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?