must be divergent in our thinking, flexible in our learning and adaptive in our approach.  There is nothing static in the instruction provided to our students. Why should we think our own professional learning would be static?

Honor- As we connect and grow it can be messy.  Honor the process.  Reflect often and celebrate the successes as well as the learning that resulted in the midst of adventurous risks that didn’t turn out as planned.  Honoring the risks, the learning both in the instruction and the reflection are essential.  Often this piece is overlooked. If educators don’t take time to honor and reflect on their practice nor give their students the opportunity to honor the process of learning, the significance of the growth that may have occurred is lost.  Honor gives learning significance; it provides a marker point.

Serve- Servant leadership has been given a substantial amount of attention in recent years.  How one serves as an educator is an individual choice, but this profession, as a calling and serves a greater purpose.  We serve to develop life-long learners, and grow future leaders.  Our presence and partnership with stakeholders impact community.  We understand our outreach, to be effective in the classroom, must go beyond the classroom.

Share- To be truly effective as an educator we have relied on the collaboration and mentor-ship of others. We in turn share our humble craft. Transparency is key as we share relevant strategies, effective interventions and innovative ideas.  To support one another we must be a willing, available and essential resource.

This job, that is a calling, brings its own set of challenges, celebrations, and surprises.  The beauty of a calling is that it is connected to every aspect of who you are, to the core.  While most who are educators agree this is a job like no other, I believe it is our connectedness that makes our individual way in which we approach the craft perfection. It’s not an easy craft, but when it is our passion intertwined with all aspects of life, the difficulties pale in comparison to the joy of the journey.

Content, Collaboration and Curation… Part 2

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A Curation Epiphany

As I reflect upon the last week and the start of school in the district I am privileged to be a part of, it struck me how curating has become a method of improving not only my practice but supporting other educators in theirs.  In a day and time when there is more accessible knowledge, content and practices out there it makes me wonder. Can a teacher remain effective, relevant and current in his/her practice without being connected? Even more, can a community, organization, company, etc. remain current, relevant and plan for the future without being connected? I cannot answer for others, but I know for myself, my own children, the teachers I coach and the students on the campuses that I impact, being globally competent is paramount.

To that end I address the idea of content, collaboration and curation again.  I addressed this in an earlier post “Content, Collaboration and Curation.”

First, since I last posted I have realized that there are levels of curation.  Secondly, curating ultimately is meant to facilitate learning and collaboration. Finally, if you do it well, people in your circles of influence and PLNs will bring information to you to add to the curations you have created.

In regards to levels of curation it is much like Blooms. There is knowledge level curation- it is done for remembering and understanding (the “Learner Level”). Another level is applying and analyzing- it is curated for use or been used and is a proven tool for using whether it be your tool or a tool you have discovered from your global connections via Social Media, blogs or simple internet searches (the “Facilitator Level”).  Finally, there are curations that go to the level of evaluation and creation… these are the curations that become invaluable tools to others.  It takes the most work, but the result is most thorough and the resource it provides to others can be invaluable (the “Designer Level”).

The “Learner” Level:

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On the “Learner” level… remembering and understanding, curation would be in the way of Twitter.

It is how I and all those new to a concept learn.  When I first began curating this was the level at which I curated.  I “retweeted”, emailed links for continued contemplation or bookmarked sites.  It brought me knowledge and I shared the knowledge.  It is a great way to step into curating.  Honestly, its a great place to stay.  I still curate this way; especially when I am collaborating with those that are not yet fully involved in the connectedness of social media as a means for global competency.

If you are still not connected through Twitter and want to ignite and infuse your professional development with passion refer to the earlier post in my blog “From Creeping to Curating” where I include a link of a great step by step process to Twitter from @bcurrie5 ‘s blog “Connect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself”.

The “Facilitator” Level:

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On the “Facilitator” level of curation.. the curator begins to analyze and apply the content they have curated.  This often is where a person will truly digest the content. Often many resources about a particular topic, idea or concept will be collected and organized.  Often this content comes from PLN (Professional Learning Network) chats.  I participate in multiple chats and follow a couple of dozen hashtags (#), participate in professional networks through LinkedIn, follow amazing educators on Pinterest, and keep my eyes open for great content. Also, by reputation for my curating many in my circle of influence share content with me that I then curate. Once I latch on to the content I go through a process with information I want to assimilate for myself and/or others.  In my position as an Instructional Technology Coach I take the coaching part very seriously.  For that reason I curate not just for my personal professional development, but for my teachers, students, administrators and parents.  I take the content and analyze where it should be curated and who it should be curated for. Then I determine the best place for the content so that I can access to share and/or those that follow me can note it and utilize it.  I also try, when appropriate, to learn how I can apply what I curate so I can share with others.

At first, this may seem tedious, but over time it becomes almost automatic.  Typically over the course of an hour chat I will end up curating half a dozen ideas, links, and/or blogs into either my Flipboard, Pinterest account or ScoopIt pages.  I will have also shared with that same PLN chat content from those curations that apply to that chat.  I haven’t done this long.. maybe six months, but it is so automatic now that I may be out getting groceries, waiting in line to check out, looking at my feed, and see a great link that has been tweeted. In a matter of seconds, after reviewing the content, I will curate the link and retweet with comments on how to apply so that others can add to their learning.

The “Designer” Level:

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The “designer” level of curation is probably the most involved form of curation.  It is where you take content that you understand, apply and analyze and then evaluate and create a method of sharing the content where it has become uniquely your own content.  There are multiple methods for this to be done.  It is where you truly digest the content, assimilate it, evaluate it and then create a way to deliver the content after it has been through your filters, experiences and processes.  In many ways you are the designer.

The “designer” level is probably the most satisfying because it reflects most deeply the designers philosophies and beliefs. It carries with it a certain kind of personal stamp of approval and is purposefully crafted to collaborate and help others.  The “designer” level of curation most reflects the tenets of the mindset of #geniushour and #passionbasedlearning .

At the “designer” level I use the method of blogging.  There are several different sites out there that offer free blog accounts.  I use WordPress my 8 year old son uses Blogger (http://minecraftcreeperlovers.blogspot.com/).  To create online experiences that curate content I also, for focused educational purposes such as webquest experiences or lesson experiences, use my district’s Moodle that allows limited guest access and password access for teachers and students.   Additionally, you can create/build a website.  My 10 year old daughter created a website through www.wix.com to curate kid friendly information about Greek Mythology (website: http://embug101.wix.com/myth).

Final Thoughts:

As I continue to collect content through curation and collaborate with others the depth with which I understand curating grows.  I urge those of you that read this to start at the “Learner” level with Twitter like I did. Then start curating at the “Facilitator” level.  The “Designer” level may never be your course… that is definitely ok.  However, I do encourage all who are growing and learning as connected educators and becoming globally competent to curate in some way.

Whatever level you choose to curate, Learner, Facilitator or Designer, the key is to continue a spirit of open Collaboration.  In this world of immediate access and available content make every effort to honor the source of your curation, inspiration and/or springboard for design.  Those that do curate at a “Designer” level and in many cases are the first in their field of expertise to find a new “method” put hours into the development and design.  What a gift to learn from their genius and be gifted the time we don’t have to spend figuring it out on our own.  Protect the integrity of open collaboration and of course, share your curations!

All comments welcome.  Please let me know your thoughts and how you are curating and collaborating!