Thursday, December 31, 2015

My #OneWord for 2016

My "One Word" for 2015 was LET'S...and how prophetic and apropos it was! I've never felt so entrenched in collaborative efforts as I did in 2015. I've had the honor of having more amazing educators in my professional learning network than ever before. I've had more face to face opportunities with amazing educational technologist than ever before. I am no longer a lone wolf educator, I've embraced the power of others and the strength in learning and working together to meet the needs of my teachers and students that I support. "LET'S do this" was a great mantra for my year. Even when I wanted to be stand alone and prideful, I was put in my place and shown that there are times you just have to embrace help. The value of team and LET'S will always resonate in my 2015 memories.

Beta means precursor. So this year my "one word" is BETA. According to the definition of beta is based on this:  "beta version - Alpha version describes a development status that usually means the first complete version of program or application, which is most likely unstable, but is useful to show what the product will do to, usually, a selected group—and is alsocalled preview version; the beta version is usually the last version before wide release, often tested by users under real-world conditions."  I love innovation. I love trying things that have the possibility to change education for the better. I love being a risk taker. I love learning, adapting, trying, adjusting, all to make educational opportunities better. 

"Better" is a vague term that might mean more fun, more challenging, more engaging, more cost efficient, more dynamic, or maybe more EFFECTIVE. Regardless of what "better" happens within my year, I want to live 2016 in BETA format. Allowing myself opportunities to try new things but balancing it with knowing when something isn't working. I want to be used in the educational world to make a difference. I want to be the tester of ideas. I want to hold tight to those things that have been tested, tried, and have proven value to education as I always do, but this year I also want to be given opportunities to have more BETA experiences. BETA means letting go of fear that stops me from going with my gut and the Holy Spirit. BETA means being faster and stronger in my thought processes, trusting myself in my decisions. It means moving forward knowing I'm trying my hardest and (heaven forbid) even allowing myself a few failures along the way. BETA may mean I'm not always the popular one or the favorite. BETA means I'm a risk taker but not just for the sake of taking risks...for the journey of finding something that doesn't already exist- a better me, a better educational option, a better environment. LET'S BETA! (See what I did there?)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cleaning House for 2016! Things Educators Should Leave Behind in 2015

There is a sense of finality in the lives of educators that doesn't exist in most professions. We see a year being over around May, we see large changes at this time because we no longer teach the students we've grown fond of as we anticipate summer and then the next group of students. It is this time of year, in January, where we have a nice break and we look towards finishing our school year. There are definitely pros and cons to the feeling of "stop and go" "new and old" "beginnings and ends" that go along with our profession.

Today is the last day of 2015, a day many people make resolutions for the future- giving up soda, taking up exercising, reading your Bible regularly, eating less cheese- things we think will make us a better person for the future us. So many of us look towards the future with anticipation. In order to move into 2016 with a positive mindset there are also things we have to leave behind from last semester. Things that we have allowed to supersede our effectiveness. Things that need to be swept out of our lives as we face this new year. Things that hold us back from being our best self. They include:

  • Hurt feelings- Perhaps it was a parent that said something that made you feel like you weren't meeting their child's needs but you were doing your best. Perhaps it was a co-worker that is just hard to get along with. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding that you haven't let go of. Perhaps you were truly "done wrong" but holding onto those hurt feelings just causes a festering in your spirit that will poison your next semester. Forgiveness, whether warranted or not, will free you from that poison. Forgiveness will help you leave hurt feelings behind. 
  • Insecurities- As humans we aren't perfect. Every year we are challenged with students that make us feel insecure because we fear we aren't meeting their needs. We are faced with new district/school initiatives that push us out of our comfort zones. We fear we are under qualified, not equipped and ill advised. Be easier on yourself. Know that perfection is not possible. Being your best and trying your hardest is always important. Instead of focusing on your shortcomings look at these things as opportunities for growth. Insecurities can lead to stagnation but accepting shortcomings and owning them can lead to a willing heart with a growth mindset. Accepting the fact that you aren't perfect is part of this. Don't get disheartened when someone shows you opportunities for personal growth. A growth mindset can help you leave insecurities behind.
  • Fear- Fear paralyzes us. We all fear something professionally. Sometimes it owns us more than other times. Fear of change is one area that can cause bitterness and gossip. Fear of change is normal, reactions to fear is the important thing to focus on. Being honest with yourself and others that you fear something is a great first step. When you can face your fears with an open mind you are more able to overcome them and leave them behind.
  • Failures- We've all had something in the first semester that felt like a big time flop. Maybe it was a lesson plan, a conversation, a relationship, or just a day. We can't allow failures to become our identifier. We must fail forward, learn from our mistakes, and let them go. We must dissect why they happened and then leave them behind.
For some educators, there is dread when thinking about that last day of Christmas break. They don't want to face this next semester. It's time to do some professional house cleaning. Sweep those hurt feelings, insecurities, fear, and failures out the back door with 2015. Fling open the doors and windows of yourself and face 2016 without the garbage holding you back. Your students don't deserve to be surrounded by that stink. Your coworkers need a team player with positive input. Your administrative team values those that can rise in diversity. Loosen the 2015 bad vibe noose and head into 2016 with a sense of celebration!

All Things EduTechie- The Best of 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, I look back over All Things Edutechie and give you the top 10 most read posts this year. I am not one of those "blog once a week" educators. I am more "blog when the spirit hits you." Sometimes that is 3 times a week, sometimes that is every two weeks, but regardless I try to transparently share what has touched my heart, rattled my brain, or caused me to say "aha...this" on a regular basis.

I would be remiss without thanking each of you for taking the time to read my blog posts and giving me feedback on them. What an honor it was to be recognized by EdTech Magazine as one of the top 50 k-12 I.T. blogs. Professionally speaking, I know this year will be remembered for that achievement. I'm still blown away with seeing my name listed with so many of my eduheros. 

Without further ado, here is my 2015 top 10 blogposts. If you missed some of them- here is your chance to catch up!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Four P's- The Future of Edtech

At the ending keynote for the Tennessee Education Technology Convention (TETC) this week, Kathy Schrock left me thinking about the four P's that she said might exemplify the future of educational technology. I've found myself thinking about what this looks like from an instructional technologists viewpoint, from the eyes of future students, and from the perspective of the classroom teachers. It will effect the technologists, students and teachers differently. Some will be changes that are readily embraced, some will be cause for concern, some will just happen but we will all have judgment- because that is human nature.

Personalization- This is the "P" that resonates the loudest with me right now. It appears I'm already on the edge of this one with a math prototype project I am involved with. At TETC I offered a session on "The Benefits of Blended Learning Math Instruction." To be honest, I had a fear I would be speaking to 5 people and it would be a total flop because "who cares?" Imagine my surprise when it was standing room only! Imagine even more surprise when the realization came that we are fairly innovative in this project compared to many of the participants of the session. Adoption of a blended learning classroom is just now becoming less trendy and more commonplace. To me, one of the most surprising things about our station rotation blended learning model adoption has been how quickly it could have morphed into personalized learning for each child to meet their needs where they are. Current technology trends allow for real-time data, ease of assessment, and the ability to let a student move at their own pace. Educational technology resources are getting better and better- the future will make learning less like educational mills and more specialized to meet the needs of each child and prepare them in the path they choice earlier than ever before. Is this good or bad? Only time will tell.

Programmable- Last week there was a huge push in the educational technology world for students everywhere to participate in the Hour of Code. "The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event" ( The uprise of teaching coding has inspired the growth of robotics in schools, it has pushed the trend towards STEM in the school systems, and created a culture where the idea of computer science is cool and acceptable. Critical thinking coding apps such as minecraft have revolutionized what is "fun" for students to do. Our future classrooms will include more opportunities for programmable endeavors as it enters makerspaces, science classrooms, and math instruction. Programmable options will make educational technology more hands-on than ever before. As the cost of options like make-makey, sphero, and drones decrease the mainstream use of them in the classroom will increase. Everyone will become a computer programmer. Students will be creating apps themselves, websites for both personal and educational reasons, and it will become another "presentation" choice of the future. Will coding be recognized as an option for language credit for high school students? Only time will tell.

Participatory- There are many different directions the term "participatory" could go in terms of the future of educational technology but here is one area that excites me as an instructional technologist: Having the ability to speak into the creation of websites and apps for educational purposes. In the last 3 years I have been amazed at the immediate feedback I've received from app makers and website creators when I have questions, concerns, or suggestions. Never before have every day educators had the ability to speak into making tools better for our students and ourselves. Just like the fact student learning is becoming more personalized, technology for teachers is becoming more personalized as well. I feel this will give educators everywhere the ability to meet the needs of their students better because they are given a voice in the creation of technology tools. 

From a students viewpoint, educational technology will no longer just be a "sit and get" option of watching a lecture via a PowerPoint presentation by their teacher. As educational technology options evolve to be more creative, helpful, and well written, and less expensive teachers will continue to adapt and adopt options that allow students control over the path of their learning. Students will participate in the path of their learning because teachers will no longer feel the need to be the sage on the stage. Teachers will see that their student's worlds can reach beyond the four walls of their classrooms and they will learn to give control over the learning process to their students. Students will participate in the curation of information like never before. Will lesson plans look the same from year to year if this is the case? Only time will tell. 

Predictive- My phone already predicts who I might want to communicate with next. Amazon already guesses what I might want to buy based on my previous searches and buys. The future of edtech will be algorithm driven. Teachers will not only know how students learn best but the software options themselves will know what the students need to know next. This makes the idea of personalized learning even easier. Teachers will become less "givers of knowledge" and more "facilitators of learning." Will there be a need for educators as we know them? This is probably the most controversial question that I've listed. I do believe educators will have to adapt and be trained differently than the past. Only time will tell.

As I think on each of these four P words, I see an intertwining of them all with each other. While each word could be pulled apart and dissected in numerous ways, I feel it is important to look at them from a big picture approach to see the biggest P word of them all...POSSIBILITIES!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Power of a #Hashtag

Before 2007, this little symbol "#" was known as the pound key, then a techie and former Google developer by the name of Chris Messina changed the Internet world for the good. Saying "for the good" is obviously an opinion statement but I feel like it opened the world of educational knowledge up to me like never before.

The ghost of hashtag past: It started with a whisper. Not literally, but that's how it felt. I was what is affectionately known as a "Twitter lurker." I would troll my Twitter feed for interesting topics based on people that I either knew personally or that seemed to have interests like myself. One night I "favorited" a tweet with a star of the ever educationally amazing Greg Bagby. (Odd that I just had to go look up what was like/heart before the change). Greg was actually in the middle of a Twitter chat- and I don't even know which one, but he very welcomingly invited me to join. I hesitantly started answering based on the Q1...A1 model of Twitter chats and Greg very patiently continued to retweet my answers and tagging the hashtag because I would forget the hashtag at the end of my answer. And so it began.

I saw value in this thing that I had kind of poo-poo'd before. The ability to ask deeper questions and truly see the path of thinking in questioning from a variety of viewpoints was fascinating to me. Not everyone thought like I did and that was a welcomed challenge to me because I love to learn. In the beginning I would find myself looking for #edtech, #byotchat, #gwinchat, and #tnedchat. I found myself growing my mindset and my contacts. I finally understood the term PLN (professional learning network)- and it started with a whisper of "Hey, why don't you try this chat."

As Twitter world progressed for me, Greg and I started our own Twitter chat hoping to pull in educators from the Chattanooga area (and beyond) that had an interest in things EdTech. It was called #ChattTechChat - all of a sudden not only was Twitter helpful to me but I felt empowered to be helpful to other educators through various worthy topics (at least in my head they seemed worthy).

The Ghost of Hashtag Present: As my PLN grew, #ChattTechChat merged with #TnTechChat and my world grew exponentially as more moderators were added. Every Tuesday, I plan around 8pm EST to be a part of this Twitter chat. I also find myself being pulled into different chats these days- #edtechbridge, #edtechchat, #sblchat, #personalizedPD, #divergED. A few state chats have also been on my radar from time to time. Twitter has opened the door for many face to face connections too. I've visited schools, meet up with Twitter friends at conferences, and now have "go to" people when I'm thinking through an idea or have a problem I need solved. Yesterday, while being a guest on the podcast "Leadership, Technology, and Learning" I mentioned to Mick Shuran, Scott Hargrove, and Christopher King that Twitter is now my first line of attack. It's where I go to get answers because it's often quick and I have the luxury of multiple viewpoints in one place.

But lately hashtags have become more than just an educational help to me. I find myself typing in a hashtag to read articles about Alabama Football, I find myself typing in a hashtag to learn about a current event. And just Tuesday, a simple hashtag called #GivingTuesday inspired me to make a donation to one of my favorite non-profits- my school.

The Ghost of Hashtag Future: There is a hashtag that hangs out fairly lonely in the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram is called #CCSLearns. I use it when I post something I see eduawesome happening at my school, Chattanooga Christian School. It's been around for a while and occasionally I will stalk it when I'm feeling a little nostalgic or need a "pick me up" from a particularly challenging day at work. But I want this hashtag to become SO MUCH MORE. I want it to become a Twitter chat for the base of CCS teachers/admins/parents/students. I want it to be a place where we can discuss the hard parts of educational technology at our school. You might be asking yourself...why on Twitter? Why not do that in a meeting or in a Google document? Valid questions!

I believe opening the hard questions to get viewpoints beyond our own school allows us all to see what other schools have done, what other teachers in other schools think about, what the world outside Charger Drive finds important to concentrate on. A "school-based" hashtag with a global audience leads to transparency and authentic dialogue. It also models to our students and parents digital citizenship skills.

Is my wish a pipe dream? Maybe...but that's the beauty of labeling something "The Ghost of Hashtag Future."

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

We have Chromebooks! What sites have we been missing!

Three years ago the elementary computer lab went away so that an extra kindergarten class could start at our school. More students=more tuition! So without hesitation a switched roles from a related arts technology teacher to a technology coach. I saw it as an opportunity to step up our edtech A-game. In this role the elementary has access to 3 iPad carts, 2-3 desktop computers in each classroom, and now....what for it....A CHROMEBOOK CART.

So, because it was "Tech Tip Tuesday" (I send out little tidbits of Edtech goodies each Tuesday to all the teachers), I decided to think of ways to show teachers how to integrate the Chromebooks into their classroom. My mind started turning and I went back to 3 years prior- I asked myself, "What do I miss about the computer lab?" While integrating the iPads in the elementary school has been a HUGE success, there are things that just don't work as well on a device...hence this graphic was born. Maybe it will be a help to you as well (it's not my best graphic artwork but it's been one of those days- if you could see my mural hanging crookedly outside my office door you would understand some days I'm just a little off)!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The 5 A's of K12 Innovation

I had the honor of being asked by a local EdTech company to be part of a mom focus group to give feedback regarding what parents want from camps/programs and what 7-17 year olds interests are in terms of technology. As a technology coordinator, it was interesting to listen to the other 10 moms participating that didn't represent my own school. I left the lunch curating the information in my own head and I am wrestling with 2 big thoughts:
  1. For the most part "tech for tech sake" doesn't appeal to the masses of students age 7-17, integrating technology into things does appeal to them. It is how they do life. While there will always be people that enjoy the calling of coding, programming, and technology-based things- most students look at technology as a way to do something they want to do- it's a path to something else they are trying to accomplish.
  2. Which leads to my second thought- innovation doesn't have to be technology-based. In a previous post, I discussed my definition of innovation being the intersection of passion and need. While technology is often an innovating factor in a classroom, I'm finding more often that  innovation is so much more than integrating technology well. 

So if I go with the definition that innovation happens at the intersection of "passion and need," I find myself looking at this not just from my techie viewpoint but from the viewpoint of students, non-techie teachers, parents (present and potential), administrators, and stakeholders. Thus I am thinking what this looks like in terms of the following 5 "A's" of Innovation:

Academic - We are constantly looking for innovation to streamline our classrooms and help students at their point of need. In my position, this means always trying to find new options for using technology for personalizing the learning of our students. This also might mean collecting all the cardboard I can find, like Gwinnett Co, Georgia's Teacher of the Year- Trisha Connor to meet the needs of her STEM classroom. It might mean helping teachers from different disciplines and grade-levels collaborate on a project together- with or without technology being a major player of the concept. Innovation might mean more options for students/teachers/administrators to connect, consume, create, and curate data in ways that they haven't traditionally tried.

Athletic - Perhaps with the growth of augmented reality, technology can truly create opportunities for training of athletes against "that weeks opponent more than ever before, even in the K12 arena. With the ease of videoing events these days, apps like the ones mentioned in this article create ways for athletes to make corrections to better themselves immediately, also personalizing athletics by way of technology-based training playlists for workouts can benefit each athlete where they are for the betterment of themselves and the team. But innovation in athletics might mean creating opportunities for the fans to feel more "involved" in their favorite sports via game day updates, weekly video updates, incentives for attending events. Innovation in athletics might mean creating a class for news broadcasting to develop students into sports broadcasters beyond their desire to tweet their updates at games now.

Artistic - The ability to give our theater students a global audience through live streaming is definitely an innovation in the area of the arts. But perhaps innovation in arts means giving students opportunities for graphic arts and understanding that CAD design opens the doors for interior designers. Perhaps it means classes in design thinking to create the next generation of innovative thinkers and planners for our community. Innovation in the arts means using recyclables to change our world aesthetically, using visual arts to speak what words can't say, using language arts to share visions and thoughts beyond the comfortable or normal language barriers. And perhaps technology bridges all these things for a broader way of sharing.

Advertisement - Social media has opened the door for free advertising as often as we are willing to post something. In that, it has also now become common and acceptable for "self promotion" both personally and academically (school) speaking. Innovation means looking for ways to brand your school in a positive light- perhaps it's QR codes or augmented reality triggers throughout campus where visitors can learn more about the school's activities, students, faculty, and facilities-linking to friendly professional looking videos that maybe were even created within a classroom curriculum. Maybe innovation in advertising means looking for local offerings that your "target audience" attends and marketing the positive aspects of your school at those events. Maybe innovation in advertisement means giving your faculty/staff opportunities for growth or sharing their knowledge outside of the realm of your school so that the world knows more about your faculty/staff. Perhaps advertisement means there is a push for your students to perform, participate, attend events beyond the walls of your campus that allow them to show their learning and passions to the world at large. 

Adventure - When I think of the word "innovation" I don't think of status quo. I don't think of every day being predictably the same. Innovation can mean change or it can mean adventure. Innovation means taking chances on new ideas and allowing for failure. Innovation means prototypes, adjusting, constant communication for growth, preparing for change, looking for opportunities. Innovation means keeping your ear to the ground in your community so that you can turn a "local problem" into a problem-based learning adventure and possible solution. Innovative schools act, they aren't reactors.

Innovation means sitting on the edge of potential and having the vision to find the balance your school needs on that edge. Smart innovation means being adventurous but being leaders that think things through- not just jumping on the latest buzzword in education. Innovation means finding opportunities for your circles of influence to work hand in hand. Community, stakeholders, alumni, teachers, students, administrators, parents interested in innovation should all be able to find ways to plug into innovative thought processes in the K-12 environment...with the wind blowing through their hair. (Ok, so that may seem a little idealistic, but I do believe innovation is the place that opens the door for involvement- where passion intersects with need.)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

How Parents Can Support EdTech

I am a technology coordinator in a very tech-rich school- meaning technology is available and integrated regularly in the classrooms. In 5th-10th grades, students are required to "bring your own device," there are carts of iPads for grades preK-4th grades to check out, and a limited amount of Chromebooks are also available for use through teacher/student checkout for all grade levels as well. We use technology as a tool at our school to enhance the student learning experience as well as streamline the teacher's workday. Due to the technology culture at our school, I sometimes have parents ask me questions about student usage issues. This blog post is to give some ideas on how parents can help support their student's technology needs.

  • Protect your student's device. You know your child's personality better than anyone, will they treat their device in an appropriate manner or will they throw it into their backpack? If you are in a BYOT school, buy not only the device that you think is the best fit for your child but buy a device that meets their maturity level in terms of "care of device." If your child tends to still be clumsy and careless with technology, wrap that tablet in plastic! There are many good cases that go above and beyond the call of duty in keeping your investment safe. I broke down and spent a bit more money to put my iPhone 6S in an Otterbox case when I bought it lately. The cost of a case beats the cost of a new screen any day of the week. If your student wants a laptop, consider the possibility that it is a bit more fragile in terms of care but there are actually cases for those as well, they just aren't quite as sturdy for the most part.
  • Protect your student's heart. Curiosity is a part of how we were created, with that comes some positives and negatives. Set boundaries for your child in regards to technology usage. Each child is different and parenting is different for each child but use parental controls on devices and wireless routers. Look at companies like My Torch, Curbi, Covenant Eyes or Mobicip for example. As always, the best form of parental control is sitting next to your student when they are using technology and always having them use technology in open areas when at home.
  • Protect your student's priorities. It's very easy to allow a device to become an extension of who we are. Set limits on technology usage for your students. This year as our fifth grade went 1:1 for the first time, I talked digital citizenship with our students regarding balancing time and I "showed" them through a little test the downside to constantly switch tasking. I read three books to them: Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino, When Charlie McButton Lost Power by Suzanne Collins/Mike Lester, Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd. Look for opportunities to seek ways to model balanced technology use yourself. One of my first statements when talking about balancing with elementary students is "are your parents ever doing something on their smartphone while you are trying to talk to them and you can't get their attention?" 97% of the time I get a resounding "YES" from the majority of the students and multiple students want to share examples. 
  • Protect the teacher's need to have a class with devices ready to go. In a culture where technology is expected, if a student doesn't come with their device charged, doesn't have the required apps or websites available, it changes how a teacher has to teach that day. Just like you make sure your students have their homework done, their lunches packed, and their coats on a cold day, make sure their devices are ready for the day's activities.
  • Protect your student's school day from unneeded distractions. If you have a student that seems to be pulled off task by the device in their hands on a regular basis, perhaps it is time to adjust their device for more school-oriented purposes. If they seem to be iMessaging more than paying attention, finishing a Minecraft project instead of reading, or posting photos on Instagram during the school day- maybe they need to have those options removed (at least for a time) to prove they can use technology responsibly.
  • Protect your child from making social media bad choices. We live in an age where things that happen at home can easily affect the school day more than ever before. As a parent, follow your students on social media, pick up their device and look at their camera roll occasionally. Keep your child accountable. Sadly, one bad choice of sending something inappropriate could haunt your child for the rest of their life. As a parent, you have a responsibility to talk with your student about online safety, protecting private information, standing up to cyberbullying, respecting themselves and others, and balancing their time (adapted from Common Sense media poster).  is a great resource for parents and teachers to help navigate the digital world with their students. For the past three years I have been a Certified Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Educator because I see the value of teaching digital citizenship skills to our students often.
Parents often come to me and want a panacea bulleted list on "How do I parent this aspect of my child's life?" but honestly there is no quick fix, one size fits all answer. Just like many parts of parenting, we learn as we go, outside circumstances change our views, new things cause us to need to adjust, and attitudes carry great weight in how we protect yet grow our children into responsible adults. We are parenting digital citizens to make them future ready for the world beyond. We have responsibilities to help the education system in guiding and directing them into productive citizens.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fighting Burn Out.

I had breakfast with my cousin this weekend and we were discussing work burnout. She is a director of human resources in the Huntsville, Alabama area. We are four months apart in age and while we have never lived near each other, we have a lot in common- including the way we view work. At breakfast we discussed her current unhappiness with her job situation. The bottom line was that she is suffering from "burnout." When I asked her what her top three "kickers" for feeling that way she listed the following:

  1. Ethical/values misalignment between herself and her employers.
  2. Lack of growth/intellectual stimulus.
  3. Poor communication/lack of leadership.
Bingo. Seems right in line with many of the of the top posts when I googled what causes "work burn out" or "workplace unhappiness." At some time or another many of us have suffered from some level of burnout. As educators, our burnout can affect the learning and desire to learn of anywhere from 15-2000 students, depending on what our job actually is and how many students we come into contact with weekly. The question is, how do we pull ourselves out of burnout and recover so that we can enjoy that which we have chosen to do...specifically, how do educators enjoy the journey of education?

I've been there- at the intersection of "Burnout and Apathy" multiple times in my life. I'll be honest, I think it has to do with the fact that I tend to be passionate about the things I believe in. My cousin, Melissa, is the same way. The downside to being a passionate employee is that you burn extra brightly. Your "light bulb" never really goes off, energy is always being used up. You can't shut down the breaker easily. Ok...enough figurative language- how do we prevent workplace burnout outside of leaving the institution or truly becoming apathetic and changing who we are?

  1. Find your positive. Pull yourself out of your current conflict and imagine if someone was sharing your issues with you as if they were their own. Is it really an issue or are you making it an issue?  Sometimes lots of little things lead to "the last straw" and we seem to only focus on the negatives. Find your positives in your situations. For me, this sometimes means seeking out positive people to help me see the half-full glass. 
  2. Find your balance. Your work isn't your life, it's a portion of who you are. Do things that you enjoy when you aren't at work. Don't get so caught up in work that it takes over your thinking both day and night. (This is my hardest thing to control).
  3. Find ways to feed your inner need for "more." When you don't feel challenged, when you don't feel heard, when you feel something about it. For me, I seek out ways outside of my school building to build my professional learning network. It means looking for opportunities to help elsewhere- whether it be blogging, Twitter chats, speaking events or answering emails from educators outside my school system- finding a way to feel value in your day helps combat the feelings of burnout.
  4. Find your edu-encourager. Find someone that not only understands what you do but understands you, ask that person to be your sounding board. It's actually probably a better idea that it isn't someone at your school. We tend to gravitate to people that see things the way we do, if you aren't careful this need to vent can easily become a gossip session. Pick someone that you can trust, that you know can look at things logically, and that will give you honest feedback. Buy them coffee and donuts occasionally and just talk in order to let things go.
  5. Find the real battles. Don't let hard days make everything worth ruining your days. As a mom of teens I often say "I have to pick my battles." We should do this professionally too. Learn what's just smarter to let go of and what is worthy of fighting for. 
  6. Find respect. We are all imperfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses. If we dwell on the negatives of our workplace we lose respect for those in authority over us. Remind yourself of the things your superiors do well and respect them for those things. Remind yourself of your faults too, for humility sake. 
Seeking ways to combat burnout is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Burnout can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically. We must choose to do things to pull ourselves away from this predicament. The results of "pulling ourselves away" looks different for each of us, but we must find a way to bloom where we are planted!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

She's More Than a Filled Seat in Your Seating Chart

That student sitting in row 2 seat 7 was up all night worrying that she might have a diabetic low in her sleep and slip into a coma. She's there in your classroom after a sleepless night with a disease that makes her feel like she's on a rollercoaster this week. She's drained, her concentration ability is lacking but she fears missing school for getting behind and doesn't want to be alone at home and not have someone to notice if her blood sugar drops unexpectedly like it has been for the last 3 days. She's coping.

That student sitting in row 5 seat 2 is hungry. Maybe it's her own fault because she waited until the last minute to get out of bed so she didn't eat before school, maybe she has an eating disorder and won't eat like she should. Or maybe there just isn't much food at the house. Whatever the reason, her hunger makes it hard for her to concentrate and her growling tummy makes everyone else giggle. She fake laughs along with everyone else about the growling but the truth is just under the surface- she's hungry when she comes to school on a very regular basis.

That student in row 7 seat 7 heard her parents arguing with her big brother way after everyone should be in bed. She felt the tension in the family. She felt the animosity of her sibling. She just wants everything to be ok in the family but she laid in bed last night realizing things just weren't right in her world. She wonders what the future looks like within her family dynamics. She fears. She comes to class insecure and quiet.

That student in row 1 seat 3 forgot to take her ADHD medication this morning. She's trying so very hard to follow along in the lesson but the bottom line is that it is super hard. She really is trying to use her skills she has learned to stay focused but today, it just doesn't seem enough. School seems exceptionally hard. Life seems exceptionally unfair. She has to spend a large portion of her day sitting at a desk being still when everything inside of her needs movement. She thinks school isn't for her. She can't wait to get out so she can do the things she is good at.

That student in row 4 seat 6 is excited about going to the jump park with her friends after school. It's her birthday and she's been waiting on this Friday for 3 weeks. It's going to be such an amazingly fun time to be with her friends. Every chance she gets, she and her friends are discussing and planning the evening- she's even secretly messaging them on her device instead of paying attention to you when she should. She just wants this school day to end! She tells herself she'll do better on Monday at being engaged in the classroom but today all she can think about is her birthday party.

That student in row 3 seat 1 has a Grandpa that has cancer. He's at home, down the street and she sees him on a regular basis but everyday she wonders when will be the last day he is around. He is an important part of her life. Losing him will be hard, even though she knows death eventually happens to everyone. It makes her think about life, living, death, and the beyond. She gets a little morose and feels disconnected to those around her because "caring" hurts sometimes. To you, she seems hard and bullyish, really she's just trying to make sense of her world.

That student in row 6 seat 4 has a secret. Last night her mom got taken to jail. It was bound to happen, the mom will do anything to support her drug and alcohol addiction. Your student doesn't want anyone to know- she feels ashamed that this is her family. She doesn't understand that sharing with someone might help her deal with things better. She is slipping into a state of depression. She asks, "why was I born into THIS family?" Things that once mattered don't matter anymore. She's not sure why things have changed and how to make it any different. She's just existing yet she always feels anxious.

In the above scenario, in each row there is one child struggling with significant life events- some good, some bad, some "normal" but all have the ability to change the dynamics of their learning opportunities. In the above cases, every one of the thoughts came from someone in my immediate or extended family. The "real life" of our students touches us all.

Every day our students come into our school buildings living a life beyond your classroom walls. While school is a large portion of a student's day (school learning/events, etc takes up anywhere between 50- 60% of the average students daily "awake" time), their out of classroom experiences have a magnified effect on their learning potential for any given day. Let us be mindful to see our students as individuals each day. Let us show grace, forgiveness, even some tough love, and help students find a path to success- not just academically but also emotionally and personally. Let us teach the whole child by knowing the whole child. Let being an educator never just become a "job" for us. Let us strive to be difference makers in spite of and because of all the extra issues.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

3 Ideas for Opening Your Classroom to Something Techtastic!

Every day I see teachers all over the EdTech spectrum- hesitant teachers and teachers "all in" regarding educational technology. As in many areas of life, we are all in different places in regards to our comfort levels, our "belief" in the abilities of technology, and our time available to devote to learning something new. With that in mind, here is a small list of suggestions to broaden/deepen/start technology in your classroom:
  1. Pick one thing to try this year that is tech-based. Perhaps it's using the e-portfolio app, Seesaw to help your students keep a journal of their learning in your classroom this year. Perhaps it is allowing your students to create videos using Green Screen by DoInk to allow students to share their knowledge on a subject. Perhaps it's owning the collaborative value of using Google Docs/Drive and Notability for writing projects. The opportunities are endless, contact someone in your building that seems to be doing something interesting, or your friendly tech coach!
  2. Immerse your professional side in Twitter for educational purposes. It's fairly simple- create a twitter account- follow some hashtags that would benefit you as a professional and get to learning. When you see someone posting things that interest you, follow them. It isn't like Facebook- it isn't weird to follow people you don't know. Educators use Twitter to broaden their view on education, so the more people you follow from a variety of places, the stronger your ability to see various ideas! Hashtags can be specific to what you teach or what your current interests are- for instance, I enjoy participating in a variety of hashtag chats #edchat #gwinchat #BYOTchat #1to1techchat #edtech #edtechbridge and my personal favorite #TnTechChat but I can glean lots of information just catching up on the hashtags occasionally using Tweetdeck without adding into the conversation myself (we call that Twitter lurking but it isn't a bad thing). Not quite sure how to start? Download the Tweechme app to develop your PLN (personal learning network) created by Susan Bearden.
  3. Ask! Seems simple, right? Do you have a lesson plan that could use a little UMPH? Do you have students that struggle consistently in a certain area? If you have a curriculum coordinator, a tech coach, or a fellow teacher that seems to have a handle on tech in the classroom- ask them what they would suggest! I enjoy being asked into classrooms to just observe. Often, because of what I do, I can think of ways that technology might enhance a certain lesson plan or even aid a certain student. Perhaps, start with a lesson plan that feels like it's a bit lackluster and grow it with the support of technology. Technology doesn't always fit but ask around to see what might help.
Simply stated- start simple. Find support. Take a chance. Knock down the walls of your classroom. Engage. CONNECT. CONSUME. CREATE. CURATE. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Finding Magnitude for Your Tiny Voice

There are times when, as educators, we are called to be the champion of others. Sometimes it is for a student, sometimes it is for a fellow educator, occasionally it is even for a parent. When the word "champion" is used we think of someone sweeping in to be the superhero. According to Merriam-Webster a champion is "someone who fights or speaks publicly in support of a person, belief, cause, etc." The majority of the time we think of being a champion as a positive experience. It is why I serve on the East Tennessee board of JDRF- to raise money to find a cure for type 1 diabetes. It is why I am looking forward to speaking at educational technology conferences for the next few months- to give helpful encouragement and insights to the idea of technology as a supportive role in the classroom. 

BUT, being a champion isn't always easy. For every champion's cause, there is another side. Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, St. Paul, Malala Yousafzai, even the three middle school fictional characters in the book/movie "Hoot" (a film about saving owls) had to give magnitude to their tiny voice.

I believe at some time or another we have all experienced the moment when everything inside us was waring about saying something OUT LOUD. For me, when I actually hear that tiny voice hesitantly escape my lips it often even sounds somewhat like the 7-year-old Julie of my past. It usually comes out with a little quivering sound in my throat as I am anxious about the affects of speaking the words. And then it gains magnitude.

This year, as a technology coach/coordinator, I find myself feeling the need to stand up for teachers' desires and what's best for the students quite often. While some people might say "yeah right," it really isn't my nature to rock the boat. I've lived status quo at my school for many happy years. As both my role and the role of technology in the classroom have evolved, I find myself riding the seesaw of pushback and acceptance; weighing the options and listening- ever listening.

In this year I've found myself more than ever before digging deeper to encourage that tiny voice to speak up. I also know the things I say aren't always popular. Now, I'm no Rosa Parks but in my own little education world I realize innovation means taking chances. Going against the norm or pushing back has to be balanced with being seen as a "team player" in my world as well. The seesaw, again, goes up and down- aggressively at times.

Not all educators feel comfortable allowing their tiny voice to escape. For whatever reason- financially, professionally, or personally- they can't find the magnitude to say what they feel. I get that. I'm not going to lie, this weekend when J.C. Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, labeled me among some amazing Tennessee educators with this statement, "I am very optimistic about public education in my state. On the horizon there are some great young educators within Tennessee that will positively influence the dialogue about public education. They are incredible advocates for children and collaborate with their colleagues by sharing ideas, thoughts, and providing support." I felt encouraged and acknowledged. We won't digress on the fact he also called me "young" and hinted I was a public school educator even though I am not now. ;)

I share all this to say, there is value in educators finding their tiny voice. While we must always shrewdly pick our battles, we are in the battlefields and we see the injustices (both big and small) going on around us. We should let that little quivering voice escape sometimes, even when it's not easy, in order to get to the greater good. I'm not going to lie, there are days I wonder "will this statement get me in trouble" as it passes through my lips but I don't willy-nilly push back and I know that if I am valued as an employee, EdTech leader, and educator then those that sign my paycheck also know I want what is best for our students overall. 

I challenge you to find your tiny voice and give it magnitude- even if it's just in the form of a blog that helps you think things through.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Blended Learning: A Well Oiled Machine or Busy Individual Cogs?

Blended Learning- Lots of hype, lots of varieties, lots of experimentation- success imminent.

 For this blog, we will use the following definition from the Christiansen Institute: Blended learning is not the same as technology-rich instruction. It goes beyond one-to-one computers and high-tech gadgets. Blended learning involves leveraging the Internet to afford each student a more personalized learning experience, meaning increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of his or her learning. The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: (1) at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; (2) at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; (3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

See more at:

As I have watched various teachers and grade levels integrate some level of blended learning in the form of centers/modalities/stations in their classroom I have also watch "best practice scenarios" develop. This blog is an attempt to help educators learn from someone already mucking through the details. Station rotation models are our main form of blended learning here at Chattanooga Christian School. Here is a list of helpful hints:

1. Noise cancelling headphones. Not all students do movement and noise in a classroom well. My ADHD daughter taught me this one when she first started taking part of a class with flipped-learning homework. For students that are doing work on a device where they don't have to listen, it might help them to wear noise cancelling headphones to keep them focused. Perhaps this just means that you suggest that students wear their personal headphones/earbuds during digital instruction time- it doesn't have to be TRUE noise cancelling headphones to be effective. 
2. Spend some time focusing on transitions. Maybe it means setting a timer for students to understand how long transitions from one rotation to another should take. Maybe it means saying "by the time I start small group instruction, everyone in "digital instruction" should be already to log in. Maybe it means saying "you will always move to the modality on your left and you have 2 minutes to be actively engaged in that rotation."
3. Digital instruction goals for each rotation. This might be hard to do but a "checklist" for things to be accomplished at the digital instruction rotations is helpful for the students and is useful for the teacher. It helps teachers by "forcing" students to use time wisely. Maybe it looks like, "by the time you finish this rotation you should have worked through 2 sets of problems" or, "by the time this rotation is over, you should have your opening paragraph/graphic organizer/3 slides etc completed."
4. Expectations of accountability in digital instruction. "Yes this does count for a grade." Many digital instruction websites now show you exactly how much time a student has spent on their website. Here me say this: Accessing and analyzing the digital instruction pieces of a blended learning model is essential to a successful implementation. If your technology rotations are just so your students have something to do so you can do small group instruction you are often better off using the traditional model of whole group instruction. In other words, there is a large possibility that those 20 minutes are now wasted in furthering their learning and it's just a babysitter without clear expectations and accountability that those expectations are being met. This is on the teacher- reviewing your technology-based instruction on a regular basis is pertinent to success. Research shows that well down blended learning has positive results, in my estimation this is one of the major "breakdown pieces" between good and bad implementation.
5. Consistent rotation expectations. Students need structure and from the outside looking in, blended learning doesn't always look structured. As much as possible, create "organized chaos." While the dynamics of the rotations themselves might change, having a "theme" for each rotation helps students wrap their head around the next step. For instance, naming rotations broad names like: "Teacher Instruction", "Digital Instruction", "Inquiry", "PBL", "Peer-to-Peer", etc. This allows the students to have a general expectation before they sit down and change gears. Visibly posting those names at the rotation center helps as well. Having set expectations for each center is important. For example, at a Digital Instruction rotation, making sure the students know the rules of using technology in your classroom is important. Maybe it means that they know they are always to be positioned where you can see over their shoulders from your Teacher-led rotation? 

As I follow the reports from groups like the Christensen Institute and Getting Smart, I know that their are blended learning initiatives that are creating crazy positive results. As I see the preliminary data from our school, I am encouraged. I can't help but get excited when I see teachers constantly trying to make each portion of their blended learning classrooms better for their students. I can't help but get excited when I talk with teachers about how technology is streamlining their workflow in their classrooms. I get excited when I see teachers working solutions by asking parent volunteers to come work the room during math instruction time to keep students on task when using technology.  I can't help but get excited to see open-minded educators trying new things. Clear eyes, full hearts- can't lose.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Beauty of Students Using Mass Emailings

It's digital citizenship month and we tend to be focusing on protecting/preparing/preserving our students' identities from the "bad stuff." But this morning I had this moment that reminded me that students use the power of the Internet for GOOD a lot too.

One of my favorite chuckles when talking to my 16 year old this summer was when she said, "Mom, no one ever uses email anymore." Granted in her world of technology for communication, this is basically correct. She contacts her friends via snapchat, texting, Skype, and FaceTime. As a rule, teenagers don't use email to communicate with each other except when they need to get information to or from a teacher, etc. 

But this morning, my junior daughter that said that this summer was getting ready for school, her uniform was on and she was in my sock drawer looking for red socks. In our community, a neighboring school tragically had a death of an athlete while in the pool. Many schools in our area are showing their support for the family and friends of Sumner Smith by wearing red today (Baylor's school color). I asked her, "are you wearing red for Sumner?" and she said "yes." I said, "I didn't realize our school was doing that today." Her answer was, "I got an email from Hallie-Blair telling everyone to wear it." Hallie-Blair is a student in her grade. This got me thinking...There is also a member of her junior class that sends encouraging Bible verses/devotions out as well. 

We often give our students a bad rap for their inappropriate use of their digital environment but I am thankful for students that use it to change the culture around them for good as well. I'm sure there are other students that have done things like this that I am not aware of but how awesome is it that technology has allowed these nobel-minded students a path to touch the lives of those around them in a positive way in the midst of trial, crisis, or just weekly encouragement?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Problem with Checklists

I'm guilty. I just opened up my iPad case and 5 different lists of "things to do" fell out of it. We all need a source for organization and for me, writing it on a note ingrains it in my head, but that isn't the type of checklist I am talking about in this blog. I am talking about "integration checklists." IF we say "you have to use this, this, and this in your classroom" we are doing two things:

  1. Stiffling the creativity of teachers that look beyond the things they have been taught.
  2. Placing criteria for tech use into a checklist of "done this" which never leads to "tech inteGREATion." 
My views on this have changed over the years. In year one of having 3 iPad carts in the elementary school, the "requirements" were two projects based on current units of study with the technology coach. I'll be honest, I think the idea had massive value in that first year to push some teachers out of their comfort zone with a bit of handholding or to support teachers excited about the thought of technology but nervous about implementing alone. Year 2- the same "requirements" were there but I also saw an influx of teachers wanting to implement technology in their "centers"- blended learning began! We are at year 3 now and we started the year with the same "projects" requirement but for a few grades mandatory implementation of tech-based math instruction has also been added. Now that there is a comfortability for most of the teachers the struggle is "we want more iPad time and more iPads." I find myself researching for them more than ever before because they are thinking outside the box at "what if" ideas. I rarely have to twist arms or remind them of the "requirements."

Where am I now in what things should look like in the future? I think we are ready to move to expectations based on standards. Currently I see myself perusing the ISTE standards for teachers and students. I see next year perhaps looking differently with what can be seen as a bit more freedom for creativity. Next year, perhaps, we will base requirements on standards with concrete examples from the tech coach on ways to meet those standards. 

It has been exciting to see teachers wanting more iPads and iPad time for their classroom. It's been exciting to see the revelation of what technology can accomplish in the elementary classroom as well. Not everyone is "all in" and that is alright but some of our teachers are all up in the R of SAMR. 

I'm thankful for transformational classrooms that I have gotten to be a part of the planning of implementation. I'm thankful for teachers that are owning implementation. And I am thankful for the hesitant ones that make me dig deep and force me to prove the worth- it's always good to be reminded why you do what you do and what you believe in. I believe in technology coaching collaboration, using technology to support learning, and seeing technology used for consumption, curation, connection, and creation on a regular basis that makes some students super excited about learning.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Elementary Typing Dilemma- I have probz.

3 years ago we ditched the elementary computer lab (which I still lament at times) and I changed from a "related arts teacher" to a "technology coach." Picking up the coaching model has had great results in the elementary school in taking giant strides in seeing technology integration. All grade levels use the iPad carts for some level of instruction (but that's a whole other blog post in the making).

The one thing that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle between routine tech classes and "as needed" tech teaching/support is KEYBOARDING. Research shows that the best way to implement keyboarding is for students to get in 20 completely engaged minutes 3 days a week. Even when I was a related arts teacher, that didn't happen but grades 1-5 got anywhere from 20-35 minutes once a week for the entire school year back then.

We've had 3 years since the lab disappeared. In year 1, we just dropped keyboarding but by the end of the year it was obvious to me and to the teachers that this was a mistake. When a teacher assigned just one paragraph of typing, being in that classroom watching students hunt and peck like chickens and ask "Where's the question mark?" made my skin crawl, my eye twitch, and my pride yell "NOOOOO!" And as predicted, the next school year the sixth grade teachers begged me to find a way to put keyboarding back into the curriculum.

Last year I sat down with 4th and 5th grade teachers and thanks to their ability to see the need for keyboarding instruction, they figured out a way to get it back into the curriculum for 6 weeks. The problem is, they all had to give up valuable instructional time to do it. As flexible as this was of them, I realized it wasn't fair for me to limit their instructional time for this. And whether you believe me or not, keyboarding doesn't teach itself even if there are great technology resources out there. Most of this article resonants with my heart right now.

So this year I thought we had an answer and I was so very excited. Keyboarding would be brought into the Library/Technology Related Arts rotation but this just isn't happening well for a myriad of reasons, including my failure to follow up on a regular basis. The bottom line is the rotation schedule truly limits how much time can be used for keyboarding. When I look at what is best for our students, I have to be honest and say a love of reading is more important to me than fast typing skills. (It hurt to type that a bit though because it feels like I'm giving up).

My desire is that my fifth graders leave elementary school typing 25 words per minute or faster. If they can do that, they will be able to type faster than they can write and in our 1:1 environment, that's imperative. Maybe it will just happen this year with my fifth graders because they had 6 week so f instruction last year and they all have iPads for instruction this year with required to bring keyboards. I just don't know!

Do I need access to more technology? Do I need a stand-alone keyboarding instruction time? Do I just ask parents to have students practice keyboarding as part of homework (I HATE this idea)? Do I set minimum typing wpm expectations for grade level and leave it up to families? Do I force it? Do I let it go? Do I limp along this year and come up with a better plan for next year? I don't want to lose what the coaching model does for our school- if I start teaching it weekly it has the potential to change what I have worked hard to achieve for the last three years.

The struggle is real and the answers aren't clear. Any suggestions/ideas are appreciated!