#personalizedPD

 

Guest Post by Andrew Easton, @EastonA1, Personalized Learning Collaborator and Consultant, Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska

*Future DBC Inc. author on Personalized Learning, Spring 2020

Now that we are into November, it’s likely that at some point this year you’ve been asked the question, “So, do you have a pretty good group this year?” In my time in education, I’ve heard a myriad of answers to this question – some that I don’t want to repeat. Whether it’s right or wrong or not even a thing worth discussing, I do find it interesting to hear what a teacher has to say. And actually, there is one word in particular hat comes up rather consistently when this question is asked. One that on its own doesn’t completely address the question. The word “challenging.”

This year, I am redesigning our high school’s English 4 course and am teaching that class for the first time. When the teacher who had previously taught that course retired, she politely used the word “challenging” when describing to me the group of students that she typically supported in that course. She quickly followed that up with a “Good luck!” that felt more like a warning than words of encouragement.

English 4 is an appealing option for students who are simply looking to pass an English class to graduate and pick up a few helpful life hacks along the way. Many of our students have had significant struggles with learning in the past for a variety of reasons. Those reasons have made it hard for them to find consistent academic success. For these students, senior year has brought both the liberating promise of change once they reach the end of May but along with it the stinging reality that they have navigated their K-12 education to the 12 end of that spectrum and the experience has left them feeling like they have not taken much from a system that has helped some of their peers to thrive. 

Planning over the summer was, well, challenging in its own right. I knew very little about this group that wasn’t second hand knowledge. But as I perused the gradebook and academic history for some of my students prior to the start of the year, I knew one thing: I had to give these learners the opportunity to feel what accomplishment feels like. There is a certain rhythm to success that has to be found and then felt before it starts to beat and almost swell from within. I guessed then and now know that many of these students have never heard, nor much less felt that beat, and I knew that I would be working against thirteen years of baggage if I tried to convince them, initially at least, to search for this experience in an academic setting. But I had an idea.

When I find myself feeling stagnant in my own motivation, I often start a #Five4Five Challenge. The #Five4Five challenge was created by Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate, in the spring of 2018. He posed this challenge through his Twitter and YouTube account, and I was immediately intrigued by the idea. The #Five4Five Challenge asks individuals to select one “thing to do” and do that thing each day for five days straight. What you decide to do is entirely up to you, but you have to do it once a day for each of the five days to succeed. I myself had done six #Five4Five Challenges before the school year began. I had created a vlog, done anonymous acts of kindness, set workout goals, even given up Starbucks for five days straight (that one was brutal). The goal itself doesn’t matter; it’s not about the goal. It’s about intentionality and filling your day with purpose and success. It seemed like the right fit for my learners, and so in the second week of school, I issued them all a challenge.

Now, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how they would respond to it. Would they laugh this off? Would they be into it for a week or two and then fade away as the grind of the semester progressed? Well, I’m happy to share that as I’m writing this, we just finished our fourth week of #Five4Fives (we go two weeks on, one week off), and the experience has not only gone well but it has exceeded all my expectations.

Our implementation has been pretty simple. We created a one-sided handout that has four boxes on it, one box for each of the first four weeks of the course. Each box contains a line for the learner to write out their goal for that week, the days of the week with a checkbox next to each day, and a place for the learner to sign their name if they complete the challenge by the end of the week. 

This is not for a grade and we try to keep our daily commitment to discussing these goals to five minutes or less each class period. We don’t always open class with our #Five4Fives, but when we do, I really enjoy it. It’s captivating and powerful for class to begin with students openly sharing their passions and accomplishments. It’s been such a positive culture piece. It’s also been encouraging to watch students fail for a day and then keep going for that week. I’ve noticed too a greater sense of resilience in the students; in the first week, most would hang their head if they had to share about missing their goal the previous day, but now they confidently share their failures too. In those moments, I try to ask, “So are you going to get back on track tomorrow?” Most answer yes and at least make that goal for another day or two that week.

One month in, I’m really glad that we don’t require that the #Five4Five goals be education related. It’s funny, despite having the freedom to set any goal they wish, several students each week still choose a goal that has something to do with school. The goals that they set often speak to their values, their challenges, and desires for change; by offering them the freedom to create the goal that they want they are more willing to follow through with it. The only stipulation we have set for the goals is that they must be measurable. 

Check out how we are doing! Here’s some of the data we have collected thus far…

 

#Five4Five Challenge: Number of Students Completing a Certain Number of Goals Per Week

Completed One Goal  Completed Two Goals Completed Three Goals  Completed Four Goals Completed All Five Goals 
Week One 4 Students 5 Students 4 Students 10 Students 25 Students
Week Two 5 Students 4 Students 4 Students 8 Students 27 Students
Week Three 1 Student 2 Students 7 Students 2 Students 36 Students

 

Though I’m not sure that I needed this data to have a sense that this practice was having a positive influence on our learners, I’m very happy with the story these numbers seem to tell. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from it.

A final piece of evidence that I would like to share comes from our weekly Flipgrid video reflections that students have gotten into the habit of recording. Every two weeks, the students create a video in which they reflect on their efforts in the course and with their #Five4Five goals. This reflection comes from a student named Luis. In week two, Luis chose to set an academic goal for himself, and I’m proud to say that Luis met his goal that week. Afterward he reflected on his experience saying, “…my goal was to do my homework for every class, and I was surprisingly successful. I picked it because junior year I was not good with homework at all and I just had so many missing assignments. And for senior year I want to be able to do all my homework and get some good grades because my grades were terrible last year. I just want to be able to see what I can do, and this goal has really helped me this week.” 

Ugh, I love that! 

So, the next time someone asks me, “Do you have a pretty good group this year?” I’m looking forward to shooting them a smirk and answering, “Yes, they are definitely… challenging.” Challenging themselves, challenging me to be a better teacher and a better person, and challenging the way I think about my responsibility to help them grow both as people and learners.

Andrew is the Host of the Westside Personalized Podcast (bit.ly/WPPodcast)

WestsidePersonalized.com

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**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  

 

Books available

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

 

 

Published originally on Getting Smart, January 8, 2018

 

Have you noticed more discussion recently about Artificial Intelligence or AI? When first hearing “Artificial Intelligence” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is it something that you can easily define? Perhaps your understanding/reference point is something you’ve seen in the movies. For myself, being an 80s child, my initial frame of reference is Star Wars, I immediately think of R2D2 or C3PO. My mind then wanders to thoughts of “I, Robot” starring Will Smith, in which the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and to take action on their own. And more currently, I think of the Alexa, Echo, Siri and others that have gained popularity, even more so recently. But what is the true meaning of AI and how do we see it in daily life?

The concept of “Artificial intelligence” can be hard to understand/grasp, especially when trying to think about how it can be applied to education as well as many other sectors of society. In December 2015, the Getting Smart #AskAboutAI research began and over these two years, they have identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as recreation, transportation, education, healthcare and gaming to name just a few. The campaign focused on AI in regard to three objectives: employment, ethics and education. How can AI be beneficial for different industries, what are some of the uses, what are the benefits and risks associated with it, and of greater personal interest, what are the possibilities for AI in education.

According to Getting Smart’s “Ask About AI” report, the notion behind AI is that machines can exhibit human intelligence. The concept of “machine learning” started in 1956 and is when algorithms are used to interpret data and take some action or to complete a task. As a foreign language teacher, I became aware of machine learning years ago, in the form of language translators. AI, at its base, is computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a “super intelligence.” It is the development of computers that can complete tasks which normally require “human intelligence” however it learns on its own and continues to improve on past iterations. AI becomes smarter, knowledge grows, and it expands the realm of possibilities for society. Machine learning is actually a subset of artificial intelligence. It is said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.

Everyday uses of Machine Learning and AI that you may not be aware of.

In my quest to learn more about AI and its implications for the future of learning, I needed to first understand how we were already using AI and perhaps, not even realizing it. I asked colleagues for their thoughts on AI and many were as unsure as I about how it is being used currently. Here are 5 common uses:

  1. Communication: Spam filters, powered by AI, streamline the amount of spam appearing in your inbox. As email senders (real or automated) become more careful with selecting words which have not been flagged previously, the filters need to adapt and continue to learn based on words that the user also flags. There is an added component of ML in this, in that through the algorithms already in place by the email provider, additional filters are then created.  Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
  2. Travel: If you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA( Estimated Time of Arrival). The airline industry uses AI, since autopilot qualifies as AI, where it is estimated that “human steered” flight time is only seven minutes of actual flight length.
  3. Social networking: When we use Facebook to share photos, the artificial intelligence is able to detect faces in the image and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has continued to add new features as part of its AI Initiative, to generate a more personalized and interactive user experience. Some social media sites, such as Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, chats to join, and news feeds of interest based on an analysis of user input and data. Even Google with its “cards” can provide a variety of personal recommendations based on your search history.
  4. Online Shopping: One that comes to mind quickly is Amazon, and how it suggests items you may be interested in, as a result of your prior searches and order history. Systems are in place to protect consumers against fraud, with alerts being sent almost simultaneously to an attempted transaction that is not recognized as a “typical” purchase or located in a non-home base location. All of this done through AI, which is used for identifying fraudulent transactions.
  5. Education: Teachers and students have a wide range of tools available, ranging from Google Searches, in which alternate search terms are instantly suggested, citation generators, plagiarism checkers, and even Siri has become a popular tool for searches. An astounding amount of information generated instantly, far more advanced from thirty years ago and society’s reliance on card catalogs, calculators and books.

But what does AI mean for today’s classrooms?

Looking at these common uses in everyday life makes it easier to think about some ways that Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms. Where will we see the biggest benefits? I think that it is important to take a look at your own classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How are you and the students spending your class time? What are some ways that you could get some of that time back by using AI? Time to dream big!

Thinking about my own classroom, some of the most time-consuming tasks are conferencing and finding time to work with each student, creating and reviewing assessments, locating appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate for students, offering more engaging and immersive learning experiences. AI can address each of these areas, increasing the time available to spend doing more interactive lessons, having students lead, having more time to focus on relationships in the classroom and truly providing students with a world full of opportunities, personalized to their needs and instantly available.

So how can AI help?

  1. Communication:  Students and teachers will be able to communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students instantly paired with peers, helping each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits for being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses. Build foreign language skills, talk to someone about school, family, life in a country being studied, possibilities are endless for language learning.
  2. Differentiation: With the availability of AI,  students and teachers will be able to connect with resources they need exactly when they need them. The entire internet of resources accessible within seconds, deliverable to each student saving valuable time for more interaction between teacher and student, and students and students. Through AI, students can have access to one to one tutors, creating more authentic learning experiences by pairing students with an expert or a virtual peer to learn with. Think of the benefits if each student could have instant access to a tutor wherever and whenever they needed one.
  3. Personalization: What better way to offer more personalized learning opportunities for students than to have AI be able to analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and find resources or create new questions to help students to greater understanding of the content. What about the potential for informing the classroom teacher, and working together to create new learning opportunities for students, but in a faster way, that relates directly to the student needs and offers authentic and timely feedback.
  4. Exploration: With the rise of augmented and virtual reality, and the benefits of bringing these into the classroom for students to have a more immersive learning experience and to see places and explore things that otherwise they would not, AI can be a tremendous benefit for this. Through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. Capabilities such as these are not something that will be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could show students want they want to explore, find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
  5. Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.

Considerations for the future.

Even though there has been concern expressed for what AI could mean for education: would AI lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have any negative impacts on student learning? There could not be a replacement of teachers because AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, vital components of relationships in the classroom. So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.

AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment. It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student. AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning. But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.

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Hard to believe that I have been back home almost two weeks since ISTE. The conference seemed to fly by this year and I am still trying to process my thoughts and reflect on what my takeaways are for this experience. I initially get stuck on thinking how do I begin to describe the awesome learning experience of ISTE? The anticipation of such a tremendous event and what it involves can be overwhelming. There are so many benefits of attending ISTE: the opportunity to spend time in the same space with Twitterverse/Twittersphere and Voxer friends, meet up with one’s PLN, to have so many choices for learning opportunities, networking, social events, are just a few of the possibilities. But where to begin and how to find balance? That is always the question.

 

I’ll admit that as my departure for San Antonio approached, I was full of anticipation and excitement, but also a bit anxious and nervous all mixed up in one.  Without even realizing, I had created quite a busy schedule for myself this year, even though I had planned to set out to have a lot of time to explore.  I simply kept adding things to my schedule, trying to make sure to have time to see everyone and figured I would get a better look at everything, a few days before leaving.  For my personalized professional development, I had not looked at the schedule too much, but I knew of some areas that I really wanted to grow in, and I was excited to connect with my friend Jaime Donally, who I consider to be an expert in AR/VR and many other areas, and definitely wanted to learn from her.

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I was very excited to connect with the Edumatch family, to finally connect with people I have come to know well over the past year through the Tweet and Talks, Edusnap books and Voxer discussions. We met at a luncheon on Sunday afternoon, celebrated the launch of the Edumatch cookbook and even did some carpool karaoke while heading back in the Uber to catch the Ignite talks. It was great to see Jaime’s and Kerry Gallagher’s Ignites on Sunday afternoon, and hear from so many educators and students about what they were doing in and out of the classroom.

It was an opportunity to reconnect with friends from FETC and meet others face to face, for the first time. For me, as the conference approached, it seemed more about finding time to connect with my friends and making sure to have time for those conversations in person that we don’t often have time for, rather than focusing on sessions and planning my schedule. 

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One part of the ISTE experience that I was thrilled about was the opportunity to present with two of my good friends, Rodney Turner and Mandy Froehlich during the conference. Knowing that we would be sharing our work together and interacting with others was a high point for me. The bonus of having that definite period of time set aside to spend with them, especially after we had such a great time in Orlando at FETC (also with Jaime!). Rodney and I presented at the Mobile Learning Network Megashare on Saturday (which I almost missed because of late flights), and the three of us presented at the Monday poster session and during the ISTE  Teacher Education Network Playground on Wednesday.  It was a really great experience to share with them and I enjoyed learning from them.

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Fun on the Riverwalk

I am very appreciative of the opportunities I have through being involved with several of the ISTE communities, PAECT, Edumatch, and the chance to meet up with friends and other “PioNears” and “Ambassadors” from some of the different edtech companies that I am involved in. Being able to run into so many friends on the Riverwalk, take some selfies, was phenomenal. The social events and time for networking were the highlights of this year. Starting with Saturday night at the Participate event, there was a lot of time to connect with friends and meet some for the first time F2F. And I am thankful to my PAECT friends for inviting me to have dinner with them, and for their willingness to put up with my shenanigans at times. 

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The experience this year was quite the change from two years ago when I attended my first ISTE conference in Philadelphia. I knew a few people but the experience then does not compare to the way it was this year. Having made more connections over the past two years, especially through these different ISTE and PAECT learning communities and the group of educators I have met through Edumatch.  Being able to walk and run into friends along the way and be pulled in an entirely different direction was so much fun.  We even ran into some of our friends from Peekapak along the Riverwalk! 

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Three very different ISTE experiences and I can’t say that I prefer or recommend one over the other, because just like preparing for ISTE, what works best for me will not necessarily work best for somebody else. We each come in with our own expectations and leave with different, unique experiences. I think the common factor is looking back on the relationships and the people that we interacted with. Whether through the connections made in a Voxer group, a Twitter chat or through email, having even a quick moment to interact with those people (and take a selfie) is tremendous. Thank you ISTE!

Next post: Learning opportunities and things to consider

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This is the second part of my posts sharing how I was wrong about the value of Social Media for professional learning

So enter Twitter, the “twitterverse”. I was really wrong about this one and as a very reflective person, if I am mistaken, I will readily admit when I am wrong. And I will also take a step back and think about why I was wrong. For Twitter, I had no idea what was out there in the Twitterverse. I really knew nothing about anything related to Twitter.

I have had a Twitter account for probably 10 years, an account that was created only because a family member sent me a link, which required a Twitter account in order to see the post. I used my regular email address (original AOL by the way) and joined Twitter. I think I looked at it a few times for a week and then 5 years went by, never again looking at Twitter.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2014, when I was leading a session at a technology Summit, when someone tweeted about my session, to what they thought was my Twitter account. So I decided to create an account in that username and I have been actively involved in Twitter more or less ever since.

I had the misconception that it was only for celebrities. But I decided to look into it a bit more. I really didn’t know how it worked but I came across a Twitter chat one night and I started to connect with a few people from North Carolina and Tennessee. That was my start toward becoming a more connected educator and seeing the true value in Twitter. I added additional Twitter chats to my weekly activities and looked forward to the interactions with the new friends that I had made.

Shortly before ISTE 2015, I learned about “tweetdeck”. I had no idea what that meant, and I did not ask because I figured that it was something that I should know if I was using Twitter. I think I googled it. Before Tweetdeck, I used one window, with 1 chat and flipped back and forth between each chat window. To say it was a bit difficult at times is an understatement. I decided to try Tweetdeck, during my train ride to ISTE, multitasking by reading my Teach like a Pirate, involved in a Saturday chat with Tweetdeck and amazed at what was happening. It hit me. The power of communication and technology. In and of itself the fact of sitting on a train, reading a book with Wi-Fi access to enable me to use my computer, engage in multiple tasks, communicating with people around the country and world, at any point in the day during the travels. When you stop and think about it, it’s so amazing what we are capable of today. And with these two social media platforms alone, (ones which I adamantly avoided), the possibilities for learning, connecting, and so much more happen instantly anytime and anywhere. But that’s just my view of it and people may not see the value in having accounts with these or may prefer to stay away from social media. And it may not be for everyone, but I’ve learned that you can’t really say that you don’t like something or that you hate something, until you at least give it a try. And you certainly can’t go based on what somebody else says. While I greatly value the opinion of others, and can and have in the past been swayed because of someone else’s opinion, I really try to think about what is best for me. As an educator, I think about what is best for my students. I might love a certain digital tool but if it’s not going to benefit my students,  I won’t just throw it out there and say have fun with it. And that’s what I’m saying about Facebook and Twitter. As a start, either of these would be something that might surprise you in terms of the benefits personally and/or professionally. And again, I admit that I was wrong.  Lessons learned about Facebook and Twitter: Educational value is huge and learning to write concisely is an acquired skill.

Thank you Sarah Thomas @sarahdateechur and @EduMatch #edumatch for the opportunity for this post on August 1, 2016. Logo from Edumatch.com

A couple of reasons why I love summer

Rachelle Dene Poth

I am a teacher and when people find this out, one of the first things they say is “it must be nice to have your summers off.”  Yes, thank you, it is nice to have a more relaxed schedule over the course of the summer break. But in all honesty, I would be fine if I taught year round. And there are a lot of teachers who don’t really have the whole summer “off” because their school operates on a different type of school calendar. And like I said, I love summer, not because it means that I don’t have to go to work. I enjoy being in the classroom and working with students.  I look forward to each day and what it brings. I love the routine, the new challenges each day, and more than anything, working with the students and learning from them. However, the main reason I look forward to the summer is because it is an opportunity to seek out new learning experiences that will enable me to return to my classroom refreshed, with new ideas and hopefully improved skills that will help me to provide the best learning experiences for my students.

Connections

Another great thing about summer is that it is a time to connect with other educators. And I have been fortunate to meet a lot of educators over the past few years, but even more so this summer because I had the opportunity to be involved in several tremendous conferences and learning experiences including Summer Spark, ISTE 2016, and EdCampUSA.  So yes, it is nice to be a teacher and to have those breaks throughout the year and especially during summer, but I bet if you ask some of your friends who are teachers or even if you meet someone new who is a teacher, if they really have their summers “off”, I bet almost all of them will tell you no, and maybe even follow up with a laugh. And here is why.

Summer for educators

Summer is a time for a lot of things. One of the nice things about being in education, in my role as a classroom teacher is that I do have the summers off. But we all know the reality of it is that we don’t really have the time off.  Teachers have time of course for some of the normal summer things like sleeping in late, catching up with friends and family, going on vacations and not worrying about setting the alarm.  But it is also valuable time for teachers to do even more, on a personal and professional basis. Time to think about their practice and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for professional development and growth. 

Teachers devote most of their time during the school year, focusing on students’ skills and needs, their interests and providing a supportive, positive, meaningful,  engaging learning environment for their students. For some of our students, school is the safe place to be.  Each teacher’s classroom is unique and offers an opportunity for the teacher to create a whole new world, for lack of a better phrase, to immerse their students in learning, to draw them into new experiences and help each student develop their skills, to become reflective, to have choice and voice in their learning. In addition to striving to provide this for our students, we work to be a constant source of support and guidance for each student each day.

And contrary to the “school day schedule”, when the school day ends, these tasks, jobs, responsibilities do not end with the ringing of the bell. We may leave our work on our desk in our classroom, but these other parts of our work continue 24 hours a day every day. The impression that we make on our students and the atmosphere that we create for them, the guidance we provide have an impact that does not end when they leave our classroom nor when they leave the school for the day.  Each student takes something unique away from the classroom when they leave us. Whatever our connection is with each student, the relationships that we build and that continue to grow throughout the year, in some way help each student. There is something created unique to each teacher-student relationship, that forms the foundation for the learning to occur.  We are their teachers, but also their mentors, providing more than just a lesson in the classroom. We don’t just teach. We give ourselves and our support to our students.

And it is exhausting, in a good way. And if you leave your classroom at the end of the day, and you are not exhausted when you get home, then something is wrong.  There is more work to be done.

Our schedules

Teachers put a lot of time in outside of the classroom and that time is not evident to the rest of the world. The hours at night at home or on the weekend grading papers, making parent phone calls, preparing lessons, attending conferences, are not factored into how people view the time and place of the job of the teacher. And I do not see this as negative, it’s just the reality that because school is perceived as an 8 hour day experience, that is where the work ends. And maybe in the past it would be viewed in that way because technology did not exist to enable emails or other collaboration to occur beyond the school day.  But the work involved and the personal investment was and still is the same.

So back to why I love summer

Getting back to some of the reasons I love summer. Each summer gets better and better, and it’s not because I traveled and spent hours on beaches, or to the contrary, kept idle. It is because I have used the time to learn more, to read, to connect, to reflect and to prepare for the next year.  My summer goal is to work so I can start stronger and be better than I was the year before. This summer has been an unbelievable period of growth for me and I knew at the end of the school year that it would be exhausting but a well worth it kind of exhausting.

I have been fortunate to travel to different conferences throughout the country, to confront some fears such as flying and speaking in front of many people, to challenge myself more each day. And no worries, I am enjoying some time sleeping in and also sitting outside on the deck with my cup of coffee, but the computer, a book or a magazine are always there. The Voxer groups I join are part of each day, listening and learning. I use the time I have because I want to learn, to connect, to develop skills so I can be the best teacher and mentor that I can be for my students. I will do whatever it takes to make that happen. And this summer I have met a lot of inspirational role models, leaders in education, Eduheroes, people I have known through Twitter chats,Voxer groups or Google communities. These are things which two years ago I would not have even thought possible. But learning from these different groups and developing a new awareness and new perspectives and facing new challenges, has really given me pause.   To be among some of the great educators and benefit from truly amazing professional development experiences, has served to make me want to use every moment of this summer “break” to take in and learn as much as I can.  Does this sound like you?

My summer recommendations

Some things that I think are important to do in the summer. I think you have to give yourself some freedom and flexibility with your schedule. So that means if you want to go to bed early and get out of bed late, that’s fine. If it means that you then spend the majority of your day working and reading, or doing nothing at all, that’s okay too. You have to make time for friends and family, connect with people that are important and that matter and that maybe throughout the school year you don’t have as many opportunities to spend time with. Once the school year starts, schedules become very hectic. That is the nice thing about being a teacher in some sense, is that your availability is more open in the summer but then again people with year-round jobs aren’t as available as you. You should find conferences or webinars, join in book studies or Voxer groups, or try connecting with some different learning communities. Get involved in a Twitter chat, whatever it is during the school year that just doesn’t seem to fit as part of your routine, make it part of your summer routine.

There are lots of opportunities out there and while there is not time for everything, there can be time for a little bit of everything. So decide what is best for you.  Do you want to be in one Voxer group or join one book study ? Then make that your focus. Or maybe you want to participate in writing tips for a blog or website. It’s up to you, because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break.

Personally I stay in good practice during the summer because I keep my schedule as chaotic as possible because it’s better prepares me for the school year. The first day or two of summer break I feel a bit out of it because of that absence of routine, the lack of students waiting to hear from me, but I soon develop my summer plan and get started right away.  On Monday.