April 8

Being The Change

I’ve seen this post pop up a time or two this week.  The first time I read it I shook my head in agreement and, as usual, performed a short reflection to ask myself if it applied to me and if not, why?

I have come to the conclusion that it especially applies to the instructional technology coach team I am fortunate to be a small part of right now.  We are pretty successful at what we do.  So, successful, perhaps, that most people don’t really have an inkling of what we really do.  Yet, we do follow many concepts mentioned in the aforementioned post.

  1. We don’t really need to be managed in all things.
    • The coaches are such a cohesive group that we work seamlessly as a team.  The more seasoned coaches mentor the newbies and the newbies offer fresh perspective to the seasoned coaches.  We ask one another first when we are uncertain or need guidance.  We speak with one voice and share ideas, questions that have been posed to us, and responses we have provided.  We focus on what is best for teachers and, more importantly, what is best for students’ learning.
    • We share responsibilities.  We prop one another up.  We communicate.  We care.
  2. We initiate.
    • Last year I got the hair-brained idea that we should be offering online professional development to teachers and suggested using Google Hangouts.  At first I got an eye-roll from my compadres.  After a week or so, they were on-board and we splashed our way into the deep end to give it a try.  We adapted a workshop that we had offered face-to-face and rolled with it.  I took a back-seat but did all I could to support and encourage and suggest.  It was a huge success!  So, we built upon it and continue to learn and grow and expand after hosting three successful online workshops.
    • We offer ideas and suggestions to teachers that we think will enhance their teaching and student learning and nudge them by getting them started on new adventures and support them as they put these in place.  Such was the case with a couple of young science teachers this year with whom I worked.  In a thirty-minute face-to-face planning time, I got them started creating a HyperDoc.  Their enthusiasm was exciting and their end-product and highly-engaged student lesson became a highlight of the quarter.  We continued our work digitally and I showed up to support their implementation but they and their students were really the rock stars when it came to content and skill mastery during that extended lesson.  We initiated a trend that they want to continue building upon for the upcoming year.
  3. We take risks and responsibilities.
    • Every teacher with whom we work is not ready for jumping into online professional development at a location which is remote to the facilitator.  Every teacher is not ready to create a HyperDoc after thirty minutes of face-to-face collaboration.  Some are only ready to post a traditional web-quest in a Google Classroom – substituting an online document for a pencil/paper learning and gathering of facts, events, dates, etc.  Some are more ready to initiate blended learning where they create screencasts for students to watch and come to a classroom that looks and feels more like a coffee shop to work on AP Calculus practice.  So, it is our responsibility to foster those opportunities and nudge teachers into and beyond each stage.
    • We visit classrooms and learn teachers’ and students’ strengths and build upon them.  We nudge them to try new strategies, new digital tools, and new practices but we also support their risk-taking by providing a safety net when they are stepping outside their comfort zone.

I’ve been frustrated since – well, since the beginning of this calendar year because I’ve felt like we are undervalued, unappreciated, and misunderstood.  Instead of being asked what observations I had regarding needs for teacher professional development, we were given a focus that isn’t really in-depth and well-rounded.  We were stunned and frustrated but in the end, we worked to adapt and develop the concept into something rigorous, contemporary, and differentiated.  We decided that instead of just doing the job, we would do it right and complete.

Some of my frustration has also come as a result of needing to be challenged and offered professional development that would grow me and prepare me as a coach for teachers.  I realize I don’t know everything and I need more.  However, my frustration grew because I wasn’t being given the opportunity to seek out challenging, cutting edge, innovative learning opportunities.  Again, lack of understanding, a lack of appreciation, and a lack of feeling valued set in.  Yet, when I used the post mentioned at the top of this page, I was prompted to reflect and I realized something ultra-important.  It really doesn’t matter whether one is valued, appreciated, understood.  It really doesn’t matter if those with leadership positions supervising me don’t really model up-to-date and cutting-edge leadership qualities.  What matters is exactly those behaviors mentioned in the post I read.  One must be responsible enough to take risks in order to grow and be the change she wants to see and hope that those little changes in her little corner of the world make a difference there.

March 29

Capitalization Made Easy

Did you know you can now convert text to all CAPS and even more in a Google Document?  I remember how helpful it was for me when I discovered the Google Document Add-on, Change Case.  I loved that it would assist me to manipulate text.  The possibilities exactly met my needs:

I like that I can use Change Case for acronyms.  It is much faster for me to simply enter the letters and then manipulate them to be all uppercase.

For those times that I accidentally left the Caps Lock on and entered half a sentence, I like that I could manipulate the text to Sentence case.

These examples and several other times that Add-on saved me some time, effort, and frustration.  It really is the little things isn’t it?  Well, if you don’t have the Change Case Add-on and want to have a simple way to manipulate text, I have good news from Google!

 

The folks at Google have just added a new piece to the Format drop-down box.  There is now a Capitalization option right in Google Docs without having an Add-on.  In the toolbar, simply select Format > Capitalization and choose the option needed:

  • lowercase, to make all the letters in your selection lowercase
  • UPPERCASE, to capitalize all the letters in your selection
  • Title Case, to capitalize the first letter of each word in your selection

It’s that easy!  So, instead of spending time focused upon formatting, you can do more creating, follow your inspirations more, collaborate more.

 

 

March 8

International Women’s Day

While March is designated as Women’s History Month, today is officially International Women’s Day.  I first learned of International Women’s Day by reading Maria Shriver’s The Sunday Paper.  I’ve always loved the quote which she started off the day on Sunday: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

I’ve never been one to take my privileges and opportunities for granted.  My father was really a part of the Women’s Movement years ago and probably never realized it – or intended it, either, for that matter.  He was just doing his best to try to raise strong women who could take care of themselves – and he and my mother certainly did.

I will always hear my Daddy telling me that I could do anything those boys could do when it came to farm work.  He encouraged me to work hard and participate in agricultural endeavors in 4-H when that was not really the norm.  Oh, I did do a bit of sewing and canning for the state fair but our greatest efforts and best showing as young girls was in the livestock arena.  We trained our heifers to lead and joined the guys out there in the show ring parading our best and competing for top honors.  At that time there were very few girls involved in that aspect of 4-H which was mostly dominated by guys.  I think I was the first girl on a dairy judging team in our county as well.

Now, Daddy didn’t want me to forget I was feminine or to forget that there were times when lady-like behavior was most acceptable, but he told us that the true mark of a lady was if she could stand hip-deep in mud and manure and thirty minutes later look and smell like a rose…and that we were forced to do quite often.

Later, when my life was at a crossroad, Daddy again was my strongest encourager.  I listened to him lift me up time and time again telling me, “You can do this,” when I was working full-time, going to school at night full-time, and trying to keep up with a couple of teenagers as a newly-single-mother.  So, I guess without even knowing it, Daddy was a lot like Harry T. Burn.  Only, instead of listening to his mother, he was encouraging his daughter.

Now, let me make it perfectly clear, I have never struggled the way many women have.  I’ve never lived in poverty.  I may have been like the one out of three women Shriver focused upon with her 2014 Report – on the  brink.  I remember not knowing if I was going to have enough gas to get to work on Friday when I didn’t get paid till Monday and that sort of thing but I could have asked for help and any number of people would have been glad to lend a hand.  In those times, I truly was on the brink like some of the women spotlighted in the video She’s The One – if something had broken or I’d been in a car wreck, I would have been in a mess.  I was fortunate and feel like I was being looked after by a divine being, though.

Daddy also always impressed upon me the importance of voting.  He reminded me that our country is strong because of the  power of the vote and I should not take that privilege for granted.  He told me that if I wasn’t going to be able to go to the polls on election day that there is always the opportunity to vote early.  He reminded me that lots of people had given their lives to provide me we the chance to vote and not to take that lightly.

On this International Women’s Day, I also would like to remind folks – especially women, not to take our situation lightly.  Here in The United States, women are fortunate.  We enjoy many opportunities.  While, we still live in a man’s world for the most part due to the fact that there are far more men who out-earn us and out-power us in the corporate and political world, we are fortunate here.  So, let’s not forget folks like Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, Lide E. Meriwether, and Anne Dallas Dudley.  Check out the Tennessee Virtual Archive for more information about these women.  There are also more materials online and a museum in Seneca Falls, New York which celebrates Women’s Rights that is owned and operated as a part of the National Park Service.  Visit the Tennessee Woman’s Suffrage Monument at Centennial Park in Nashville to learn more, as well.

I may like the opening quote because I think it gives me permission to misbehave at times.  I do strongly believe that it is those people – both men and women – who don’t do the ordinary that we remember and respect.  So, on International Women’s Day, why not honor a strong woman you admire and respect?  I am!  I’m fortunate enough to work with them daily!  Today my work is dedicated to you Andi Davis, Jessica Johnson, Katy Whatley, Sara Smith, Stacy White, Tara Wilhelm, and Missy Polosky!

February 19

What makes a good writer?

When I was in the classroom, I often was asked, “How do you get your student writers to be so good at writing?”  Trust me, they were not good writers by accident!  They were good writers because we wrote – A LOT!  In my class, students wrote every single day.  It was a requirement.  They knew it from day one.

At first, they grumbled a lot and some were quite resistant.  After a week or two, it became something that they knew could not be avoided and they accepted it.  After a month or so, they looked forward to writing time.  How did we get to that point?  By writing – A LOT!

You see, as the eighth grade English/Language Arts/Reading teacher, I was charged with getting those students ready to write on-demand for the state assessment.  The state writing assessment carried a lot of weight.  It counted as 25% of the middle school state report card’s accountability score.  Then, their state standardized ELA/Reading score counted 25% of the remaining 75% with math, science, and social studies scores rounding out the remainder of that 75%.  Therefore, performance in my class was important for the entire school – for sixth and seventh grades as well as the eighth grade.  So, in my class, students wrote – A LOT!

Times have changed when it comes to accountability scoring but the emphasis on being a good writer is still important for all grade levels and accountability reporting.  For that reason, students still need to write – A LOT!

To this day, I always look for writing inspiration that I can share with teachers to help develop their student writers.  Oh, there is more to developing writers than just challenging them to put words on a page, for certain.  Students need a mini-lesson on a regular basis to help guide them in knowing the conventions of the language – grammar, spelling, mechanics, etc.  They also need to read continually and especially to read and discuss good writing.  After all, without a model, learning is just trial and error and schools today do not have time to allow for a lot of trial and error – some, yes, but not a lot.  Guiding and developing student writers is an on-going task for any teacher in any content area.  However, the most important ingredient to the recipe for developing good student writers is to have expectations for writing – A LOT.

Today, I revisited a site that I have enjoyed periodically as inspirational – something that inspires me to be more appreciative of my blessings and encourages me to strive toward being a better person.  As I read a couple of stories today, my thought was, “Wow!  Wouldn’t this be a great model for student writers?  Some student writers could use this as a model and run with it.  They could become noticers and voices to tell bits of another’s story.”  Sometimes what a person needs to rejuvenate his/her writing life is a bit of inspiration.  So, my suggestion for today is, share Humans of New York with your students and maybe one or two might be inspired to develop his or her own Humans of… series, sharing an interesting bit of someone else’s story.

Write on!

And, write – A LOT!

January 21

Changes And What We Are Doing

Our world is constantly changing and that is nothing new.  Seasons change.  Generations change. The earth changes.  People change.  Nothing stays the same.  Since the beginning of time we have been changing and that is a good thing.  Most of the time change is subtle and we hardly even notice.  Sometimes change is more dramatic and more noticeable and it rocks us back on our heels.

This week we have experienced a piece of that dramatic change.  For the first time in eight years we have a new president to lead our country.  No matter what your politics might be, that is a fact.  We have change in our midst.

I must admit that I had grown comfortable with the way things were and had settled in to a comfort zone of sorts thinking that I kind of knew what to expect.  So, with the swearing in of a new president, I had been rocked back on my heels a bit because with such a change there is uncertainty.  The only certainty ahead of us is that there will be more change.  So, I looked around for a little bit of inspiration and encouragement and it was quite easy to find.

The first place I found inspiration and encouragement was in a blog post which suggests that vocabulary is a powerful thing.  Elizabeth Moore reminded me that even though there are lots of things we cannot control in the classroom, one thing we can control is the  language we use.   Moore encouraged learners that we have choices and those choices are at the heart of learning and growing.  So, I’m planning to try to make choices in the language I use with teachers and students to encourage them to realize they have choices for growing and learning as well.

Another place I found inspiration and encouragement was in a quote from Andy Rooney.  Happiness is something we all strive for whether we recognize it or not.  Melissa at 320 Sycamore used Rooney’s words to offer up Courage for the Week.  In essence, it says that if we base our happiness or unhappiness on major events, we are not going to be happy much of the time.  However, if we base our happiness on the simple necessities and pleasures in life, we will live with quite a bit of happiness.  So, I’m trying to look for the simplistic things in life to enjoy and celebrate their pleasures.

The next place I found inspiration and encouragement was right under my nose.  Students at one of our elementary schools right here in the district are steadily posting to their student created newsblog.  One of the students had crafted an encouraging piece suggesting How to be a Hero.  It is powerful and it is inspiring and it truly proclaims that each of us has the opportunity to be a hero.  So, I’m reminding myself that I need to continue doing the right thing, to be respectful, and to be that someone who others can trust.

And finally, another place I found inspiration and encouragement is a post which really resonated as I was searching for a way to honor one of our country’s former leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr.  I landed on a post which started with the powerful quote featured at the beginning of this post.  I may not always embrace change even though I know that change is inevitable and constant.  As public school teachers we are certainly in the business of doing for others.  Our paycheck comes from the contribution of tax dollars.  While we don’t get to choose lots of things about our classroom, we do get to choose the language we use to guide and encourage student learning.  Teaching and learning is all about courage and taking risks and changing from who we are and what we know and how we do things toward growing and maturing and becoming more.  Sometimes it is just the simplest thing that makes all the difference in our teaching and in our learning and that should be celebrated and bring about happiness.  The words of young writers certainly emphasize the importance of being a model for them.  They remind us that we are heroes in some ways whether it is intentional or not.  They remind us that we are being observed always and it is important to walk the walk and talk the talk for those students and one another.  As public school teachers we are Architects of Change each and every day and maybe part of what we also need to do is share with students ideas about how another person took something that was being set aside as useful and make it serve another purpose.  In this day and age when we are constantly bombarded by change and frequently rocked back on our heels by change, sometimes we feel just a little bit lost.  This week I was reminded by the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

I always have been and continue to be fortunate, grateful, and proud to be an American citizen.  As teachers in our country’s public school system, let us not forget that we are a service professional and we are preparing our students to take care of our world and of us in the future.  That is a huge responsibility and we handle that responsibility in our ever changing world with the most simplistic and often overlooked ways that we go about doing our job.

January 11

Tenets of an Effective Educator

I’m working to put a workshop for teachers together.  So, the first thing I always do when mapping out a workshop is to remind myself of the characteristics which I need to embody and the tools that I need to employ.  In a recent post by Carl Hendrick I noticed a comparison between great coaches and great teachers.  He reinforced the concept that effective teaching is a result of good relationships.

As with planning a lesson for the classroom, I put some thought into what outcome I wanted.  I considered what my measuring stick might look like and the details of what I would be measuring.  Begin with the end in mind.  So, I jotted down some ideas that would guide me through creating and facilitating the workshop.  Then, I realized, these same criterion might be a good guide for most any effective educator.

  1. Identify your passion and share it.

Find an element that you strongly believe is important and outline exactly what it is you love about that element.  Relate your passion for that element to those with whom you are working.  Share your enthusiasm and excitement.  Show them how much you love it.  Let your passion be contagious.

2. Be knowledgeable.

There will be things that you know and resources that you rely upon for most any topic you are going to address with your teaching.  Don’t stop with what you already know or what you have learned – strive to know more.  Learn as much as possible.  Refresh and renew the resources to make your knowledge the most current and grounded.

3. Set high expectations.

We all want our students to strive for and achieve excellence.  What is the ultimate goal?  Set the bar high.  Just because your learners may not have the same background knowledge or experience, that doesn’t mean they cannot make great strides of achievement.  With support, anything can be accomplished!

4. Model expected behavior.

The best example is a good model.  Do as I tell you is not as effective as let me show you.  We are always showing others through example whether we realize it or not.  So, why not be a positive example?  When we model expected behavior, there is a guide for others to follow.

5. Command respect and trust.

The best way to command respect is to give respect to others.  When we show respect to others, we are honoring them and showing our reverence for them.  If we want to be respected, showing that respect is a must.  Along with that, remember that a true community of learners develops a concept of trust in one another.  We grow to know what to expect and to rely upon one another.  So, if we don’t trust others to give us their best, we can never be the receivers of trust and respect.

6. Create a space for scholarly endeavors.

Just as we decorate our homes, when we create materials such as explanatory handouts or research guides or even rubrics, we are decorating our scholarly space.  We are not living up to our own expectations when there are grammatical and spelling errors or when the materials are not eye appealing and inviting.  Design with the expectations in mind.  Your work is a reflection of you; so let that reflection show who you are and what you expect.

Inspire your students to be better than they thought they could be!

January 5

Getting Back Into The Swing Of Things

Over the holiday break I noticed several ideas and suggestions for lessons on setting goals and making resolutions and choosing one little word.  Some were even focused on creating lesson plans which guided students through setting goals and making resolutions like this one and this one.  While I’m not really one for making new year resolutions, I did find value in the concepts put forth by these aforementioned blog posts.  I gave each of them some thought.  I pondered and I jotted down ideas and I pondered some more.  Then, I seriously tried to set some goals for myself.  If you clicked on one of the previous links, you noticed that I did wind up setting a few personal goals.  Then, I took a wee little bit of time and considered how I might approach this concept if I were returning to the classroom in a few days.  What would I do to help my students settle in and get focused to persevere toward the end of the school year?  Here are the concepts I landed upon:

  1.  Set a couple of professional goals for myself and commit to them by writing them down.  I wouldn’t just write down a word or a phrase, I would use some of the suggestions I saw in the blog posts I read and flesh them out a little bit.
  2. I would not only write these goals down, I would probably also write down my thoughts and ideas for where I brainstormed so that I could share that process with my students.  I would want to have my thinking be visible in order to model what takes place for my students.
  3. I would do a bit of reflection and make a list or two relating to my reflection.  List one would be, what have I done in the past that made me successful to achieving my goals?  List two would be, what do I think I need to do to make me successful toward achieving new goals?  I might even make a third list; whatop20bottom17t risks would I like to take at this time?
  4. I would create a couple of planning templates to share with my students to help guide them if they feel they need a graphic guide.  One of them could be something like Orman’s Top 20/Bottom 17.  If you would like a ready-made template example of the one shown below, just click HERE.  Of course, I would work through the template or something similar to model such planning for my stuidea-plan-actiondents.
  5. I would ask students to follow up with brainstorming and creating a plan.  Encouraging students perform a bit of deep thinking and refining of their goals.  Again, they might need an organizer to guide their thoughts.  HERE is an example you might offer if they do.  It expounds on the ideas offered from one of the blog posts linked above and encourages students to carefully consider and brainstorm to come up with a plan for making a limited number of their to-do goals a reality.  I would also encourage students to do the same with a couple or three of their not-to-do goals a reality.  Again, I would certainly model this practice.

Since goal-setting is a natural focus for the beginning of a new year, guiding students to do some thinking and planning for making their goals a reality might be a good way to transition back into thinking and writing.  Happy New Year and happy goal setting and planning!

December 21

Send Students Into The Holiday Break With Questions!

You’ve spent months building a learning community, pre-assessing, teaching, formative assessing, re-teaching, and wrapped the semester with a cumulative semester exam.  So, what did  your students leave your classroom with to bridge them through to the holidays?

When I was in the classroom, I always liked to send students out with two things:

  1. A gift for somebody else that was a piece of themselves
  2. Encouragement to continue learning by interacting with others

You know those writing genres that you studied this semester in your ELA classroom?  Why not ask students to use that as a springboard for a gift of writing to share with somebody else?  My students were encouraged to be creative and come up with a unique gift that only cost them some thinking time and a bit of writing.  Here are some examples of what my students crafted:

  • Recipe for a Great Mom, Dad, Sister, Grandma, Grandpa, etc.
  • I Am From poem describing family, home, gift, pet, etc.
  • Word Cloud of adjectives/adverbs which describe family, home, person, etc.
  • Lab Report for the creation of a favorite holiday treat (cooking from a science perspective instead of a recipe)
  • Personal narrative describing family gathering from pet’s, house’s, car’s, etc. perspective
  • How-To for the perfect gift, parent, grandparent, etc.
  • List poem such as Knoxville, Tennessee by Nikki Giovanni

I would model how I created a gift using one of the examples above and have it focused on my Granny, sister, parent, or grandchild.  Then, I just provided encouragement, a sounding board, and time for them to create.  Often, I would find that my students would get going and create a written testament for several family members!

Students were also encouraged to step outside their comfort zone and interact with folks with whom they might not normally converse.  I mentioned that we would be performing research and would also have an opportunity to perform personal interviews after the holiday break.  So, we would look at some examples and I also would share some Story Corps broadcasts as examples – I  usually would choose those which were both audio/video and had the script to read.  Story Corps provides a wonderful bank of questions from which students can draw to be the basis of their interview or to get some conversations going with a family member who isn’t so familiar to them.

So, instead of ending your time with your students embroiled in a test, why not send them off with a bit of creativity and some questions to learn more?

October 13

Uncomfortable

A message from this blog post called out to me.  The author said learning experiences are valuable when we “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”  I think the entire first quarter of this year has been about me learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable!  After a couple of days off as a result of our district’s fall break, I think I can return to my post as an instructional technology coach with the attitude that education is a process of being comfortable being uncomfortable.

There is a stronger sense of growth when there is a struggle in the accomplishment.  Each day we are growing and moving toward and away from something.  We set high expectations for your students and they have high expectations of us.  These high expectations provide opportunities for growth academically as well as personally.  Yesterday I shared ideas about how Messy is an Opportunity.  As teachers, we are laying the foundation for student performance and success that will last a lifetime.  Our hope is that our students will apply what they learn in our classrooms to their life’s work and practices.  So, as I begin to lay a foundation for the folks I will be working with during this new quarter, I am looking at reliable resources and ideas to guide me and I think my uncomfortable self will be relying upon the concepts in 5 Ways to Lay the Foundation for Innovation as a means to encourage the strengths I will be finding in the group of teachers I encounter.  The theme for my husband’s favorite football team was ‘brick-by-brick’ and I think we will adopt that same theme to finish out 2016.  I hope you will be uncomfortable and lay a few bricks, too.