Accountability for Reflective Teaching

As educators we work hand-in-hand with our co-workers to hold students accountable for their best work efforts. Being united in our efforts, holding common expectations and classroom norms, and consistent instructional models are all exercised to help hold students accountable and guide students in reaching their goals while maintaining academic growth.

The most effective educators are reflective. They don’t recycle the same lessons plans year in and year out without adjusting, extending, or refining them. In fact most teachers take the time to reflect immediately after a lesson, writing notes in margins or posting sticky notes all over their work area or plans to help them note areas in need of tweaking. This year, while implementing a new instructional model, I continuously hear about how a lesson didn’t fit the model, or how the collaborative group struggled with this task, or how a tool didn’t do quite what the teacher wanted it to do. This is demonstrative of good teachers reflecting on their practices. I love these shared comments.

As a coach, I use these shared comments to reflect on what our future professional development needs are, or share a resource that can do what the teacher envisioned, or I offer a different perspective or project for collaborative learning. Shared reflection forces me to reflect. I am happy to have this opportunity to reflect on what is happening within classrooms. However, sometimes I fail to reflect on my own growth as a coach. This is where blogging comes in for me. I write my reflections with the hopes that someone else might grow or share an idea to help me grow. Blogs are about reflecting, responding, and re-evaluating your actions, ideas, or decisions.

The battle of blogging comes in the time to do. Allotting yourself time for reflection is paramount. Even if you are just reflecting mentally or debriefing with a colleague/coach you need to give yourself the time to do so.  To help hold myself accountable for reflection I have joined a Blogging Buddies cohort. This group of educators also blogs and will give me gentle reminders that I am not meeting my goal to blog monthly, or will comment on my blogs to give me their perspectives as educators and help me reframe my ideas or actions. This is a game changer for me. I can’t wait to get more involved with this small, but impactful PLN. I look forward to working with Eric, Alli, Deirdre,and Debra as we share our reflections with one another and offer our commentary to help one another on this journey of reflection.

Who do you share with? How do you reflect? Are you a writer, a thinker, or a sticky note poster? Are you an anticipatory reflector, or a reactive reflector? What makes you pause and ponder the events of your day? Is is a well-developed habit or is it often overlooked as taking time that isn’t readily available? If reflection makes us stronger educators, shouldn’t we purposefully devote time to the act of reflecting?

If you are looking for some new blogs to check out for ideas, please consider following and learning along with the members of my Blogging Buddies cohort.

 

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Shared Experiences Create Connections

Being a middle school child isn’t easy. We all know this. They are trying to figure out who they are, what they want to be, all while sliding into a mountainous mass of hormones, peer pressure, and attempting to assert their independence. Now, more than ever before, connections are vital. Students need to find connections to their peers, educators, and the learning environment they are in 5 days a week.

It takes hard work to facilitate a culture that allows students to make these vital connections. It won’t happen over night, and they can’t be forced. So how do we begin? How to we maintain these connections?

One way I have found to spark these connections is through shared experiences. When students are on athletic teams together, they forge bonds that are unbreakable. They unite for a common goal, victory, and share moments that leave impressions on them. They bond, quite simply b/c they shared something.

This is the charm of the Global Read Aloud. It fosters a shared experience. A single book read by millions across the globe. Through this shared reading experience, students connect not only to the text being read, but also to their peers as they share a common story and realize that their connections to the text mean they are more alike than they are different.  Even more powerful still is getting those connections made with students in classrooms far away, with cultures that are diverse.

As a member of a PLN that has done shared readings, I can honestly say how powerful literature can be when rich discussions and reflections are shared with others. Books innately offer insights to their audience of readers, however the ability to share those insights, connections, concerns, ideas, and aha moments with a group is priceless.

I am super excited to participate in #wyamsmonster this year and support our ELA teachers who are sharing a reading experience, #gra17, with their students. Thus far the book has been challenging. The connections are not rosy ones. They are tough, brutal even, but so cathartic. Connecting with Connor, a character ripe with the anger and fear of the uncertainty that comes along with the illness of a loved one, is not hard. We’ve all been here. We’ve all watched loved ones struggle and felt the impact on ourselves. Connor’s struggles are vividly portrayed by an author who crafts a story ripe with imagery and figurative language which pulls the reader into the story and along his journey.

I am anxious to share this voyage with the students of WYAMS. I am excited to share my connections. I am ready for a shared experience. I look forward to growing my connections to the text, to the students hearing it, to the teachers reading it, to the millions committing to this shared reading around the globe.  To all of you who are reading #GRAmonster this year, what are your week 1 takeaways? How have you related to Connor?

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Goal Smashing

As educators, we constantly talk about and teach our students how to set and smash their goals. We have learned about SMART goals and tracking data to help us track our progress towards smashing goals.

I have decided to do some goal smashing myself. Every year when I begin my instruction for Wilson EDU I share my kryptonite with the attendees in my courses. Every year that kryptonite remains the same. I love to blog, but I NEVER maintain my own. I get caught up in all the latest tools, trends, and the classrooms I service. I fail to take the time to reflect and share that reflection with others.

This year I have committed to smashing this goal. I have committed to blogging AT LEAST once a month. I have made this goal attainable by adding some accountability for myself. I have committed to becoming a Blogging Buddy and joined an Ed Tech Blogging Community via ISTE. Hopefully being assigned buddies who have the same goals as myself will not only help me maintain my blog, but help me to become a better blog reader. It will challenge me to read my blog partners’ blogs routinely and comment on them as well.

Writing a blog is great, but having an authentic audience that engages in your blog is so much better. I love getting comments and answering them. A lot of my followers are more reluctant to comment on my blog itself and instead choose to email me directly. This is a good start, however if we are good consumers of blogs we need to add to them as well by sharing our thoughts, concerns, or ideas in the blog comments as well. This allows all blog readers to grow and comment on one another’s posts.

I hope the people in my PLNs #wyasdpride, #ktifamily, #ETCoaches will help me to grow as a blogger and help me hold myself accountable to my commitment to blog at least once a month. I am looking forward to come encouraging, thought provoking, and challenging comments along the way. Thanks for everyone’s support! blogging buddies

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New Year; New Blooms & Bugs

The 2017-2018 school year is off and running! I always compare my career and my adventures in edtech to gardening. Every year there’s new blooms, and those precious blooms are beautiful if we take the time to focus on them. Growth is plentiful, diversity is celebrated in my garden, and the harvest is always worth the wait.

Unfortunately, all good gardeners have their share of thorns, bugs, and toiling to do to ensure the beauty mentioned above. Being an educator is tough, back-breaking, work and we all know it doesn’t stop when the dismissal bell rings or the calendar on the school year expires.

This year, like all years past, the blooms arriving are different. Some have wilted a bit from failure to water, fertilize, lack of sunshine, or improper placement in the garden. Some of these blooms have opened more fully, grown sturdier, and explored richer soils over the summer. Yet, as public school teachers we embrace every bloom, in every condition and begin the farmer’s task of fertilizing, weeding, and watering to ensure growth and strength in the foundational stems (ie softskills) that are necessary for longevity, success, and survival.

The bugs…

These traitorous villains may look deceptively innocent, but they certainly wreak havoc in a garden.  They nibble away at the blooms and the gardener’s ability to maintain adequate and equitable growth. The pests; while inconvenient, don’t destroy gardens if tended to. However, they are formidable and if focused on too much can be morale killers. These bugs in the garden of learning might include; class sizes, technical difficulties, lack of funding, diminishing prep times, and feeling as if your voice is unheard.

Then there are the thorns…

Those adaptive torture devices that coincide with beauty and humble the most experienced of gardeners. The thorns in an educator’s garden are grown as a result of circumstances beyond our control. World tragedies, Mother Nature’s fierce storms, community strife, illnesses, addictions, deaths, student trauma, etc. These thorns, while protective devices developed to help the plant perservere, make it hard for the gardener to tend to the plant without suffering side effects.

These blooms are ours. We want them to grow, prosper, and flourish! We can’t shelter the blooms from all of life’s bugs and thorns, even though we desperately wish we could. We are super heroes, but we don’t have supernatural powers. We are humans gardening in the soil, with the seeds we are given.

Today I want to focus on the blooms, the beauty. Today I want to celebrate a month of safe, sound gardening. Today I want to remind all educators to focus on the growth and not get waylaid by the thorns and bugs that bring us down. Today I want us to celebrate our successes and not get mired down in the muck. We are gardeners, toiling together, and ensuring our blooms get what they need and grow in the safety of our school garden. I look around today, and every day and smile filled with #wyasdpride as a witness my co-workers and the students in our charge doing amazing things despite the bugs and thorns that dwell in our school garden. Today I say, “Cheers to another excellent crop to come!”

 

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Put Me In Coach

Have you ever tried to play a sport and just not been good at it? Did you spend more time riding the bench than you did on the field or court? Were you frustrated? Did it make you want to practice harder, or did it make you want to throw up your hands and walk away?

As a coach, your coach, I am always ready to play. I know my stuff and want to share my skills with you. Fortunately, some of you would allow me to play every day, all day, if I was available. Thank you and keep those requests coming!  To those of you who don’t feel you need a coach, don’t want extra hands in your classroom, or feel like the coach will judge you, or think differently about you, once s/he enters the classroom, this blog is for you.

An instructional coach is just that, a coach. A coach can be utilized in many, many different ways. A coach is an extra set of hands, a potty break in the middle of the day, an extra brain and resource when planning, a collaborative station manager, a developer of instructional materials, an instructional media ally, a cheerleader, and advocate for resources and assistance, a staff developer, and a listening ear.  As your coach I can be all of those things, some, or even more! At the least I am a check in person who sees your successes and celebrates them with my best end zone dance, or sees your failures, schedule practices and planning periods to help you obtain your goals.

As your coach there are some things I am not. I am not a technician. If it’s broke or not working right and I can help, I will. However, if I am in classrooms assisting in student learning and implementation of tools and stations I can’t put that on hold to help with technical issues. We have a wonderful, dedicated group who will help with all things technical. They are here to help, just send them an email at the trouble desk and they will get to you asap.

I am not a spy or a judge. I do not want to participate in the “I gotcha” game. If you aren’t willing to try new things, I won’t be offended, but I won’t go away either. I will stop in, I will email suggestions, and I might stop in and make myself at home helping without your request. Why? Because I enjoy being with students! I am a teacher too, but I don’t have my own classes anymore and I want to share yours if you will allow me. I have a vested interest in seeing your students and you succeed. I have students here too and I genuinely want to see the teachers in this building spotlighted for the awesome things they are doing every day.

Invite me in. Invite me in to help. Invite me in to work. Invite me in to model a lesson. Invite me in to assist in implementing a new tool. Invite me in when you need to run to the restroom and your summer bladder is still not cooperating with a 2 day break cycle. Whatever you need, ask! If I can’t do it, don’t have it, or don’t know it… I will find it! That is my job as your coach.

As your coach, I beg of you to PUT ME IN! Sign me out! I love being in your classrooms and working with students. I want to do as much of that as possible. If you are struggling with stations, need a new tool, or are having difficulties with a tool you are already using.. stop me and ask. I’d love to help. Why stress and get frustrated, when you have a guide to utilize? Here’s hoping you will put me in the game soon! The bench is not a fun place to be.  Talk to those who have allowed me in, I can make some great plays if you’ll pass me the ball.

 

 

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Growing Pains

Change is never easy for anyone. We ask our students to adapt to new buildings, new teachers, and new modalities/instructional practices every year. Do they grumble? Yes! Do they make the adjustments? Yes!

As professionals it is equally important for us to embrace change as well. If we know something works, then we need to make adjustments, implement new tools, or try new strategies. Will we grumble? Yes! Will we make the changes? Yes! Might we even find those changes beneficial to us and our students? Certainly!

The fact of the matter is scores look good at the elementary level. I know as secondary educators we tend to disregard the things happening with our younger students, but if something they are doing has proven effective, how can we afford to disregard it? We all know students need to be engaged learners to fully comprehend and apply what they are learning in our classrooms. If they are checking out, or being overlooked in whole group instruction doesn’t it behoove us to implement small group instruction and have a better pulse on our learners?

Is it easy to make the change to station rotations? No! Does it take an enormous amount of preparation? Yes! Will it take time to teach the stations and get students acclimated to their expectations? Yes! I’ve always held a firm pay now or pay later policy with all things classroom management. If you don’t take the time to fully develop to implementing something new, it will fizzle and have no longevity. However if we invest the time to teach our expectations, model each station, and allow the students to experience station rotation without our own growing pains impacting their perceptions you will most likely begin to hear things such as, “Class is done already!??” or “I love that my teacher knows exactly where I am struggling.”

I won’t share tall tales of students professing their love of the third and final rotation with words like, “Collaborative learning is the bee’s knees.” However I will assert that with proper framing students will understand the relevancy of collaborative skills and invest themselves in growing these skills.

As educators, we need to speak about careers. We need to share with our students the skills essential to obtaining and keeping jobs in today’s workforce. It is essential for students to learn to work with others. The workforce is demanding that people entering the workforce have essential soft skills. If we don’t place students in situations where they are able to grow these skills, we are doing a huge disservice to our students. Communication, cooperative, delegation, problem solving, and innovation are skills all companies desire. In collaboration we can offer students project based learning that challenges them and offers them opportunities to think outside the box and apply their learning in new and original ways.

And while, admittedly, it takes time to set those routines and expectations, I believe most educators will find that feeding the bountiful content that we teach into three different modalities of learning will enable them to gain traction and speed in delivery content. By the year’s end most educators report they have taught all if not more of the content they managed to teach prior to implementing this model.

In conclusion, I challenge educators to embrace the growing pains and work through the obstacles of implementing a new instructional strategy. I challenge educators to remain open-minded and willing to try something that will help our students grow and allow us to have a deeper understanding of our students’ needs.

 

 

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Stomping Around San Antonio

I have officially been baking in the San Antonio sun for 2 days now. I love it here. The city is bustling with creativity, music, and fun events to go to. That doesn’t even begin to touch the food. Yum! I have learned a lot during my short stay in the southern states. #ISTE17 has been amazing and it’s only Monday!

The kick off keynote, Jad Abumrad, was an excellent story teller. He shared how “gut churn” allowed him to kick off Radiolab. Do we ever truly recognize those moments when our stomachs are churning up acid and the butterflies feel like rhinos rampaging in our guts as the change makers they are? How many of us allow that feeling of uncertainty to overwhelm and cripple us, never fully recognizing the potential for action in the moment? I have decided to be more cognizant of these moments. I want to start acting on the moments that make my stomach churn and unrest seem louder than a freight train bearing down on me.

What’s next for me? Day 2 of ISTE. More makers spaces, more explorations on the vendor floor, a date with Microsoft and for certification, and some time with code.org. I am sure I will find some time for good grub, and maybe some laughter along the way. I am seizing this moment, because I don’t know when I will be afforded the opportunity to grow like this again. Gut churn? You betcha! I am away from my family, exploring solo in a city of many, and the anxiety and nerves can be crippling, however I have committed to getting the most out of this opportunity and bringing back a wealth of information to the amazing teachers I work along side daily.

I am on a mission to bring productive, meaningful tinkering for our students. I want to see them creating and enjoying the aesthetic parts of STEAM. I would love to see more measurement taught via Makerspace. I want to explore solutions for running a student newscast. I want to recreate the awesome picture mural being created daily at #iste17 for the students at my school. What better way is there than to make their selfies relevant and celebrating of school spirit? (If you’d like to see the progression of this photo mural follow #ForTheLoveOfLearning on Twitter)

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I would also like to find that treasured gem that helps me become a better coach and has positive ripples in our school culture for years to come. We are on a path towards 1:1 devices so I will be find people and sessions that deal with this topic as well. I haven’t found it yet, but my gut is churning and I am sure it’s somewhere in this convention center waiting to be unearthed!

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