Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rolled Up Inspiration


     Being an instructional coach means less opportunity to build relationship with a lot of students. When you don't have your own classroom, it's hard to have daily interactions with the same students and to really get to know their story. This year, however, I was able to do just that with a middle school student. Her teacher asked me to read some of her writing and it was phenomenal and I made the point to tell the student so.

     Back in September she time she asked if I would read more of her story, as she had gotten a lot more done. Of course, I said, "Heck yes!" She left it for me that same day, and it took me well over an hour to read the latest pages of her realistic fiction story...and it was just as amazing as the first part. The child clearly had a lot in her heart and on her mind and all that loveliness came out in her writing. On the last page of her journal I wrote to her and told her just that. 

     Jump forward to yesterday, a whole 3 months later. I had the seen this young woman in the halls a few times, but there was only time for a quick hello--as she was surrounded by friends and dashing to her next class. Yesterday however, we met in the hallway during a class period. She asked me when I was going to come back to her language arts class again. I told her that right after Christmas I had talked to her teacher about coming in and talking about blogging. I asked her if she had ever thought about blogging and explained to her that I think she would be amazing at it as she has so much to share with the world. I said to her, "Don't you ever forget YOU are a writer!" Her response floored me. 

   She stopped, and that tall lanky girl, dressed in her blue jeans, plaid shirt and cowboy boots, reached deep into her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. It was notebook paper, folded and then rolled up into a tiny cylinder about two inches long. She said, "I'll never forget. I've got your letter right here." 

     The moment she held up that piece of paper was a moment in my teaching career I'll not ever forget. It reminded me that it is not about the books, technology, how the desks are arranged, or even the grade on the report card. If we can make students believe in themselves that they are leaders, learners, writers, communicators of good and wonderful things-those things should be what guide us. It's about relationship and that it is emotion that truly drives learning. If I've learned anything it's that when you focus on relationship first, every thing else, and I mean EVERYthing else, falls in to place. Students are motivated not to only please you, but because you empower them, they will see themselves as capable of so much.

     Yesterday I received enough inspiration to last me a long time--and when I retire some 10 years or so, I'll remember the little things that spurred me on...I'll remember that small bit of rolled up inspiration. 


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Be a Seeker

During the cold months we all become seekers. Animals are seeking a warm place to settle down until spring warms the air and food is easier to find. The Christmas story tells of two lowly people seeking shelter to birth a child. Shoppers are seeking for that just-right gift for a loved one.

Seeking takes time and deadlines put pressure on us often to find answers right away. The animals must find shelter before the air is too cold and the ground too hard to settle in to warmth and safety. Mary and Joseph, with birth imminent, had to seek and find an answer ON THE SPOT (something we teachers do all the time...we're amazing that way.)  Shopper must work around the obstacles of crowded aisles and crazy people, seekers just like them, with a deadline to find that perfect gift. 

As an educator--seeking is a big part of what we do all year long. We seek ways to connect with a struggling reader. We seek out resources to make a lesson meaningful that will connect a child to the greater world....to his future. We seek out collegial relationships to grow ourselves through gleaning ideas from the experts around us. Every day. Every--single--day, we are seeking. 

This is a season of hope. Educators are always looking for what is around them to BE hopeful. A child's future. A new collegial relationship. A new plan to carry out an amazing lesson. It's what drives us forward.

Hang on to your hope, and may it spur you on to be a seeker. 

"We must be awash with hope."
~The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Monday, May 16, 2016

Connectedness. Isn't this what we've wanted all along?

I just started a book called "The Connected Educator" and a line jumped off the page at me as it pertains to our students.

"Their world encourages connectedness."

Funny thing--we as teachers...isn't this what we have wanted all along--even before technology pressed into the world of our students and allowed it to happen in spite of us? So what is the problem then? Why do some teachers seem to buck the use of technology if this is what we as teachers have been striving for all along--to connect our kids to the world? Is it happening too fast for us? Is it because our students naturally jumped on board and left us in the dust?

This connectedness has happened for our students--and because of this we're left with a monumental task--to harness their desire for connectedness and show them how to use it for good. To increase their knowledge about those things they are passionate about. To enlighten them when it comes to teaching content that initially, they had no real interest in at all.

Our kids are connected. It's time we teachers decide how connected we are willing to become...and not just to "keep up with them," but to allow them to connect to their world...to learn...and grow...and make it a better place. 

Getting Teachers On Board. Tech Use and Teacher Support

    So much technology, so little time. So where should our first step be as instructional coaches for technology be when it comes to getting teachers on board? I think it's pretty simple--just as our students need a great anticipatory hook at the beginning of each lesson--an emotional draw to make them genuinely care about what they are learning, teachers need this same things when it comes to seeing the relevance in using technology in their classrooms They must be 


     Feedback should be offered only once we get the ball rolling, There won't be any need for feedback until teachers are feeling vulnerable enough to give it a go without judgement. Professional development early on should come in the form of creating this inspiration. Some things to think about: 

  • Use PD to establish a "I'm learning, too" attitude. Make sure your teachers realize that it's okay to learn right along with their students. 
  • For PD--make sure your teachers have a variety of options from which to choose from, and that the options provide meaningful content for teachers at every level when it comes to technology use. 
  • Make sure teachers don't see the use of technology as an add on, but as a tool to help them individualize student learning and to understand that technology can provide them with valuable data on their students. 
  • Offering to do instructional rounds with teachers so that they can see how others are using technology in their classrooms can be very inspiring. Sometimes we need to get outside of our own little cocoon and see what others are doing to really open our eyes and be inspired to try something ourselves.
     So--just starting out with some great new tech initiative? Then give teachers reasons to love it. Show them all that they can achieve by using it. Make sure they understand what resources will be available to them to support them, and make them not only want to know more about it, but INSPIRE them to want to learn more...for themselves...but most importantly, for their students. 


Thursday, May 5, 2016

What's Your District Up To?

This week an amazing thing happened. Two other technology coaches and some teachers came to visit our district to see how we are using Canvas at the lower elementary level. This was such a valuable experience! Sometimes it's easy to stay nested in our own little cocoon that we forget to look outward to learn from others when it comes to all of this technology stuff! Here's what I took away from our day together:

 Don't just show off the good stuff that's going on--talk about the hard stuff, too. What isn't going well? What are your struggles and how are other districts solving those same problems? It's becoming very clear to me that we often have the exact same issues going on!

2.  Reciprocate--if you visit a district to see what's going on, offer an invitation for districts to come see you. Be vulnerable and let them come see the good, the bad, and the ugly...then-COLLABORATE! 

3.  Involve teachers when you visit other districts. It's great when admin and instructional coaches share a common technology vision, but our teachers need to see it, too. Also--if you can, during the visits allow those teachers to meet with a few teachers from the other district to talk to one another and collaborate. This is so important--it goes a long way for teachers to not only talk about their success, but to talk to others about the common struggles they are having...to realize they are not in this technology thing alone.

So--go on! Break out of your district's technology shell and glean what you can from others. Build relationships that benefit everyone. In the end, it will be our students that get the most out of this endeavor...and that's just good stuff!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Instructional Coach and Story Listener

Ahhhhhh-Spring Break! I'm sitting here at the local coffee shop doing some reflection on the last few weeks of school. We had some practice flex time this week at school. For about two hours, teachers switched classrooms as their students worked on course content in Canvas. This was practice for a day in May when students will stay at home and we will have a full day of eLearning...and our teachers and students rocked it (we found some things we can improve upon, but that was all part of the deal!)

For the last couple months I have taken 1/2 days and worked with grade level teams corporation wide to prepare for this--some grade levels have jumped right in and are finding the great benefit to blended, on-line learning...others are struggling...and I have to admit...it caused me to struggle, too. We teachers  and instructional coaches have a "I can fix it" mentality, and sometimes it's just not that easy.

Being an instructional coach for technology integration is an interesting endeavor as coaching sometimes means that we push aside the technology content, and just listen to another's story. We listen about a child that is struggling with peer pressure. We listen to a story about how juggling school and elderly parents is a trial. We listen as a teacher tells us that they should have just retired before all of this technology became a part of education. While very little of these stories have anything to do with technology, it's important to first listen, and then skillfully find a way to focus on what I am there for--not always easy, but here's what I've found. I've found these times are what build relationship and in turn, make a better way for learning the technology.

As I sit here at the coffee shop and look around me--there are two young men in army fatigues, both intently looking at computer screen. There is a group of young girls taking a selfie (many actually,) there is a lady that looks to be 40ish reading from her phone the signs of hypothyroidism to her friend, there is a man perhaps in his 80s sitting with a young man in his mid-twenties and I find myself wondering what stories are being told...and I take note that they have not once looked at a piece of technology as they hold what seems to be gratifying conversations for both of them. And then there's me--by myself, blogging and taking notice of it all and thinking about how it connects to what I do. All of us have a story.

For many, technology is easily interwoven into their everyday lives--for others, they wouldn't dream of coming to a coffee shop with only a device and a desire for a good cup of joe. Spring break is the perfect time for me to have a break from meeting with teachers, and think not about where they are with regard to technology, but to remember that it is likely not the most important part of their life.
To remember their story comes first, and that as an instructional coach with an open ear will bring reward with regard to tech integration and blended learning-- later.

This blog is all over the place...I guess it comes down to one of my favorite quotes--

"There isn't anyone you couldn't love (teach) once you've taken the time to listen to their story."
~MaryLou Kownacki (With an insert from me.)

Happy Spring Break!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Most Important Thing

On Saturday night I lost a former student. She was just 17 years old--and already doing amazing things with her life.

My job this year has been a tedious one, introducing a standards-based report card, going 1:1 corporation wide, and helping all of our teachers learn the ins and outs of a new learning management system. It's been pure craziness. Lots of frustration...but nothing like the frustration of losing a young woman far too soon.

My job is all about technology, but I am also an instructional coach for classroom climate and culture, and in these last days I've been thinking about what is most important in our classrooms...what is the foundation of it all for our students? I am convinced it is not technology, nor curriculum--it is relationship. If we build relationships with our students (and our colleagues,) we have the best chance in achieving success in all other areas of academia. Once we commit to this, amazing things begin to happen.

Mattea, my young friend that has passed too soon, was a student I had built relationship with--it is the reason why 6 years later, the loss hits me hard. In building a relationship with her, I saw how she went on to build relationships with others, and I believe she saw the importance in this, too. She was doing great things because of her ability to reach out and form meaningful relationships that supported what she was set out to do. 

What we do as educators is important. We must have a vision to move forward. To help students excel at this thing we call life. Today I would ask you to remember that relationship is the foundation of it all. That in the end, it will be those interactions we will have had with others, not the tech or curriculum, that will always be--the most important thing. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Do You Have a Risk Attitude?

I've been thinking a lot about some terminology I came across recently. An article I was reading talked about how we need our students to have a "risk attitude" when it comes to learning, collaborating, building ideas, putting their learning out into the world for all to see...but what about us? What about the teachers? Don't we need a an attitude of risk as well? 

What happens if we the teachers, principals, administration don't become vulnerable enough to to take risks? What happens if we use our energy to push aside learning new technology, new ways of connecting our kids to learning, not just through us, but through all that is available on line? What if WE are not willing to take the risks to make this happen? Well--our kids will suffer...and aren't we all about preparing our kids for their future? As soon as we put more focus on ourselves and feeling defeated about all that is asked of us--we sell kids short. 

I've decided that with all that is before me with the task of learning about blended learning and what it means for my district, I will take on a risk attitude...and the students in my community will be better off because of my commitment to it. 

For more on being vulnerable and taking on a risk attitude--watch Brene Brown's video below, and read her book Daring Greatly

Brene Brown on Vulnerability

Monday, February 29, 2016

PD: Just a Twitter Chat Away

We encourage our students to be life-long learners. As teachers, we need to be life-long learners, too. Finding time to attend a workshop or conference isn't always easy...but I'm here to tell you, what is offered to us educators via Twitter and Google+ communities is nothing short of a PD miracle! (Okay, maybe not a miracle, but seriously, who knew all of this amazing stuff was out there at our fingertips--often in 140 characters or less!)

So--with this in mind--here are some reminders of what we often encourage our students to do in our classrooms...along with some questions to ask yourself. If you get stuck on answering some of them, I encourage you to get on and "play" with Twitter or join a Google+ community--you'd be surprised how quickly your "play" becomes so much more with regard to professional development.

I encourage my students to be lifelong learners and to be open to learning in many ways. 

Q:  Am I a lifelong learner in my profession? Am I excited to learn something new, or do I see professional learning opportunities as "just one more thing I have to do?"

I encourage my students to ask questions that are outside the box. 

Q:  Do I ask myself questions that challenge what I am already doing in my classroom? Do I question my own teaching practices? 

I encourage my students to locate information using technology to help solve problems that arise from the content that we are discovering in my classroom. 

Q:  Do I use technology to solve my own teaching dilemmas? Do I have multiple on-line resources that I use regularly to find answers to my questions about teaching?

I expect my students to become comfortable in a variety of settings (both real and virtual) when it comes to collaboration. I encourage them to regularly seek out people from outside of their own learning community to gather information and ideas on a daily basis. 

Q:  Do I collaborate about teaching in a variety of settings? Do I reach out to teachers and professionals outside of my community on a regular basis? Weekly? Daily? (Google+ communities, weekly Twitter chats, Linkedin, Facebook Groups.) 

I expect my students to create amazing artifacts that they are vested in as a result of what they are learning in my classroom. 

Q:  When I learn something new with regard to the profession of teaching, how is it showcased in my lesson planning/classroom? How does it directly affect student learning? 

I expect my students to contribute to the active learning that takes place in the classroom. They are expected to share their knowledge with their peers to move everyone's learning forward. 

Q:  When I learn something new, how do I share it with my peers? Do I actively seek out ways to share my learning? Am I excited to share my newly acquired knowledge with others in my school, corporation, or world-wide learning communities?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Always a Chance to Learn

     Welcome to my first blog! It's been a task to think of an overall theme that might encompass my personal and professional life--but I think I finally landed on it. The Learning Reaction.

     We all have our own story. When I look back on my own and what has spurred me on both personally and professionally, it's been to take on the mindset that no matter what I experience there is always some amazing learning to be had...for myself, my friends and family, my students, and the teachers I surround myself with daily. This is good stuff, people. Especially when the tough stuff happens. 

     In my personal life it's that tough stuff that comes to mind that has taught me the most (although I was unable to see this at the time.) Losing a sister in a tragic car accident when I was only 9, watching my father live through the throes of Alzheimers, and dealing with epilepsy rearing it's ugly head in the last five years and having two particular hard episodes, one that sent me to the ground right in the school parking lot, and the other that stopped my heart for 9 seconds (sounds like a short period of time, but the EKG read out was quite sobering to look at and after hearing the story from my husband, I'm glad I don't remember a darn thing.) Through these things I've learned to not take the presence of friends and family for granted, that there is a tenderness that comes from feeding and diapering your own parent that grows tenderness and humility in your soul, and that even though you are a control freak, when you have epilepsy you learn that you can't control everything, and you'd better learn to be flexible when you're not able to drive for 6 months at a time! (Holy cow--good thing I think my husband is, like, the most handsome chauffeur EVER.

     In my professional life--when it comes to kids, I've learned that the language we use with them is just as important as what we teach them. By having a learning reaction to their inquiry instead of rescuing them creates people that are self-thinkers, problem solvers, and empowers them to take on the tough stuff that life will throw at them. (See above paragraph for examples ;~)

     When it comes to working with teachers in the area of technology integration, the spectrum is wide. For some teachers it is a second nature to learn a new learning management system, take on a new software program, or understand the new standards-based report card, while others need to develop a learning reaction to their frustrations in their learning. While this is a more difficult part of my job, I love the challenge. 

     So--that's my story...how taking on a learning reaction in my life continues to make it immeasurably better. We always have that choice when it comes to something new or when something upsets our cart of comfortableness. I choose the mindset of a learning reaction---and it's been a good, good thing. 

Click here for a great article on having a learning reaction with our students.