To the Shiny & New

Every year new teachers step up to the plate for the first time. There is so much to learn, do, and organize that sometimes I feel that the most critical parts of the puzzle are lost in the shuffle. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has advice for you. Every where you turn there is a new training, district implementation, or face to meet. How do you tackle it all?

The answer is simple; you don’t.  As a first year teacher, you need to focus on you and your students. You need to define who you are as a classroom teacher without all the interference and subterfuge that comes from well meaning people who you interact with in the hallways and workrooms in your schools.

So here it is, another well meaning person sharing some advice with you. Take it, or leave it, but these little gems are the ones I wish I had gotten from my mentor 20+ years ago.

  1. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the perfect classroom set up.  Be kind to yourself. Take breaks and realize that as pretty as Pinterest makes all classrooms appear, the decorations and banners are not going to make or break your year.
  2. Focus on making connections with your learners. Take time to get to know them. I know well meaning coworkers are piling copies in your room and reminding you of all the curriculum you have to cover, but please remember to put your learners first. Invest in them and they will invest in learning with you.
  3. Find your marigolds. Choose the faculty you spend precious time with wisely. If someone’s rhetoric is negative and downs your first year enthusiasm with sage words like; “Things were so much easier when I was a first year teacher,” or “Teaching these kids is tough.” Maybe they are the walnut tree raining toxicity down on your garden.
  4. The test is important, but the kids and their growth is the most important thing you need to focus on. If you teach, care, and focus on kids their growth is sure to follow.
  5. Be brave. Try new things. It’s okay for a lesson or project to fail. Embrace the ability to fail forward, reflect on that failure, plan, adjust, and soar the next go-round. Your students aren’t perfect and neither are you. Our students need to learn that failure is a learning opportunity and modeling that is essential.
  6. Communication is key! Please communicate with others and often. Communicate with your students, their parents, your coworkers, your admin, and your mentor. Make positive phone calls home, and yes I said phone calls. I’m a techie, but hearing your child’s teacher gush over your child is a moment of sheer bliss for all parents. Leverage technology to allow yourself to reach a wider audience. The more you allow people into your classroom through clearly communicating your goals, missions, progress, and student victories, the better the sense of community.
  7. It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t believe for one second that anyone expects you to know what you need to do and how to do it every moment of every day. There are seasoned teachers who will candidly tell you that every year is a new year. Ask for help. Learn from your marigolds. Seek out your mentors and instructional coaches. You fought hard for your coveted position, now allow your school’s support system to help you find success.
  8. Understand and embrace the importance of your role as an educator. Students will look to you as a role model. That’s a heady responsibility. When you are in public, they will see you. Rush to say hi, or even hide from you. Be prepared to be spotted on your worst hair day ever, sick and running for meds. Smile, because that student who spotted you and rushes up to say hi just realized you don’t live in your classroom and you have a real life like them.
  9. Take care of yourself. You will get sick, tired, and overwhelmed. This is to be expected. However, if you don’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of your students?  Sick days, though not ideal, are given for a reason. You will be tired your first year, and germs are a reality in classrooms. Find time to do things that make you feel good, relaxed, and happy. Hit the gym, go for a walk, curl up with a good book, or spend time with a loved one. Whatever you do, pace yourself the school year is a marathon, not a sprint.
  10. Don’t overextend yourself. Superheroes weren’t created/born/mutated in a day. It takes time to hone your craft. Allow yourself time to get good at your instruction, routines, etc before you volunteer your life away. There is always need for something more and all hands on deck in schools. However balance is essential. As a first year teacher, teaching is your job and I dare say should be the only one whenever possible. Coaching, running clubs, doing extra duties can come later. Stick to learning the basics and becoming the best teacher you can before you don your superhero cape and flex those extracurricular muscles.

Now that I’ve shared those nuggets of wisdom, I am ready to don my superhero cape, rush into school, and overextend myself with too many projects and too little time. As you rush into your first year in your classroom, find time to cherish it. You will never get another first year of teaching. This year will be a year of amazing learning and growth for you. You’ve worked hard to get through school, interview, and land a position. Now celebrate your arrival. You are a teacher. You are a star. Allow yourself to shine.

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Fireflies in a Jar

August is filled with the bittersweet finale of summer vacay and the anxious anticipation of the coming school year dancing a tango in my head. Although summer is hardly the break some feel it is, summer allows me to slow down, focus and invest in my professional growth in my own venues, PLNs, and times.

When August arrives the tempo of summer changes. One can easily grow nervous & overwhelmed just walking into a store and spying the school supply aisle. What do I need to get? What will best work for my students or the teachers I coach? How will my room look through my students’ vantage point? All the hopes, dreams, and excitement of prepping for the kids’ return is a wild, untamed energy that keeps educators tossing and turning in their beds at night and phones dinging with text alerts sharing the latest and greatest dollar section treasures with colleagues.

I wish we could collect this energy, bottle it up, like a child collects fireflies in mason jars riddled with air holes. Like the energy of these returning to school educators, these mason jars are a work of art! Nature’s beauty contained for wonderment of youth and then released in one grand luminescent explosion of escaping exoskeletons. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could collect educator enthusiasm in the same way and release it in the gloomy months of late winter when the energy train is hard to recharge?!

As I am writing this, I know my energy is high! I’m bursting at the seams with new ideas, new treasures to decorate my workspace, and new students and teachers to work with this year! I want this euphoria to last. I want to bottle it and slowly release it throughout the course of the year with a directive to pour liberally as needed to replenish depleted energy levels.

However, I know I can’t. It’s just not possible. So I will slam into a new school year with enthusiasm exploding out and make a pledge to find ways to care for myself to keep my energies moving forward, because when I care for myself, when educators self care, they are putting their best selves forward for their students. Remember to be kind and give back to yourselves this year. In return you will not find yourself in a scene “straight out of a Gary Paulsen novel” by year’s end. As educators, we are survivors, but we don’t have to look like we survived a shipwreck come May. Here’s wishing all of my readers a blessed rest of summer and many energy inducing moments along the school year!

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The Torch Passes On

This year I attended my 4th summit in a row. That seems crazy to speak out loud, because it seems like yesterday I was the unsure, nervous, insecure teacher entering Naugle Hall to the loud applause of the welcome wagon. Becoming a #kti2015 Star was a humbling, empowering, and inspiring process. I met amazing educators from across PA whom I’d been admiring from afar and found a cohort of educators with a like minded outlook on tech and innovation. I wanted to bottle the energy up and drink it down daily like a can of pop.

Returning these past 3 years as a lead learner has been the most rewarding of experiences. Lighting the spark in a room full of educators and watching as the spark grows into the inferno throughout the week is an intoxicating experience. Not only because we help reinvigorate a teacher’s passion for his/her profession, but bc the summit will touch and impact countless students across PA that have the pleasure of being taught by #kti2018 Stars and other #ktifamily who are shining inside and out from their shared summit experiences.

My greatest takeaway from these moments is we need to stay proud of our profession and share our stories. Educators are warriors advocating for our students’ future successes. In a day and age when the press and social media latches onto every ugly blemish, we need to praise our fellow educators and share the successes that happen daily. As educators we need to take back control of our narrative and give it a first person perspective. Yes there are bad apples and bad decisions, but there are so many more moments of magic! Let’s celebrate those and the educational professionals who foster this magic for their students daily!

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Psyched for Summit

Every year the excitement overtakes me! I can’t believe we are less than two weeks out from the most amazing professional experience I have ever encountered. Normally when one hears the words professional development their face contorts into a look of sheer agony only replicated by a visit to the dentist’s drill.  However, this week long (yes I said WEEK!!!) professional development opportunity is the bee’s knees! I am so thrilled and honored to be a continued part of this event.

In 2015 I attended the Keystone Technology Innovators Summit. Little did I know at the time how much of an impact this event would have on my life and career!  I was scared to death. Why in this world would I want to travel away from my family for a full week, during my summer vacation, with a group of complete strangers?!? The answer was, I didn’t. I struggled right up to the point of attending with idea of backing out. However, I allowed myself to step outside of my comfort zone and explore the possibilities. No regrets here, because this girl was hooked from Day 1!

From the amazing Star treatment at arrival and every AM, to the interactive and personal, small group sessions I have never experienced a professional development opportunity like this prior. I met such amazing people who supported and encouraged me even when I was being a total “teacher geek!” I had found my tribe and I was delighted.  It was nice to know there were others out there that spoke my lingo and dreamed my outlandish dreams.

After attending Summit, I couldn’t let go of the euphoria! I met with my administrators and talked their ears off about all I had seen and learned. I wrangled grants, grew resources for my students, and gained confidence. This growth in confidence helped me to land new job opportunities, present at conferences, serve on a state board and return to the professional development event that changed me forever.

Since #kti2015 I have served as a lead learner. This is my passion. The opportunity to pass the torch onto a new sea of shining stars each year reignites my passion and reminds me why I chose to teach. This is my third year returning to Summit as a lead learner and the overwhelming lack of time, butterflies, and piles of To Do Lists are forces with which to reckon! However, I am eager to return and watch a new sea of stars rise into the skies and take the lead on their passions.

Stay tuned for the magic at #kti2018 there will be things to learn if you lurk.

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Fishbowl of Reflection

Sometimes I feel as if blogging gives people an inside tour of my jumbled, redheaded mind! This year my reflections are as disjointed and varied as the year. A true reflection of the year and it’s many changes and surprises. However, good, bad, beautiful, or down right painful I know reflection has to happen for me to grow and effective change to take root.

Here are my top 3 take aways from the 2017-2018 school year.

1) All students, K-12, crave consistency and expectations. Even those that scream from the rafters, “You can’t make me!” They expect to come to school and have the rules reinforced fairly, consistently, and across the boards. When I talk to students outside of classes, filled with anxiety, and frustrated the common complaint isn’t “Mr./Mrs./Miss Teacher made me —-” No! Their common lament is, “But Mr./Mrs./Miss Teacher lets me ___, so it isn’t fair that this teacher isn’t!”

My reflection on this growing epidemic is it’s past time to develop a cohesive plan! I am optimistic about the work MTSS is doing to develop the plan. I want this plan to work. Just like I want every other initiative to work that time, effort, energy, and resources have been devoted to in any district. After all, we know how valuable time is and we want our buildings to be safe, effective learning communities. From my point of view, when a district selects an initiative it’s based on research and best practices so we should give it a go!

I trust that the group of educators in this committee did their due diligence and spent their time researching, exploring, crunching our data, & making informed decisions. I also understand that it takes all kinds of people to run a school and our personal philosophies may not always mesh but if we want our boat to stay afloat and sail smoothly into the sunset we need to work as a team. I encourage everyone to buy in and give 100% to enforcing this plan. If all adults; admin, teachers, custodians. cafeteria staff, instructional aides, etc. reinforce and reward similar incentives and consistently expect the same behavior I am confident change is imminent.

2) Change is hard! I still think I’ve developed a bit of whiplash from my head moving back and forth from one change to another! I have developed empathy for the poor bobble heads whose purpose is to bounce back and forth.

As I’ve eluded to in past blogs, change is never easy, but it can be re-energizing! I am nervous, overwhelmed, and tentative too, however I know that change is healthy. I also know that some of the greatest changes in my life; marriage, parenthood, new jobs, etc. came when I shifted WAY outside of my comfort zone and trusted that change would be good for me and others.

Amongst the avalanche of changes this year, we’ve experienced changes in leadership, changes in initiatives, changes in expectation, and it is scary and leads to uncertainty. Through my uncertainty I’ve found trust. Trust that all change brings progress. I want to be here to see that progress come and be an integral part of it. I’ve committed myself to buying in and being a change agent.

Most leaders come in and have the luxury of formulating a vision and then taking action to make a vision reality. Building the vision and forging action towards it simultaneously is no small feat! The time to embrace change, fail forward, and advocate for ourselves and students has never been easier than now when change is the norm! I encourage everyone to embrace this season of change and try one thing you’ve always wanted to do in your classroom, but didn’t because there wasn’t time, it might not work, or it seemed impossible or impractical.

3) Our students may be “digital natives” but they are not digital dynamos! I know I’m a tech coach and I just said students aren’t doing dynamic things with tech. Yikes! Let me clarify!

The basics are MIA! It may appear to educators who are allowing students to use devices that they’ve got it all together, but please allow me a bit of grace here when I say they make their work harder for themselves. Just because we give a student a device doesn’t mean they know how to leverage it to empower them as learners. It doesn’t even mean they best know how to use it.

What students have is a lack of fear and a willingness to use tech that some adults don’t. Adults read manuals, explore menus, or stick to the same devices they’ve always used because we like our comfort zones!

Students aren’t afraid to push buttons! This curiosity is healthy and great! It leads to discoveries. However, without formal training and instruction button pushing can lead to bad habits. I think of the teachers I have coached over the years and the moments I’ve heard, “I never knew I could do that!” Our students, given devices but not trained on how to use them have developed ineffective practices as well.

I challenge teachers across the building to sign out a chrome book this summer and explore it. Learn and practice gestures and navigation. Explore apps, extensions, and add-ons so you can better support and instruct your students on how to leverage their devices for learning.

After all, we didn’t hand students a pencil without teaching them how to hold the pencil and write letters. We shouldn’t hand a student a device without demonstrating and giving explicit instruction on how to effectively use it to demonstrate their mastery of learning.

I’m not saying we should walk them step by step through every app and tool we use, however the basics; care, navigation, and actions or gestures must be taught in order to allow students to springboard into the higher levels of SAMR without getting bogged down by bad habits and lack of understanding.

I hope all educators take time this summer to spend time relaxing with their families, regrouping from their years, & come back refreshed and ready to tackle a brand new year. Whatever you find yourself doing prior to focusing on the coming school year; lessons to be taught, materials to be collected, and professional development to be explored allow yourself time to reflect on this year before your focus switches to the next. What were your take aways, what were your challenges, and what were your successes? Be brave and reflect on your hopes as well. These hopes may directly impact our students, our profession, and the future of education!

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Piloting; AKA Entering the Fishbowl

Being the first is never easy. Trying new things might be a bit uncomfortable and certainly shines a spotlight on those who step into the cockpit and fly first. I totally get feeling uneasy and reluctant to volunteer. I do! Even those of us who like to try new things get nervous. After all, the view from the outside of the fishbowl is the prettiest, right? Who wants to be the poor goldfish stuck in the tank with 4-5 toddler fishes tapping on the class, while all the giant adults circle around the outside of the tank sharing their opinions on how the habitat can best be improved?

Without pilots, there is no progress. To make seamless programs we have to enlist the assistance of those brave souls who are willing to go before the rest. Instead of focusing on being the first, members of a pilot need to realize that they are in a position to advocate, shape, and create policies and procedures that will pave the way for others. Pilot members should feel comfortable and empowered to share their voice with other stakeholders and not feel like a fish just floating in a pool. These willing teachers are the focal point and center of an implementation and should feel some freedom and artistic license to take chances, explore, and fail forward so the entire learning community can learn from their experiences.

Currently, our building is offering 1:1 chromebook pilots. I am hopeful that our teachers are eyeing up the potential of having a device in their classroom for every student that walks through the door. How will this change classroom instruction? What will our students be able to do that they weren’t able to do before having a device available for every member of the class? How will teachers organize the collection, usage, and maintenance of these devices? How can the instructional technology coach assist teachers in leveraging these devices to ensure we are allowing every student, every day to master their learning while embracing the 4C’s; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity?

I encourage all educators to consider participating in pilots, regardless of their level of comfort and expertise in the area of the pilot. If only the “experts” on a subject pilot, there is no real learning to be done and the point of a pilot is to learn and smooth out the run way for the next group to go boldly beyond. Stepping outside of our comfort zone and being the first is never easy, but it is a very rewarding experience for all.

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Dream Big… I Dare You!

It always amazes me how timid teachers can be when it comes to vocalizing their dreams. If you could have any classroom in the world, what would your classroom look like, sound like? Where would you teach if your choices were limitless?

Google gave its employees 20% time. This time was dedicated to allowing their employees to work creatively and develop projects they were interested in. No scheme or idea was too pie in the sky if the employee thought their pet project could benefit their company.

The concept amazes me! I would love to see it applied to education. What could a room filled with educators create, if their sole job was to create and come up with solutions to today’s educational needs. No guidelines, no rubrics, just time to develop, design, and dream. I can’t imagine what amazing possibilities are untapped because they are buried in the recesses of our educators’ minds. What solutions could we come up with or bring to the table to share once or twice a year? Wouldn’t the end result of this devoted 20% time be an amazing student work protocol? Imagine every teacher across the building, or district, sharing their ideas without fear of the word no. Instead of hearing no, we could share our warm and cool to help develop their idea further. This would truly be a wonderful way to increase teacher buy in and see what our shyer, less vocal teachers have tucked away in their bonnets.

Teachers could focus on creating their dream schedule for the building,designing outdoor learning spaces, developing STEAM solutions that can be integrated building wide, online learning modules/cyber solutions for our learners, intervention models, and many, many other topics of interest. If you had this time devoted to dreaming, scheming, and developing what area of interest would you want to tackle? What ideas are you keeping locked in your lid instead of sharing?

The wealth of experience, creativity, and intelligence inside the walls of our schools often times goes untapped. I feel that is a shame. We need to encourage our educators to become and embrace the innovative spirit we are seeking from our students. If the 4C’s (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication) are important for our students, it is imperative that we as educators practice what we preach and hone these skills too.

Then let’s extend this to our students. Genius Hours or 10% time, offers our students time to research, design, or develop any idea they are interested in exploring. This is their time to dictate what they learn about and how they demonstrate this learning.

I can only imagine what amazing projects our students would develop when we remove the scaffolded, predetermined projects and open up the potential of the possible for them. After all, if possibilities and thinking outside of the box hadn’t been embraced by some key individuals we could literally still be sitting in the dark, ages that is.

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