Sunday, January 28, 2018

Embracing Myself as an Educator- like it or not.

The last two years I have struggled with how I am seen as an educator. Not because I don't think there is a need for instructional technologists, I believe they provide a vital role in today's world of educational technology integration. I believe wholeheartedly that the skills of the instructional technologist will be a link between the past, present, and future of of education.

I'm old enough to remember no tech. I fully lived in the world of being educated preK-12 in a no tech world. I'm also old enough to remember sitting in a lab in college learning about a thing called MS dos. Unlike many of my educator friends, I decided to become an educator in my 30's after life as an accountant and stay at home that time I learned what it meant to use technology in the classroom. For me it was awkward because I was so non-prepared. And oddly my first job was to teach about computers at the high school level. Ha! And yet here I am on what has been a rollercoaster ride with a masters in instructional technology and this crazy whirlwind of championing, embracing, evangelizing, responding, reacting, predicting, developing a program of what good tech integration looks like in a school I love.

But as I said, I have struggled. The label of a tech integrationist makes some people angry or maybe more fairly "uncomfortable" with the concept. Not just at my school but in the world at large I often feel what I in the hands of children...puts me on a battlefield. Because of this push back I've waffled back and forth between "trumpeting loudly the edtech horn" and "quietly letting my voice stay inside me and picking my battles." The spectrum that I have traversed between has left me weary. I've tried very hard to find myself and in some ways there are times I felt I have actually lost myself in the process. And here I am on the other side of the struggle. I reflect that who I am seen as and who I feel like I am often felt like a conflict.

The interesting thing is as I've felt this conflict I truly have changed. And with this change comes a bit of sadness as well. I've lost my label. In 2015 I was seen as an edtech evangelist. Sharing tidbits and thought processes on this blog about tech integration. In the last few years my blog feels more a justifying of edtech. While I believe it is important to focus on the why to aid others to see the value, I find myself focusing so much on this aspect that I often am no longer an edtech herald. So I myself am wondering if one is better than the other. Have I adjusted out of fear or wisdom? What role best serves my students? Who am I and who should I be?

Last week I was sitting in a workshop at FETC in Orlando and one of the presenters said, "When I went into consulting I thought I was entering the world of edtech consulting but I find much of what I do and lead is in regards to leadership now. Helping others be who they need to be in this industry." That resonated with me. I could totally see that. One of the hardest parts of being in the role of innovation is the disruptive value it brings to education and the fear that others might see me as the disruptor by placing the potential of change onto a person. I've learned to be thick-skinned and I celebrate small victories of acceptance. My goal forward is that the transparency I choose to adopt as an educator will keep open doors to:

  • engage the school community in the exploration, discussion, and assessment of educational technology and my desire to work collaboratively across the school to leverage and expand existing efforts into an intentional program for faculty support.
  • continue to herald the value of integrating technology well and be a help to those both inside and outside my school building.
  • to be balanced. I realized when school started back this month and I was working with teachers regarding their project based learning units that the words "tech" had not left my mouth through half of the day. In fact, it was a teacher that asked inquisitively "but what about technology, you want us to use it right?" because she was wondering why I was doing the PBL talking, I'm sure. I had this actual weird moment where I was like "Of course, but you all look for opportunities to use it where it is needed anyway, I didn't feel the need to remind you." And it felt good. No, it felt right. There was no doubt that not only was I heralding pedagogy before technology but that I had felt that my fellow teachers were there as well. It stayed with me as a glow for the rest of the day and evening.
  • to not give up when faced with discouragement. To keep on keeping on.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

When an Educator Steps Out Of Her Edubox

I always thought of myself as an openminded, growth mindset kinda educator. In the last year I've even challenged myself to look for ways to get out of my educational technology silo. Then entered this strange opportunity for me...the Alexa Conference. Just when I was patting myself on the back for being chosen to present at ASCD Empower18 (which I deemed way out of my comfort zone) in comes an opportunity outside of education all together- an opportunity to give an educator's perspective regarding the Voice First world. Think Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, etc- any voice user interface...Now think programmers, thought leaders, and even a representative from the Federal Trade Commission. Yep, that was my audience. I didn't feel so open minded. I felt out of my league.

As a rule, being a public speaker is no big deal to me because I am passionate about education and the impact instructional technology that is well integrated can have on the learning process. But, Thursday was different. I would not have even known about the Alexa Conference if it had not been in my own wonderful city, Chattanooga, Tennessee. I saw the Alexa Conference was coming to Chattanooga and reached out to it's promoter- Bradley Metrock. Not only did he invite me but he asked me to speak! And what a crazy awesome opportunity it was.

I walked into the event not knowing a soul but was welcomed warmly. The first speaker, Kevin Old, of Lifeway Tech started off and I'll be honest, my palms started to sweat and I kept hearing in my head "I'm in over my head, I'm in over my head." Because Kevin was speaking Greek to me. I'm not a programmer or even really a novice coder. Fortunately for me, the conversations went back and forth from technical to practical all day and I gleaned so much out of an industry I knew so little about.

And then it was my turn to speak. It's been YEARS since I've heard that nervous voice come out of my mouth during a presentation but boy I felt it! This wasn't my tribe, they were from all over the world and I didn't speak their language but they listened. And they questioned. And they were kind. And I realized at the end of the session that I had actual giving them food for thought. ME? A mere instructional technologist with big ideas for education. I knew I brought value to the conference when Brian Roemmele, a voice first expert tweeted about what I was sharing.

I'm still blown away by the thought leaders in that room and the discussions that were had. I'm blown away by the fact that they acknowledge that Voice First is just beginning to be impactful on our world but they see the future because some of them are already creating it in their garages.

What this conference did for me was to show me bigger pictures and potential. It also empowered me to reach outside of my educational technology world even more to be a part of the innovation that is to come. I can't wait to see what the future holds and I have a few ideas myself that I'm going to work through to see if they could lead to anything feasible.

Thank you to Bradley Metlock and the presenters and attendees of #AlexaConf for exposing me to "different" and allowing me to expose you to the wonderful world of educational needs. It was a great time and I can't wait to try some of the things I learned! And educators, if you ever have a chance to speak outside of your comfort it!

My presentation can be found here: 

What kind of PD makes teachers smile? And on Saturday? EDCAMP

Year five of Edcamp GigCity is in the books. It was in a fabulous location- Red Bank Middle School in Chattanooga, TN- and it had fabulous attendees. According to the feedback form most left as very happy campers! (pun intended).

Things I learned:
  • Oops on the schedule. We accidentally used the schedule from 2 years ago instead of last year so the sign up said 9-2 but the day was laid out as 9-3. We also had adjusted times down to 45 minutes last year but the old schedule had the sessions at an hour. Our bad! We apologize for that oversight and promise it won't happen again.
  • Many hands make the burden light. WOW! What an amazing organizing committee we had this year. Being the lead for the last 3 years, I am finally learning how to delegate and trust the team. I was not disappointed. Sure am thankful for a wonderful group of fellow educators. What many people probably don't know is that this is all volunteer led and run, and Edcamp Gigcity is unique in that the organizers represent higher ed, lower ed, public, and private school sectors. I love that about our edcamp! This uniqueness opens the door for collaborative thinking way beyond the walls of the school house, the district, and even the city! I can't even begin to say how much I appreciate the following organizers that planned along with me this year:
    • Dr. Karen Adsit, Education Professor at The University of Tennessee of Chattanooga
    • Greg Bagby, Principal at Barger Academy
    • Jim David, STEM School administrator 
    • Kimberly Elbakidze, Computer Science Instructor at Red Bank Middle School
    • Evonne Hackett, Technology Teacher at Lakeview Middle School
    • Julie King, Middle School Librarian at The Baylor School
    • Arthur Williams, K-5 Instructional Technologist at Lakeside Academy
  • We need to make sure we explain how edcamps work a little better for new attendees. Often people are a bit overwhelmed by the "no presenters" and "rule of 2 feet" if it is their first edcamp. We need to make sure we provide more insight on how edcamps got started and why it is so organic in nature.  
  • The EdCamp philosophy makes people smile. All day long I watched as people moved around from room to room at EdCamp Gigcity with smiles on their faces. I couldn't help but ask myself, "Is this what you see when you lead PD at school?" And I answered myself (because I'm weird like that) "Not usually." So why do educators like edcamps? I have 3 theories:
    • Choice- Educators are at least college graduates and sometimes/often even have advanced degrees...they love Edcamps because they get to choose what they learn about instead of being forced into a PD that may or may not interest, help, or pertain to them. 
    • Voice- Educators get to ask questions and share their concerns and fears in a safe non-threatening environment. The beauty of our edcamp is that it isn't "district led" so the voices they are in a room with aren't necessarily the ones they usually hear from so it adds a freedom to learn from others. The value of being heard is important to everyone, the nature of edcamps is active participation no matter what your level of understanding. 
    • Free- The event is free, the food is free, and the door prizes are both awesome and free. How does that make an educator feel? VALUED. For some educators, they rarely have the opportunity to learn outside of their school building because of cost or time. Edcamps show teachers that they are appreciated and important by creating platforms for them to learn without other things hanging over them- like lesson plans for subs and money.
  • Being an #EdcampGigCity organizer make me a more connected educator. This is year five of our edcamp and every year I walk away with new edufriendships, knowledge, and ideas that I know I have a safety net for if I have more questions. Like all conferences, you get what you put into it. Allowing yourself to connect with others and hear what other schools and districts are doing brings value back to yourself and your school/district. I'm thankful for the opportunity to connect in such a big way to the Chattanooga are. #CHAedu

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Talking Social Media With Your Children

Today's adolescent does not communicate the way we do. Social media is one of the main ways of communication and our world morphs ever so slightly into different most popular choices. As a mom on the cusp of the social media world with adolescents I protected my children maybe too much at times. If I had pre-teens today I definitely wouldn't let them have social media accounts (to me the risk outweighs the gain) but I would start the social media world with my 13 year olds as soon as I could with accountability and talks. This blog post is to help with that navigation for interested parents.

 As a teen of the 80's I received my first telephone for my room at age 13. Land lines had been around a while but to have your own phone in your room wasn't something that my parents had as a luxury. The thing about land lines is that there was always this overriding sense of accountability because anyone in the house could pick up and listen in at any moment (and some people were really good at doing it in stealth mode).

Cue the teen of the 90's and the mass use of the flip phone. The world of texting begins. A way to send short messages to others when talking wasn't practical. Also enters a generation of people that would rather tell you hard stuff in a text instead of facing the issue head on. Texting adds a facade of privacy and creates a boldness in saying things one might not say face to face. I struggled as a parent to allow my children to have their own phone. The accountability seemed so much harder.

Enter the new millennium and the smart phone. Not only can our children talk to whomever they want when they want but they have access to the world wide web at their fingertips all the time- including social media. I took the plunge, I had a recently diagnosed 11 year old with type 1 diabetes that I wanted to be connected with at all times. As a mom of a child with a life threatening disease, giving her a smartphone was a no brainer...and her 14 year old sister got one at the same time, naturally. (I hope you picked up on the sarcasm there- we were living in the day of my 14 year old being the ONLY player on her basketball team without her own phone). I was a late adopter for child connectedness for sure.

The thing is it wasn't like adults had the chance to navigate this first. It wasn't like teaching your child how to drive a car where we learned years ago and we knew the pitfalls. We were learning side by side through trial and error with our children. And the truth of the matter is, many parents have worse digital citizenship skills than the children.

One of the things I do when I talk to students about social media is give them the Philippians 4:8 litmus test. I have them look at what they are potential going to post through this lens:
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

So I share with you these questions that might be good to discuss with your children in regards to social media:

Is it true? Do I know the things I'm posting or reposting is truth? There is so much #fakenews out there. Even websites that purposefully post satirical fake news about the Christian faith, for instance. The website looks real, we trust what we see on someone else's page. Teach your child to question what they read and see. Show them how to hunt for the information on Google to see if any other sources quote it. Don't post things you are unsure about whether it be about a school mate or the president. 

Is it noble? We are all in this walk in the world together. The phrase "walk a mile in your brother's shoes" is important here. Social media allows us to quickly share gossip- real or unreal- like wildfire. Choose the path that leads to admiration. Would you want it to be said about you? The dictionary says noble means "having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals." Step away from the opportunities to tear down others whether you know them or not. 

Is it pure? Would you be ashamed if your grandma saw it? I'll never forget the day my 16 year old walked in the room and said, "Mom you know what will make you think hard about what you post of Instagram? When your grandma starts following you." And she did! My mom loves to see what is going on in the lives of her grandchildren. Would you want grandma to see this post? Could the post cause detriment to your character down the road? What are your motives for posting this? Is it for more likes? To build your self-esteem? Every post you make leaves a digital footprint that is far reaching into your future. Don't choose to post something today that might impact your future self.

Is it praiseworthy? Who do you seek praise from? What is your goal in posting? Is it to boast or is it to share your excitement? Do a heart check. What is the reason I want to share this? Being boastful and prideful on social media magnifies this character flaw. A key thing to remember with social media is that we are seeing everyone's "highlight reel." If you are comparing your life with what you see on social media you aren't seeing the whole picture. Keep that in mind when you are making a choice on what to share or judging what others have shared. If you are seeking to feel "better" or "more" by using social media you will be disappointed. Make sure you seek your praise from worthy places, for me- it is my desire to not seek the praise of man but of God. Reminding myself of that is important. 

Is it lovely? Is this moment worthy of just enjoying and not posting for all to see? Should I protect this from scrutiny? Is there a reason I need to share this very special time in my life? Is it going to make the moment better? Could it possibly take away from the moment and the memory? Don't forget to be "all in." Remind yourself to set the phone down and enjoy the here and now. The missed opportunity of being engaged in life is so much bigger than the chronicling of every moment. Be purposeful in stepping away from the device. Focus on the lovely and sometimes savor it deep inside you without sharing it. There is nothing wrong with that.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Value of Literature

I'm side tracking from my usual blog posts because I have a story that I need to release from my inner being. On December 5, 1997 I was 34 weeks into my pregnancy with my second child and I started spotting. Being absolutely clueless that anything could truly be really wrong I called the doctor and he told me to go to the hospital. I packed the diaper bag for my 18 month old, called my husband to come get us and nonchalantly called my mother- who being much more in touch with the real world said "I'll meet you there."

I was taken back and immediately they used the monitor to find the heartbeat of our baby. There wasn't one. The shock that followed was immense. There was no indication whatsoever that there was anything possibly wrong with this baby or this pregnancy until that morning. All ultrasounds appeared normal, I had one completely normal child, it wasn't on my radar that anything could be wrong. We were then told that we would have to deliver the baby and I was taken to a delivery room and given meds to cause me to go into labor. I remember asking, "can't you just take it?" but the answer was no and the process began. The waiting room filled up with our friends and family in shock with us. I mourned. And then the geneticist walked into the room to do a second ultrasound. As she started explaining what she saw, including the fact that it was a girl (which we had chosen not to know up to that point), she explained all the birth defects she was seeing. Our sweet Grace Morrow  Davis had a cleft lip, a shriveled hand, a club foot and the kicker was the cyst on the side of her neck that was bigger than her head and probably caused the heart failure that led us to the hospital that day because her heart couldn't pump enough blood through it and the rest of her body without going into distress. Baby Grace was riddled with birth defects (and these were just the ones that they could see on the ultrasound) and I was completely unprepared for the next few hours. Quite honestly, I feared her.

After countless hours of labor it was time to deliver our Grace. My doctor was out of town but another doctor who I loved dearly and who had delivered our Jessica came into the room. He had known me for years because I had actually been his accountant. He sweetly came into the room, rubbed the top of my head and asked if I was ready. I wasn't, but it was time. My mom stood on one side of me and my husband on the other. We had made a pact, none of us were going to look at her at the birth, we would look at her together. As I started pushing the most startling thing ever happened, baby Grace exploded out of my body spraying the room with all the things that come along with birthing. Dr. Ordonez was as shocked as we were and he was covered in blood. And then nothing happened. There was no small cry that I had been hearing from the other rooms around my birthing room. There was no excitement and joy. There was quiet- the loudest quiet I had ever experienced. The nurse whisked the baby out of the room, the doctor left with her and I wailed. I hadn't really let loose until then but it was like I had been hoping beyond hope that they all were wrong. They were not.

Dr. Ordonez comes back into the room and tells the nurses to prepare me for a D&C procedure. My mom hugs me, my husband holds my hand and I am wheeled into the hallway outside the operating room where my delivery nurse walks up and says "I know you wanted to see her but if you are considering having any more children I would suggest you don't. She looks like a monster." And in that split second I looked at my husband and made a decision that would be with me for the rest of my life. I said, "I don't want to see her. The vision I have in my head is of a perfect child." They wheeled me into the OR and I looked at my doctor and said "I'm about to be sick." He said, "put her under." My next memory is of my mom going off on a group of nurses wheeling me into a hospital room because they were trying to transfer me to a bed but the IV was pulling out of my arm because they forgot I had it in. I heard my mom saying "hasn't she been through enough" and saw a large majority of my family standing behind her in shock. I fell asleep in grief.

The next day a hospital psychiatrist came by and tried to lead me through the decision of whether or not to look at Grace before I left the hospital. She politely weighed the options for me to have that time with her and when it was all said and done my husband and I decided to have photos made of her to look at "one day" if we chose to. We never touched her or saw her. We then had a graveside burial service for her and that chapter of our life shut with the same feeling of shock as it began 2 days before.

To this day that time of my life feels much like a bad dream. Surreal with very real emotions. There are a lot of extra stories I could add here, both humorous and sad, about the next few days but lets just leave it with it was the hardest thing I had ever been through. To this day I have a beautiful box sitting in the corner of my kitchen that contains all the cards we received during that time and somewhere deep within is a sealed envelope with photos of Grace Morrow Davis, who never took one breathe on this earth, that my husband and I have never looked at even though she would now be 20 years old.

I was immediately angry with God and then trying to make sense of it all I decided it was what was best for Grace because she would not have had the quality of life we would have wanted for her had she lived. For 20 years I have wrapped my head around that idea and tucked it away and then 2017/2018 happened. God works in strange and mysterious ways and uses others and things to talk to us and through us. Social media gets a bad reputation but it can also be used for good. Time and time again my life shows the rollercoaster ride that social media can cause.

In 2017 I watched another much younger mom sharing the lose of her child that immediately reopened that time period of my life with Grace. I reached out to her on social media and loved her as best I could. I also watched another younger mother give birth to triplets- one of which had a cleft lip and saw her acceptance and love for him as he was and their journey in getting it fixed for him. In 2017 I saw a chapel talk posted on social media given by a senior at CCS that has craniofacial anomalies and watching that shook me to the core. The joy she had in her life due to the love she has for her heavenly father, the support she has from her amazing family and her ability to focus her life on the positive allowed me to look at her and think to myself "she is perfect." All the 20 years of what I had been telling myself about Grace started pushing against me like a storm. All the guilt I had from never holding her and somehow letting her know I loved her (at least in my mind) came crashing in around me. And so I started to let myself look differently at what I had held as beliefs about her and I started to look for ways to open my mind farther. Here enters the book called Wonder by RJ Palacio, which by the way is currently in theaters as a movie and on my list to see- but maybe from my sofa.

I'll be honest, I wanted to read it at a time when I could allow my emotions to come if they needed to so I had been putting off reading this book until Christmas break. Our sixth graders had read it first semester and been given some amazing experiences by actually communicating with the author. It was in the forefront of my brain as a must to read most of this school year. If you aren't familiar with it this is how School Library Journal describes it: "August, nicknamed Auggie, is a 10-year-old with a facial deformity that causes others to avoid and even shun him. When he enters a mainstream school, Auggie must learn to cope with difficult new situations and new people. The narrative is told from the perspectives of Auggie, his new friends, his sister, and her boyfriend. Steele's Auggie is raspy, quick, and delivered in a conversational tone, while Rudd and Podehl give a full range of vocal performances that bring the remaining characters to full light. α(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted."

Isn't it interesting when a long held belief or idea is suddenly shook as possibly not right in our lives? Or we live to a ripe age of 48 (like myself) and we realize something for the first time and we think "how did I not know that?" That's where I am. These sequence of events with the final culminating event of reading the book Wonder has caused me to question all the things I had accepted regarding Grace and why she did not live. But in that questioning, for the first time ever I have also come to a place where I realize I don't have to have a reason any more. With everything that happens in our life we often feel we need to know the WHY. As an educator I actually am on a quest to start discussions and lessons with the WHY because it helps with acceptance.  But here I am saying I don't feel like I need to know the WHY of Grace anymore. I also feel like had she lived, she would have brought value to my life but even in death she has brought value to my life as she has caused me to see life for the fragile moment it is. She has caused me to empathize with the lives of others and support them through some hard times. She has caused me to see beauty as something so much deeper than accepted social norms. 

I sit here writing this post and thinking about those photos in that beautiful box. I'm toying with the idea of taking them out and looking at them. Here is what I know, due to the book Wonder and the chapel talk of Elsie Corbett I know that if I looked at those photos today I would be able to view them differently than in the past. Circumstances change us but so does literature. I find myself questioning "what is normal? and who defines it? And maybe just maybe those that aren't normal are what brings wonder to this world."

When students tell me they hate reading I find myself thinking "you just haven't found something that resonates with your soul. Be patient my friend. Keep trying." I'm thankful for the love of reading that is inside of me and for the gifted authors that help me to see outside of my comfort zone both personally and professionally.  

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Authentic Embedded Professional Development? It's possible.

Professional development- Before you start throwing me shade and rolling your eyes and immediately go into "it's a waste of my planning time" hear me out. There are other ways to do it. Lately, I realized that not all of our teachers are familiar with the design thinking process. Inservice days are few and far between and teachers often need those days to prepare for the new semester. At our school we basically have them at the beginning of the school year, beginning of second semester, and at the end of the school year. All these times are terribly busy for educators. I'll be honest, I actually asked if I could use a 1/2 day in January for a Design Thinking Professional Development leader to come in and share with our teachers. Thankfully, our Lower School head of schools and our curriculum coordinator wanted to protect that time so the teachers could work in their classroom. I say thankfully because it caused me to have to become creative with how to do this.

So, we are starting a 5 week all school design thinking challenge. Each week the teachers will work through one of the 5 steps of design thinking  (this is a great link put together by one of our STEAM Business Partner's Bridge Innovate) with their students. I will send an email out to the teachers to explain the step and they will take their students to the following display on a prominent wall in the school and work on that week's step:

 I can't wait to get this design thinking opportunity underway. I hope that it proves to be beneficial to our students, teachers and possibly even our entire school as we reimagine our school and how to improve it! This challenge will create opportunities for our teachers to hit the ISTE Standards for Educators that include: Learner, Designer, and Facilitator. It will allow the students to tap into the ISTE Standards for Students that include: Global Collaborator and Innovative Designer. This challenge will also support the goals and professional development needed for our STEAM program to continue to grow forward. Stay tuned for more details. Below is an example of the email I sent out today to our teachers to explain the process and the WHY. I am striving this year to always start with the WHY.

Have you seen the "Designing CCS" display by the front office wall? So first of all we all owe a BIG thank you to Shonda and Myra for protecting our time to work so much in the classroom for the last two days. I know it is always helpful to start back with time to plan. That being said, Shonda and Myra didn't want to burden you with professional development learning during that time. We do desire for our school to have an understanding of the design thinking process that Jessica Yandell is utilizing during STEAM though. So what better way to learn about it than have an "all school" Design Thinking Challenge? 

Starting on Monday we are asking you to stop by the display sometime during the week with your class and come up with one area that relates to the CHALLENGE phase. Once your class comes to an agreement on what area you would like to see improvement, add your sticky note observation to the white page. It's ok if different classes pick the same thing. It's also ok to dream big. So your job is for your class to choose one photo and make observations about how to improve CCS. On your sticky note finish the following statement:
We can improve the CCS community by...

Each week we will go on to the next step and I will send an email out to you so you can see what the expectations are for that week. So while this is a learning process for your students, it is also a professional development opportunity for you. Win/win. 

Thank you for all you do to support STEAM at CCS and for the way you accept both Jessica and myself in this endeavor. Let's design CCS!