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 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)

File_000 (3)

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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Full STEAM ahead for Students

Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math can easily be threaded into other subjects. Yes,I said STEAM. I included the A. For those of you who doubt the necessity of an A, when have you ever gravitated towards an ugly car when selecting a new vehicle? Or a house that looks bad from the outside when choosing a new home? If you can’t embrace art as the A, how about substituting the work aesthetics? Every design should at least be aesthetically pleasing. Whether designing a prototype, a new bridge, or a new building people inherently drawn to designs that are aesthetically pleasing to them. So ignoring the A is not a good idea. I would hope we can agree that teaching the principles of design might be of advantage to our students as they prepare presentations, and create products throughout all of their educational endeavors.

 “The United States has developed as a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers, and innovators. In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information…” -PA Dept of Education

Emphasis has been placed on the need for more STEAM in schools due to a shortage of employees to fill the ever increasing science, technology, engineering and math career fields. How do we interest our learners in careers they have no existing knowledge of at this point in their school careers?

“Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.”

-President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

We need to begin integrating STEAM lessons into our existing curriculum. Are you teaching a lesson on the Industrial Revolution? Why not take that lesson a step further and allow the students to not only explore the products and people responsible for this time in history, but allow them to create their own products and services and market them. This extension will allow for math, art, engineering, and potentially science. Our 8th grade students created their own products and marketed them with videos. Here are some examples of their final projects:

Famous in a Flash

Expo Meter

Rent A Friend

What about ELA? It’s really hard to pull science and technology into reading, isn’t it? No. The answer is it’s not all that big of a stretch and it’s being done routinely in some schools. Have you just finished a great book? Why not design a structure, tool, or device that could have solved the character’s problem and changed the plot of the story?  Why not design a recycled material totem pole that shares the journey of your main character?  High School ELA teacher and blogger, Ashley Million Bible, offers a great blog on STEAM in the secondary ELA classroom which can easily be scaffolded for our youngest learners. Check it out here.

Caine’s Arcade is another awesome example of how allowing children access to materials, time to tinker, and encouraging thinking outside the box can lead to amazing creations engineered by learners young and old.  Recently a team of math teachers approached my about a probabilty project for collaboration. We discussed how we could use ideas from Caine’s arcade to encourage students to create their own probability based games and then allow visitors to the probability fair to analyze the probability of winning each game they visit and play.

How have you integrated STEAM concepts into your instruction this year? If you haven’t here is a great video that might help you to motivate yourself and your students to begin thinking outside of the box.




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Giving Soft Skills a Hard Focus

The days of teaching students in rows, lecturing at them, and giving a one-sized-fits-most lesson are gone. This model of education was fitting for a workforce that required mostly assembly line jobs in productivity. However, today’s careers, and those we haven’t even begun to fathom yet, require more than repetitive action. These jobs require creativity, out of the box thinking, and problem solving.

If you watched this video, what are your thoughts? It’s amazing to me how much the workforce has change in 20 short years, and I definitely have a job that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Think about how much your career as an educator has changed since you became a teacher. Isn’t it staggering at times how much ideologies, best practices, and instructional materials/tools change?

“What skills are most important for companies that are hiring? There are some skills and qualities that employers require of all applicants for employment, regardless of the position they are hiring for. These are called soft skills, and they include the interpersonal skills and attributes you need to succeed in the workplace.”

Alison Doyle

It is imperative that we provide our self-sufficient, screen motivated generation with opportunities to come up for air and interact with their peers. We need to model collaborative, productive discourse for our learners. In all facets of life, communication is essential. However to prepare our learners to tackle professions that have yet to exist, we need to encourage collaboration that is innovative and problem solving. Who knows? One of our students may be responsible for the next big tool, technology, or process that allows for some of these future positions to be developed.

communication pic

Doesn’t this graphic prove how essential it is to teach students to collaborate when they are in school and developing social skills that will impact and help them progress in their chosen professions?

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Differentiating Direct

As a building, we’ve gotten really good at running rotations. We’ve got students transitioning, 3 stations being offered most days, and we’ve begun to make this model our own. How do we tip from here? What are our next steps?

In order to really get the “bang for our buck” direct instruction needs to look unique at all three stations. The same lesson shouldn’t be taught three times in a row. Broken records repeat, they don’t produce hits. If educators are building 3 stations based on a common standard or skill, the students are arriving at direct with varied levels of readiness each rotation.

The first group has had no prior instruction on that skill. This lesson will be more involved and in depth. This rotation is probably a good match for the group of students who didn’t do spectacularly in the pretest and will need more support this unit.

The second group to receive direct instruction has had some introduction to the skill/content prior to arriving in your group. Maybe you begin by asking some informal questions to see where the group’s needs are, offer a shorter version of the prior lesson based on errors in their answers to beginning questions, and then move onto extension skills for this topic.

You final direct station has had collaborative and independent work prior to meeting with you. These students need very little of the first lesson and much more extension. Maybe you begin the rotation with them sharing their ticket out of independent and then dive into any needed remediation. Following that this group should be extending for the majority of this rotation. They’ve gotten a firm grasp of the skills in independent and collaboration. We don’t need to run the skipped record for them. Offer opportunities to apply, research, discuss, and further explore these skills.

Today I visited a 7th grade science classroom. In that classroom the essential question was, “How do seeds disperse themselves?”  This teacher had students watching videos and posting to a forum on dispersal methods in independent. In collaborative students were previewing seeds taken from nature and working collaboratively to inference what dispersal method was used by these specimens and write down proof statements.

In direct students never got the same lesson. The teacher asked questions to determine the groups prior knowledge for round one and dove into the discussion from there. In the second round the teacher asked similar questions and then asked students to reflect on the materials viewed during independent prior to teaching any material. After these initial probing interactions, the teacher then clarified any misconceptions and explained what was expected in collab and how it tied into the discussion in direct and the video viewed in independent. The final group didn’t even get asked the clarifying questions. The teacher lauched right into higher level thinking questions and the discussion was rich.

The wrap up for this lesson was a ticket out the door on the classroom learning management system (LMS). The students in this room were moving, discussing, exploring, and extending their learning. With all of the different modalities addressed in this lesson, I can honestly say that these students will master the dispersal methods of seeds and be eager for future plant lessons to come.


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