Friday, April 29, 2016

Did we win?

Today as the elementary school ended its  field day with the ever famous grade level four way tug-of-war, like always I played my obligatory role of chief encourager of a team. This year it was team green... As each grade stepped up to the four-way rope and pulled their hardest I yelled "let's go green machines!" "You can do it!" "Dig in" etc. and inevitably my team didn't win and I sent team green back to their seats with high fives, "great jobs" and "it was so close!"...And then the fifth grade came. They pulled with all their might and they are actually experts at this because they have been doing it for years now. They came with gloves on, a plan of attack, and a thirst for victory. At one point it was so close to a victory for my beloved green team but alas when the whistle blew there was a pile of green on top of each other and two kids looked up at me and said "did we win?" I said, "No, I'm not sure who won but it wasn't us." To which one girl replied "WOW, IT REALLY FELT LIKE WE WON. I REALLY THOUGHT WE HAD."

I've been thinking on that all day. She was trying so hard, was so caught up in the moment it felt like she had won. And truthfully I was so caught up in the moment of encouraging those green machine kids I wasn't sure who had won.  Isn't this what learning should look like all the time? Students so caught up in the process that they may not even realize the end result when it happens? And teachers so caught up in their students that the end results are really superfluous to the path itself? 

I find myself being more and more challenged to create learning environments like that. As I study the value of formative assessments over summative assessments, competency based learning, personalization, and student voice and choice I imagine students so caught up in the learning all else fades away. I imagine driven behaviors because students are excited about what's before them. Is this a bunny dream world? Maybe a little, but I believe schools are not around for grown ups to have jobs but for kids to learn and succeed. If that's our first priority, what might happen?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sick Days

Sometimes as teachers we hurt. We have headaches, backaches, heart aches, and loss. But so much is dependent on educators being at school. In fact, it is often harder for educators to take a day off than it is to just work sick. Lesson plans for subs, the 3 days it takes to get your class back on track after an absence, and the catching up that has to be done often makes us want to muddle through.

It's been that kind of year for me. Illnesses and deaths of those close to me, chronic neck, back and shoulder pain for myself. I'm not myself. Things set me off quicker. Forgiveness comes slower. My ability to be engaging jazz hands in front of students and teachers isn't quite there. Stress from whatever source- from within the school or from outside affects us as educators. We must search for ways to dig deeper, find joy in the little things, or rest because muckiness begets muckiness and the cycle is a downward spiral.

I'm not good at not doing that which I am tasked to do. (Yes I know there were double negatives there).  But today I rest. Today I take a day to get better. I want to give my best every day. It's what I am called to do. But the truth is just like parents aren't always their best, students aren't always their best, neither am I. I am human. I make mistakes, I have faults, I fail people, I am not always on my "A-game." We are all that way.

We get frustrated when things don't run as a well-oiled machine. We get frustrated when we have to deal with the faults and bad decisions of others. We get frustrated when everyone isn't there pulling their weight. It's human nature to expect the team members to be playing their positions as posted. Today is a day when I am smacked in the face with the fact that life doesn't always go as planned. And even the most well meaning person isn't perfect nor will they always be the perfect employee. We must give and take, be there for others, listen and adjust and grow from the moments when we are our weakest. And we must offer the same kind of understanding to those we work with. Today I rest and reflect and hope to go back tomorrow better in so many areas of my life.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bridging the Curriculum and Technology Gap

I'll be honest 5 years ago I had no idea what ISTE or ASCD were. I was a content part-time elementary computer teacher asking kids not to peck during keyboarding and throwing in some Microsoft Office Suite skills for the future. I was plugging along happily allowing my students to have the last ten minutes of class to play "games" like Rockner's Bad Day, Scratch, and Paint. Life was simple if not a wee bit boring.

Even before I started teaching, "Oregon Trail" was a very engaging video game in 1971 for students to learn basics about the east-west emigrant route. It didn't replace the need for a lot more direct instruction for students to learn the ins and outs of the expansion to the west  though. Much like the Oregon Trail scenario most technology-based options were not robust enough to be an integral part of a curriculum in any course we taught. But times they are a changing!

Here we are in 2016 and software is becoming adaptive to student learning, more robust in its offerings, easier to gather data from, and a cost efficient alternative to textbook adoptions or the software/app is completely inline with adopted textbooks. Times are changing. Who looks at what resources drive classroom instruction is changing too. The pool of lookers is growing- both technologists and curriculum specialists bring value to these conversations.

In a recent twitter chat I said "a4b: I also think in the future the lines will become more and more blurred between tech and curriculum ." It's something that crosses my mind regularly. As more technology is part of the curriculum of the classroom, more and more curriculum-based questions are asked of me. I've thought long and hard about a doctorate in curriculum to prepare for this shift. Interestingly, the same night I posted the above tweet, I saw a curriculum specialist with the same worries I have- becoming obsolete because of a lack of skills set. For him, his fear was he wasn't tech savvy enough. It was an "aha" moment for me. What does this mean for the future of curriculum leadership? I think more slowly than it should, technology integration classes will be a big part of curriculum education programs. 

Don't even get me started on what the "perfect" librarian, STEM coordinator, or even teacher evaluation criteria should look like. Tech is changing the typical skill sets needed to prepare students for the future- whether we like it or not.

But what about the here and now? How do we who are in the workplace remain relevant and continue to grow into the roles as they progress? I fear being an SMH educator. What's that? "Shaking My Head" educator. You know what I mean. You read a tweet, an email, hear a dissenting remark that just makes you shake your head at the personality. The one so far in the past or so caught up in themselves they can't see value in lifelong learning, acceptance of change or personal/educational growth. 

Do I have fears, sure do. I see technology getting so broad in what it can do that it is becoming harder and harder for me to feel like I can support it. I am an instructional technologist without a computer science background and I have no coding skills. Is this going to be the future of my job? In my world it's important to stay on the cusp of understanding of what's out there. It's almost every day that I get pleasantly surprised by some platform or software that I didn't know existed that can meet a need that I currently see in my school. Staying on the bleeding edge of knowledge is an anxious place to be. Wondering if you are suggesting the best scenarios that will last for at least a few years is a constant thought pattern. Being relevant is huge. 

I am thankful for working with a team of educators both within my district and on social media that helps me flesh out who I am and where I'm going. It's a rollercoaster ride of morphing curriculum and needs constantly!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Letter to Me as a First Year Tech Coach

You know that whole saying "I wish I knew then what I know now"? Wouldn't redo's be awesome? So here is my letter to the Julie that embarked into the world of tech coaching 4 years ago....

Dear Julie,
I love that you have stars in your eyes and passion in your heart to help teachers integrate technology in your elementary school, that's going to serve you well and get you through some hard times. Always remember that desire. 

You're going to have to become a little thicker skinned. Many people don't value what you are trying to accomplish. This is going to surprise you but your naïveté in this area will help you for a few years. Don't become bitter or write people off, focus on the small successes. Those people that push back the hardest just need to be heard and understood. They think you are trying to force them to do something, and a lot of them will always feel that way. 

Remember your job is built on relationships. Build those, affirm successes and help in the trenches in the midst of problems. Resolving issues will open doors for you. Keep pulling those doors open and offering ideas. 

You're going to miss being with students on a regular basis, you're going to miss the interactions and relationships of teaching and seeing growth year after year but you'll adjust. You'll look for opportunities to have relational moments with the students. The upside is that the kids love when you walk in a room because technology tends to be so engaging. That helps.

You should try Twitter earlier- not only is it going to help you in problem solving and idea making, you're going to develop friendships with people that are going to encourage you through the tough days. You're also going to realize you're good at what you do because of that passion and relationship model you've been working on. Others are going to recognize you're good at what you do to, that's going to give you a sense of purpose on the days you're stuck in the muck- and there will be a lot of them. You don't know now how many people really feel like you are forcing something on them, but you will. It's going to shock you. You could be a little less passionate to the entire world about edtech at times, that might help.

People have a hard time seeing your "balance" and quite honestly you aren't very balanced right now. You are pushing tech so much that from the outside looking at you, it's like you think a lesson isn't good without it. While it is your job to help others integrate technology, you need to remember teachers need to know you see the need to not have technology at times too. You'll get better at'll teach lessons to your students about balance and screen time but right now you're perceived as a vigilante. Bring it down a notch or two. 

That being said, don't take pushback personally- that's going to be really hard for you (you are going to cry way too much). And give up some of those control instincts you have- a noisy classroom isn't necessarily a bad thing! Students collaborating is going to blow your mind in the future. It's an amazing thing to watch.

You are going to have to learn to be flexible through this and that's not your strongsuit. Technology is always changing...don't bank on one device, app, website or lesson plan. You are always going to be in a fluid environment. Rolling with the punches and adapting is what's going to make you good at what you do. You're going to learn to meet teachers/administrators where they are and move them forward. 
You're going to write a blog, be asked to speak at conferences, and build relationships outside the 4 walls of your school but don't forget you love your school and that's your first priority. Treat those you work with with respect and honor and listen. Try to complain less  when things don't go as you were hoping. Again... Remember find your balance.

Lastly, give up on the SAMR model sooner. It just doesn't work for you AND THAT'S OK. Focus on transforming classrooms, stations, blended learning, and your four C's- CREATION, CONSUMPTION, CONNECTION, CURATION. Those are the things that are going to resonate with your teachers. 

You've got this. Keep growing and learning to help yourself and those you serve. You're going to get to year 4 and think "oh my word, what was I thinking?" Just keep failing forward and learn from your mistakes. And pray... That's going to help you more than this letter.

You are loved,

Monday, April 4, 2016

When an Edutechie's mind won't shut down...

Can being a connected educator be a bad thing? Hear me out. Every year at this time of year I find myself in an edufunk. What's an edufunk? It's that moment when you realize that some of the goals you had for the school year are not going to come to fruition. It's when you feel like you have been swimming upstream and you are just weary. It happened last March for me and now again this year. So I find myself reflecting.

I consider myself a hard core connected educator- like if I did tattoos, it might claim that on my forearm. Just kidding, but you get my love for connection. Being a connected educator helps me grow professionally, vet ideas for the future, reflect and evolve to better myself. Just like with all information on the internet, the amount of good stuff I see happening in schools or new ideas I see is overwhelming at times. The upside for me is that I can share the things I learn about with MANY different teachers. I'm not trying new things on the same students over and over.

I believe there is value in the tried and true. Many of our students need consistency in learning because constant change throws them into a state of disruption. Some kids just don't like change. I have a daughter like that. I am someone that loves surprises and I thrive on change and the unexpected, she melts down. For a while (much longer than I would like to admit) I saw this as a limitation for her and tried to change her. I now realize it takes all types to make the world go round. I push for new/different opportunities and she thrives in sameness.

I think it is good for her to be pushed out of her comfort zone some, but it is also good for me to find the balance in routine. This is where I think some teachers are pushing the innovation envelope too far. We, as educators, should always be trying new things to better meet the needs of our students but we also need consistency to know what works and what doesn't.

There is such a great wealth of teaching ideas and strategies out there for us on social media but we have a responsibility to curate that information. Some educators "ooo" and "ahh" over every new idea they see. I think owning a few new concepts and ideas yearly is a better direction for innovation. What are your goals?

  • Do you want your students to be more connected to the outside world? Perhaps blogging, mystery Skype, or contacting an author/skilled subject matter expert while teaching the skill of business letters and email etiquette would be a good thing to take on.
  • Do you want your students to create ways to share their learning other than a test? Perhaps give your students opportunities to do a slide share, podcast, or video and grade them based on a rubric. 
  • Do you want your students to learn how to do research on a subject matter and curate information? Try these search education plans or teach them how to use Show them databases that your school has access to that will help them find quality information.
  • Do you want more opportunities to consume reading and videos for learning? Try accessing OER options like, khan academy, youtube, and SAS Curriculum Pathways. 

Technology definitely can add some depth to your lessons but there is a need to be intentional in it's use. Pedagogy before technology best meets needs.