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Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Power of the Senior Walk

It's happening at schools all over the place this time of year. It's the senior walk...or at our school the "senior run." I have seen multiple ways this plays out- with cap and gown or without- the power of the Senior Walk is obvious if you are observing it.

This tradition started at our school as a prank in the high school. Seniors would band together on their last day and run through the hallways  (sometimes causing destruction). The run had been banned but lately it has been embraced. Three years ago when my oldest daughter was a senior I asked our Upper School Student Life Director, Karen Smoak, if the "lifers" - those students that had been at CCS for all 13 years- could come in their cap and gown and visit our kindergarteners. They did and those kids were in "wow" mode. And as only Karen do, she took the senior run and that idea to the next level.
Our seniors have "community day" as one of the last days on campus before exams. This is a day where they just hang out together playing games, relaxing, talking, and having a picnic. At the end of the day they participate in the senior walk/run. It starts in the lower school where all the students come into the hallway and celebrate these students and then goes through the middle school and ends out the front door of the high school.



I happen to have been in the lower school this year as the students did their walk and saw the excitement and starry-eyes of those elementary students as they watched these students take their walk with smiles, tears, hugs, and pride. For some of us teachers, we have had the honor of teaching those students and watching them grow at our preK-12 school. The students then went on to the middle school where the pace picked up a bit and then on to the high school for the SENIOR RUN, a little bit of chaos with principal Forrest Walker leading the way through the entire experience.
Looking at these photos show you the value that's placed on these seniors. Their accomplishments are being valued by our entire student body. But it's not only about the seniors. It's about those underclassmen as well. These students are seeing the importance our school places on finishing high school. These students now have something else to look forward to. Many of these students have never attended a high school graduation but they will always remember watching older students that they have seen play sports, work in their classrooms, join them in all school pep rallies, and perform in various artistic endeavors at school being honored. It's a chance for our institution to grow a sense of expectancy within the hearts of our students- from the very youngest to those just a few months away from being seniors themselves- there is a sense of belonging. I love this tradition and how it has evolved from something the high school administration dreaded into something that instills both a sense of hope and longing for the other students and pride for our seniors. Watch out world, these seniors graduate on Saturday and they are ready to make a difference! 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Educational "Air Time"


Over the last couple of weeks I have really started looking more deeply at the way technology can enhance different learning theories and instructional practice. I realize that has made me hypersensitive to critiquing teachers and teaching styles in a way that I don't want to be. Needless to say, I'm trying to look at methods from a non-marginalizing approach and make the assumption that every teacher is trying their best to meet the needs of their classroom goals and individual students.

That being said I am currently feeling a little overwhelmed with some things that have played out lately regarding academic roles. Believe it or not I was a quiet high school student that rarely would have added value to group discussions unless I was point blank called on because of my shyness. (I  know...you are wondering where that girl is and wanting her to come back occasionally). I mostly made A's and B's as a self-motivated student in above-average ability grouped classes. I was a listener and got what I needed to make the grade but I did not really enjoy high school. High school did not feel relational to me for the most part.

As I have been looking at teaching methods I find myself wondering what are we doing to pull out students like myself. I know there are strategies for pulling in the outliers but do we use them? Is there a reason our students feel like outliers? Is it a perceived intelligence issue? Language issue? Apathy issue? Shyness issue? You have to know who your students are to fill the needs. And of course for me, I'm wondering if digital discussion boards in an LMS might be a solution to give the "quietest student a voice" a quote about technology I often requote from Jerry Blumengarten.

On top of all this I helped lead Edcamp Gig City this past Saturday and when I'm looking at the feedback I can't help but think...even teachers don't truly understand how to best engage in group discussions. The overwhelming majority of the feedback from the 125+ attendees of  Chattanooga's 4th annual educational unconference was positive but the complaints all had to do with people taking up too much "air time," being dogmatic about their views, leading instead of facilitating, and griping about their world instead of speaking about disadvantages with hopes to find a solution by sharing. If educators themselves aren't good at this, that worries me a bit. When someone feels marginalized they shut down. That is the worst thing to happen in education. What skills can we use to prevent this from happening without seeming condemning and causing the opposite person to feel marginalized? And of course, as an instructional technologist I am digging and wondering how can educational technology best support the socratic method, small group instruction, lecture classrooms to best meet the needs of all students, or can it? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Semantics in the School House


Possibilities for instruction are changing in education faster than ever before. As I have said before, how we define what words mean can seem both passive and aggressive to many teachers in the same room. The connotative meaning of "technology integration" can have varying degrees of expectation associated with it from the eyes of all stakeholders- teachers, administrators, school boards, students and parents. What one teacher sees as "enough" someone else might say "it doesn't even scratch the surface." When one teacher might say "I'm equipping them with future ready skills," someone else might say "they have too much screen time in that class setting." Who is right? Is someone wrong? Or are we nit picking the semantics?

How does a school move beyond the semantics/connotations of individual ideas of what "best practice" looks like to an acceptable use profile that all stakeholders can wrap their heads around? Lately, we have been working on just that at our school. I find myself looking at sentences word by word for interpretation purposes and I'm wondering if like the Louis Armstrong song "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off," I'm digressing on tomato versus tomahto.

I do believe frameworks are important as a guide to get everyone on the same page. I also believe there is value in breaking frameworks down into smaller bite size pieces, making it easier for people to see the goals. And to be honest, the more I dig deeper into these ideas the more I realize mindset of what technology can do in a classroom has to be recognized and considered first. Articles like this one in Edtech Magazine and research like this by OECD makes me mindful of how important it is to define the tomato and tomahto as well as to teach student's balanced use inside and outside the classroom.

Balance doesn't need to happen just in the classroom regarding screen time but also personal usage. We are in a society today where people are applauded for their passion or ridiculed for it depending on what society deems as appropriate. An athlete that becomes drive to train all the time and breaks records is applauded but someone that collects things to the same level of passion is called a hoarder. Helping students navigate balance goes beyond the idea of technology, it is a shift in what we should be teaching in general. Many of the things in regards to technology are like that. Looking at this deeper lately I am seeing the ubiquitous nature of technology and how it overlaps so much of our world. Getting more people involved in the semantics seems both worthy and needed. I don't begin to think I have a lockdown on all the moving pieces.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Finishing Strong by Taking Chances?

I'll be honest, when I was asked to blog on the topic "Testing is over...What now?" I jumped on the chance to be a part of this series because it's a group of amazing educators and I love to blog. Unlike the rest of them, testing seems to have less impact on my private school than at their public schools. There is no tie to funding and there is less stress on our teachers based on test results. While we do not do the state testing, we do have students take the NWEA test. I've sat in an office where an administrator has looked at test results by standard and realized "our students haven't gotten to that yet." There is an understanding in our school that we are going to teach to the end of the year. Managing that is probably a little bit easier to do with a preK-12 school of 1200 than some of these larger districts my friends are in.

Regardless, there still seems like there is burnout in the air and a sense of finality approaching. So what are things we can do to use this time to finish strong? You'll often hear me talking about risk taking and creating a culture where it is safe to fail for both students and teachers. The important thing is you fail forward. In other words, when you try something but it doesn't work you don't say "oh well, that was a disaster!" but "that didn't work, what can I do to value the concept forward and learn from what went wrong and make it better?" That's failing forward. What a great time to take those chances! I challenge you to look for something to try that might make these last days less monotonous. The nice thing is you have some great guinea pigs ready for you, you've trained them all year long! 

I want to share five things you might try in your classroom in these last weeks to take a chance on creating something valuable for the future (yours, your current students, and even your future students):
  1. Genius Hour or 20% Time...This is a creation of the Google Company themselves. They allow their employees 20% of their work week to learn about things that they are passionate about. What if you allowed your students some of this type of time with your watch care and guidance? It doesn't have to be chaos. Have students create Project Plans and collaborate to make them better. Then have students create project logs after every time they work on the project. Also, if you want it to be more structured, have it support a certain unit you have studied. Flexibility within boundaries but allowing students voice and choice.
  2.  Google Classroom...If you are a district that has been using the Google Suite apps in the classroom  for a while you are probably already leveraging Docs, Slides, Drive, Forms, and Sheets. Now is a good time to try Google Classrooms to see it's efficiencies! My friend Matt Miller from #ditchthattextbook created this blog post that is helpful in both understanding what it will and will not do, as well as giving you some ideas on how to implement it. You aren't a Google school? What LMS does your district/school/coworker use? Create a lesson using that to try it out. 
  3. Coding...I'm a firm believer that coding can support any curriculum due to the fact that it naturally teaches sequencing, coding gives access to technology, gives students a life skill, and coding teaches thinking. This blog by Vicki Davis gives you some great ideas for creating coding opportunities in your classroom no matter what you teach and what grade level you teach it in. Don't have access to technology? Make sure you look at the unplugged options at code.org.
  4. VLOG...Not all students are good writers but all students have things to share. A VLOG is the video equivalent of a BLOG (weB LOG). Allow your students to VLOG about some topic - you choose it or let them. Start somewhere simple like by using Seesaw Learning Journal. If you aren't already using it, it allows you to give your student a new platform as well. The free version will meet your needs just fine! (Make sure you follow Christopher King's VLOG on day three of this series (tomorrow) to see what a VLOG can do!
  5. Edcamp Style Learning...I am a huge fan of the unconference model of professional development that the Edcamp model brought to education. This will be year four of my involvement with Edcamp Gigcity in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But what if we gave students sticky notes and asked them what they would like to learn about? What if we created stations in our classroom that would allow them to learn from each other about those topics? It might not could be as wide open depending on the age you teach but I do believe it could be structured edcamp even for the youngest of students. 
These are just a few ideas that I think teachers could toy with here at year end. These do not take a lot of prep time or learning time on your part but have the potential for adding either depth or efficiencies for your classroom's future. And lets be honest, there are so many reruns of Lion King we want to sit through. Take these ideas or create your own but FINISH STRONG! Want to learn more on this topic? Make sure you look over yesterday's post by Mick Shuran that can be found at http://mickshuran.com and as I mentioned earlier, tomorrow's VLOG by Christopher King can be found at http://firesidechats.blog/


Monday: Mick Shuran http://mickshuran.com



Friday, April 28, 2017

Looking Ahead



I love when I'm given the opportunity to work with great educators to collaborate for greater good. What an honor and a privilege to be part of next week's 5-part series from four other bloggers that I greatly admire! You don't want to miss this next week as we each share ideas on how to be both strategic and intentional with finishing out the school year even though testing is over.

It's the time of year where we educators are weary! We hope that our blog posts next week will inspire you to look at this time as an opportunity. Make sure you bookmark these blogs and get ready to be blown away. Not only do I think these are some amazing men but they represent the great state of Tennessee so well!

  • Monday: My friend Mick Shuran, principal of West Middle School in Tullahoma, Tennessee will share his thoughts at http://mickshuran.com I love the passion and excitement that Mick brings in any education discussion he is in!

  • Tuesday: Straight out of Chattanooga, Tennessee I will be sharing some things that I think might be worthy of trying during this time when there is safety in failing but with a mindset of "failing forward" http://techhelpful.blogspot.com/

  • Wednesday: Christopher King, a fellow instructional technologist, who is also from Tullahoma City Schools system shakes up the stage in true "introduction of new tech tools fashion" with a VLOG (that's a video based blog) that can be found at http://firesidechats.blog/

  • Thursday: Moving around the state a bit more, Jacob Dunn is a Social Studies chair from McMinnville, Tennessee and brings such great value from the classroom perspective. He evens the rest of us out because he is truly in the trenches. His blog can be found at https://cultivateedu.com/

  • Friday: Thomas Fuhrman is an innovative, deep thinking principal at Jere Whitson Elementary School in Cookeville, Tennessee and I can guarantee he will end our week of posts with nuggets of wisdom! His blog can be found at https://tfuhrman.wordpress.com/


Get ready to for a week of intentional helps to end the school year strong and teach until the end! 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Student-Centered Education?



Buzz words run up my spine when they are thrown around. I'm not saying I don't see value in the concepts but there always seems to be cyclical educational buzz words that become in vogue for a while and then go out of style. Because of this, these words all come with connotations to each of us and what I have found is we don't always respond or think the same way because of our own interpretations. Student-centered can be one of those words. To some this means a Montessori approach to education where teachers "encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order." (http://amshq.org/Montessori%20Education/Introduction%20to%20Montessori), for others can mean just being mindful that the purpose of education is not about the education itself but about the student. Of course there are varying ideas in between. I do believe in the value of school systems having their own meaningful language so that everyone is on the same page.

That being said, I've had a few things happen in the last couple of days that make me really think about what I think Student-Centered should mean. As a huge fan of personalized learning, I believe that plays a big part in what I think the education process should be. Creating opportunities to meet the individual student's needs instead of the class as a whole is the future of education through the leveraging of technology. But student-centered is something much more basic to me than that. When decisions are being made in the context of impacting our students directly, I believe it should always be run through a screen of "is this product/person/pedagogy/plan good for the student?" Sometimes in today's world we see decisions made that make it easier on the institution or teacher. When ideas are put forth it is the natural instinct for us to ask "how does this impact me and the way I teach?" I know I struggle with not going there first when dealing with change. I also know I have made choices that actually have been harder for me as an educator because it was what I thought was what was best for the students. Student-centered also means growing that child through opportunities that might make a process harder in the long run for me as an educator. For instance, allowing voice and choice in how they share their learning, or creating opportunities for students to represent the voice of their peers in strategic meetings regarding school policies. Student-centered for me also means asking a kid, "how could I have made that lesson better?" and valuing their feedback.

This really hit home big to me today when I found out my oldest daughter was sitting in one of her final exams that she had stayed up late to study for and the professor tapped her on the shoulder and said "you have an A, you don't have to take this exam." Happily, Jessica jumped up and left the test but she texted me and said "I wish he would have told me I didn't have to take it sooner, but it was a nice surprise!" I asked her why she didn't know and she said he hadn't posted all the assignments before the exam so she wasn't 100% sure where she stood. Quite honestly I was ticked. This is a kid that is taking a full load in college and working 30+ hours a week as a manager in our family donut shop. How student-centered was the fact that she had to study for the exam, then show up, and be in process of taking the exam before knowing she didn't have to take the test?

Everyday we teach students that are being molded into their future adult selves. Allowing them some autonomy, creating visions with them, guiding through mentorship, and teaching them how to become lifelong learners without us there is imperative because they are constantly bombarded in a world that doesn't value anyone very well. I think it is key for us to always be asking ourselves if the decisions we are making today by procrastinating, having a fixed mindset, or having our own agenda are truly what is best for the student. Students are the reason we chose to go into education. As a brilliant coworker Matt Monahan said, "teaching is a great way to value people over things." My prayer is that I am ever mindful of that statement.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Curation of Information: Harnessing the Beast of Ubiquitous Information

I have this crazy little habit that helps empower me every day for the educational tasks at hand. For the past two years I've taken part in the #OneWord movement and this year my word was "brave." As part of this year's word, everyday I have chosen some phrase and photo to put on Instagram to embolden myself for the day to be educationally brave to make a difference for students. Each phrase has #brave2017 in the comments. Some days I run across quotes that resonate with me, some days I write what is in my head, and some days I make a real effort to Google a theme or "educational quotes" and find something for the day.

A quote that I have seen over and over on multiple occasion is the one in the image above: "The best teachers are those that show you where to look but don't tell you what to see." It is attributed to Alexandra K. Trenfor. Out of curiosity one day I decided to see who exactly this person was because I felt this little nugget of wisdom was so powerful. Imagine my surprise when not only I could not find anything about the person but found that other people had been on the same search. There is a bit of irony not lost on me that educators on a regular basis repost this quote and put it on educational websites and it can't really even be checked for authenticity. I mean, when I posted it I continued to attribute it to Alexandra K. Trenfor but I don't really know if that's right or not.

That left me thinking about the overwhelming need for curation of information in today's world. When we want to quote a website, oftentimes it is downright impossible to find the correct citing unless one uses an online bibliography that searches it from the URL and sometimes even then we come up empty handed.

Today as I was sick in bed I found myself digging around the internet looking for information on some topics I've been pondering and I came across this video that was uploaded in 2007. It's titled "The Machine is Us/ing Us." It speaks into the fact that WE are the creators of the web by the things we post on a regular basis, like this blog for instance. I am putting information out to a worldwide audience that might sway someone towards or away from a certain way of thinking about education. The "machine" is us but at the same time the machine is using my information, thoughts, and clicks to develop itself further. It's both alarming and intriguing to think of the power every John Q. Public has in the world today.
That being said, how do we as educators guide students to make ethical choices in what they claim as their own information? How do we guide them to best discern what is good information? How do we help them critically think about what they read and to turn information into knowledge? Especially when we ourselves are struggling with it as well. We are bombarded by fake news, wikipedia, and find ourselves searching snopes.com for discernment but I'll be honest some days I still don't know what is real or not (especially in regards to politics lately). We are being manipulated by our clicks as to what "real" is to us and yet we also have access to great information that allows us to learn anything we want to at the typing of a few key words. While we struggle with the shotgun method of information that comes at us regularly we must learn alongside our students how to best manage this resource. I don't want to be seen as a machine but I do want to know that I am adding value to the machine. I want my students to experience that as well. The ubiquity of technology cannot be ignored but it can be used for good.