Recently published on DefinedSTEM

The start of each new school year is such an exciting time for educators and students. After the summer break, educators head back into their classrooms and schools, hopefully feeling recharged, excited for the new school year, and ready with a list of new teaching ideas. Planning for the first day and first week back to school are so important, we want to set up our classrooms but also need to focus on the environment and culture we are creating. Of course, there are classroom expectations and class details that we need to share with our students, but we need to do something first. In starting to plan instruction and methods, we first should focus on learning about our students and showing that we are invested in their success. By starting here, we begin to develop our classroom culture and set up a welcoming environment for learning.

Welcoming students in and learning together

At the start of the school year, and every day thereafter, we should be intentional about being present. We need to spend time greeting all students and welcoming them back to school. Beyond the students on our rosters, It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building.  The power behind creating a positive and supportive climate in the building and in each classroom starts with teachers. When we are visible and show students that we are excited about school, we will start making connections that will help in fostering a positive classroom culture.

It can be challenging to start a daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year. We must set a good example by engaging our students in conversations, showing an interest in who they are, encouraging and providing opportunities for peer connections. These intentional strategies to get to know our students will positively impact the learning environment

There are many ways to learn about our students. There are icebreakers and other games that can be used as a way to learn about one another. As educators, this is our opportunity to take time to encourage students to share their thoughts and interests with peers, and also what and how they hope to learn in your class.

Making those connections

There are many tools available to set up methods of communication and collaboration and to help students develop these critical skills for their future. For learning, we have to determine how to make ourselves available to students when they have questions or need additional support or resources. The questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. Without a way to ask questions during these times, students can become frustrated and the potential for learning diminishes. In our increasingly digital world, we have access to so many resources, but we also need to know how to find the right tools. First, I recommend that educators find a tool that enables students to connect, to ask questions, and to access classroom resources. Among the digital options available today, it still can be challenging to select the right one. A few examples are setting up a classroom website, a messaging app or using an LMS.

A classroom website is great for having a centralized location for students to access resources, post questions, review content and more. Websites and using LMS platforms can easily be set up using EdmodoSchoologyGoogle ClassroomWeebly a Google Site, or even Padlet.  Communication is also easier with a messaging tool that enables the sending of reminders, links to resources, or that integrates with other digital tools for learning. A few options are Bloomz (for parent-teacher communication) and Remind. There are several other options available, depending on your needs and the level you teach. I have used Voxer with several of my classes, especially for talking about Project Based Learning and sharing ideas and reflections.  One thing to keep in mind is to find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students.

Learning about each student

Even the slightest interactions can provide so much information about a student. It happens through those quick conversations as students enter the room, or by including fun activities in the lesson, and creating a supportive, welcoming environment where students feel valued. Engaging in some of these practices will help to build and foster positive relationships. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start creating connections with one other.

Some quick ways to get started are by having students create a collaborative Google Slides Presentation, or use another digital tool, like Buncee or even Padlet perhaps,  for students to create one slide or add some information. Encourage each student to contribute by adding in fun facts, share how they spent the summer, or the weekend,  to help each member of the class to learn about one another. I did this with my Spanish III and IV students and it was fun to learn more about each student and their summer experiences and we had some fun in the process.

A personal goal at the start of each school year is to learn about my students and help everyone start to feel comfortable in our classroom. We used some icebreaker games, a great game of Bingo, shared stories, and it definitely helps students to learn about each other and for me to learn about them.  Our classroom culture continues to develop each and with it brings new learning opportunities.

Another great way that I have found to learn about each student is through the use of project-based learning. When students have the choice to determine what it is that they want to study and can drive their own learning, we can connect more with each student and understand who they are and what their passions are for learning.  The students can learn about their peers as well as become more globally aware of what it is like to be a student in different parts of the world and to just really explore whatever it is that they want. For us as educators, it creates a way to extend our own learning and we can continue to improve and learn and grow with and from our students,  starting from the beginning of the year.

 

Published originally on Getting Smart 

One of the most important roles for educators today is that of being a mentor. As educators, we are often called upon to mentor the students in our classroom, as well as colleagues in our school. Throughout our lives, we have all had at one time or another a person who has served as a mentor, whether they have been selected for us or it is a relationship that simply formed on its own. Take a moment and think about the different mentors that you have had in your life. How many of them were teachers? How many of them were other adults, such as family friends or perhaps even coaches? How many of your own mentors have been the colleagues in your building or members of your PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network)?

There may be a few that come to mind immediately, both because you remember having a specific time that was set aside to work with your mentor, maybe during your first-year of teaching or as a teacher who needed some guidance while working through some of the challenges of teaching. There is probably a mentor that comes to mind because you credit them with some aspect of personal and or professional growth. For myself, I have been fortunate to have some supportive mentors that have helped me to grow professionally and taught me what it means to be a mentor. These relationships are so important because it is through mentorships that we continue to learn and grow and become a better version of ourselves. In the process, we also develop our skills to serve as a mentor to someone else and continue the practice promoting growth.

Getting Started with Mentoring

Take a moment and think about your classroom or your school and the types of programs which may be already in place in your building. Are there specific times set aside for teachers to act as mentors for students? To their colleagues? In my school district, Riverview, we implemented a homeroom mentoring program a few years ago, as part of our RCEP (Riverview Customized Educational Plan) which we were making available for our students. A few years prior to that, we began with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, and our school was among the first schools in the United States to achieve national/state recognition for bully prevention. Through the program, we implemented a variety of learning activities, with the goal of engaging students in learning and collaboration, to promote a positive school climate and to create opportunities for students to build positive and supportive peer relationships.

For our Homeroom Mentoring Program, small groups of students in grades 9 through 12, are assigned to a homeroom, with a mentor. By having these smaller groups, the teachers are able to serve as a mentor for each student, working with them closely, to not only support them during their high school experience but also to prepare them for their future after graduation. It is a way to provide a more personalized learning approach for each student and for each student to know they have support available to them. These mentoring homerooms meet on a regular basis, providing ongoing opportunities for the teacher and students to interact in team-building and work on fostering peer relationships. During these homeroom meetings, some of the activities include pride lessons, goal-setting discussions, career exploration surveys and job shadowing, community service experiences and other topics which come up throughout the year. It is a good opportunity for the students to have a small group to work with and to develop critical skills for their future, such as communicating, collaborating, problem-solving, and developing social and emotional learning skills as well.

In addition to the planned activities, a key part of our mentoring program is the creation of a “portfolio” which includes samples of student work, a job shadow reflection, resume, list of volunteer experiences and additional artifacts that students can curate in their portfolio. The past few years, students have organized these materials into a binder, which has been kept in the mentoring homeroom. The materials become a part of their required senior graduation project. This year, we have started creating an e-portfolio, using Naviance, a program that promotes college and career readiness. Students begin by creating their online profile and sharing their activities and interests. Using the program, students can take surveys to learn more about their own skill areas and interests, learn about colleges which might match their interests, and also continue to build their digital citizenship skills. According to one of our guidance counselors, Mrs. Roberta Gross, the mentoring program was implemented to help students make transitions toward post-secondary goals and plans, and moving to the e-portfolio is creating more opportunities for students to explore their own interests and create their online presence.

There are many benefits of having students create an e-portfolio. Moving to an e-portfolio makes it easier to access the information for each student, it can be shared with parents and it opens up more conversations between the students and the mentor teacher. It is important to prepare our students for whatever the future holds for them beyond high school graduation, and working with them as they grow, in these small groups, really promotes more personalized learning experiences and authentic connections.

As a final part of this program, our seniors take part in a senior “exit interview”, a simulated job interview with a panel of three teachers, a mix of elementary teachers and high school teachers. It truly is a great experience to have time to see the growth of each student, learn about their future plans and to provide feedback which will help them continue to grow and be better prepared for their next steps after graduation. And for students, being able to look through their portfolios, reflect on their experiences, self-assess and set new goals, knowing they have support available, is the purpose of the mentoring program.

Resources on Mentoring

There are many resources available that can provide some direction for getting started with an official mentoring program.

  1. The “Adopt a class” program, founded by Patty Alper, who also wrote a book on mentoring called “Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America.” Alper talks about the impact of mentoring and how her view of it is towards an “entrepreneurial” mindset, preparing students for the future, with the skills they need. Alper breaks down the process into practical steps, with examples and encouragement for those new to the mentoring experience.
  2. The national mentoring partnership “MENTOR”, offers a website full of resources and ways to connect with other mentoring programs. MENTOR even held a Mentoring Summit in Washington, D.C., this January, where professionals and researchers gathered to share ideas and best practices for starting a mentoring program. Be sure to check out their monthly themes and presence on Twitter.
  3. The National Mentoring Resource Center offers a collection of different resources for mentoring include manuals, handouts and a long list of additional guidelines for different content areas, grade levels, culturally responsive materials, toolkits and more. The website has most of the resources available as downloads.

How you can get started

I would recommend that you think about mentors that you may have had at some point during your life. What are some of the qualities that they had which made them a good mentor and why? For me, I felt comfortable talking with my mentor, being open to the feedback that I would receive, and I knew that my mentor was available to support me when I needed. Another benefit is that we learn how to become a mentor for others, and when we have these programs in place, our students will become mentors for one another. I have seen the positive effects in my own classroom, and many times, these new mentorships have formed on their own.

 

A phenomenal mentor that taught me what it means to be an educator.

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Thrilled to have an awesome mentor and professor, thank you Bruce Antkowiak

It’s back to school time! Depending on who you are, your feelings about heading back to school might differ dramatically. And I don’t just mean whether you are a parent versus a teacher, I mean even within these two groups. Among those of us in the classroom, the realization that we are headed back to school brings about a lot of different reactions. Of course there is still that perception that teachers have the best, easiest job, because we have summers off and all those holiday vacations as well, and don’t forget about the weekends. And there may even be a perception that teachers are happy when the school year ends. I have been asked many times, “How many days left until you’re off for the summer?”

I have never been one to count down the days till the end of the school year. While I am cognizant of the end of the year, I don’t, nor have I ever posted a countdown of how many days until summer vacation begins. A few years back there was a countdown board posted, but it was just for a student’s birthday. (Fun fact, she had written using a sharpie, so it kind of became a permanent birthday countdown board).

For me, I consider school to be year-round. Even though I don’t have to report to my classroom during the summer months, I am still involved in professional learning and trying to grow and learn as much as I can during that period of “free” time. I love being able to set my own schedule, in my own space, definitely perks of having the summer off. But I know that there are educators who do count the days until the end of the year, not because of excitement for a family event or vacation, or any special occasion, simply because they are done “working” for the summer.  I think that to be in education today, you really have to love what you do. You have to know your “why” behind it and you need to stay focused on what your purpose is for having chosen to be in this amazing profession.

Just like any other job, teaching has its challenging moments as well. And who hasn’t been excited about the weekend or an extended holiday break coming around? That’s natural regardless of what profession you are in. But if you are in education and you are counting down the days, you end up conveying the message to students that you cannot wait for the year to end. Why would they want to be in your class, or even be positive about being a student your class whenever you’re sending the message that you can’t wait to have a break over the summer? That may be blunt, but that’s exactly what I think of when I hear of “countdowns” in classrooms. 

I know that students may count down the days, especially seniors, until summer vacation starts. This is understandable because they have spent so much time in classrooms, sitting in uncomfortable desks for nearly eight hours a day and then going home to do even more work. And I know there’s a big controversy regarding the benefits of whether or not homework should even be given, especially when we think about the real world and the jobs that are out there, like teaching, where work does not end at the end of the “work day”. But at this point in time, I think that we need to focus on preparing students to make decisions about their future. To do this, I changed my practice of nightly homework and instead, created more ways for them to work in class and for me to work with them individually and in small groups. It is also important to stay positive about the learning experience and to do that means not counting down until the end of the school year.

Now the flip side is the back to school. Some parents are thrilled to have their children head back to school after a busy summer of family activities and hectic schedules. Some teachers are not as excited to head back to school because for them it means giving up that flexibility in the schedule where they can spend time doing what they want, learning, or just simply relaxing with family and friends.  But there are some educators who are excited about heading back to the classroom, so much in fact that they go in over the summer to prepare their classroom, to buy school supplies for their students and to really work on making it a welcoming place starting with Day one.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed this summer, and I am somewhat sad that there are two weeks remaining before I head back to school for the year. However, once I get there, I’m happy to be there. The opportunity to work with students and my colleagues and to just have something new and exciting to learn and explore every single day inspires and motivates me. And I think if you are in the business of counting down the days until the school year ends and openly sharing how upset you are that the school year is beginning again, you might want to consider a career change.  Again, apologies for being slightly blunt.

 

A few weeks ago my #4OCFPLN noticed that there were tons of negative memes being placed on Twitter and social media by educators about heading back to school. So to make a difference, they began to create their own memes with positive messages and excitement for heading back into the classroom. Think about it. As an educator you have the opportunity to do something different every single day. You make the decisions, it’s your classroom, you interact with the students and your colleagues and you have the power to make it something wonderful and unique and fun. It is YOUR choice to make it amazing. If you don’t enjoy heading back into the classroom, then maybe you should think about the way that you are doing things and ask the students for some input. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a little bit. Especially if you find that teaching can be overwhelming at times or if you have been counting down at the end of the year.

Each summer I spend a lot of time traveling to conferences, reading a lot of books and trying to take care of things that I can’t get done during the school year. I do stay connected with my students over the summer, as they have some ongoing reading to do to keep up their language skills. As much as I love teaching, I definitely get used to my routine of sleeping in later or staying up late and reading, and not really having any set schedule to follow. But a lot of the time I find that I’m thinking about what I’m going to do once I get back into the classroom, how can I be better than I was last year, and what can I do differently to really make it an exciting learning experience for my students.

So if you are thrilled to be heading back to school, I think that’s awesome. Please share your positive outlook with others who may not be as excited as you. And if you are thinking about how sad you are that school is starting so quickly, think back to your previous year and some of your best interactions, or your best lessons or even your worst lessons. What made them go so well and why do you think some of them didn’t go as well? Invest some of your remaining summer “break” rethinking the lessons that didn’t go as well and make those the point that you start the new year with. Challenge yourself to do something different and something better than the year before. Maybe that will be the motivation and the catalyst that you need to build some excitement for heading back and greeting your students for the upcoming school year.

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Welcome back to school!

 

Here are a few from the #4OCFPLN –

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** A little different post today.

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Photo by Vali S. on Pexels.com

Sometimes life can become pretty challenging. And the definition of what exactly is “challenging” varies from person to person.  Maybe I’m really tired in the morning and for me, getting up is a “challenge.” Or if things don’t go as I planned or in the classroom  I am dealing with a classroom management issue, I might feel like it is an insurmountable challenge each day.

We each have our own stressors and things that will tend to send us into a spiral, at least that’s how I feel sometimes. Have you ever had that feeling where you just feel so out of control, unable to make yourself move because you can’t make things happen like you want to? You get to that point where you feel hopeless and helpless and so many different emotions all wrapped up in one. It can be hard to pick yourself up depending on what it is that you’re dealing with. Trying to stay positive in the face of adversity, as my friend Mandy Froehlich has written in her book The Fire Within. There are things that we go through, experiences that are not the greatest, challenges we face or perhaps even ways that we’ve been treated or actions we have taken. Sometimes although they are negative and leave their mark, it is often that they propel us to do something greater, different that will make us better and stronger not just for ourselves, but more importantly, will help us to provide more opportunities and be better for those we serve.

 

Lately, I have felt kind of overwhelmed and been involved in conversations about the importance of keeping balance and finding time for yourself, and I know it’s not just me. Some days I feel like I hit a wall, and struggle to find the strength or motivation to just keep going or sometimes to even get started. There will always be a growing list of things that need to be done, of goals that we have set for ourselves,  and there will never be enough time. Or will there be?

I hear students, colleagues, family, and friends complain that they didn’t have time, or there will not be enough time. I often feel this way too, but have learned from experience and read quotes which reflect the concept that “we make time for those things which matter to us.” It has to be true, but of course, it requires that we decide the importance of our tasks, which is never one of my strong points.

 

I need to keep perspective and sometimes that is really tough to do. And I try to remind students of this as well. No doubt that things can add up so quickly and they get to the point where you feel like there’s just no way out, no resolution that seems achievable.  It can be a struggle, especially when you don’t know where to start and what’s even worse is that you realize that nobody can help you. Of course you have supporters in your corner for whatever it is that you’re going through, friends who will be there for you to listen and to give you the support you need. But when it comes down to it, there are just some things that only you can do. You are completely on your own, and knowing that is terrifying. Knowing that can cause a lot of fear and hopelessness. But we have to work through it, and it can be so difficult. At least that’s what I’ve been feeling lately and talking with friends and members of my PLN, actually less talking but more listening, I know that there are some really big problems and challenges that people are facing out there. Way bigger than the ones that I may be dealing with at the time and so it gives me pause and forces me to think before I talk and share what is going on with me.

I’ve been really trying to lean in and listen more to what is going on in the lives of others. Because educators are in the business of doing what’s best for kids, and what’s best for others, so I need to model this in my professional and personal lives.

I have learned to be more mindful of the needs of others and in the past, what may be the current complaint or challenge that I’m facing, rather than speak it, I lean in and listen to see what the challenges are that others may be facing. This allows me to refocus my energy on what I can do to help them rather than wasting my energy feeling helpless myself. It shouldn’t be about me. It’s not about me.

 

So if we can channel that energy that would otherwise be used feeling helpless or hopeless or sad or any variety of emotions, and rather use that emotion for the benefit of others, then I think we will hit the ground running. It’s all about perspective and even though we all live in our own space in this gigantic world, sometimes we need to just take a look around us and see how we can help someone else, rather than dwelling on our own “challenges.” We help ourselves by lifting others up.

 

Rachelle Dene Poth

While it’s true, that most teachers do have their summers “off.”, I know that the reality is quite the opposite. Being involved in a few different PLNs,( #4OCFPLN , #EDUGLADIATORS, #EDUMATCH) the talk has been about our ongoing pursuit of learning, with the benefit being that we have the extra time to spend on personal and professional growth. As for myself, I had a tremendously busy but awesome June, several conferences and so many opportunities to make new connections and learn.  I know many educators who participate in some form of professional development or get involved in teaching summer classes, working at camps, or find other temporary employment. Summer is a great time to learn, explore and seek out new opportunities. It’s also an excellent time to continue to build PLN!

 

It is the end of July, (I cannot believe it!), but there is still plenty of time for PD, and the best part is that so much of the PD is available any time, through Twitter, Voxer, learning communities through ISTE, Google Communities, as well as the different edtech companies that offer webinars and podcasts for educators.   We all need a break, time to relax, reflect and recharge, but it is really nice to be able to learn over the summer and create our own schedule for learning and growing as educators. And also to come up with a few new ideas to get the year started.

Some ideas for summer learning

As has been the case the past few years, this has been a summer full of conferences (Superior Tech 4 Teachers, Summer Spark and ISTE), as well as virtual events including EdChange Global and EdCamp Voice on Voxer. There are ongoing book studies, Twitter Chats, Voxer groups, Google Hangouts, Podcasts, Webinars and more. There are also some great blogs to read, see the side of my page for those that I follow).  So many choices, but where to begin? My advice?  At least what has worked for me, is to think about an area that you would like to improve upon or something maybe you have been wanting to try, and make that a goal in the upcoming school year.  

 

Twitter chats and Voxer Groups

There are so many chats going on, some nights are difficult to keep up with Tweetdeck because you don’t want to miss the conversation. But the nice thing is that you can always go back and read through, see the resources shared and add to your PLN. If you are not on Voxer, I highly recommend that you give it a try. You can read about it in my prior post linked above, but it is so helpful for engaging in conversations with educators from around the world. Groups are available based on interest areas such as Blended Learning, ARVRinEDU, BreakoutEDU, PasstheScopeEDU, and there are some for PLN/PLFs such as Edugladiators, Edumatch and the #4OCFPLN !! Interested in a book study? There are those too. I have been in an Innovators Mindset, Four O’Clock Faculty, What School Could Be, Let Them Speak, LAUNCH and a few more. Let me know if you want to join any that I belong to, or I can share a link of groups as well.

4OCFPLN

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Matt, two Spanish Teachers!

FOUR awesome opportunities! (online and on your schedule!)

Going on now is the Ditch Summit, hosted by Matt Miller! Different speakers each day from July 25-29, awesome way to learn. Sign up here  You will receive an email each morning and you have until August 10th to watch the videos, so plenty of time. Don’t forget to get your Badges!

Coming up next week, there will be a few virtual learning events that might be of interest. Quizlet will be holding an “unconference” on August 1st and 2nd. Join in to see what the new topics are and the ideas for using Quizlet. Register here .quizletlive

The Hive Summit kicks off on August 1st and goes for 14 days of learning, great speakers and promises to be a fantastic opportunity for adding to our toolkits. And there are live chats each day as well #HiveSummit,  lots of ways to learn and connect. More information here. 

The following week is EdmodoCon, a two-day virtual event held on August 6th and 7th. I was fortunate to speak at EdmodoCon last summer and brought back so many new ideas, so I definitely recommend checking it out.

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Celebrating our time speaking at Edmodocon 2017

Last few weeks of summer

Sign up for one of those virtual learning events, jump into a Twitter chat, or read a book (See BookCampPD) for some recommendations or join in the chat on Saturday mornings, 9:00 a.m. EST. Meredith Johnson has a great lineup of authors.

Lots of ways to learn, on a relaxed summer schedule, and have a little extra time for the PD that you need. You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home, move away from the pool, or be anywhere specific. Find something that you are curious about and make some time for it now, before the school year arrives and time starts to disappear quickly. You might find that these experiences will get you excited to return to school and feeling refreshed! 

And if you have extra time, check out the upcoming conferences(EdSurge 60+) and see where your PLN might be headed! Let me know if you will be attending iNACOL, FETC or ASCD Empower

 

 

I wrote this about a month ago…time flies when you’re spending it with your PLN! #iste18 #RealEDU #USMSpark #ST4T #tlap #FETC Connecting is everything!

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Live tweeting for #tlap at Summer Spark

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Women in EDTech Ignites

Why you need a PLN

One of the many benefits of being part of a PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network) is having a constant system of support. Because of my PLN, I have access to new ideas, tools, methods at any time. Being “connected” means having a personal and professional support system, whenever you need it and wherever you are. We can connect in person with colleagues at our schools or during conferences, but at times this can be difficult because of the availability of time or based on location. The solution? Technology. We can connect virtually through the numerous forms of social media and web tools that promote anytime collaborating, communicating and conferencing. We become “connected” by connecting.

Gone are the days where educators have to scour the Internet for resources, search through books, or even travel for professional learning. We don’t even have to leave our homes to participate in professional development.  (Although it is nice to get out and meet our PLN F2F). And when it comes to our teaching practice, we don’t necessarily need to create all of our own materials or wait in line at the copier. (if we are in the habit of making packets, but that is another conversation entirely #paperless).

 

We have access to support and thousands of resources instantly, simply by connecting through our devices and reaching out into our “network.” The power of connecting and collaborating. Sharing our own ideas and gathering new ones, building on our strengths and honing in on areas in which we need to grow. Through our PLN, we have these opportunities and whatever we need, available to us at any time. It just takes one tweet, one post, one Vox, and the connecting begins and the support is available.

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Unexpected PLN

Sometimes we just happen to become part of a PLN, or a PLF (Personal or Professional Learning Family). The same can be said for mentoring. Sometimes we make these connections, develop relationships that grow into something powerful and life-changing, without even realizing it as it is happening. When I first heard about the “power of a PLN”, I really didn’t get it. I thought it was the same as being a “colleague” or having “work friends” as they are often called. But I have learned that I was way off about this, and I am glad to know that I was wrong (again). I have become “connected” through several PLNs, that have also somehow interconnected with one another.  It has become a super PLN, or mega PLN. And it evolved through Social Media, which I was so wrong about the value for education.

 

My first true PLN is referred to as the “53s”. A group that grew from a Facebook group of ISTE goers, created by Rodney Turner, that then evolved into a Voxer group. Rodney’s message was to make connections, see someone sitting alone, ask them to join in. As a group, we met face to face at ISTE 2016 in Denver. There are also a few members of this group that I met through Twitter chats and then met in person at other conferences, and had time to spend with them learning in the same physical space. We welcomed our friends into the group and continued to build a core PLN. We have come together to be the 53s, a name significant to us. A name which evolved after our initial core group grew. A group based on trust, transparency, empathy, kindness, pushback, fun and passion for education and the power of learning. And most importantly, true friendship.

These people, my friends, are my source of inspiration and the ones that I rely on heavily each day. We are a unique group that spans the United States and Canada.  I am so fortunate to be a part of a core PLN that I know will be there for me no matter what. The only thing I wish I could change is our geographical locations. We are from different states and a different country, and so time together does not happen that often. But when it does, it truly is the best time ever. #singoff #booksnaps #carpoolkaraoke.  LOVE our times at FETC, Summer Spark, ShiftinEDU and ISTE and more to come!

I am not sure where I would be without my 53s. The times we have shared are so special, and I am so thankful for this group and wish for everyone to have a core PLN like this: Evan Abramson, Jarod Bormann, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Jaime Donally, Mandy Froehlich, Tisha Richmond and Rodney Turner. Add to that our awesome Snapchat singing group which also includes Tara Martin, Andrew Easton and Mandy Taylor. They are an amazing group of educators, who would drop everything to be there to support you. I am proud and honored to call them my friends.

Another PLN: adding to the PLF

I am also fortunate to be connected with two other tremendous groups (my PLF) and cannot wait to meet more of them in person.  The #4OCFPLN and Edugladiators! Loved the adventures trying to meet up in Chicago!

 I had read the book “Four O’Clock Faculty” by Rich Czyz  and was part of a Voxer group doing a book study. Once the book study ended, many members of the group stayed connected and kept the conversation going. A group that stayed together and continued to connect and grow long after the book study had ended. We have become a real PLF and I enjoy learning new things from this group every day and knowing that they are there when I need them. “We” have had our picture taken with many authors and we have stickers and our own hashtag even #4OCFPLN. And stickers too! Shirts on the way.

4OCFPLN

There are so many great conversations, a lot of laughs and fun that happens within this group every day.  I love knowing that I can reach out to this group at any time. It is a very supportive and fun group with a lot of diverse perspectives and a bond that continues to grow and get better. Laughs, inside jokes, challenges, pushback, inspiration and amazing connections. REAL connections. We know more about each other and learn and push boundaries of learning every day.

Everybody needs to be part of a PLN. Depending on your time and what you’re looking for, there are lots of options available for making these connections fit with your schedule and based on your interests. It might be formed through Twitter and it might be through a book study or other focus group using Voxer,  or one of the other social media tools out there. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you make connections that will help you to continue to grow and have the support you need when you need it. Whether it is a group you join, a chat you follow, or a mix, get out there and connect. The best is when we get to spend time together, learn from each other, share the same nervousness before giving an ignite, and knowing that there is always someone there to help you whenever you need. (ST4T Tech Fail, thank you David Lockhart and Nik!)

We are better together!

Love meeting up with my #4OCFPLN, Fellow #Edugladiators Core Warriors, Edumatch PLF, Buncee Family, Future Ready PLN, the Women in EdTech and of course, the 53s.

And a tremendous surprise having one of my students be in Chicago during ISTE. That may have been the best part! Sharing some of the awesomeness of ISTE and the people there.

 

 

I decided to give Podcasts a try, and by try, I mean do my own. I really started to learn more about how to create one by looking into Soundtrap to use with my students. But with the end of the year coming up so quickly and the mix of tests, changed schedules and other events, it just did not happen. So I decided to do my own, without any real direction to go in.

I have been a listener of podcasts for a while and have been fortunate to be a guest on some as well. Last year I was a guest on Vicki Davis’ show, which was an awesome surprise and great experience.. Dr. Will had me as a guest last spring and I had the opportunity to talk with Andrew Wheelock, Coffee With a Geek Podcast creator as well.

I have many friends who have podcasts and they are amazing, the sound, so professional and so well done. I know that I am not going to be at that level…at least not yet.  I have not found much time lately to write, and will also be very limited in writing in a few weeks once I have shoulder surgery, so I guess the time is now for me to try this podcast thing out.

It will be random, it is unnamed, and the episodes vary in length. I am and will always be a work in progress. Still learning as I go, definitely room to grow, but just excited to try something different, even though it is a bit scary.  It is one thing to put your words and ideas out there in writing, but another to speak openly through a podcast.

Episode 1 is here, very brief, very random, but hopefully will entertain, or give an idea, or even lead you to give me some feedback or even be a guest on my show, once I figure out how that works! Now if you want to listen, see if you can find the widget….

ocean under blue sky

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**this is a work in progress

Things on my mind: Self-awareness, Competition,  Failure, Focus

During the last couple of weeks as the school year was winding down, the demands on my time were increasing exponentially. While this may seem a bit exaggerated,  there really is no other way to describe it. Granted, I take a lot of extra things on personally and professionally, when most people meet me, they ask if I sleep. I do, some. So why do I, or educators take on so much? For me, the reason is because I truly am a lifelong learner. I don’t want to miss opportunities, especially when that might mean I miss out on creating opportunities for others.  I don’t want to say no to someone that needs my help, because I realize that for some people, asking for help required that they be vulnerable and step out of their comfort zone. So I will always try to help someone else, even if it means delaying my own goals or veering from some path that I am on. And I am good with that, but I also realize that there is only so much that I can do. 

 

Self-awareness

Being self-aware means you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, emotions, thoughts, and have a deeper understanding of what motivates you, at least this is my way of defining it. I can somewhat identify my strengths, but it is uncomfortable to openly admit my weaknesses.  I have no problem admitting mistakes and failures in front of my students. The more that I can do this with them, will help to dispel that misconception that failure is final. Personally or among friends, for me, admitting weakness is tough, but the first step in trying to improve is acknowledging that there is a something to improve upon.  I’m well aware that I have certain areas that I need to devote some time to in order to become more effective and consistent and possibly attain some level of balance. If balance is really a thing. Maybe it is because I set demands on myself that are too high or overly ambitious, but I have reached a point in my career and my life, where I feel I need to engage in activities that I am passionate about being involved in. Even while I was in law school,  my friends would often laugh at my ability to multitask and my methods of over-preparation for class. I did then what I try to discourage my own students from doing now. I would take notes on the computer, write notes on paper, listen to the lecture and grade papers all while sending text messages throughout the class. And somehow while doing all of that I still managed to answer a question when called upon. I survived the four years of teaching full-time and four nights a week of law school. When I think back and compare schedules of then and now I feel so much more out of balance now than I did back then. It just does not make sense. 

 

While this post has started off as random thoughts,  they do have a point, which will present itself sooner or later. (perhaps not even in this post, as I am between a few projects).  These random thoughts are my reflections, and how I become more self-aware. As some of my friends know, I tend to not sit and type but rather speak my thoughts into a document and then go back and revise and reflect in the process. It simply works for me and it makes me more productive, at least I think that it does.  We don’t need to make big gains each day, it is in the small wins, ongoing progress that we achieve more. Reading this post yesterday, reminded me of this fact.  I got away from reading the posts by Thomas Oppong, and this quote helped me through some of my reflections. “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.” 

But lately, I have not felt as productive as I would want to be. Yes I’ve made lists, checked items off as I completed them, kept up with email only to have two or three emails pop in as soon as one is sent. I have opened Voxer to find four or five hundred messages waiting and many other notifications from other forms of social media. So how does one find balance? How does one keep focus when surrounded by and consumed by so much “connectedness.” In the pursuit of learning, how much is enough and how much is too much?

What I mean is I think as educators we need to involve ourselves in a variety of learning possibilities. We no longer need to leave our homes to go out for professional development, nor be limited to that which we have at our schools. There are so many options available that meet our needs as far as goals and time and passions. But it seems that more and more time is consumed by social media like Voxer or Twitter, just for a few examples. Don’t get me wrong, these are tremendous tools for becoming a connected educator, for breaking away from the isolation that can happen. But how do we keep up with everything and everyone?  If you know, please share.

 

Competition

It is tough “keeping up” lately. I read a lot of blogs, books and stay active through Twitter and Voxer, and have a pretty good routine for keeping up-to-date with information. Reading has never been a problem for me. The area in which I need to improve is with my own writing. Some days I feel like I just can’t keep up. I feel like I’m falling behind, that I’m not meeting the goal, not pushing myself enough to accomplish things. But today I had a moment to pause and think, and it came after reading  some of the The Path to Serendipity , by Allyson Apsey and also “What School Could Be,” by Ted Dintersmith.  After reading these, it occurred to me that I am doing the exact same thing that I try to stop my students from doing which is push myself so hard, judge myself so critically, to the point where my desire to work and to get things done becomes consumed as soon as my eyes focus on that ever-growing list of goals. I put up a wall and that inner voice tells me that I will never get things done. The inner voice convinces me that I can’t, so I don’t even try.  And then I remember the quote  “the only thing standing in your way is you,” so I need to get out of my own way. 

My list is full of things which are not part of my daily work as a teacher, but rather tasks that I have voluntarily pushed myself into becoming a part of. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out, maybe it’s my drive to keep doing better, to keep pushing myself to do one more thing, take one more step, to see how much I can handle and how much I can learn. But in recognizing this, I realize that my students do this as well. I’ve seen them push themselves and worry that they won’t finish something in time, that they won’t get into the college that their parents want them to, that they won’t get the highest grade, that they won’t be as smart, as quick or as good as somebody else in the class.  Pressure.

How many times this year I have said to them “You don’t need to worry about anybody else. You only need to worry about yourself because you aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself.”  I came across an anonymous quote a while ago that said “I’m in competition with no one but myself.” The power of this quote really hit me. These are the reminders that I give to my students, but yet are ones that I have failed to be cognizant of within myself.

In reading “Path to Serendipity”, so much of what Allyson says resonated with me, especially when thinking back to when I first started teaching. And in reading “What School Could Be,” I am thinking about the structure of school, the “game” of school and all of the pressure that exists. Pressure which is placed on students whether by the school system itself, the testing, parents, teachers or the students themselves. How do we break this cycle? Wanting the best for someone should be more about supporting them with whatever decision they make, and being there if they find out that it was not the best decision to be made. That’s the risk we take when we step out of our comfort zone, when we go against the grain and do something that is different, that may not be the traditional way to do something but it’s the way that we want, it’s personal to us, it’s our passion.

 

And I know I have derailed a bit in this, maybe more than a bit, but sometimes it’s good for me to just sit with my computer, and thanks to the voice to text, I can close my eyes and talk through what has been going through my mind, and then edit the writing. Lately it’s been that I just can’t get enough things completed. Countless presentations, proposals, webinars you name it, I am doing and experiencing the same thing that many other educators are experiencing as well. However the difference is that my perception of others is that there are no struggles. Blogs are being published, podcasts are being recorded, books are being written, speeches are being given, and my question is where do you find the time? How can I find a time? And I am so impressed and inspired by the work of my friends and my colleagues who share their stories and seem to have a lot of balance, but then again how do I really know? My perception is not necessarily their reality.

A good friend of mine Mandy Froehlich has written a book which just came out today, called “The Fire Within”, in which she shares personal stories as well as stories of educators who talk about the different struggles that they’ve gone through. We don’t often hear of the struggles and the negative experiences that we as educators may have, but there are a few things that I’m sure of. We need to start with relationships. We need to be open and vulnerable. We have to tell our stories. It is from these stories, whether they are stories of great innovations or epic failures, where we can connect and provide the inspirational redirection that someone else may greatly need. And while telling our story makes us vulnerable, there is great power in vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, as defined by Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly”. It is “uncertainty,risk and emotional exposure.” My favorite quote from Brown is that vulnerability is “the courage to  show up and be seen even when you have no control over the outcome.” This quote is one I read last summer, and I kept in the back of my mind while preparing for different events in which I felt completely out of control. I didn’t think I had the courage and was ready to back down, but this served as a reminder to me that it was better to try and fail, than to never try at all. The interesting part about this book is that she came up with the title after reading a quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 1910, where he spoke about the man who enters into battle valiantly, and at best he has success and at worst he errs while daring greatly.

 

Focus

So there is nobody pushing me to get things done but me. Nobody adding more items to the list but myself. And there is nobody that I’m in competition with. I have to accept that I will accomplish the things that I need to accomplish in my own time and in my own way. Pushing the publish button on this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been thinking a lot and decided to put my thoughts out there. 

comfort

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Being a teacher is easy.

It must be nice to have your summers off.

You’re so lucky, you don’t have to work on the weekends.

You have such long holiday breaks!

If you are a teacher, you likely have heard at least one of these statements before, perhaps from friends and family, or from people you just meet, that respond with similar statements when they find out that you are a teacher. Are these statements accurate? Well, I guess to an extent, but there are some ways to counter these comments.

 

It can be easy to be a teacher, if you love what you do, it does not feel like” work.” I enjoy  working with students, learning with and from them, and having the opportunity to start fresh each day and create experiences to engage students in learning. Having the summer off is nice too, but most teachers I know either work in the summer, attend conferences, or pursue some professional development. The “summer off” is nice for providing a more flexible schedule, and a time to reflect, explore new things and prepare for the new school year.

And as for weekends, I am fairly certain that most teachers look forward to the weekend for many reasons. Of course, time with family and time to relax are important. But it is also a time to catch up on some grading, emails, or exploring new methods to bring into the classroom. So weekends without work, I don’t think they happen too much.

And the extended holiday breaks are nice as well. But again, many teachers use this time to reflect, recharge and prepare for the return to school.

So, What is the reality?

The reality of being a teacher is that teaching today can be quite challenging. Maybe in the past, the life of the teacher was perceived to be a pretty comfortable and easy profession. The typical school day of 7:00 to 3:00 or some variation, with weekends and holidays off and of course, that summer break. With those hours and that schedule who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? From the outside looking in, it might seem like each day is the same, right? Each passing year the same as the year prior. How could it be that difficult? Once you make a worksheet or a test you have them to use forever, right?  Lesson plans are the same, projects are the same, and folders full of worksheets and activities pulled from the file cabinet, simply copy it, teach it and then move on to the next day. Same. (hopefully not).

There may be some truth to this, as I’m sure there are some teachers who are teaching the same way that they were taught and/or are using the same materials each day with each class and then doing it all over again the next year. No judgments made.

To an extent, I myself was this type of teacher for a long time. Not because I was trying to take the easy way out or save time. Rather I was using some of the methods that worked for me when I was a student. I thought this was the right way to prepare. And sometimes I used some of the same materials each year because I thought there was value to them for student learning. I know that when I was a student, some of the same issues that exist today existed then (copying homework, cheating on tests), but we didn’t have the technology, which creates tremendous learning opportunities but it also takes away some opportunities as well.

Foreign Language Teacher vs. Online Translators

I thought that being a foreign language teacher meant that I was a member of a group that had a distinct battle not experienced by any other content area.  It took some time for me to notice some bothersome trends in student work. The copying of assignments, the use of online language translators, and even copying information directly from websites. So the struggle was to find a way for students to have authentic practice that would not encourage student copying or trying to take a shortcut with learning. But each year it becomes more and more challenging to stay ahead of technology in this sense. I don’t know the answer as to how to get students to stop copying homework other than to not assign homework. And this has been a very strong discussion as to the value of homework, the type of homework, and whether or not homework should even be given at all. #ditchthehomework (follow the hashtag)

 

I will not make a decision either way, other than to say that for me, I do assign some “practice” tasks for the students to do, but they typically don’t come in the form of a worksheet. And sometimes when we are working in stations in class, if students do not finish something, I do ask that they work on it until complete. But I do add, “at their pace.”  Instead, I encourage students to practice the content by playing a game of review using the Quizlet cards, sharing a Quizizz game or provide prompts for writing a blog post. And these are ongoing practice tasks that are due on a weekly basis or that I have students create to use in the class. Why? Because in doing this rather than assigning the same worksheet to each student to complete,  I know that it is more authentic, will provide students with personalized practice and it is not something that can readily be copied.

But recently I was rather surprised when I saw some students switching between screens on their computer while working in their practice workbook. (As a side note, I stopped assigning practice from the workbook for homework because of copying).

I thought that by having students work on the pages in class, during stations, that I could interact more and provide more one on one feedback and  give time for students to collaborate with their peers. I did not anticipate this “new” form of copying, until one day a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of a student switching screens on his laptop and then writing in the workbook. The process repeated and continued for a few minutes. From across the room I had an idea of what they were doing, but I gave it some time before I walked over. Hoping that I was wrong, and that it was not the website that provides answers to so many books and workbooks. (Still cannot believe what is available).

 

It was exactly as I had thought, one of the students was using that website, to look up and copy the answers for the workbook. While I understand that there can be comfort in having a resource to look at, especially when a student may be struggling with a concept, it is helpful to learn that you were on the right track. But I do have a problem when the answers to all questions in every book are so easily accessible and available to students. I know when I was in school, often our math teachers would assign questions opposite to the answers that were available in the back of the book. It was nice to have an option to look at some answers to do practice problems and see if we were working on them correctly, and there were times when I did wish that all of the answers were available. But it forced us to push through the challenges and solve the problems. There were struggles in the learning but that’s how we improved and kept going forward.

Simple lesson learned. In these experiences, and on a personal basis, you cannot or should not assign students the exact same thing if you can avoid it. Especially when teaching a higher level course or one in which students have the possibility to create, rather than simply consume. We need to give them more authentic opportunities to practice what they are learning. They need to create, not consume, be active, not passive, and have the opportunity to set their learning path and be curious in their pursuit of knowledge. This is how we prepare them for the future.

DEWEY

 

PBL and GimKit

So the tool was Gimkit and I only heard bits of a conversation in the #4OCFPLN group (Thank you Laura Steinbrink) and I honestly thought it was something only for elementary school. I decided last weekend to look it up, create an account and give it a try. At the end of the school year, I love trying new tools and ideas to keep students engaged in learning and finish strong. A few years ago, Goose Chase was a huge success, and so I was excited for the possibilities with Gimkit.

It was so easy to create a game, referred to as a “kit.” I created several “kits” for my classes and then noticed that I needed to upgrade to make additional kits. I reached out to the game’s creator to find out if I could have a brief trial period, so that I could make more games. Since the school year was ending, and I had conferences coming up, I really wanted to try out as many features as I could.  I was quite surprised to find out that this is a tool that has been created by a high school junior, as a part of project-based learning.

“Being uncomfortable is a great way to increase your skill of learning”

Learning the story behind the creation of Gimkit

When I asked Josh asked about his background, he told me that during the last school year, a new project-based learning high school opened in his district and he decided to attend.(See an interview done by Michael Matera, #xplap, where he interviews Josh).

In May of 2017, as he was completing one of his projects , he thought back to traditional school, where he really enjoyed using other game based learning tools, and thought he could create something to improve upon them. He started by interviewing different students and teachers, and compiled a list of the most common issues expressed, which became part of his focus in creating Gimkit.

GimKitHW

As an assignment

Last summer he worked on creating the first version of Gimkit, and ran a small beta test in October and officially launched the day before Halloween. He says they have spent “little to no time and money on marketing,”  and the user base is growing, over the past few weeks he has seen around 20x the usage he did from just a month ago. As for the team, for the most part, it’s just Josh who does all of the engineering and responds to customer support messages. He started to code between freshman and sophomore years, and then developed GimKit over the following summer. Josh also has a mentor who works with the customers and provides business advice. Listening to his interview with Michael, there are three questions that he asked himself which impressed me. “Am I working to improve the product every single day? Am I improving myself every single day? Am I doing something to push the product further everyday?” He clearly has a growth mindset and is reflective in his “challenges” that he has set up for himself.

 

I was so surprised when I received a response to my email to Gimkit  within about fifteen minutes of having sent it. I can’t recall the last time that I got a response so quickly.

GImkitCreate

Giving it a try

So last week I decided to give it a try in my classes without really knowing what to expect. I got started over the weekend by creating classes, entering the students’ names to make it easier in class. I created a few “kits”, which are games. It is very easy to create. You can start from scratch, upload your own sets of terms or connect with Quizlet to export a list of words directly into your game. The goal is to make as much money as you can, or for students to reach a set goal. Students can play individually or in teams and logging in is done through a code, where students can then either find their name if part of a class, or enter their name.. You can also set a time period to play, I have been using 10 and 12 minutes, just as a start.

I was very excited to try this with my classes and actually only intended to play during my Spanish I classes. To start, I told them that I really wasn’t sure how it worked and told them to just go for it.

Playing this reminded me of that day five years ago when we play Kahoot! for the first time. The students wanted to keep on playing more games every day and said it was their favorite. They were excited and having fun but more importantly I noticed that they were learning the words and their recall of the words became faster and faster with each time played. It was fun to observe them as they played, learning how the game worked, and hearing their interactions. Some students were yelling at their teammates “to stop buying things”, as they can “shop” and level up with extra money per question, buy insurance, bonus streak or other options. Eventually they all had fun buying things,  when they saw how quickly the money was being added to their account.

After the first round of games, I think the total won was around three million which seemed like a lot until the next class came in and had 17 million. The third group to play earned 37 million and when we decided to continue this the next day we were in the billions!

GimkitLIbrary

Gathering feedback and assessing the benefits of the tool

Once the game is done, a report is available which opens as a PDF. The summary shows the class results and the individual report lists each student, money earned and lost, correct and incorrect answers, followed by a list of the terms asked and the number of correct and incorrect responses. It is a great way to see what areas that the class as a whole needs some review with, but more importantly, something that can be shared with each student and used as a tool to study. Teachers can create 5 kits for free and edit each kit once. There are also paid plans that enable you to create more.

 

For the determining the benefit for students, I value their feedback very much and I ask them what they liked about the game and how they felt it impacted their learning of the vocabulary. They liked the game setup and the repeated questions, the music and the teamwork made it fun as well. Creating the kits was so fast and made it easy to keep adding more into my library. Another nice feature is the ability to assign kits for students to play outside of class for practice.

There are different options available for play in class as well as assignments. I love that students can work at their own pace and that they are learning more and feeling more confident with the material.  I definitely recommend that you check them out and follow them on Twitter, @Gimkit. Just in the past few days, there are already new features added, one favorite is the messages sent to teammates letting them know when someone on the team buys something.