Journey for Joy

“Lesson of the day: Creating your own joy is work. Some days are better than others but everyday done with intention is more than worth the effort…regardless of the outcome.” ~Rafranz Davis

I love teaching. I love working with our future and helping them find themselves along the way. I enjoy working with kids in the “range of the strange.”  I am a middle school teacher. (I still can’t get used to saying that. I thought I would stick to those short, cute, elementary kiddos forever, but I am hooked and middle school is where I am meant to be.)

Although I love my job as an instructional coach and a middle school level educator, I am not going to profess that I love every day equally. Some days are just tough. Students have bad days, teachers have bad days, and the outside world makes teaching tough too.

Finding my joy at work is important to me. In the face of a very tough day, I look to the students I teach and the teachers I work alongside to find that joy. It’s really easy to get mired in the muck and mess that happens in, and to, schools. There are not many places on earth where we combine random groups of 25-30 teenage kids in a room and find pure bliss in coexistence.

Let me rephrase this, my dream come true would be placing 25-30 teenage students in and room without a single conflict, but we all know this is unrealistic. So we need to focus on, and spotlight, the successes that happen daily instead of dwelling on the moments that are imperfections.

We need to push through the mundane to find a student who has moved mountains to grow, has stepped outside of their comfort zone and tried something new, shared something special to them with us, or find that new student that just needs to be seen and send them a smile or kind word. The brilliant smiles that we get in return are founts of joy.

If you are looking for it, there is joy to be found. Sadly, the adverse is true as well. If you are looking for the “horrible, terrible, no good, very bad…” well, that will be there too. I am not advocating for turning a blind eye on the bad, because we need to see it to fix it. However I am encouraging us, as educators, to look beyond the bad and find the joy in our jobs, schools, and students. Remind yourself every day why you chose to become an educator and then find a daily example that cements that why in your mind.

This week has been a tough week to teach. Students are scared. Parents are petrified. Teachers cannot enter classrooms without mentally outlining their plans to protect students as they evade an unknown school invasion. This happens every. single. time. there is a school shooting. Sadly these instances are becoming far too frequent and solutions are far too few.

In addressing this latest school tragedy with students this week, there have been moments of frustration, fear, and shockingly… joy. I had to allow myself to see through the emotional subterfuge and angst to hear students voicing their frustrations and fears. This brought me joy. No, not their fears, but the fact that our students are not complacent and do not accept school violence as another uncontrollable reality. They want solutions. They want their safety. They want to explore and find ways to solve big issues. Hearing students share what it feels like when they are bullied, angry, or stressed and don’t have someone to share with was another joy for me. It made me realize that our students are aware of their emotions and want ways to healthily handle them.

Listening and watching my fellow educators as they put curriculum on pause to discuss heavy topics with teenagers who are hard audiences and admit their own fears brought me joy too. No I don’t find joy in the need to pause, but I do find joy in the fact that as educators we were responsive to our students’ needs and didn’t ignore the elephant in the room. We dropped our water lines and got real. Our students respond to real… every day… every time.

There is no joy in school violence. However there was joy in witnessing local police departments making their presence known in our schools. Seeing these officers drive through our campuses, walk through our halls, and pass through our offices. We can’t predict the future and we can’t read minds. Evil exists and we’ve seen the results once it’s visited schools too many times, but there is magic in partnerships between schools, parents, students, and the community. There is magic in our local police departments networking and working tirelessly to keep our students safe as they learn.

Today was not an easy day, but I sought to find the joy in my job. And I did; again, again, and again.

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Growth Mindset Matters to Teachers Too!

This week’s adventures took me to the aromatic Hershey Lodge and Convention Center for #pete218. If you aren’t familiar with PETE&C, you are missing out. I highly recommend checking out the Twitter feed #pete2018 and exploring the awesome PD and events that are taking place during this year’s conference and then plotting your attendance for 2019!

Educators everywhere are touting and teaching the growth mindset mantra. They are teaching and guiding students to reframe their thinking and focus on the power of yet. It’s awesome to hear teachers redirecting “I can’t” with “I can’t yet, but…” We are doing our best to empower our learners, and help them gain confidence in their academic growth.

However, who is modeling this for educator? Too often I hear teachers say, “So and so can do this, but they are good with ______. I’m just not good at that.” Who is walking up behind you and whispering… YET? What steps are you taking to reach that level of proficiency? How are you extending your comfort zone, and embracing the potential of what is to be?

Every journey begins with a single step. Some journeys are fast and furious with a finish line clearly in site. Others are never ending journeys demanding the person on this path continuously renew their focus and extend the finish line. Instead of finish line we have to embrace the milestone model. I’ve reached this mini goal and now I am off to the next.

I am not confident in technology, so my first milestone is to attend a training on a tool or idea that intrigues me. I am going to shake my nerves and reservations to allow myself to explore something new.

Now that I have achieved my first milestone, I am going to stretch a bit and try this with a group of students in my classroom. I will ask my instructional coach to be on hand to assist me or model it for me within the walls of my classroom. I will allow myself to be open-minded and be prepared to embrace a fail forward mindset where if first I don’t succeed, I reset, reframe, and try again. I don’t say, “This is why I don’t use technology!” or “Technology just hates me.”

Once you’d tried using this new tool or instructional model with success, you reflect. How can I make this my own? What should I adapt? What worked well? How would I like to extend further?

Too often, we as educators, create our own toxicity. We allow stressful schedules, challenging students who need more support, or negative district social media posts to pollute our minds and strip us of our own growth mentality. We become stagnant, paralyzed by the fear of what if, instead of envisioning what could be.

Any team is only as strong as their weakest link, any athlete is only as good as their best play. If we aren’t practicing and working on enhancing our playbooks are we letting our potential slip away?

There are no experts, there are only willing players. A new expert, or idea is always right around the corner. If we allow ourselves to become stagnant, we slow the forward momentum of our organization, team, faculty, or school down.

How have you grown yourself lately? Have you taken a course? Attended a new professional development training? Tried something new without allowing negativity or fear to hold you back? Have you stepped out and shared what you are doing with others?

As educators we tend to shy away from “tooting our own horns.” But if we adopt a growth mindset for educators will will realize that by sharing our stories, we are giving another educator an opportunity to learn something new, be intrigued, and explore further. What will your shared story be? I came, I tried, and I Gave In/Gave Up or I Explored, I Tried, I Triumphed, and I Lit a Torch for Others to Travel Too?

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You Don’t Bring Me Flowers…Anymore!

In honor of the upcoming Hallmark holiday, I thought I would talk about everyone’s favorite topic of engagement. In the beginning of any relationship engagement is high. Everything is new. Both parties dote on one another sparing over who hangs up first, sending sweet nothings, and eyes are on the prize. Will this relationship be the one that lasts? Will this be your forever partnership?

I like to relate this same concept to learning.  When I am excited and I buy into what I am learning, I am eager to learn. When I think back to the freedom high school offered of selecting classes,  I remember being ecstatic that I finally had some say in my courses. Even better was college, when you were able to register for the courses you wanted/needed with that professor you absolutely loved. These courses were sure to be engaging and hold my interest, and you can bet if they didn’t that instructor was not on my list for a repeat performance.

However, at the middle school level students have no choice in the partnerships they are assigned to. They are scheduled classes and the teachers that instruct them. At the this level there is little, if any, choice offered in classes let alone instructors. Engagement is a tough battle and takes work from both the instructor and the student.

Much like a new relationship, one must work at getting to know their students, learning what their educational needs are, and figuring out exactly what is takes to spark a student’s interest. Cautionary tale: No two middle school students are exactly the same, hence what engages one will not engage the rest.

We need to be prepared to adjust, as our middle school students are rapidly changing so are their interests, attitudes, and perceptions. Engaging the minds of middle school learners is not a task for the faint of heart. The one tried and true method of engaging learners in this age range is by offering them choice. Allowing them to feel empowered by giving them decision making power is usually going to result in a win, unless they are not passionate about any of their choices.

My solution for those students who find no interest in any choice offered, if the coveted proposal. No, I am not saying to offer them a diamond ring as a bribe to do the work without complaint. I am not saying to ask them to accept one of the choices as the best fish in the sea and accept it for what it is either. After all, these choices will quickly result in bumpy relationships and potential dates with lawyers to sever the relationship in question.

I am instead asking you to trust your learners to offer you a proposal for an alternative project to demonstrate their learning. Allow them to propose how they want to demonstrate mastery over the content. You may be impressed, shocked, or amazed at the ideas students have for how to best show their understanding and growth. For some of our students it might be a video demonstrating the content they’ve mastered, for others an illustration or diagram.  Students passionate about music may chose to choreograph and perform an interpretive dance, write a rap, or write and record a song. As long as their project achieves the goal of demonstrating their learning, what is wrong with giving them the gift of choice?

You may find that with increased choice, engagement is up, and love is in the air again for learning! In February I challenge you to offer at least one choice to your learners. Feel free to start small and offer a choice in partners to work with, or tools to use to complete a project. Or go with gusto and allow students to convince you, propose to you the best method for them to showcase their learning. Allowing our independence seeking, growing, changing learners some say in what they are doing will definitely make them happy and ensure their engagement. Don’t believe me. Ask them! (Seriously, use the survey below to ask your students about the lesson.) You may find it informative.

Engagement Survey

Seeking your students’ input on your lessons will  also allow them to feel you value their opinions and give them a positive outlet for their voice. Don’t take this feedback personally. All good relationships need tweaking sometimes, even the student/teacher one.

When your partner in crime stops working hard to woo you; the posies stop popping up, surprise visits stall, or texts slip to the wayside you feel less engaged in the relationship. This too is very real for our students. We need to continue to evaluate our lessons and strive to better engage them in their learning, or they will slowly disengage. By seeking our students’ opinions and offering them choices we increase their buy in and engagement.

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Grow Yourself!

New year, new you! How will you grow yourself personally and professionally this year?  Our #wyasdpride chat for the month of January focused on growth mindset. I found the conversation very engaging and it encouraged me to reflect on exactly what my defintion of growth mindset is. I came up with the follow:

growthmindset definition

I feel its important to model for our students as often as possible, so if we want our students to stretch, go outside of their comfort zones, and grow themselves academically and personally, how are we modeling that growth ourselves?  Are we trying new methodologies, implementing new technologies, or exploring how to grow our professional learning network beyond the brick and mortar of our hallowed school halls?

If you are interested in extending that professional learning network (PLN), I encourage you to look no farther than Twitter. There is a lovely list put together by Jerry Blumengartner, aka cybraryman of Twitter chats solely for educators. I encourage you to check it out. Be you a physical education teacher, a FACS teacher, a math teacher, or an administrator, etc there is a chat held weekly, monthly, or at any conceivable interval for you.

New to Twitter, and nervous about chats? Why not start small. If you are a K-12 educator or administrator in our district, you are most welcomed to join us once a month for our #WYASDpride chat.  This chat was started by Courtney Henry and myself this summer when it was required by Courtney’s graduate class for Eduspire.  This chat is a small chat, held once a month that allows educators from West York to celebrate what they are doing in their classrooms and their thoughts and feelings about new educational initiatives and ideas. We all like to share and collaborate, and now we can do it from the comfort of our homes in our PJs!  Our next chat will be hosted by the lovely Yvette Ganoe on:

Feb Twitter Chat

We hope to have a few more dedicated Bulldog faculty and admin join us for this chat. Follow Yvette on Twitter to see what our chat topic will be for February. Better yet, follow ALL of our WY Tweeters! Here is a list of the WY Tweeters I follow. Feel free to join Twitter and subscribe to this list.  If you have any questions about Twitter, Twitter Chats, or growing your PLN, please contact your local technology coach and ask them. It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks!

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I’ve Gone Googley!

I knocked a new goal down just in time to kick off the new year. I completed the requirements and was selected as a Google for Education Certified Trainer. I am thrilled by this opportunity to share all things Google with educators near and far.

I was thrilled to earned my level 1 and 2 Google Certified Educator. I use GSuite for EDU and love it. I enjoy teaching my students and the educators I coach to use Google Sites to create portfolios, Google Calendar to organize  and share their daily routines and assignments, and assign and collect assignments and student feedback via Google Classroom, etc. I am definitely a GSuite afficianado!

However, becoming a Google for Education Certified Trainer was a whole other level of commitment and I was eager to explore this option. According to their site, “Google for Education Certified Trainers are passionate and driven education professionals with a desire to help others transform classrooms with technology.” I felt that this statement describe myself and my role in my building to a T, so I went for it.

I signed up for and attended an October Google Train the Trainer Bootcamp led by the one and only,  Rich Kiker at IU 13. I learned a ton of great information and began to contruct my ideas for my application video in which I had to share my personality, instructional style and my googliness.

When prepping for my video I thought hard about what it meant to be “googley.” I came across a blog by Adrien Feudijo on the subject. He shared the following;

“Googleyness is one of those great words which can only be defined by the agglomeration of many super cool characteristics. Nonetheless, I will try as much as possible to get closer to it as I can. Googleyness is a trait which is defined closely by phrases such as “Not just being cool, but really-really cool”, “Being out of the norm”, “Being an out-of-the-box thinker”, “Being Phenomenal, Amazing, Innovative, and Disruptive” and, of course “Being a status quo challenger”.

I loved his description and I hoped that people who I worked along side of would dare to say some of these same things about me.  However, hemming and hawing around about completing this application video didn’t feel very “googley” to me, so I committed to completing the application over Thanksgiving vacation, and I did.

Lo and behold, my very first Christmas present was delivered to me on December 12th, when I received an email confirming my selection as a Google for Education Certified Trainer. I definitely was honored and psyched about this new distinction and am excited about new opportunities to share my passion for all things Google with more educators in the future.

Training Logo Graphic

I am going to wrap up this blog by asking this question of my readers. What makes you “googley?” How do you stand out in a crowd? How does your personality, teaching style, and your actions make you stand out in a crowd?  If you can answer this question and you are passionate about technology, I highly recommend you explore the opportunities afforded to those of us who become Google for Education Certified Trainers.

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Totally Doable To-Do Lists

New Year, new goals, new plans, and new people. Perfect time to refocus, reframe, and redefine your purpose. I am starting off 2018 with this simple question, “Why is this important?” If I can’t answer this question, I am not allowing these cluttering, desk consuming, and brain swamping ideas to take up residency in my life. Quite frankly, I don’t have time or energy for things that don’t matter, and if they don’t matter I have many other things that do in the queue.

How do I answer the weighty question of a tasks importance?  Too often people allow themselves to get stuck in the cycle of having so much to do they don’t know where to begin. This not only cuts production, but it ups the ante when it comes to work related stress and burnout.

So what exactly is important to me? And how to I then choose which items that make the importance cut to tackle first? I have begun asking a few pertinent subquestions to help me answer the overarching question of importance.

  1. Does this task help students learn or become better problem solvers?
  2. Will this task empower me to grow, be my best self, or change?
  3. Does this task fall into the required tasks all educators have to do, or am I putting extra emphasis on the extraneous?
  4. How will benching this particular task adversely impact others?
  5. Will completing this task allow me to tackle another task with ease?

If the answer to any of these questions is a negative, then I know I am creating chaos in my work environment, and overburdening myself with extraneous details and tasks. I quickly sweep these extra tasks to the wait pile, maybe pile, or disregard pile.

With new leadership, new faculty, and new students entering an existing school year, the ability to prioritize and regroup is paramount. The importance of things may be altered by the new people introduced in our district/schools, or our goals may shift based on the needs of our students, co-workers, and personal needs. However, allowing ourselves time to focus on what is and what is not important is truly a vital piece of the puzzle.

I challenge educators, admin, and students to wade through their To-Do lists and commit to filtering their tasks based on importance, and not the perceived tasks that overwhelm and unbalance our professional plates.

Going into a New Year, I strongly feel it is better to hit purposeful, planned home runs than to hit random balls into the outfield hoping for a home team victory. So take the time to analyze those to do lists and commit to those tasks that will truly impact our learners and learning environments.

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Creative Ways to Integrate Computer Science

Students need exposure to computer science. Whether we agree on not, computers are integrated into our every day life. From banking, to smart phones, to our entertainment, computer science has a huge impact on us.

“In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by … offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.”

~President Barack Obama, 2016 State of the Union Address

To bring computer science, coding, to all learners was launched in 2013 by twin brothers, Hadi and Ali Partovi.  The purpose of the annual Hour of Code campaign is to get all learners K-12 exposure to coding and computational thinking skills that allow learners to take processes apart and find errors in the logic. Currently there is 124,846 events registered across the United States to celebrate the Hour of Code. Globally, this grassroots event will impact tens of millions learners in over 180 different languages.

So what are you doing to engage your learners in computer science this week and beyond? Hopefully you are offering exposure in some way, shape, or form. Sadly, I hear too often I don’t teach computers and coding has nothing to do with my subject. This is wrong and a mentality we need to overcome. We want our students to be prepared for a future where most jobs are dependent upon, if not directly dealing with computers. Preparing students to be problem solvers who can program and fix programming errors in never a bad idea when:

  • Pennsylvania currently has 16,976 open computing jobs (3.2 times the average demand rate in Pennsylvania).
  • The average salary for a computing occupation in PA is $85,654, which is significantly higher than the average salary in the state ($47,540). The existing open jobs alone represent a $1,454,062,304 opportunity in terms of annual salaries.
  • Pennsylvania had only 2,969 computer science graduates in 2015; only 20% were female.

If this data intrigues you, you can find more information here. has committed to making computer science activities that can be implemented with little to no coding experience by the adults in the room and a wide variety of activities that can easily be implemented in math, science, ELA, social studies, or exploratory courses in grades K-12.   I challenge you to take a peek at the opportunities available for our learners on this site and even if you just allow students to dabble during a SOAP or advisory period I am sure you will get sucked into the excitement as they explore computer science in a fun and engaging activity complete with online tutorials and guides.  How can you possibly go wrong by exposing students to a skillset that is in high demand today and will be even higher tomorrow?

“Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.”

~Bill Gates


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