#choosekind

School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM. 

How will you #choosekind this year?

 

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First Days of School

Back when I was still a classroom teacher, our principal always used to email us before school the wise words of Harry Wong – “You only get one first day of school!”

Such a simple message but really powerful and a wonderful reminder to all of us to strive to set the tone for the first day of school. How do we want students to feel when they walk into our classroom? How do we want to feel at the end of the day?

Building relationships is such a crucial part of establishing a culture of trust in our classrooms. Our students need to know the adults in their lives care about them and respect them as people and as individuals.

When I taught 8th grade, my partner teacher and I shared students; he had them for English and I had them for Social Studies. We did a block schedule Mon-Thursday and then on Friday we saw all classes. So, every quarter, on a Friday, we’d combine our classes and do some team-building activities that centered around validating students and their talents, and generating a stronger sense of community. Middle school students are so great; just on the cusp of figuring themselves out but still wanting to be a little kid every now and then. They want their independence, but they also want to fit in and often conform in order to do so. I loved seeing them grow and change throughout the year.

I know a lot of the teachers in our district are focusing on climate and culture the first week of school, and rightly so. Before you can expect people to work for you, they have to feel valued and respected. It’s important to model that all voices are important, all perspectives are welcomed, and acceptance rules the day. But it’s not only crucial in the first week of school, it’s important to revisit and remind throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite ways to build community in your classroom? How do you cultivate trust all year long?

Blended Learning Day Camp 2017

Remember when you were a kid and you went to camp – and it was awesome? Well, last week I got to go to “camp” – and it was awesome! Michigan Virtual University has put on an annual Day Camp for the last three years. Centered around implemented blended learning, the conference features both inspiring speakers as well as examples of teachers implementing blended learning in their classrooms.

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Not only did I get to attend, I was asked to be a Camp Counselor and have my own cabin of campers. Each camper was assigned a cabin (table) and a seat, which was designed to get people out of their comfort zones and to network with others. Our table was split into two cabins – 12A and 12B – and each cabin had a counselor. Most counselors at each table were instructional technology specialists or building leaders. We acted as the moderator to help break the ice with our campers, facilitated some lunchtime discussions around our practice, and helped to manage the GooseChase scavenger hunt.

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And we got some sweet swag! There’s a fanny pack hiding in that coffee mug!

The Keynote speaker for the event was the incredibly inspiring Pernille Ripp. She’s a middle school teacher in Wisconsin who has a really interesting story about how she became a teacher and landed in her school. Aside from the hard work she engages in as a teacher, Pernille also is the founder of the Global Read Aloud, which several teachers in our district have participated in.

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We hear a lot in education about doing what’s best for kids, but we don’t often actually ask kids what it is they want we teachers to do. Pernille does this – and then she makes changes to her instruction and how to interacts with students. Not only does this create an environment where students feel comfortable to contribute to their learning, it also demonstrates to students that their voices are valued and matter. When we think about how we want to teach our students to engage in the world, what better way to model that for our students than to ask them to use their voices and have conversations about those wants.

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I could go on and on about how much what Pernille said resonated with me, but something she has been promoting for a few years is around behavior charts. I couldn’t agree more with her. Whether or not I’m having a bad day should not be public knowledge. Continually publicizing students’ behavior issues really doesn’t seem to make a difference in student behavior. I have seen behavior charts used in classrooms. The well-behaved students continue to behave well. The students who are on “yellow” or lose points become disgruntled or upset and continue to act out, until they go to “red” or lose more points. Of course eventually, those students on “red” lose other privileges. I think about how I would feel if I went to a conference session or a work meeting and was called out for talking or being off task. I certainly wouldn’t engage in the rest of the training with an open mind, and the next time I had to work with that presenter or leader, I’d have an attitude and would have my guard up.  Why would we expect any different from our students?

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There were a few big takeaways from the Blended Learning Day Camp for me. First, I loved the scavenger hunt component using the GooseChase app. GooseChase makes the work of a scavenger hunt super easy. You create a game, others join your game (you can password protect them), and then they complete the various challenges within the game. You can have participants take photo evidence, use GPS location, take a video, or write a text response. I love the multiple modalities incorporated into the app, and it’s so easy to create a game or participate in one. I’m definitely going to incorporate this into some of my day-long trainings this summer.

Another takeaway was the opportunity to get up, network, and play with a small group of teachers. Throughout the day there were multiple times when we were able to stand up, solve a problem, make something, or explore. We had a playground/Makerspace with a variety of “toys” – Spheros, MakeyMakey, Little Bits, BryteBites, etc. There was also a BreakoutEDU game. If you haven’t done one yet, I’d highly encourage you to give it a try. You can order a kit online, or you can make your own. It is a WONDERFUL community-building activity, first week of school, “brain break” activity. It requires students to work together to solve a common problem – with some tension added in as they are fighting against a clock and other teams. The GooseChase game also asked participants to find areas outside of the conference space, so it was fun to get outside and walk around.

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Lastly, I’m excited to participate in a book study with author Liz Kolb, who just published a new book called Learning First, Technology Second. We got to hear about the impetus behind her book and some of the highlights of her research findings. I’m not-so-patiently waiting for my book to arrive from ISTE so I can dive in and really participate in the online book study.

Your Turn: What were some of your favorite summer learning/professional development experiences? What made them so awesome? 

Why #ISTE17 Was My Favorite ISTE Yet…

Y’all, Texas got me!

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Enjoying the Riverwalk

A couple weeks ago (side note – how has it already been two weeks!? This summer is flying by), I went to San Antonio along with a few thousand other educators for one of the biggest education conferences of the year. Even though it took me over 13 hours to get there – hello cancelled flights, delays, and lost luggage – I had a blast and learned SO MUCH deep in the heart of Texas.

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Significantly less excited to be traveling 6+ hours in and stuck at O’Hare

Honestly, I could write thousands of words about the energy and beautiful chaos of ISTE, but I am going to try to focus on a couple of my big takeaways from the conference, and why this was my favorite one yet. (Full disclosure, I leave every ISTE thinking it was the best one ever…)

Professional Learning Among Professionals

One of the best parts of attending a conference is being surrounded by so many professionals, on fire for improving their practice, sharing what they’ve already done, making connections, and planning how to improve their teaching the next year. This year I was honored to be chosen to present at ISTE on the work I’ve been doing with podcasting in our school district. It is always exhilarating – and terrifying – to present on what you’ve done to a group of educators. I really appreciated how folks took the time to Tweet me, engage in our presentation, and reach out after the presentation to continue the conversation. While there are always a plethora of sessions to choose from as well as Playgrounds, Poster Sessions, and other types of learning to engage in, the most value I always find is in those conversations with others. The opportunity to dig deep, to think critically, to have your ideas challenged, to reflect on your own ideas and practice are all invaluable.

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Model The Behavior You Want to See

We know a lot about how people learn, and the efficacy of engaging with learning versus just hearing about something. And yet, so often, the type of professional learning teachers experience goes against everything we know about best practice. Teachers complain all the time that most of the professional development isn’t useful, is a waste of time, or that they never have the chance to really “learn” because they hear about something once or twice and never revisit it again. One of the best sessions I attended was called “Designing ‘Just Right’ Professional Development” and the presenters – Connie Lippenholz, Lucy Podmore, and Matthew Patty – were not only engaging and entertaining, but it was clear they have given deep thought about what pedagogical approaches will best meet their learners, and will create a systemic change in the ways their teachers model instruction. (You should totally follow them on Twitter because they are awesome!)

Visit the Exhibit Hall

You can’t expect to attend a huge technology conference without a large presence of all kinds of new (and more seasoned) tech companies and tools. It can be totally overwhelming to try to visit all the vendors, so probably don’t even try. But, many vendors are becoming more in tune with what educators are looking for and what kinds of powers they have. A teacher might see a super cool tool and want to bring them back to their school, but most teachers don’t have any budgetary powers. I think a lot of vendors understand that are are focusing more on how their tools could be implemented in a classroom setting. Nearpod had a bunch of mini sessions where teachers could sit and experience using their software in a mock classroom setting. Google also has many different sessions showcasing “nuts and bolts” type examples of how their products can be implemented in a variety of learning environments. Seeing those examples are more powerful than showing a principal or superintendent a flashy flier.

Attend Networking Events

After the conference each day, several vendors host happy hour and cocktail events. A lot of the ISTE PLNs have networking events, too. This is a great way to learn a bit more about a company’s product or offering, but more valuable, is the chance to talk to other educators. We attended a dinner with myON, a company committed to creating a digital literacy environment for students to boost student reading and excitement around reading. We learned a bit more about some of the new offerings and the philosophy behind the company. But, over dinner, I got to hear from two different people from schools who have implemented myON in their district and the effects its had on student reading, growth, and achievement on standardized tests. There is value in spending time with other educators – friends and strangers alike – and doing it in a more relaxed setting is even better.

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Take Time to Reflect

It’s important to spend some time reviewing resources, ideas, products, people, etc. that came across your path. Then, begin setting some goals for your practice. I love to blog in order to reflect, set public goals, and hold myself accountable. Some people podcast – which I’m planning to do, also! Sharing what you learned with your colleagues is also powerful.

ISTE is incredibly overwhelming but also so inspiring and energizing. I had a blast in San Antonio – despite getting “Deep in the Heart of Texas” stuck in my head for about a week.

 

Next year, ISTE is a little closer to home in Chicago, and I’m already excited for it!

 

Sharing Stories

Last week I had the pleasure of working with one of my favorite people and her awesome students. She’s a reading specialist here in Lansing and last year I introduced her to the Global Read Aloud last year and she read Fish in a Tree with her students. This year, her kiddos are reading Pax, and, like me, they have all fallen in love with the story of a young boy and his pet fox.

One of the things we love about the GRA is that it allows students to make connections over a common story with people from all over the world. It’s so validating for students to be able to hear people commenting on their ideas and opinions, asking them questions, and making connections.

On Thursday, the students and I used the iPad app Shadow Puppet to create short videos about their favorite character in the book. Prior to my lesson with the students, Mrs. Jacobs had the kids draw a picture of a scene from the book that included their favorite character. They also had a script of what they wanted to say, since some students freeze up when they have to record themselves! After a quick lesson on how to use Shadow Puppet, the kids were off to the races. It was awesome to listen to their explanations about why they chose a particular character.

After everyone recorded their videos, we uploaded them to YouTube. Then I got to sit with the students and Mrs. Jacobs and talk about what they had read so far. I have read the whole book, so the students were anxious to pick my brain about what happens in the book. It was fun to hear their questions and to not really answer any of them, because no one REALLY wants to know how it ends before you get to it!

We are a bit behind the official reading schedule for the Global Read Aloud, but we are really enjoying the deep dive and discussing the book. We’d love to connect with you over Google Hangouts or Skype. Let me know!

 

My Education Journey

I’m often asked how I came to be an Instructional Technology Specialist. In many parts of the state, it seems that this role is a relatively new one, so people are often curious about what exactly I do and how I got there.

Most often people decide to join the teaching profession for one of two reasons: they grew up knowing they wanted to be a teacher, or they had such a terrible teacher that they want to enter education to change the experiences of future students.

My journey in education didn’t start in the traditional way. I never wanted to be a teacher. Growing up, I thought I would be a princess. When that didn’t pan out, and I began to think about what I might major in when I went to college, I thought I would seek out a career in communication or public relations. Once I got to college and took a course in communications and really didn’t like it. At the same time I was taking a European History class, mostly because I had always had a love of history and wanted to learn more. In high school I was always the student that others wanted to study with because I knew a lot and took great notes! It was while sitting in that European History class my freshman year at Michigan State that I realized I wanted to study history.

After changing my major to history and taking a variety of history courses, I heard over and over – “What are you going to do with a history degree? Teach?” And my pat response was always, “I’m not sure what I want to do, but I know that I don’t want to teach.”

Not long after I graduated, my cousin – a Sergeant First Class in the Army at the time – came to visit my parents. We hadn’t seen him in many years as he joined the Army right out of high school and was several years older than me. He had been stationed in Germany for the past three years, was getting stationed in Hawaii, and then would be deployed within the year to Afghanistan. My cousin offered me an opportunity to house sit for him in Hawaii while he was gone to Afghanistan. It was an amazing chance to live in a part of the world that I always said I wanted to visit.

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The house I was responsible for “sitting”. It was on the top of a mountain on Hawaii’s North Shore.

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View of the sunset from my lanai (porch)

Once I moved to Oahu, I set about finding a job and ways to spend my time. My cousin was stationed at Schofield Barracks and got me a part time volunteering “job” at the local museum on post. There, I worked on data entry – digitizing records of visitors, events, and letters to and from Schofield Barracks. It was interesting work, and I got to work with the curator a bit on putting together exhibits. One of the guys who worked at the museum told me about the USS Missouri was hiring tour guides to give tours of the battleship and that I should apply. I knew NOTHING about ships, and had never thought about being a tour guide. In fact, I didn’t know that I could get in front of large groups of people and speak. But, I applied, headed down to my interview, and landed the job!

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The Mighty Mo

We went through a major training process where we learned all there was to know about the ship – her history, how she was built, the specs about the engine and horsepower, artillery, etc. It was awe-inspiring and overwhelming. I never knew that World War Two officially ended on the decks of the Battleship Missouri. The more I learned, the more passionate I became – both about the ship and about my job. Being able to share with so many people the history of an integral part of the larger history of the United States was an honor. Through my work on the Battleship Missouri, I was blessed to meet true heroes – men who fought and survived World War Two. I was able to spend time with several former captains of the ship, give a tour to the governor of Oklahoma, observe two interments off the stern of the Missouri, and watch from the bow of the Missouri the Missing Man Flyover in honor of the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

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The beginning and the end of World War Two for the United States. USS Arizona memorial and USS Missouri. The Missouri is where the documents of surrender were signed by the Japanese on Sept. 2nd, 1945.

It was also how I came to decide to become a teacher. I knew that educating children would be very different from being a tour guide, but I also knew that I would feel a huge sense of pride and accomplishment in working with so many young people and guiding their learning. I wanted them to see that history could be interesting and fun, nuanced and complex. So I decided to return to Michigan after my cousin got back from Afghanistan and get my teaching degree.

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After an amazing student-teaching experience in a 7th grade classroom at Williamston Middle School, I knew I wanted to work with middle school students, so that’s where I focused my search. I was lucky enough to be offered a job as a 7th and 8th grade Social Studies and ELA teacher at Pathfinder School in Pinckney shortly after graduating with my teaching certificate. I worked for three years with an amazing group of educators and for an excellent principal. I honed many of my classroom management skills and began to think much more about my role as a teacher and about education as a whole. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, I was laid off after three years. It was heartbreaking to leave a school where I felt like I had built a reputation, was taking on leadership roles, knew the staff and students, and where I wanted to make my career. By that time, I began to feel pretty jaded about education – not teaching, but education. Knee jerk policies, unfunded mandates, and the increased pressures on teachers to do more with less had made me feel very frustrated and defeated.

During my first three years of teaching, I worked on getting my Master’s Degree in Education Technology from Michigan State. The MAET program was an awesome way for me to combine my love of teaching with my passion for technology. I was able to learn a lot of new ideas and theories in my classes, and then implement them into my practice. Once I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I began seeking out opportunities to use it in a more explicit way.  481591_10102825188805804_1450006417_n

While my journey has been somewhat convoluted and certainly not traditional, I firmly believe that it was the right path. Each step led me closer to this role, but I didn’t know that was where I was heading when I set out on it. Today, I am able to collaborate and share with many teachers from around the district, learn, plan, collaborate, and share with them, and interact with a variety of students. It’s an awesome way to share my expertise and learn from so many brilliant educators. It’s an amazing gift and I am so appreciative!

Your Turn:

What’s your educational journey? 
Are you where you thought you’d be? 

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!