If it ain’t broke, then break it

 

Guest post by Cory Radisch, Follow Cory on Twitter @cradisch_wc

Wait, that’s not how the saying goes! However, even though data still demonstrates consistent opportunity and achievement gaps in schools, there are many who think things are not broken. It doesn’t matter that the data tells a different story. In many places, if adults are satisfied and comfortable, many believe the system “ain’t broke”! My longtime mentor, Marc Natanagara, used the title of this blogpost with former staff, not only to inspire them to challenge the status quo, but also to let them know it’s perfectly acceptable to break the system! It was appropriate long ago and it’s even more appropriate today. If we are going to truly transform education, then we just may need to break it. 

  • We need to break the system that marginalizes students!
  • We need to break the system that perpetuates learning and opportunity gaps!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately disciplines students of color!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately has fewer students of color in AP and advanced classes!
  • We need to break the system where your zip code usually determines what level of education you receive!
  • We need to break the system that fails to recruit and retain teachers of color!   
  • We need to break the system that teaches a unilateral perspective of history!

 

Breaking the system is not blowing up the system. Breaking the system is about addressing and interrupting implicit and explicit bias in our policies, curricula, and procedures. It will undoubtedly cause discomfort. Then again, when has breaking something not created discomfort? We can either be comfortable or we can grow, but we can’t do both!  I would love to know what you will break in order to ensure equity in your district, school, or classroom.

This post is dedicated to my longtime mentor and friend, educator Marc Natanagara, who recently retired after 33 years of breaking things that weren’t broken!

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

The Importance of Being a Mentor & Having a Mentor

Mentoring is a very important part of what we “engage” in as educators. Whether we serve as a mentor to a colleague or a student, or perhaps we seek out a mentor to help us with challenges or simply to have a system of support in our personal and professional lives, it has a tremendous impact. Whether or not we even realize it at times, we are all serving as a mentor to someone.

Recently a colleague stopped in to talk and confided in me that they were experiencing challenges with classroom management, student behaviors such as disrespect and keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. Without a doubt, teaching can be tough sometimes. I’ve been in that same position more than once during my teaching career.

Having taught for the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of experiences, some good, some bad, and some in between. At times in a position where I needed to improve, fearing I would possibly lose my job, and felt like no matter what I tried, that I just would not succeed. There were days that I left school feeling helpless and alone. I was embarrassed to confide in anyone that I was struggling. There were people who impacted my life, not because they were assigned as my mentors, but because they just took the time to listen, care, and support me to keep pushing through. Because of their impact on my life, I learned the importance of relationships, of being available to listen and to support, but also to give pushback and critical feedback when needed.

The Roles of Mentors

Mentors have a pivotal role to play in education. Whether you are enrolled in a pre-service teacher program, working as an intern in a school, new to teaching or to a new school, you often have a mentor to help guide you through any transitions along the way. Most of the time the “mentorship” is formed between a more veteran teacher and a newer teacher, to help to lessen any feelings of being overwhelmed when starting the teaching journey. Mentors can help newer teachers find their place in the school, establish their classroom presence and get into daily teaching practice. While I believe that mentoring for new teachers is critical, I think that an area that is often overlooked is that veteran teachers need mentors as well. For many years I thought that teachers were only assigned mentors as part of a school induction program, part of an improvement plan, or simply because it was part of the pre-service or teacher preparation program.

Teaching can become an isolating profession if we let it. Isolating in the sense that we don’t have enough time to connect with colleagues. We have many tasks to keep up with, but the most important part of our work is making time for our students. We must be available and invest our time to help them to succeed. Whether specified or not, everyone is a mentor and I believe that sometimes we don’t even realize it.

We mentor students. We don’t know everything that they might be experiencing when they leave our classroom. Students need a constant in their life, a relationship based on trust and support that they know is there when they need it. Our colleagues need to establish these same relationships as well. But how do we find time to seek out a mentor or to act as a mentor to someone else? For these mentorships, the relationships are critical for our personal and professional growth. We need to be intentional in serving as mentors for those we lead and lead with. Finding mentors for ourselves will help us continue to learn, grow and improve our practice each day.

Mentorships Today

Mentorships typically involve a mentor and mentee, with clearly defined roles. A mentorship is defined as a “wise and trusted counselor or teacher.”  However, I think the definition has evolved and within mentorships today, an individual can be both a mentor and a mentee. New teachers paired with more veteran teachers both bring unique skills, experiences, and knowledge to their mentorship. They each have something to teach and a lot to learn, which is why finding time to be part of a mentorship is critical for professional growth.

Colleagues within the same school can serve as mentors to one another, or even connect with a colleague from a neighboring school. However, finding the time to sit down in the same space or have a quick conversation can be a challenge on most school days. The lack of time is one of the most common problems facing educators. When we think about all of the tasks that we do in a given day whether, in school or home, there can be little time left for mentoring. But there are many options that can solve this problem of lack of time and assist you in pairing up with a colleague or creating small groups of educators to serve as mentors to one another.

And finding a mentor does not require, at least in my opinion, that pairing of a new teacher with a veteran teacher. Everyone has something to offer and as a teacher of 25 years compared to a teacher early in their career, there is a lot of knowledge and skills that can be shared between us. But how can we find time to connect? When used with purpose, technology can make a difference. The purpose being professional growth, avoiding isolation or having somewhere to turn when feeling frustrated or in need of support.

How to Connect

  1. Social Media – Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, enable educators to connect and share stories, ask questions, and to interact whenever is convenient. These platforms offer educators a space to learn about issues educators are facing and brainstorm ideas for making changes in their practice, or engage in conversations and foster some connections on their own. There are even focused communities available on Facebook to connect based on the content area, grade level or even topic.
  2. Book studies and Voxer groups – There are many book studies happening, many of which are announced on Twitter or Facebook, and focused on books related to education or specific trends in education. Personally, I have made some great connections with educators from around the world, simply by joining in a Voxer book study and building relationships in a supportive environment. The book study of “Four O’Clock Faculty” by Rich Czyz led to a #4OCFPLN, which has become a large part of my professional growth and reflective practice every day.
  3. ISTE: The International Society for Technology in Education is a worldwide Network that includes more than 20 Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). By getting involved in these networks, you have access to thousands of educators and can engage in conversations, post questions, and make your own connections that will help you to keep building your practice.
  4. School committees- Schools can offer different activities for teachers to engage in whether it be a health and wellness committee or a leadership council which gives teachers an opportunity to talk, share ideas, or bring school concerns to light. By bringing teachers together in a meeting like this, it is an intentional way to create time for teachers to collaborate and form those valuable relationships.
  5. Clubs –  Another option for establishing mentorships in your school that can be beneficial for teachers and students, is to create a club which has mentoring, building leadership skills and student confidence as its purpose. One possibility is creating a Ted-ED Club. where students get to know their peers, explore passions, build confidence and become mentors for their peers. All schools need to have mentoring in place for students and give students the opportunity to serve as mentors for their peers.

We all need mentors whether in our first or thirtieth year of teaching. At times it might be someone assigned to us, a friend or a member of our PLN. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are in a “mentorship,” we are just supporting one another on our teaching journeys. Veteran teachers need to seek out mentors as well, and that might mean connecting with a teacher who is new to your building or to the profession. How can we expect our students to interact and understand different perspectives, and to be accepting if we ourselves do not do the same thing and go beyond that? It starts with us. It always starts with us to take that first step.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Dealing with Child Anxiety Stemming from Coronavirus Crisis

Guest post by Simon Choi, a mental health advocate and small business founder. He foundedStandout Bands which supports Beyond Blue and allows him to write for his mental health blog, Healthy Minds. Simon is particularly passionate about supporting those experiencing depression. Currently, Simon is supporting those struggling as a result of COVID-19 related mental health issues. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.

*Opinions expressed are those of the guest author.

Times of Uncertainty

 

The Global Coronavirus Pandemic has been ongoing for months now and there is a great deal of uncertainty among government and society. Adults are dealing with loss of work, changes to daily routines and possibly even sick relatives. However, the uncertainty is not only limited to adults.  

The Effects on Children

Children are not immune to the fears that this global pandemic has produced. Their lives have been greatly affected as well. Children are not only out of school, but they are not able to visit their friends and family as well. For example, fear of the health of the elderly means most grandparents are not advised to see grandkids in the present environment. Parents and educators can try to help and reduce some of this anxiety. In the following article, we will discuss seven ways that any educator or parent may be able to help those they care for and teach:

#1 Keep Their Usual Schedule

For a child, it can be difficult to experience many external changes. Since they have no control over being out of school and not seeing their friends and family, it is best to stabilize the things that can be stabilized. In order to give your children stability, do not change their sleep time, their school hours or other regular activities. Even if your child has to practice their sport in their own front yard or get violin lessons over Zoom, try to keep up with their previous schedule and activities as much as possible.  

#2 Don’t Let Kids Watch Too Much News

The news can be informative, but it can also be full of unwanted scenery and troublesome for younger viewers in particular. Since that is the case, you do not want to let your kids watch too much news.

#3 Talk to Kids Openly

Kids need to feel like they can openly express themselves with adults. You want to ask your kids questions about their feelings and give them age appropriate answers. Children are inquisitive by nature, so this process could require some patience, but it will help to dispel some of their fears.

#4 Watch Their Associates

If your children are spending a lot of time talking to virtual friends, make sure that you are aware of the other kids who they are talking to. Other children can have a big influence on your children’s feelings, so you want to monitor or at least be familiar with their friends.

#5 Play with Your Kids

Make sure that your kids are getting exercise. Each day, make it a practice to add an exercise routine to your kids daily work. Just like gym class at school, exercise should be a healthy part of their at home learning journey. Try to play sports with kids as well; this is especially true if your kids are involved in any extracurricular sports. That way, they can keep up with their skills and get out some extra energy as well.

#6 Talk to A Professional

If you think that your child is having an extra hard time dealing with the stress of COVID19 and you notice that the stress is interfering with his or her daily activities, you may have to contact a professional who can give your child a consultation over the phone and provide professional advice.

Make the Best of a Difficult Situation

It can be stressful to deal with an unknown situation, but this stress can also build resilience in a child. Even in a global pandemic, you can help your child to make the best of the opportunities that staying at home can present or as an educator if over teleconference. When a child is taught to deal with difficulties in a healthy manner, he or she will be well prepared for whatever life throws at them. With the right support from you children can build resilience as a result of this time.  

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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Learning and Growing as Educators On A Busy Schedule

Educators have busy schedules and one thing that I hear quite often is that there never seems to be enough time. We need time to plan for our classes, to complete different tasks required by our roles in education, and of course, most importantly is time to spend with our students. But in order to be at our best, we need to find time to take advantage of different learning opportunities to stay informed of best practices and emerging trends in education. We also need time to connect with other educators. It’s through these relationships and finding the right tools that we will grow personally and professionally, and bring our best selves into our classrooms each day. The challenge is not so much in finding resources, but rather in finding the most valuable ones that will fit into already busy schedules.

Personally, I stay involved in a lot of different ways so I can continue to build my professional knowledge and my connections with other educators around the world. Having chosen to spend many of my first years of teaching isolated, I missed a lot of opportunities to learn more, to do more, and to provide more for my students. A few years ago I made a shift to becoming a more connected educator by leveraging the technology available through social media. It has been an ongoing personal and professional transformation. Becoming connected has increased my awareness of the plethora of learning opportunities available for educators. I have changed my teaching methods, broadened my perspective of strategies and best practices in education and have more options for getting the support that I need to bring new ideas into my classroom.

Here are different ideas for ways to learn on any schedule. These options create a lot of possibilities for how, when, and where we can engage in professional development and become more connected educators. With the summer break coming for many educators, it can be the perfect time to explore new ideas.

Social Media

Over the past few years, there has definitely been an increase in the amount of social media used by educators for professional learning and networking. Depending on your level of comfort and how often you choose to interact, there are many ways to learn, crowdsource ideas and access different perspectives and people with different backgrounds and experiences.

  1. Twitter. Although I was hesitant for many years to create a Twitter account, once I did a few years ago, my Professional Learning Network (PLN) has continued to grow. Whether you have time to engage in a nightly or weekly Twitter chat or just follow one of the many hashtags related to education, there is something for everyone when it comes to Twitter. Do you have ideas and want to gather more? Create your own hashtag and use it to invite people to share their ideas with you. Post a poll to get quick feedback, find educators to follow and create a list to keep track of resources and ideas shared. In addition to hashtags, there are many chats and topics to follow. If you want to find educators to follow on Twitter, David Lockhart created a list of 100 educators to look into.
  2. Voxer. A walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes communication and collaboration. It’s easy to get started with and it provides a lot of different ways to add to your professional learning. Use it for somewhat asynchronous conversations with a colleague, create a small group to discuss specific topics such as blended learning, project-based learning or augmented and virtual reality. Using Voxer for a book study also works very well. It provides a great platform for talking about a book and sharing resources, without having to be in the same space at the same time. There are even groups on Voxer, you can search the list and join them. It’s nice to be able to listen to the messages on the way to or from school, perhaps during a lunch break, or while making time for a walk and self-care.
  3. Facebook. Initially used with friends and family as a way to share what’s happening in each other’s lives and maybe to reconnect to organize events like family or class reunions, Facebook is now used by a lot of educators. There are many educator accounts to follow as well as groups of educators to join.

Information Sharing

Sometimes it is easier to find the information that you need, especially information which is current and offers a lot of resources, by exploring the different digital forms of information such as books, blogs, and podcasts. Knowing that the information is credible, up-to-date, and provided by educators with experience, is what sets these options apart from other options.

1. Blogs are a quick way to get information from a variety of sources, especially when you look at different blogs available from publications such as Getting SmartEdSurgeTeachThoughtEdutopiaeSchoolNews and EdWeek to name a few. Searching the list of top education blogs to follow is helpful for finding specific topics, content areas, and grade levels, or even for opportunities to contribute to a blog.

Many educators have personal blogs which offer a lot of inspiration and share ideas and even struggles. You can browse through this list of educator blogs to follow. Some educators that I follow are Mandy FroehlichJennifer GonzalezEric SheningerKasey BellKristen NanMatt Miller, and David Lockhart.

2. Podcasts can be a great way to pass time when traveling to and from work, relaxing or even during exercise. Most podcasts are short enough that you can listen to an episode and pick up new ideas and inspiration. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the number of podcasts available to teachers, whether created by educational organizations or simply teachers wanting to share their experiences and inviting others to join in the conversation. Some that I regularly listen to and which have been recommended to me are: Edumatch Tweet and Talk, Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy), Vicki Davis (Ten Minute Teacher), Will Deyamport (The Dr. Will Show, the Edupreneur), Barbara Bray (Rethink Learning), Brad Shreffler (Planning Period Podcast), Don Wettrick (StartEDUp),  Google Teacher TribeTeachers on Fire, Andrew Wheelock (Coffee with a Geek), Dan Kreiness (Leader of Learning), and Denis Sheeran (Instant Relevance Podcast).

3. Books. There are more educational books available for professional learning than ever before. It’s easy to find book recommendations by following specific hashtags on Twitter or looking at different curated lists of education books. For some book recommendations, I generally follow the hashtags #bookcampPD#PD4uandMe, and #Read4Fun, which are led by different educators. The Read4Fun group also shares books in a Voxer group. For a list of recommended books, ISTE crowdsourced recommendations last year and I also created a survey to gather ideas from educators. Some of the books mentioned on the list include: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, Courageous Edventures by Jennie Magiera, Culturize by Jimmy Casas, LAUNCH by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Take the L.E.A.P.  (Elisabeth Bostwick), and What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith. Many publishers have books coming out on an almost weekly basis it seems. Check into DBC ConsultingEduMatch PublishingIMpress and ISTE to explore more books available.

Online Learning Opportunities

When we leverage technology in a way that opens up powerful learning opportunities and pushes back the limits based on time and location constraints, we find innovative ways that we can learn.

4. Online Learning Communities. There are different learning communities to join in for professional development. As a Common-Sense Certified Educator, you have access to the newest tools and resources. By becoming Google Certified or a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, educators can enroll in learning modules, training sessions, and receive a digital badge for completion of each different module. Besides building PLN, these opportunities offer yet another way to learn on your schedule, in a time and place that meet your own needs.

5. Summits and Webinars. There are organizations that provide webinars for educators, many of which are offered free of charge or a minimal fee or are subscription-based. For example, if you take advantage of providers like EdWeekSimple K12, or ASCD there are webinars available on a variety of different topics that work with your schedule. As a member of ISTE, joining in any of the PLNs gives you access to a series of weekly webinars and sometimes even more than once per week depending on the PLN. These webinars can be viewed live or as recordings when most convenient to you. The topics are always current and in some cases cutting edge or emerging trends, so you can keep informed of new ideas and teaching strategies, better than you ever could before.

Throughout the year there are even online conferences, or “Summits” which provide a series of speakers and sessions, sometimes held over a multi-day format. These are offered free and in my own experience, have always provided a wealth of knowledge and resources. Personal favorites include the Ditch Summit hosted by Matt Miller, Hive Summit hosted by Michael Matera and EdCamp Voice on Voxer, started by Sarah Thomas of EduMatch.

It’s clear there are many options and resources available to educators for professional development. It simply takes thinking about an area you would like to learn more about, exploring one of the choices and giving it a try.

Learning as we go

Recently I had a colleague ask me for some ideas for dealing with challenges when it comes to classroom management, student behaviors and just keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. I’m always happy to have time to talk with other educators, there is so much to learn by connecting. I think sometimes there is an assumption that because someone may have been teaching for 10 or more years, or worked in the same school district for a long period of time, that’s there is a higher level of knowledge and skill held by a teacher that fits into this description. While of course the more that you teach, it might seem like you would have a lot of ideas and answers to share with younger or new to the school teachers, but the longer you have taught also means, I think, that you have that much more to learn.

Having taught for about the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of different experiences, some good, some bad, some in between and some just absolutely fantastic. I have been in the position where I needed to improve, and felt like no matter what I tried to do or could try to do, that I just would not succeed. That I would lose my job. I’ve also been at the opposite end where I felt like things were going well, I could feel more success and a change in how I had been teaching in the classroom and in my connections and relationships that I had built with the students and colleagues.

 

I think if you ask any educator, most can probably identify the best year they’ve had, and if they can’t, they just can’t yet. We always have room to grow and things take time. How do educators decide what makes it the best year? For some, is it a year without many challenges, the students are well-behaved, homework is complete, other clerical tasks and responsibilities held by the teacher are finished, observations went very well and teacher ratings are satisfactory or proficient or whatever the ranking may be? Maybe. But how do we truly define what would be the best year ever?

It takes time to build

I am fairly certain that last year was the best year I’ve had yet. I think because I changed a lot of things in my classroom, I stopped worrying so much about having every minute of every class accounted for and instead gave the students more possibilities to lead in the classroom and for me to have more opportunities to interact with them. Now it did not come without its challenges, some student behaviors that in some cases pushed me so far beyond frustration that I thought I reached my breaking point. I reacted in ways that I was not proud of, but I let the frustration get the best of me. I stopped seeing the student and only saw the behaviors. My “lens” had become clouded and it took some reflection and just not feeling very good about it for me to realize that I had to do something different.

 

The common feeling or response is when you feel like there is a lot to handle or come up with a plan for, can feel so isolating. you might feel lost or like others are judging you based on what you perceive to be your weak areas when it comes to instruction. And I’ve had a few people confide in me that they feel like they’re too different or too weird or they’re not normal enough to be teachers. Hearing those kinds of things breaks my heart because I don’t want to see teachers become disengaged or to lose their passion for doing the work that teachers do because of worrying about how others may or may not perceive them.

My response is always it’s good to be different, what does normal look like anyway? Does normal mean everybody gets and does the same thing? Does being normal mean you fit into some kind of mold, one that may or may not be who you truly are? I think the best that we can do for our students is to show them who we are because we want to know who they are.

We can’t hide behind some perceived idea or model of what a teacher should or should not look like. Nor should we compare ourselves to our colleagues or other teachers that we may have had in our own experience. When we do this we lose sight of something and I think it’s important for us to demonstrate and model for students. We need to worry about ourselves first and only compete with who we are today by judging it based on who we become tomorrow. Everyone has weaknesses, everybody struggles, everybody feels like they don’t belong at times, a friend once wrote about being in the land of misfits, I’m totally fine with that.

 

What can we do, regardless of what year we are in during our careers? New teachers have a lot to offer veteran teachers. There are better pre-service teacher programs and more information available to current students that are seeking to get into the profession, than what is available to us veteran teachers, who may not have access to or may not even know they exist. And for the new teachers, when you are assigned to have a mentor in your school, I really don’t think you should consider it to be that you are the learner and that you must follow and adhere to all of the advice of your mentor. You have to decide who you want to be, what is your purpose, your why, your spark, your passion for doing what you’re doing?

 

We can get lost and swept up in all of the activities that pull us every single day leaving us very little if anything at all to work with to build our own skills. As veteran teachers, we need to seek out mentors for ourselves as well, and that might mean connecting with a newer teacher to your building or a new teacher to the profession. How can we expect our students to interact and understand different perspectives, and to be accepted if we ourselves do not do the same thing and go beyond that?

It starts with us and it always starts with us to take that first step. We have to be okay with who we are and commit to doing whatever is best for our own personal and professional growth but being mindful of what that means and how it will impact those we lead and learn with.

 

So if at any time you feel down, lost or frustrated or like you’re becoming disengaged or that you don’t fit in, please send me a message. I’d love to talk to you and share some of my own experiences on my 25-year learning journey. Need to connect? Reach out to me on  Twitter @Rdene915!

 

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Thank you Kristi Daws for creating these images!!

TCEA and FETC

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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Why we all need mentors and how to make it happen

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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DSC00515

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