Oh the Humanity!

I gave a “talk” to preservice teachers from Grove City College today. What seemed to be just 5 minutes of me rambling about flexibility and meeting the needs of our learners had a ripple effect for me today. I allowed myself to rewind to when I myself was fresh out of college, years younger, and full of ideas and desires about changing the world one child at a time.  Twenty long years later, the only change is that some of my learners are my peers and possibly a few gray hairs.

I am still a firm believer in the fact that educators make a difference in the lives of those children they teach. Some of us cross a student’s path for a year, a semester, or a day as a substitute, while others of us impact a child for multiple courses, or even years.

As an elementary educator I had my 25-30 students who were like my own children all day every day for a whole year. Those kids were so easy to get to know. I knew them,they knew me, and forging a learning family was natural.

However, in a secondary setting forging those relationships is not as easy. Kids come running in and dashing out each period. New faces hold court in your classroom each period. Some students never cross your path, or only cross your path once their entire secondary experience. What will that student take away from that one chance encounter? Will you have smiled at them? Will you have greeted them? Were you too busy fleeing from one destination to the next to even acknowledge them? Did you fail to see the frustration or fear on the face of that child that you groused at him/her for running late? Did you ask that child why they were running behind before you reprimanded?

I firmly believe we pay now or pay more later with kids. Sometimes when we are marching to the beat of the clock and the never-ending stream of standards, we lose sight of an essential fact.  WE TEACH HUMANS. They are not automated robots that learn on command. They have feelings, fears, frustrations, and even more interestingly hormones. Our students are humans and they need us to see them as individuals; all unique in approaches to learning and life. I always remind my students that we are all “imperfectly perfect.” No one who walks this earth is perfect.

The tweets shared today from my “talk” made me reflect. Made me realize that us adults sometimes need a reminder that WE ARE HUMANS TOO. We make mistakes, we get sick, we get frustrated when copiers jam and coverage is needed… again. We can be so hard on ourselves, but we must never lose sight of our focus, the kids. We must soldier on. We need to trust ourselves to fail forward, make mistakes and learn from them, and trust that every other adult in this building has failed a time or two as well.

Today I slowed down. I kept my eyes up as I ran from one room to the other. As I covered another person’s class instead of feeling put out for lost time I found myself thankful that I had earned a chance encounter with a few more students. I embraced the opportunity to be the person who was there for them when their trusted teacher couldn’t be. I listened, I smiled, and I remembered the young lady who launched out of college ready to take on the world.

As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, I want to give thanks to those who make a difference in the lives of our students. I am thankful for all of my students; past, present, and future. I am thankful for my colleagues who work so hard every day to engage the learners in their rooms. I am thankful for my admin team whom spend hours juggling behavior concerns, parent phone calls, committees, and a whole menagerie of outside agencies to ensure the safety, welfare, and growth of all whom enter our schools.

However that is only half of the awesomeness that is our schools. I am thankful for the wonderful people who serve as our aides working one-on-one with students when we can’t regenerate limbs and reach one more child. I am always in awe of our custodial staff who runs a tight ship and responds to situations most want to flee. I am blown away by the staff that feeds our children, serves their meals, and offers yummy meals made with TLC.  I certainly know we’d be lost without our troop of administrative assistants who meet, greet, shuffle, and manage our offices with style and grace and smiles on their harried faces.

Most of all I am thankful to our students. They come to school, add life to a quiet building, challenge us to be the best we can be, and are the purpose and reason we come to these jobs each day. I hope that they are thankful for us as well. My fervent wish is that when asked, every child can say an educator made a positive impact on his/her life.

I wish all a Happy Thanksgiving. Maslov says our basic needs must come first, so enjoy some good eats, treats, and time to relax and rejuvenate. Then come back ready to roll with our very animated HUMAN learners with visions of winter wonders to come.

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The Times Done Changed

That’s right English majors, I went rogue and completely threw grammar out the window, but I got your attention, so keep reading!

I keep hearing people say times are changing, well I think they missed the boat because the times have already changed. After just spending an hour sifting through iTunes with my 6 year old debating song titles, content, and volume of her iPod, I know how different times are for my little family. Sadly those thinking that they are changing now are going to find themselves stranded on the island of denial as they rest of us are chauffeured around in our self-piloting cars.

Google is a word. Not just a proper noun belonging to a company that makes information easily accessible for all, but a verb. Our students Google… everything. They don’t know a world without information at their fingertips. My 6 year old proves it every day as she demands I look up the weather on my phone prior to selecting an outfit.

Our students will never know what it was like to sift through the card catalog for hours on end, then traipse through the library seeking the title we just found in a wooden draw only to realize said book is already checked out, and won’t be back in circulation for the next 2 weeks. Our students will employ Google Docs and use the explore feature to find their resources while staying on the very page they are using to type their paper. With a click of a button the source will be cited on their doc for them! How many tear-filled hours did I waste in my youth formatting and scrounging for the correct data to cite my sources. Kids will never get how easy life has become for them, but we do, and we love it!

Some day soon a generation of students may never know what it’s like to pass out papers, check books out of a library, or utilize a home phone. This isn’t sketchy sci-fi theater at its finest, it’s our close reality. What are we, as educators who grew up far removed from this instantaneous, on-demand learning environment, doing to prepare ourselves for success teaching this new generation? Are we taking classes? Developing a forward-thinking PLN? Are we exploring new tools? Or are we lamenting what used to be and dragging our feet as our learners pass us by?

Change is never easy.  However change has already come and it’s time to learn a few new tricks, because even old dogs can learn new tricks. As an older dog myself, I can attest that there will be some bumps in the road to innovative practices.  There will be full blown failures that will make you want to throw devices out windows.

However, I will also affirm that these moments of sheer frustration will lead to breakthroughs and learning opportunities that will make you and your students more resilient problem solvers. So I challenge you to try one new thing this week. Try a new tool, begin using a new LMS (learning management system), explore collaborative features of G Suite for Education, and share! Don’t forget to share your experiences with another colleague. Share the good, the bad, the horrifying. You may find a colleague who’s been there,done that, and can help you find a solution. Or you may just find you’ve ignited a spark for someone else to try something new.

Looking for ideas? Check out our list of middle school tweeters.  Better yet, why not add yourself to the list and share a picture or two of what’s happening inside your classroom walls. We may just learn a thing or two from you. Join us November 14, 2017 at 7pm for #wyasdpride chat. All you need to do it log onto your twitter account, search for the hashtag, and answer the questions that are posed.  Hope you will join us in exploring the possibilities of developing a PLN (professional learning netword) via social media.

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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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