connected

This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own.

For the past three years, I have enjoyed attending the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held in Orlando at the end of January. It has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is seeing the new tools and exploring different options for my students, as well as finding some ideas to share with members of my PLN.

In the middle of January, I started to receive flyers from edtech companies who would be at FETC. My habit is to check out their website and then make time to stop by their booth and have a conversation to learn more. This year, I also received one email, from Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare.

Her email invited FETC attendees to stop by a hospitality suite hosted by ParentSquare, to learn more about the platform and spend time networking. Because of my schedule, I would not be able to attend, so I emailed Anu to introduce myself and make an initial connection. We had hoped to meet while there, but of course, time flies when you are at FETC and we missed the opportunity to connect in person. With a call setup for a few weeks later, I was glad to have more time to explore ParentSquare on my own before “meeting” with Anu earlier this month.

The story behind ParentSquare

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for students, I really enjoy getting to know and connect with the people behind these tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them and to see if my goals as a teacher are in alignment with their purpose so I can provide the best options for my students.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about the start of ParentSquare and the growth that it has seen over the past eight years. Anu shared the story behind ParentSquare and her passion for the work that she does is clear. As a parent, Anu often received a lot of different messages and communications from her children’s’ school. While receiving the information was not a problem, the variety and inconsistency of formats (email, paper, newsletters, even Google groups) being used in schools was a problem. Parents had to keep up with and know the practices for communicating with each teacher.

Anu thought there had to be a better, more consistent way and she made it her goal to design something that would facilitate all of these vital communications in a more accessible and simplified way, that everyone (families, teachers, and administrators) could access. By using one tool, there is consistency, reliability and it promotes more equity when everyone has the same options for staying informed and feeling connected to the school. Anu wanted to “get everyone to be on the same platform, working together toward a common goal,” to unite all stakeholders in the educational community.

Starting with four schools during the first two years, ParentSquare has grown across the United States and is now being used in more than 1500 schools in 36 states. Moving forward, Anu hopes to connect with more schools and educators, to communicate in more effective ways so that together we can provide the best learning experience for students and the most support for their families.

What does ParentSquare offer?

ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. It truly fosters a learning community.

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When I explored ParentSquare, what I noticed first is the setup of the landing page and how easy it is to locate the information you are looking for. It is a versatile tool that helps to facilitate many different interactions and increase communication between home, school and the community. Having time to explore ParentSquare closely, I thought about the tools that I use for communicating with students and families, and realized that rather than using multiple different tools, I could use ParentSquare to do all of that and more.

With ParentSquare, communicating is easy. You can quickly exchange information, share photos, engage in two-way conversations with parents, plan events, to name just a few of the options, and I was amazed at how easy it was to find what I needed. You can see right away how beneficial it is for schools and families. If you find yourself or your school using multiple different apps to keep track of correspondence, announce events, share files and photos, send messages, or even ask for volunteers, ParentSquare enables you to use just one tool that facilitates so much within the school community.

 

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There are three main areas that ParentSquare provides: Communication, Resources and Participation with many options available within each.

The landing page is easy to navigate to keep track of events, messages, upcoming activities like fundraisers or school events.

To communicate, you can send or schedule a post, create an alert, or even send a two-way message to interact with parents one-to-one.

Parents can opt to receive an email with a link to read without having to log in or they can choose to read a text message or app notification.

Parents can also choose to receive their notifications in a digest format. With a digest format, parents will receive all notifications from the day at a specified time, rather than receiving notifications that are dispersed throughout the day.

Signing up for events and sending RSVPs have never been easier.

 

 

Why choose ParentSquare?

Technology tools like ParentSquare provide so many benefits for schools and families. By using ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home. Parents will appreciate having one tool with multiple functions that help to bridge the gap that can happen when using multiple apps or means of communication within the same school setting. School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare.

Sign up for a demo today and stay tuned for the next post which will highlight some of the features of ParentSquare and how to get started.

A few of my favorites

Two conferences and time spent with the greatest friends who inspire me every day.

I have learned so much over the past two weeks by attending these conferences and every time I return I cannot wait to share my learning with my students. A large part of my learning happens by spending time with my closest educator friends. There are so many things that I want to learn, and I am fortunate to know a lot of educators who are working with different tools and technologies every day. We always have something to learn, even if we have been teaching for a long time or using a tool or implementing a strategy for years. For me, some of my best experiences have been attending sessions led by my friends and co-presenting, or from the many ideas that attendees share within sessions.

Another favorite of these conferences is time together with faraway friends.

Sometimes conferences can become so busy that we are often all pulled in different directions. Because this happens, and we know ahead of time that it will, we truly cherish the time we have together even if only for a brief moment, a quick meal or just enough time to give hugs, take a picture and then head off to where our schedule requires us to be. And even if all of us can’t be together in the same physical space, technology allows us to share our experiences by connecting through Voxer, or sharing videos or going live on Facebook.

By knowing how busy our schedules can be, it has helped us to become more proactive and intentional about setting aside that precious time to spend together, time that matters more than anything. So we, the 53s, set aside time to have dinner, have some fun taking selfies and then to go find a space to play some games. Yes, games. Trying out a new game where you have to create a pitch for a random company and then try to “sell” the idea to an investor, or playing other games that are based on spontaneity too, led to all sorts of laughter and stories to be told. Thankful for the opportunities we had to set aside a specific time to just relax during a nice dinner at Fogo de Chao or Paesano’s and know that we have a couple of hours just to spend together, in and around the other chaos that often is our schedule.

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Jennifer, Mandy, Jaime, Marialice, Stew

I love the random moments of adventure that appear as you’re walking down the street and you see a larger-than-life swing, and it occurs that it might be a fun idea to just go and take a ride on it. Not letting on that you might be a little bit afraid because after all, the swing stands at about 385 feet and spins you around somewhere between 50 and 60 miles per hour, way up at the top, flying through the air, at night. It’s not your average swing and finding people to brave it with you under normal circumstances might be a challenge. But when you find that you are left standing there staring up at the swing with big eyes and a daring spirit, you are lucky to find an unsuspecting friend, thank you Rodney, and you just decide to give it a go, buy the tickets, cross your fingers and hope for the best.

What happens? You bond over a slightly scary but super fun experience to think back upon for a long time to come. Sharing the pictures, and the video with others which leads them to ask you “what in the world would make you want to ride that?” Or “you couldn’t pay me enough to go on that ride!” And knowing that you did it, you conquered some fears and even kept your eyes open, while singing at the top of your lungs and just enjoying the experience, got you through it. And you shared the awesomeness with a good friend sitting beside you.

But when the time comes and you have to go your separate ways again to head back to your homes, often states away or even in another country, a bit of sadness is there. We get so used to being in that same space and enjoying that time together. But the more often that happens, I have started to notice that the distance may separate us but it cannot diminish the closeness that we feel, it is quite the opposite actually. I feel that it strengthens our bond each time that we get to spend together.

There were many laughs and even some tears because we laughed so hard, funny stories sometimes awkward “only could happen to us” moments, but it’s always the best part of every conference.

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Rodney Turner, Jaime Donally, Tisha  Richmond and I  presenting together  FETC

TCEA

My first time attending and presenting at TCEA, held in San Antonio this year and it is definitely one that I hope to make a part of my yearly conference plans. My only regret is not having more time to spend there learning and taking in all of the different professional development opportunities that were everywhere within and beyond that conference center. Whether in the sessions, the Keynotes, the learning stations, poster sessions, Innovator spotlights and mostly just in those times you have talking with members of your PLN and learning from each other. Fun time spent presenting together, and I’ve decided that I truly enjoy presenting with my friends like Jaime, Jennifer, Tisha, Evan, Mandy, Rodney, and Jarod. There is a dynamic between us and it just seems to really work. We have different backgrounds and roles in education and can learn a lot from each other. Presenting together was something we started at ISTE two years ago and has become part of each conference. And if not presenting together, we are there to support one another as tech support, food and drink delivery services, comedic relief or anything that might be needed. We somehow just know what we need to do and do it.

The other benefit is getting more time with people who you’ve known on Twitter or some other form of social media or even by interacting in a webinar and you just haven’t had the time to spend together in the “real world.” That is until you’re in the same space of the conference and you truly get to connect with these other people who you feel like you already know anyway.

There are a lot of words that I could use to highlight the experiences but I think at least for this post, I’d rather share some of the photos, and let the photos tell the story.

Fun  at MERGE HQ, Jaime, Joy, Jen, Marialice

The big cat pillow!

The “professional taste-tester” at Haagen Dazs

Mandy Froehich

On the Riverwalk with Jennifer Casa-Todd TCEA

Jaime, jon, Amy, Andi and Claudio – FETC

Tisha and I presenting on Infographics  FETC

Jaime and  Evan, arriving late to the presentation!

Mandy Froehlich session – thanks for the shout-outs!

Taking some risks with Rodney  Turner

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FETC 2019 Takeaways Part I: Adventures

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Getting ready to go
There are a lot of discussions and questions leading up to any conference. For first time attendees the most common questions are: What sessions should I attend? What type of clothing do I need? What should I expect? What are the “must attend” events? and many more questions like this. Everyone wants to know how to “plan.”

Three years ago was my first FETC trip and I had no idea what to expect and only knew a few people who were attending. I have been to many different conferences, but none quite like FETC. At first I was nervous about not really knowing a lot of people there, and figured that I would just figure it out and see what opportunities popped up. I was fortunate to have connected with Jaime Donally and then met up with Mandy Froehlich and Rodney Turner. We were building our friendship, connecting our friends together, and starting what would become an important part of each of our lives. Our group, called #my53s.

Jaime Donally

Rodney Turner, Mandy Froehlich

First, it is all about the relationships and memories made

FETC draws in people from all over the country and from around the world. A conference that can seem so large, with people moving in every direction, traveling quickly between the North and South but yet at times seems so small, when you find yourself running into the same people in different areas of ​​such a large event space. It has so much to offer, that it is hard to do it justice by trying to summarize it or simply writing about one aspect of it. So I thought I would start with what I consider to be the biggest takeaway every single time: Relationships.

Rodney, Evan Abramson, Tisha Richmond, and Mandy

From that first trip to Orlando for FETC until now, I have seen our friendship grow and the impact it has on each of us. What I have learned is that when it comes to conferences, it really doesn’t matter what you decide to do, how you set up your schedule, whether or not you know anyone, because no matter what decision you make you can’t go wrong. Honestly. There are no “wrong” or “bad” choices because opportunities are everywhere. Sticking to a schedule can be tough, and if you stress about what sessions to attend or how to plan for every minute, you will miss out on what I think is the best learning experience at any conference. Time spent with PLN and your edufriends.

Conferences are a place for building relationships and making connections above anything else. So if you want to learn what FETC is about let me start by telling you about the relationships and why they matter.

The value of connections

I absolutely love them!

These are relationships that started through Social Media. Specifically through Twitter, which I never wanted and never understood.

At conferences like FETC, meeting your “#eduheroes” finally F2F is a possibility. Even though we all feel like we already know each other, after many Twitter chats and social media interactions, especially on Voxer, it is nice to be together and talk (about technology) without the technology.

First steps for FETC

​Having core groups to connect with is something I highly recommend. All it takes is one or two people and you can build your entire group, so at no point do you feel alone during the conference.​ One of Rodney’s messages from years ago was to be on the lookout for people you notice sitting alone. Take a moment to go over and start a conversation, invite people to join you.​ At conferences like this, the “vibe” is that people want to connect, to share, to be a part of a conversation. Even if only for a few moments. It is those moments that matter the most. Be open to those opportunities and better yet, create them.

So, how can you prepare for FETC next year or the next conference?

Maybe the best plan is to not have a plan. Maybe just have an idea. A focus. Time passes by so quickly and there are so many choices that it can be overwhelming, especially for a first time attendee. Not everybody can make the same decision about what would be the best session or event to attend. You have to make your own decision and even though there is comfort in attending with somebody you know, it is equally if not more beneficial to go your own way, interact with other educators and create new relationships. You can then come back to that core group with new ideas and new friends, and you never know, it’s such a small world sometimes that you might find that you all know the same people.

The #4OCFPLN

A little over a year of connecting and growing with this unconventionally formed PLN, I love being part of the #4OCFPLN, a group that started through a book study on Voxer. I already knew a few of the members but we were able to build new relationships, strong connections and become a real learning family. So much anticipation of meeting face-to-face at conferences like FETC, which has been amazing. It’s funny at times because we realize that some people just don’t understand how you can become such close friends with people you’ve never officially “met” in the same physical space. I don’t know either but it just happens. You can build connections and foster supportive relationships and really get to know other educators. We “see” them based on the way they speak, through the passion they have for the work that they do, the personal experiences they share within the group and so much more. Even if you only have a few quick moments to say hello, to give a hug and to take a photo, it adds so much more to those connections. You already know one another it provides an extra element of realizing that yes in fact these people are real!

Elizabeth Merce and Mandy Tatum

Finally meeting F2F!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finest moments with #my53s

Bad Uber rides, overpriced moderately tolerable food (not from a chain), ridiculously funny games that result in companies like Platypus Help and Obnoxious Waffles, narrowly avoiding dinosaurs and then some scary rides at night. Sharing awkwardly funny moments, inside jokes, random thoughts, peculiar  traits and fun facts, and growing closer each day. We know each other so well and continue to strengthen our bond with every day that passes. And because of this group, I am stronger and braver than I ever thought I could be.

We live in different states, and in different countries, but even with such great distances between us, we manage to stay closely connected. We know we are there for one another, and the only thing that could make it better would be if we got to spend more time in the same space. But there are always opportunities and if the whole group can’t be together, when even a few of us can be, we all share in the excitement and joy of that time together.

Share your thoughts and experiences and photos, we would love to hear from you! Next up, a focus on some of the FETC events and takeaways. Once I return from TCEA, I will share some other takeaways from the wonderful experience of FETC. Of course, depending on the time spent with Jaime, Jennifer, Mandy and Marialice, I may need to share that first!

385 feet hight, four minutes, 50 mph! and only $12!

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Thankful for All the Things

A Blog Written by the #4OCFPLN

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Rachelle Dene Poth, Spanish and STEAM Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA @Rdene915

www.Rdene915.com

I am thankful for all of the opportunities that each new day brings. Time to continue to build relationships, to connect with students and educators from around the world. For so many years, I was teaching in isolation and did not truly understand the value of being a connected educator and the importance of relationships. A tremendous mentor in law school helped me to see what it truly means to be an educator and the need to focus on the relationships first. His guidance has made such a difference in my personal life as well as my professional life and I will always be thankful for his ongoing support. There are often challenges that come each day, and sometimes it is the challenges we face as educators or it is something that our students are struggling with. We need to connect. As much as our students rely on us to care for and support them, we count on them to lift us up at times as well. Knowing that together we are creating a welcoming and supportive classroom, where students are comfortable asking for help and where they are willing to reach out and help others, is something that I am thankful for each day.

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Amy Storer, Instructional Coach, Montgomery, TX

“I am thankful for every moment.” Al Green

Every single moment that has occurred in my life so far has led me to where I am today. Some of those moments were filled with love and laughter and some were blanketed in sadness and fear. But each turn taken and road followed has helped to mold me into the person that I have become today and who I will be in the future.  I am thankful for a mother that fought for her daughters to have everything that the world could give them and more. She sacrificed so much for us, and everything we do as educators today is because of her and for her. I am thankful for a dad, who found his way back to us. We are so glad that you did. I am thankful for grandparents and their love and endless amounts of cookies and candy! I am thankful for a sister who is truly my best friend. Thank you for giving me one of my greatest gifts, Nancy and Finn. They crawled right into my heart and filled in the hole that momma left when she passed away. I am so incredibly thankful for them. I am thankful for the love of my love, Tony. Thank you for picking up the phone when I bravely called you in the fall of 1997. Thank you for being my biggest supporter and for loving me for over 20 years. Thank you to my campus family for loving and supporting me in everything that I do. I am so lucky to get to work alongside each of you! Thanks to all of my former students. You truly schooled me on school. I learned all I needed to know from each of you, and I am a better educator and human being because of you.
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Louie Soper, 5th Grade Teacher, Philadelphia, PA

I am so thankful for the opportunity to teach in the city of Philadelphia this school year.  Albeit some challenges, each day is an opportunity to learn and grow. Learning blocks can be challenging.  Days can be challenging. Weeks can be tough, but I am so so thankful for the relationships I have been able to build with many of my students.  From Fortnite dances to slime, the fun doesn’t end. I am so grateful for this group of students I have this year.  We are all walking side by side daily in our journeys together in becoming the best versions of ourselves we can be.  Lastly, I am so thankful for the regular reminders from the #4ocfpln for pointing out these daily opportunities for growth.

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Kristi Daws, @kristi_daws, Technology Integration Specialist, Region 9 ESC

I am thankful for my journey. So thankful for the support of Bob Johnson who offered me an amazing opportunity to practice my love of music. I left for college a music major switching to math after two wonderful years thanks to Dr. Linda Fausnaugh. She awakened a Math Teacher inside me I did not know existed. After twenty, YES 20!!!, amazing years loving my career I stepped into the unknown and became a Digital Coach under the leadership of Brett Thomas. I was so fortunate to work alongside a leader who pushed, encouraged, challenged, and supported me daily. I followed this leader into my current position as the Region 9 ESC Technology Integration Specialist. I have learned so much in my first few months at R9 and I could not be happier. I don’t know where my journey will take me next, but I have faith that it will be an adventure. #Thankful
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KathiSue Summers, Educational Mentor for 1st and 2nd year Teachers, Medford, OR

Do You Believe Relationships Are Important?

When I started teaching in 1986 in public education, I was a Lone Ranger. I was the only female teacher out of seven teachers in the small high school where I taught Business and Computers. I didn’t think that being alone in the classroom was uncommon in my educational career. Before coming to public education, I taught for several years in the private sector; there you were on an island.

What I learned quickly was that relationships with other educators and students were very important to me as a person; as well as a professional.  It was easy for me to develop relationships with students, but it was difficult when I was the only female on the high school staff. It was hard for me to relate to the male teachers on staff.

I made it a point to become part of the community during my first year. I  developed many positive relationships and eventually, dear friendships that I still cherish after thirty-three years. There have been many times that a message, a visit or call have made my day. I am thankful that these individuals are in my life.

As the years have passed, I have developed different relationships. I have relationships with professional people I never thought would be in my circle. I think about my Voxer group (#4OCFPLN), my Twitter #PLN and my local face-to-face PLN. These people have helped me to grow professionally.

Do I think relationships are important? Yes, Yes, Yes! And, I am thankful for all the relationships I have made along my journal.
Jennifer Ledford

My one word focus for 2018 has been “SHINE” and when I chose that word, I could never imagine the journey that this year would take me on. I learned through these last 11 months what it truly takes for me to shine. There are some days that my light is easy to find and I simply project it at others and I am good to go. Yet there are other days that my light is underneath a thick layer of grime and muck, which is caused by stress and negativity. This is not the dirt you can simply wipe away but the kind that takes back-breaking scrubbing.

This year has had its share of muck that has attempted to cloud the light I have to shine, yet I am so thankful that in January, I met an incredible group of people that continually help me clean the grime away. They do this by helping me find the courage within myself to combat all the dirt and muck that may come against me in life.

Many who know me know that I am a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan and the way that the 4OCFPLN has helped me through this year can compare to that of the Lion. The Lion lacked the courage to do much of anything and was even losing sleep because of his irrational fears. He then meets a group that soon become his friends and along their journey, he is given opportunities to show the strength and courage inside of him. When they finally reach the Wizard, the Lion realizes he does not need the courage from the Wizard, for his friends have helped him find it in himself.

While I may have not been afraid of everything, I would simply stand back and let some things go even if I knew in my heart they were not what was best. I would let negative words seep in and not do anything to redirect them.  I was managing yet not thriving until I found my group, my tribe, my edu-family. They helped me discover the power within me to roar at the negative words (in the politest way possible) and to stand up for what I know is best.

As we enter this month of thanks and the last 2 months of 2018, I am very thankful for my 4OCFPLN and for all my additional support on Twitter and Voxer. These people have truly shaped me in the last year and helped me become a better educator and a better person. I am also very thankful for this new found courage. It allows me to do what I know should be done in all aspects of my life. While it is not accepted 100% of the time, others have said they have noticed a change for the better in me. As I look forward to 2019, I am excited for the opportunities that this courage can open for me.

I also want to encourage all of you to find your group. Find those people that will allow you to uncover things within that you never knew were possible. If you are open, these changes can impact your life in the most amazing way.

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Heather Young, Kindergarten teacher, Seattle, WA

@msyoung114

I’m thankful for my students, who come to school with wide eyes every day, willing to dive into whatever we are going to learn.

I’m thankful for the families, who trust every day to grow their children as learners and humans.

I’m thankful for my in-building colleagues, always willing to give perspective when my thoughts might be off track.

Lastly, I’m so thankful for my PLN, a crew of professionals from across the US.  In close to a year, they have pushed my practice to new heights I never imagined reaching.

This list is full of people who believe in me, they are the foundation, the motivation and the joy in my life.  I am so incredibly lucky.

 

Sarah Fromhold

Sarah Fromhold, Digital Learning Coach McKinney, TX @sew1080

fromholdsblog@wordpress.com

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  ~African proverb

This quote sums up both my journey and my struggle, and I am grateful for both!  My personality is one that I prefer to work alone most of the time. Going through school, I preferred finishing projects on my own rather than working in a group.  Because of this, I usually turned in assignments early and had plenty of free time. However, looking back, I realize I was doing the bare minimum to satisfy the requirements of the assignment.  There was no motivation to dig deeper into a topic. I was good to simply get it done. It was hard for me to find people I trusted to work with because I honestly thought it was better for me to do it alone.

My family, friends, coworkers, and the #4OCFpln have changed my view on the importance of relying on others.  With two young daughters, a husband with odd work hours, and everything I aspire to do personally and professionally, I recognize I cannot do everything by myself (and that’s perfectly fine!).  My coworkers and my PLN are constantly available for my questions and to bounce ideas around. Without my tribe, I would still be moving along in life, but with them, I’m learning, growing, changing, and truly living my best life.
Don Sturm

Don Sturm

Technology Integration Specialist, Morton, IL @sturmdon

Thankfulness is something that is easy to take for granted. I am guilty of looking at situations and only focusing on those annoyances that get under my skin. This blog post idea came at a perfect time for me because I was getting stuck in the rut of not looking at the positives as much as I should. Honestly, I am thankful for those who are willing to make changes. I have learned that many teachers have a genuine fear of change and trying new things. It takes real bravery for some individuals to step out of their comfort zone and, as Tara Martin says, “Cannonball in!” My goal is to be more outwardly thankful to those who decide to throw caution to the wind and try something new for the sake of their students. These teachers and administrators need to realize that their willingness to conquer their fears sends a message to their students and staff that risk-taking is ok and necessary. Think about the domino effect of this risk-taking. Relationships will be built, growth mindset thinking will become the norm, and an overall positive culture will emerge. All of this is needed for schools to be places of learning and inquiry.
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Laura Steinbrink, HS English, Tech Integration, District Communications Director/Webmaster, Plato, MO @SteinbrinkLaura

My life is busy. It seems like my family and I are always on the go, sometimes in separate directions, for at least two of the three sporting seasons during the school year. Yes, you read that correctly. I said sporting seasons because that is how my school year is divided in my mind. Besides the titles of my job that I listed above, I am also the assistant coach for our volleyball and softball teams, and this year my husband, the tech director for our district, became the head cross country coach. So for the beginning of the school year through this first weekend of November, we have juggled schedules for my volleyball practices and games, my husband’s cross country practices and meets, and our son’s junior high basketball practices and games. This alone is enough to overwhelm a family, but me? I’m thankful. I spent a lot of time with my volleyball team, making connections with those students, watching them struggle, succeed, persevere, break down, and get back up again. Did I miss my son’s games because of my coaching duties? Just one. My district honored my desire to be a mom first and a coach second. Did my husband regret his choice to coach this year? He developed close relationships with his team as they struggled and pushed themselves to get up and down the hills around our school and in their personal lives. At our son’s games, we connected with families and students too. His teammates will be in my classroom in a few years, and when they walk through the door and become officially mine, I will already have a solid foundation for a relationship with them.

Did we still attend other school events during our whirlwind fall season? Yes. We supported as many students and staff as we possibly could. Did we make it to everything? No. But I am thankful for all the things we were able to do, relationships we forged or broadened, the impact we may have had on students, and the impact those same students most definitely have had on us. We may not always be able to do all of the things we want to do, but I am very grateful for all of the things we can do.
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John Martinez, elementary school principal, Rowland Hts, CA @jmartinez727

http://betweenthejohns.com/

In 1963, my father Eduardo left his homeland to make a new life in America. At 31 years of age, he arrived in New York leaving behind his wife Maria, four children, and all the people he knew.  When he arrived in New York he began the journey of finding work and earning enough to bring his family together. He didn’t speak English and did not have a trade. So he took whichever job he could find: work in kitchens, factories, and more. He worked two to three jobs at a time and left one job for another if it meant he could earn more or learn a marketable skill. In the meantime, my mom was caring for her children not knowing how the venture would unfold. In six months my dad had earned enough to bring the family from Colombia to the United States. Seemingly overnight, my family’s fortunes had changed. Opportunities and life trajectories for my siblings, for my parents, and for myself were transformed. My dad’s journey continued – finding different jobs, taking classes at night to learn English, and connecting with other immigrants for support. Then he did it all again. He packed his bags and traveled across the country to Los Angeles because he believed there were more opportunities out west. My mom continued to be the rock of our family in the way she supported my dad and nurtured her children. My dad found more jobs, continued learning English and made new connections with others. Not long after, my mom and siblings made the cross-country trip by railroad and began their new lives in Los Angeles. All of this happened before I came along in 1968. By then, the tireless of efforts of my mom and dad had set the foundation for my family’s success. For the next twenty years, they continued building on that foundation. My dad worked as many jobs as needed. My mom got jobs as us kids grew a bit older and more comfortable in our surroundings. Throughout my childhood, I saw countless examples of my parents’ dedication to their family. The way they faced and overcame adversity taught me to persevere. The way they modeled the values of family, faith, and country taught me to be loyal and sustain my beliefs. I learned about teamwork, integrity, and courage from my parents. I am thankful to my parents for emigrating to the USA. Who I am, where I am, what I am, and why I am would not be had my parents not had their vision and their courage. I am thankful to America, the fertile soil where my family could boom.

Matt Larson

Matthew Larson, PE teacher, Trenton, NJ, @mlarson_nj

I am thankful for one, all-encompassing thing…my support network. This network includes personal, professional, and pseudo-family supporters.

My professional support comes from my place of work. I am entering my fourth year teaching in an urban charter school and it has been quite the growing experience since day one. Since beginning there I have started and finished a degree in Ed Leadership and been on the hunt to move into administration to pursue and accomplish my vision of education. My colleagues and supervisors know of my search and aspirations and have been in my corner supporting my attempts every step of the way from writing references to covering my class when I have to miss time at school in order to interview. For them I am thankful!

My pseudo-family of support comes from my PLF, professional learning family. This group came together as strangers around a book study in January of 2018 and has since stayed together, met in real life, presented at conferences together, and truly become a support network both personally and professionally. Every day we continuously push each other to explain and rationalize thinking, challenge long-held beliefs, and grow beyond what we thought we could accomplish. They have truly helped my journey through daily conversations as I have to constantly verbalize my beliefs, values, and transformations regarding education, children, and working with adults. I can honestly attribute the nearness to my professional goals to this collective group. They are the individuals writing this blog collectively. For them I am thankful!

My personal family is a group I am indebted to and thankful for beyond words. I have twin 11-month old girls, a four-year-old son, my partner Jackie, two dogs, and three cats. Four years ago I left North Carolina to be with Jackie and Hayden as they moved back to New Jersey to be nearer Jackie’s family. Since then Jackie’s family and friends have been the safety net for us, young parents, as we tried to build careers and roots of our own in The Garden State. Without Jackie’s family and friends neither of us could be doing what we are doing. Without Jackie, I could not do what I do. Every day I am out of the house by 6am and don’t return until 6pm. During that time she is either at home with 2-3 kids by herself or she has childcare taken care–something she personally puts together because I have no connections within 400 miles to help with our children. Jackie knows and understands my professional goals and supports me through every interview and through every let-down. For her I am thankful.

I am also thankful for you, the reader, for taking time to read our collective work of #thankful thoughts.

Jennifer Ledford

Jennifer Ledford, 6th grade ELA teacher, Hammond IN

@MrsLedford6Eng

(https://theclassroomstage.blogspot.com)

My one-word focus for 2018 has been “SHINE” and when I chose that word, I could never imagine the journey that this year would take me on. I learned through these last 11 months what it truly takes for me to shine. There are some days that my light is easy to find and I simply project it at others and I am good to go. Yet there are other days that my light is underneath a thick layer of grime and muck, which is caused by stress and negativity. This is not the dirt you can simply wipe away but the kind that takes back-breaking scrubbing.

This year has had its share of muck that has attempted to cloud the light I have to shine, yet I am so thankful that in January, I met an incredible group of people that continually help me clean the grime away. They do this by helping me find the courage within myself to combat all the dirt and muck that may come against me in life.

Many who know me know that I am a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan and the way that the 4OCFPLN has helped me through this year can compare to that of the Lion. The Lion lacked the courage to do much of anything and was even losing sleep because of his irrational fears. He then meets a group that soon become his friends and along their journey, he is given opportunities to show the strength and courage inside of him. When they finally reach the Wizard, the Lion realizes he does not need the courage from the Wizard, for his friends have helped him find it in himself.

While I may have not been afraid of everything, I would simply stand back and let some things go even if I knew in my heart they were not what was best. I would let negative words seep in and not do anything to redirect them.  I was managing yet not thriving until I found my group, my tribe, my edu-family. They helped me discover the power within me to roar at the negative words (in the politest way possible) and to stand up for what I know is best.

As we enter this month of thanks and the last 2 months of 2018, I am very thankful for my 4OCFPLN and for all my additional support on Twitter and Voxer. These people have truly shaped me in the last year and helped me become a better educator and a better person. I am also very thankful for this new found courage. It allows me to do what I know should be done in all aspects of my life. While it is not accepted 100% of the time, others have said they have noticed a change for the better in me. As I look forward to 2019, I am excited for the opportunities that this courage can open for me.

I also want to encourage all of you to find your group. Find those people that will allow you to uncover things within that you never knew were possible. If you are open, these changes can impact your life in the most amazing way.
Maureen Hayes

Maureen Hayes, K-6 Humanities Supervisor in Lawrence Township, NJ   @mhayes611

As we enter the month of reflection and gratitude, I am thankful for those who encourage and push me every day to be my best….teachers & staff, administrators, students & my PLN.

The teachers and staff members I have the privilege to work with each day continually expect my best as an instructional leader. My job is to support them as they plan for instruction and work to meet the needs of all students in our district. They hold me accountable for being a researcher and reader and sharing my knowledge with them.

I am fortunate to be a part of a district administrative them that is continually pushing the limits and asking “why not” when it comes to serving our students. Each of the building principals on our team is true PIRATE Principals, and my fellow instructional supervisor team is a supportive group of instructional rock stars, especially my elementary counterpart Kristin Burke (kburke4242) who is the peanut butter to my jelly, the carrots to my peas, the macaroni to my cheese…

I am continually reminded of my purpose as an educator, and that is the students I serve. Every decision I make needs to be in the best interest of the students in my district.

Finally, my PLN/PLF, the #4OCFpln has by far been the greatest influence on me as an educator and leader, thanks to the daily talks, monthly book studies, and ongoing push-back and support they provide me. Each day spent in conversation with them is the best PD I have ever had.

 

Kimberly Isham

Kimberly Isham, K-5 Reading Specialist, Greenville TX   @Isham_Literacy

https://kimberlyisham.blogspot.com

This past spring, my mother spent 2 weeks in a Critical Care unit about an hour away from my home.  I am so grateful that we did not lose her. My parents have been some of my strongest supporters and most important critics.  They have modeled hospitality and generosity throughout their lives. Their example and encouragement have been a big part of making me the person I am today.

My husband is my biggest supporter, whether it be acting as my cheerleader when I take on a project I am not sure about or letting me vent when I am frustrated with something at school.  He makes me laugh and lets me know in a million ways how much he loves me and our boys.

My children (biological and school) have challenged my thinking as I strive to give them the best of myself in helping them to be the best version of themselves.  

My co-workers have caused me to question what I know as I work within the box we know as the public school system.

My #4OCFpln has been a serendipitous group that not only gets me, but also pushes me to do more, learn more, and be more.

I am thankful that God has brought all these forces into my life to help me continue on this path of growth to be the person He created me to be.

Cathy Hink.PNG

Cathy Hink, Kindergarten Teacher & Technology Resource Teacher

Washington @mshinksclass   Website: cathyhink.com

I am thankful for relationships with…

the Trinity that gives all of life deep meaning and purpose empowers me with a strong faith, sense of hope and teaches me everyday what it means to love and be loved.

a daughter who has taught me the meaning of true love, courage and joy beyond measure.

Boo my loyal fur baby,  who provides soft cuddles, smiles and giggles everyday.

Family that has nurtured and shaped my character.  For a mom that taught me unconditional love. For a father who taught me to work hard and be a problem solver.  For siblings that have taught me acceptance and taught me the fine art of negotiation and compromise. ; )

friends who have added laughter, compassion, support as they accept me as I am and encourage, support and hold me accountable to be the best me I can be.

young students who remind me of the power and wisdom found in wonder and play and who daily model what it means to be resilient and trusting.

My #40CFPLN (a.k.a. My Tribe) who live out the honorable task of educating, loving and advocating for the children of this great nation.  Their courage, intelligence, dedication, and passion consistently inspire, strengthen and motivate me.

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Elizabeth Merce- Kindergarten Teacher Virginia Beach, VA @EMercedLearning EMercedLearning.com

As I reflect on all the things I am thankful for I keep coming back to the people.  Each person I meet has changed me in some way, they have left a part of themselves with me.

I am thankful for my amazing husband and daughter who have given me the strength to try all the things.  The unconditional love they give me allows me to dream big dreams and chase them. I have been blessed with an amazing support at home.

I am thankful for all the educators that have touched my life as a child and as an adult.  I have learned so much from them. Sometimes it was just as an example of what not to do, but more often than not it was what teaching can be.

This year I also get to be thankful for my #4OCFpln.  I have found my people in this group. I have had more support and growth in the past year than in any time period in my life.  There are no words to adequately describe how this group of strangers have become my second family, my teaching home.

 

Mike Messner — High School Teacher, Los Altos, CA

https://momentswithmike257577506.wordpress.com/

This year, my thanks goes out in many, many directions…

To my wife Nancy, who sustains and accompanies me on my life journey and my teaching journey, and who always reminds me what those journeys are really all about.

To my son Stephen, who calls me to reflect on the job I do as an educator, and who has unflagging faith in his old man.  Breakfast at Black Bear Diner this weekend, bucko.

To Snoopy, who is the single most loving creature with more than two legs that I have ever met or am ever likely to.  

To my closest companions at Los Altos High School, Seth Donnelly, Chris Phipps, and Katherine Orozco, who have seen me at my most distraught and exhausted, and still take the time to fellowship and collaborate with me.

To the teachers who touched me most deeply and influenced my practice most profoundly: Dave Squellati, Mark Shaull, Wynne Satterwhite, and Jerry Messner (save me a seat in heaven next to you, Dad).

To my students at Los Altos and at Skyline College for allowing me to try out new ways of teaching and who forgive me when they go awry — and especially the members of Future Business Leaders of America for letting me take a fun and exciting ride as your adviser!

To the members of #4OCFPLN for their support, their exhortations, and their relentless drive to make our education system better; I cannot imagine where I would be as a teacher without this group of voices, and I can’t wait to see you all in person.

And to my Father in Heaven: Thank You for allowing me to shed burdens that might have destroyed me, for giving me a future that I think I understand, and the promise of an eternity in Your presence.

God bless us, every one.  Happy Turkey.

 

Debbie Holman, Science 8, AVID, Wellington, CO.

I have so much to be thankful for.   I truly feel as if I am blessed by all those who support,  encourage me and help me learn.

I’m thankful for my family including my awesome sister my amazing parents my nieces and nephew and all of my extended family, that support me day in and day out and make sure that I am at my best.  I would not be who I am without these people who have supported throughout my life.

I’m thankful for my husband who deals with the frustrations that come with being the husband of an educator. He constantly supports all of my Endeavors and all of the things that I use our hard-earned money to bring things into my classroom to support the Science Education of all my students.

I’m thankful for my colleagues who understand the way I work and work with me as I am always challenging myself to try new things to make the instruction in my classroom new and better.  

I’m also thankful for my tribe, my professional learning network, or my professional learning family, The #4OCFPLN They encourage, inspire, and challenge my thinking on a daily basis. I am so thankful to be part of such an amazing, brilliant group of educators.  

I’m also thankful for my two fluffy amazing Great Pyrenees dogs, Bear and Taos. No matter the day I have, they always listen and are available for a good snuggle if necessary!

Debbie Holman, Science 8, AVID, Wellington, CO.

I have so much to be thankful for.   I truly feel as if I am blessed by all those who support,  encourage, and inspire me. I am thankful for my family that support me day in and day out and make sure that I am at my best.  I am thankful for my husband who deals with the frustrations that come with being the husband of an educator. He constantly supports all of my Endeavors and all of the things that I use our hard-earned money for to bring things into my classroom to support the Science Education of all my students. I am thankful to the young people that I am privileged to work with every day.  They push me to be better than I was the day before because they deserve the very best I have to give. I am thankful for my colleagues who understand the way I work and work with me as I am always challenging myself to try new things to make the instruction in my classroom new and better. I am thankful for my tribe, my professional learning network, or my professional learning family, The #4OCFPLN. They encourage, inspire, and challenge my thinking on a daily basis. I am so empowered and inspired to be part of such an amazing, brilliant group of educators.  I’m also thankful for my two fluffy Great Pyrenees dogs, Bear and Taos. No matter the day I have, they always listen and are available for a good snuggle!

4OCFPLN

 

by Rachelle Dene Poth

It is amazing today what we can accomplish through the use of technology. Past methods we relied on for communicating with friends, family, other schools, and abroad were limited to telephone calls, letters, meeting in person (if geographical location afforded this), for a few examples. When it came to learning, our opportunities for connecting students with others were limited to classrooms within the same school or a nearby school. These interactions had to be set up in advance either by making a phone call or even sending a letter in standard mail. (This goes way back to  my own elementary and high school experience, we did not have cell phones or the Internet and I am not sure about fax). Finding ways to create diverse learning experiences, took a good bit of time and collaboration for everyone. Schools needed to set up transportation, plan the schedule and other logistics, and of course the purpose had to be for a beneficial learning experience if it meant disrupting the school day.

We can provide so many more activities and learning experiences for students today, and they can be carried out with little to no real pre-planning, because of the diverse tools we have available through technology. Whether we use a form of social media or connect with a member of our PLN, and try using a tool like Voxer, or Slack, we can have a quick conversation instantly. Differences between time and place do not matter anymore, there is not even a need to move groups to different locations. We can simply talk, share images, livestream videos, use web conferencing, collaborate to add resources, (anything is possible) for us to quickly connect our classroom and our students, with another classroom and students somewhere in the world.

How we can open up these opportunities

There are many options for encouraging and supporting our students as they become globally connected. We should promote these connections so that students can develop a broader understanding of diverse world cultures, perspectives and have an appreciation of different experiences. With so many resources available, we have the ability to truly bring learning experiences to life, immerse students into different cultures and parts of the world, by simply connecting. It just takes one step.

Some examples of how easily this can be accomplished are by using some of the web-based tools available to teachers and students today. Through the use of video tools, many of which are available as free platforms, classrooms can connect with others throughout the world, regardless of differences in time and place. You can truly see what others experience in their day-to-day learning and living, and engage in conversations in real time.

Students can participate in activities like a mystery Skype or collaborate through a discussion, by using tools such as  Padlet or Flipgrid or use something like Appear.In or Zoom, for a live interaction or even Google Hangouts. These are just a few of the many options available to classrooms today. To promote conversation without video, we can use collaborative tools such as Padlet, Gecko or even a class Twitter account, (depending on grade level), as ways to have students connect through writing. In addition to learning about different cultures and establishing global connections, we can build other critical skills like communication and collaboration, digital citizenship and help to engage students more in the learning environment.  Imagine being able to have a conversation with people from 80 different countries at the same time. Regardless of geographical location or time zone, everyone can connect using one of these forms of technology and the many others that are out there.

Getting Started

Connecting globally requires that we as educators be connected. It always starts with us to set an example for our students. We have to build our own professional and globally connected network so that we can provide these learning opportunities to our students. It is worth the time, the risk, and the effort to seek out learning communities and build a community of support. We become stronger and better together, and when we collaborate to provide opportunities for our students to learn from other students, to gain new perspectives, to experience the multitude of ways of collaborating and communicating globally, we take their educational experience to a whole new level. Become a more globally connected classroom today.

 

Start by joining in on Global Maker Day!

One of the most important ways that we can start a new school year is by setting aside time to get to know our students. Not only should we have time to interact with them, but we need to give them time to interact with one another. Relationships are the foundation for so many positives in the classroom. Before all content and getting to the rules and classroom procedures, we have to find a way to start on day one by making this a priority. I truly believe that it needs to be a priority every day after that, because even the slightest interactions matter.

relationships

When: Some educators may disagree about holding off on the content or putting off the discussion about classroom procedures until another day. We all need to do what works best for our students and for ourselves. So you may choose to start the first day with something different, by focusing on the content and including some of the expectations or responsibilities for the classroom. Even starting with this, I’m sure that most everyone includes time to work on getting to know one another. By being at the door to greet the students as they arrive or making an effort to learn student names, and start to associate who the students are and engage in minor interactions will go a long way.

Why: I am very passionate about this now but I wish I could say that I always thought this way. I didn’t.  I don’t know how much I valued the power of relationships over the first ten years of my teaching career. Of course I cared about my students and I wanted what was best for them, but I recognize that how I was then and the way I am now are completely different.  And I really didn’t start every year the way that I’m suggesting that the year should be started by educators today. I was that teacher who welcomed students into the classroom and then started every class period on the first day, by talking about my classroom expectations and even adding in a little bit about the content material. I would even have students who were entering their second or higher level of the foreign language, write a short paragraph about topics like the summer, a movie they saw, a vacation or really anything they wanted to, so I could use it as a way to assess their skills before starting into the new material.  It’s just the way that I had been taught and I thought I needed to start like this, with no learning time lost.

Something that bothers me now about myself when I think about this, is that I remember students trying to talk to their classmates about their summers and just being excited to come back to school. I remember trying to get them to just stop and focus on the writing that I wanted them to do. The writing was more important, at least that is the message that I was sending. Thankfully I am no longer that teacher. I just wish I would have changed sooner.

No wonder I never really worried about the first day of school, even though I might not sleep too well the night before. Lack of sleep was partially because I was excited and the thought of going back after being on a break, somehow prevented me from sleeping. Why didn’t I worry? Because for me, day one was for going through some of the normal routine activities, those clerical or housekeeping tasks, that I had done every year prior. I never worried about Day One, but I always said I worried more about Day Two because that’s when I really had to start teaching.

I’ve changed my mind over the years because I’ve had some challenges, due to questioning my own methods of instruction and why something was not working for a specific class. I also questioned the ways that I handled challenges in terms of classroom management over the years, and finding ways to connect with students.  I am continuing to learn and there are days where it can feel like I’m not making any progress in building those relationships. I have to remind myself that I’m trying. That sometimes things don’t happen as fast as we want, it might take days, weeks, months or even longer to notice the impact or to see some kind of a transformation, but we just have to keep moving forward. And we may never really know what it was that made the difference, we just might feel a change one day.

How: I wish I had an answer for the question of “how.” What works for one student will often not work for another and it might take you a while to find a way to connect with some students and for them to connect with you. Have you ever tried so hard to connect with that one student, and no matter what you did it just felt like you would never get there? I have.  Many times. One time last year I tried everything that I could, and no matter what I tried, it just seemed like I could not find a way to connect. But then I saw a book, one that I had read and enjoyed, and that amazingly just so happened to be a book being read by that student. Had I not seen that book, I might still be thinking about how to bridge some type of connection.

So that’s why those slight interactions matter, why we need to be present, visible, leaning in and listening more. We need to really see our students, who they are, and show that we really care.

I could offer a few suggestions but they might not be the ones that will work the best for you, your students or even that one student that you’ve been trying to connect with. Over the years I’ve taught, there have been some days where I felt like giving up. Truly, just felt exhausted because no matter what I did, it just did not work. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way but I hope that the more that we share our stories, we can help other educators who might be experiencing this same thing.

The greatest success I’ve had in making connections, after struggling to find ways to do so, have come about because I stopped trying to think so hard about how to connect. Instead, I just sat down, made time to lean in and listen, and to really talk with a student. That’s not something that I probably would have done 10 years ago. I can only keep moving forward with what I know now.

“When we know better, we do better,” as Maya Angelou said, and I definitely know better now.

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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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

 

 

Updated from the Original Post on Getting Smart, January 19, 2018

Looking for new ideas to try before the end of the school year? If you have not tried some of this, now is the time!

There are so many digital tools available today that offer opportunities for promoting student creativity, student voice, and expanding where and how students learn. I had my own list of the tools that I found made a big difference in my classroom, but decided to ask students for their input.

Here is a list of tools to try in 2018, (or to try before the end of the year, let’s keep learning!)

Each of these offer multiple ways for students to create, connect and engage in more authentic learning experiences.

Promoting Connected Learners

We were able to take our learning to a whole new level this year through Project Based Learning (PBL). Using these tools enabled us to connect with students from several Spanish speaking countries, which created tremendous possibilities for more authentic learning and broadening our cultural understanding.

1) Edmodo: Virtual learning space, where teachers can set up a digital classroom to connect students with the resources they need, in a safe learning environment. Edmodo can be used for assessments and integrates with Microsoft Office and Google, making it easy to share files with students. Students relied on Edmodo to connect with students in Argentina, Mexico and Spain for their PBL. One student said “these connections enabled me to sculpt my PBL, and learn in ways that books, videos and regular classroom lessons cannot provide.”

2) Flipgrid: Video response tool, which became one of the most talked about tools this past year after launching new features, making it even easier and more fun for students to share their ideas. Students can record up to a five minute response, add emojis to their photos and access the “grid” quickly through a grid code. It is a great tool for helping students to become more comfortable and confident in sharing their ideas and sparking curiosity with their peers.

3) Padlet: Padlet, a virtual wall, is a favorite in our classroom. Students can create a digital portfolio by uploading files and links to projects, curate resources for PBL, or have discussions with classrooms around the world. Other popular ways to use Padlet are to ask questions, post homework, or as a classroom website. Newer features include being able to “like”, “grade” or “upvote” a post and directly transfer posts to another Padlet wall.

4) Recap: Recap 2.0 is a free video response tool, which integrates with Edmodo, Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom and Blackboard, making it easy to implement right away. It provides a comfortable way for teachers and students to ask questions by setting them up in a “Queue”. Students can submit questions and receive direct feedback, in a safe moderated environment.

Tools to Engage Students in Learning

5) Quizlet Live: Quizlet Live is a fun way to encourage student collaboration by playing a team game using a set of Quizlet study cards. Teachers select a set of study cards, launch a Live game by providing students with a join code, and students are divided into teams. To play, you need at least four players and a study set with at least 12 unique terms. Only one member of the team has the correct answer and answering incorrectly bounces the team score back to zero.

6) Quizizz: Quizizz has launched some new features, including integrating with Edmodo and Google Classroom, which makes sharing or assigning games and reviewing results much easier. When playing live, students can see the class accuracy reflected as it updates the leaderboard live with each response. There are thousands of games available in the library, making it easy to get started or create your own.

7) Kahoot!: Some big changes to the layout and options of the platform make it easier to navigate and review questions in class. Teachers can now assign “challenges” to students as a fun way to practice by sharing a code. The new “Nickname Generator” creates fun and unique usernames such as “Mystery Panda” or “Fantastic Bat” to students. It definitely saves time rather than waiting for students try to come up with their own “creative” names.

8) Kidblog: Blogging has many benefits for helping students to express themselves and begin to develop their online presence. Teachers can provide students with a variety of writing prompts to not only assess student learning, but promote creativity, communication, collaboration and digital citizenship skills. With Kidblog, teachers can even AppSmash (use two or more apps or tools together to complete a task) by embedding other tech tools into the platform, such as Buncee, Flipgrid or by uploading images and documents directly from Google Drive.

Creativity, Assessments, Interactive Lessons and More

9) Buncee: Buncee, a versatile presentation and assessment tool, is great for creating multimedia projects full of animations, graphics, audio, and videos. Choose from thousands of templates, backgrounds, animations and other graphics to create invitations, classroom signs, and unique “Buncees” for any purpose. Buncee enables every student to find exactly what they need to add into their project and to bring out their creativity.

10) Formative: An interactive tool for creating formative assessments, for use in class or as student-paced practice. Students enjoy using Formative because they receive feedback quickly, they are able to “show” their work and when done as practice, move at their own pace. Teachers can create Formatives with different question types, content and even the ability to upload and transform files. Try having students create their own Formatives as a way to have more personalized and authentic practice.

Immersive Learning, Coding and Problem Solving

11) Nearpod: Nearpod continues to be a game changer in our classroom. It provides so many options for presenting material as well as assessing students through diverse activities. The chance to be immersed in the virtual field trips and explore places around the world is of tremendous value for students. Educators can quickly create interactive lessons which include multiple question formats, the ability to upload content, BBC lessons, PhET simulations, and even add in GIFS! Nearpod integrates with Google Classroom and Canvas, and most recently with Remind, making it even easier to share lessons. Nearpod also added 27 “College Tours”, available in VR, a great way to have students experience different schools by immersing in the campus, without having to travel the distance.

12) CoSpacesEDU: CoSpacesEDU provides students with a way to not only create their own “spaces”, but to be able to walk in the spaces created by their peers. To explore in VR (Virtual Reality) and problem solve by figuring out how to code using Blockly, offers students a truly authentic way to learn, create and problem solve. The Gallery is full of examples to get you started with ideas for your classroom. Use CoSpaces to have students represent a scientific concept, a book report, or create a scene representing something studied in any content area. Talk about creativity, imagination, innovation and critical thinking, and more all in one tool.

In the End

These are just 12 of the many tools out there for education. The most important thing to remember is the “Why”? behind using these in the classroom. While these 12 tools made a difference in my classroom, they may not have the same impact in yours, but I do recommend giving them a try. Think about the tools you are currently using to amplify or facilitate student learning. What is making a difference in how, what and where students learn? Could one of these be used in place of another, as a way to engage students more in learning, or even better, provide opportunities for students to move from consumers to creators?

My advice is to simply choose one of these 12 tools and give it a try. See how it goes, ask your students for some feedback, and then plan your next steps.