From Ripple to Tidal Wave

Passion begins with a spark. Any time you allow yourself to get excited about the future, a new idea, a tool, an instructional strategy, or a lesson your passion overflows and starts to positively influence the students in your charge and it permeates throughout the building as well.

This year AJ Julianni came to our district and he lit a spark for us on an inservice day. Instead of a boring sit and get, we found ourselves immersed in a day of PBL, 4Cs and PSAs where all attendees were pivotal parts of teams driven by timers and goals. After that day I saw some sparks in a few of the teachers’ eyes as the left. Overheard a few whispered, “What ifs.” I saw notes being written down and teachers willing to try, innovate, and create.

Those tiny little sparks have slowly built in intensity throughout the last quarter of the school year. Elementary classrooms participated in launch challenges with their technology integration specialist where each grade level had a different challenge to complete. The kids were super excited about their prototypes and making boats, arcade games, and mazes, etc.

At the secondary level, we have watched students invent and prototype urban gardens, Innovation products and promotional ads, as well as coding robots to complete a variety of tasks. These tasks fed our sparks and kept the flames growing.

This month I was overcome by the roaring fire lit in the 8th grade math department as they replaced a final exam with a launch project in which the students worked in teams to share 4 minutes in the life of 8th grade math.

The students were working hard, sharing ideas, screen casting content to teach concepts learned, editing film clips, and actively involved in the mastery of their learning! I walked in and out of class after class and besides a bit of tech troubleshooting and one on one conferences with their teachers, these kids were taking the reigns and running with them! I can’t wait to see some of their final products.

It’s the end of the year, and instead of feeling like I’ve been washed ashore by the pounding shore face first, I am feeling invigorated and innovative and am looking forward to more amazing sparks to come from one great day of PD and some open minds. In the mean time, I am looking forward to roasting some marshmallows over the fire as I reflect on another amazing school year!


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Kicking Limitations Curbside

I took a hiatus. Sorry friends, I bit off a lot and needed a break. My thoughts were jumbled up, I was presenting a ton, taking classes, and I needed to reset, reframe, and re-engage.  Now I am back and ready to roll. Today is a new day and I wanted to share a mindset shift.

quotes I love

~Dr. Mae Jemison, courtesy of Google March 8, 2019

In a world where being different, doing things differently, thinking outside the box is rarely embraced by others it is hard to go out on a limb and try new things. As educators, with the world as our armchair quarterbacks, this can be exceptionally daunting. Especially when we try new things, such as flexible seating, and hear, “When I went to school we sat in rows, did reading, writing, and arithmetic, and we turned out just fine.”

To this I respond as a parent, teacher, and human being I want our students to turn out more than “just fine.” Instead I want our students to turn into exceptional human beings who connect with others to change the world we live in, care about one another, create solutions we didn’t dare to dream about before, think critically and problem solve to eliminate world issues, and communicate all of their dreams, accomplishments, and stories with a world-wide audience.

If we want our children and students to rise above, excel and innovate, we, as their educators need to model this risk-taking mentality. They need to see us involved in productive struggles, embracing failure as a learning opportunity, and persevering. I saw a quote the other day that made me stop and smile.

Adam Welcome via @Jason Seliskar

I was far from the digital natives we champion our students as. (On a bit of a sidenote: There is a huge difference from being born into a technology dependent society and knowing how to leverage these devices to create.)  As a child, I didn’t grow up with computers. I remember fondly typing stories on a typewriter in elementary school. I think back to crafting essays in college on my Brother word processor, and I remember the year two desk tops landed in my 6th grade classroom.

Their arrival intimidated me, but I was determined to make them work. I used them, rotating students two at a time to write their final drafts, create a Powerpoint, or research content. Until, I failed. I then promptly unplugged the devices and left them sit for months. Thinking back, I certainly didn’t model failing forward for my students. Instead of brainstorming, collaborating, communicating, and creating a new solution to protect my students from unwanted images in a time period before filters were well developed, I gave up.

Clearly, my relationship with instructional tech was a tumultuous one in its early stages. However, I am a lifelong learner and found some sage people to guide me along my adventures. I am glad I decided to explore, grow, and advocate. I am doing what I love because I took risks, tried new things, and shared my growing passion with others. Now instead of impacting just 25-30 students in one class, I help educators to implement technology, try new things, and make mindshifts of their own. My joy comes from seeing  educators go out on a limb, try new things, and model innovation and risk taking for their students.

The spark is contagious! There is no greater feeling than when the stars align (a good plan is in place), the students are engaged (excited and eager to learn), the teachers is excited (sharing their lesson and new tools with others), and the coach celebrates successes (literally does happy dance in office)!

My question for today’s blog is will you allow others to limit your imagination? Will you allow fear, uncertainty, or your own self doubt to stop you in your tracks? Or will you instead forge forward?

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Bulldogs Bounding Outside the Box

Today we had the privilege of learning with AJ Juliani. If you are not familiar with his work, check out his books and resources here. Today admin, coaches, and selected teachers K-12 met with AJ and began to take a hard look at how to better reach, teach, and challenge today’s learners.

We went through the design thinking process and came up with solutions to some of our building concerns and needs. There were some awesome solutions, or prototypes, dreamed up by building cohorts. We explored project based learning, were pressured to work on strict timelines, and create PSAs about topics we were passionate about. We were also challenged to come up with a list of characteristics for our students in this generation and then challenged to change our lenses and see the amazing things students in this generation are accomplishing via creativity and social media.

We discussed 20% time and allowing students to become the owners of their learning and explore topics of choice. Ultimately, I think we learned how easy it is to give students choice, relinquish the role of controller of the information and instead serve as the guide on the side helping to refocus, provide insights and resources, all while empowering our students to own their learning.

I love that this day of professional development started and ended with our why. Why did we become educators. Not a person in the room said they became an educator to grow student test proficiency, or two make worksheets and grade them. No. All of our answers, K-12, were related to empowering and helping students find success.

If tomorrow’s job market demands problem solvers, creative thinkers, collaborative workers, who think outside the box and are considered “Go-getters,” how can we as educators foster learning activities that cultivate these skills? I have yet to hear an employer say I want an employee that can color in the correct bubble or fill in a worksheet. So it is time to get creative and start turning over the lead to our learners.

Today’s workshop attendees were empowered to think outside of the box, exploring solutions for building needs. The things our colleagues shared were amazing, insightful, and inspiring. There’s so much to be said for sharing ideas from the bottom to the top. Empowered to dream, explore, and do our faculty came up with some amazing ideas. I can only imagine what our students would dream up if afforded the same opportunity to show what they know!

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Way Out on the Limb

Even innovative people who normally dive in to unknown waters without a second thought get scared. I do. I did.

Thursday I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, only to quickly feel nervous, second guess myself, and reconsider my choices. Perhaps I am too old to explore a new degree, not ready for another change, more responsibilities.

I haven’t taken a graduate course in almost ten years. It’s unnerving knowing I am most likely the oldest grad student in the course. I am a tech integrator, but I couldn’t log into the wi-fi on campus the first night. I seriously debated packing up my belongings and marching straight to the Bursar’s office and asking for a refund.

Then I ran face first into an old mentor, colleague, and supervisor who reminded me exactly how I got on this path in the first place. She reminded me that becoming a leader, an innovator, and trying new things isn’t easy, but is essential to my growth and the students in my charge. I got an embrace that refocused and empowered me. I sat back down, straightened my spine, and dove into my first class of my supervisory certificate and walked out three hours later with a spark ignited, renewed passion, and intrigued by the possibilities.

I am a lifelong learner. It doesn’t always come easy, and it certainly has its challenges. Onward I go with my new instructor’s words ringing in my ears,

“You sometimes need to go way out on a limb to get the sweetest fruits off the tree.”

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To 1:1 or not to 1:1… That is the Question!

I suppose it is safe to say that our district has rapidly become a chromebook district. Each teacher at the secondary level houses at least 13 chromebooks in their classroom, with 8 teachers piloting 1:1 in a contained pilot where no devices leave the classroom, or building, this year.

Some might say we are late to the party. Sometimes I would agree, however most times I like to think we didn’t jump on the plane before it was assembled. Instead we focused on new instructional models, rolling out devices for small group instruction, and exploring a new LMS before moving to a 1:1 model.

We’ve researched a ton, talked to a lot of educators and tech directors who’ve traversed this rabbit hole, and listened to parents share their ideas and perspectives. I think we are heading in the direction of going fully 1:1, but there are still so many unknowns and ideas to explore.

To case or not to case? What are other schools doing with cases? It’s a HUGE expenditure to place on a school budget if cases won’t be used, or required to be used, by students. The other consideration is safety. Most schools don’t allow students to travel with bags for safety purposes and while device cases can be on the smaller side, they do have pockets and panels that would allow for storage of other items.

To send home or store in classrooms? That is surely a good question as well! What do you think? Will it be effective to only allow students to leverage their personal devices while in school? How do we store them each evening? What happens if they aren’t brought back, or come back uncharged? These are all great questions and I have yet to find one existing 1:1 school with all the answers.

Is it smart to go 1:1 before the majority of your educators are comfortable, confident, and forward thinking when it comes to tech? Technology integration is a continuum; and educators come with  many different levels of readiness and comfort. Will pushing 1:1 too soon result in discouraging or encouraging our more reluctant adopters? Will delaying the implementation even more force innovative educators backwards, tie their hands, and frustrate them?

What does every student with a device at hand allow our learners to do that they can’t do today in small groups? How will implementing 1:1 grow learners that are forward thinking risk-takers who think creatively and solve complex problems? What hurdles have we still yet to uncover? Will personal devices be treated better with less vandalism than classroom devices shared amongst several students?

I don’t have all of these answers, but I would love to explore further and find out!

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Chatting About the Business of School

I engaged in a Twitter Chat on Sunday morning while warm and cozy in my PJs and sipping my first cup of coffee for the day. I was psyched to stumble upon #sunchat while perusing my Twitter feed.

I clicked on the hashtag and then selected latest to discover the topic was about the business of school. In other words how can schools learn from businesses and should schools be ran like other businesses. Several questions were posed and then we were off to the races!

The “conversation” was fast and furious and all parties had a viewpoint and wanted to share their ideas. Instead of sitting in the same room, at the same time, they were typing responses and ideas around this topic in 280 characters or less for 1 hour of the day using a common hashtag for the whole world to see, chime in, and digest.

My first instinct was to scream, NOOOOOO! Why in the world would we want to run our schools like businesses?! Then I chimed in, watched, scrolled, and learned and slowly I experienced a shift in my thinking.

While, I don’t want our students clocking in and out, receiving merit pay for getting all A’s in a quarter, nor do I think my students need the stress or feeling of being relegated to little more than a product to be pushed through grade levels and out the door when they are so much more!

However as the chat progressed, I could see snippets that made me rethink my initial knee-jerk response to the topic. Businesses have sound PR and they promote the good that comes from their services/products. Schools could learn a lesson or two from this aspect surely! Why not share what great things are happening inside the walls of our schools? We should be celebrating our student victories inside and outside of our classroom walls. I also liked the reframing shared from Tiffany Truitt whom shared, that students are not product but customers who need to be pleased with our services as educators.

Chats are not something I came into easily. They are overwhelming! The more people the more momentum, and the quicker the speed of my feed. I quickly discovered the value of tools such as Tchat, Hootsuite, and Tweetdeck (for a few) that allow me to seperate feeds and just focus on the hashtag at hand.

Chats are an hour, or shorter, of professional discourse and development in the palm of your hand. Our district runs a monthly Twitter chat using #wyasdpride as our hashtag. Our next chat is on January 23, 2019 at 8pm. I hope if you are available and interested, that you will take some time to check out the chat. Lurk and learn first by just searching the hashtag or typing the hashtag into Tchat so you only see that information. Then when you feel more confident, chime in and answer the questions posed.

Don’t forget to add #wyasdpride to each of your responses and to number them so we know and can follow which questions you are answering. All Bulldogs are welcomed to participate. Ask your tech integrator for a Twitter tutorial before the next chat!


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Anchoring Students to Their Dreams

What did you learn in high school?

I learned that I wasn’t good enough to pursue my dreams.

Sadly, I am not alone in feeling my ambitions were not embraced or encouraged by the adults responsible for educating our youth. I have heard others share that their families didn’t go to college, so it was not expected that they would either. Instead, their educators gently nudged them in another direction, or they were told flat out that their plans were too lofty.

As educators, isn’t it our charge to educate our students and inspire lifelong learning?

We must be careful to not douse the passions and dreams of our students. Instead, we must give them the tools to deal with the inevitable roadblocks that everybody faces in life.

We must not be one of those roadblocks.

Teachers have the power to nurture students’ dreams and fan the flames of their passions. We can allow them to explore all their options in the safety confines of the K-12 learning environment.

We are often told that there are jobs that will exist in the future that we aren’t even cognizant of today. How can we predict what job paths are best for certain students?

The simple truth is that we can’t. We shouldn’t engage in any activities that stifle a student’s pursuits. Our mission as educators should be to engage learners and encourage them to reach for the stars.

We need to embrace the fact that the “lifelong learning” mentioned in so many Pennsylvania school mission statements means we are never our best selves and we are always growing.

Our students are always growing too. In order for their fullest potential to be realized, we cannot limit them or restrict their opportunities.

It is vital that we stop placing students on predetermined paths, and instead ask them what their intentions are. Then we can assist them in exploring the possibilities.

Career exploration should be about learning what opportunities exist for students, not curtailing or narrowing the possibilities based on grades, gender, economics, or our perception of their talents.

History has taught us that there are many famous athletes, scientists, artists, performers, politicians, and even educators who were once told that their dreams were unattainable.

Albert Einstein, a dyslexic, was considered a poor student by his educators.

Michael Jordan was once deemed too short to play on his varsity basketball team.

Lady Gaga was a self-proclaimed misfit in school.

Steve Jobs dropped out of college due to financial difficulties.

These successful people ignored the naysayers, powered on, and forged their own paths toward their destinies. The list of others who have triumphed over trials is endless. I often wonder how much farther or sooner success would have come if they had been given a leg up from those who doubted them in the first place.

Consider the power behind this quote from Alfred Doblin,

“I used to think great teachers inspire you. Now I think I had it wrong. Good teachers inspire you; great teachers show you how to inspire yourself everyday of your life. They don’t show you their magic. They show you how to make magic of our own.”

Why shouldn’t educators allow themselves to foster an environment of exploration and the magical possibilities of the future for their students?

I was fortunate enough to rise above the doubt that was cast on me when I was a student in order to become a successful teacher. Others were not so lucky. We must create environments where students to do not have extra obstacles to overcome in order to be successful in life.

Instead of anchoring our students to their futures, why don’t we instead anchor our students to the idea of chasing down their dreams?

~This blog was first hosted on PTAC’s blog on November 15th.

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