These past few months have been a whirlwind. In January, we held our first Saturday Academy which resulted in a request for more Saturday professional development. In February, I headed west to Portland, Oregon to present at AcceleratED and IntegratED - two conferences over three days put on by OETC. Right after that, I was off to Raleigh, NC for NCTIES - our state technology in education conference, and an ISTE affiliate. The energy there is always electric and this year there were over 4,000 in attendance! I did all of this while still managing the duties of my job as a Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist for New Hanover County Schools....oh yeah, and my other job as Mom.
So needless to say, I've been a little busy. I've also been a bit reflective as I mentioned in my last post. I've been popping into this blog to make notes and start draft after draft, never having much time to flesh out the ideas. While perusing them today as most of the district is out for spring break, I came across this one I started back in April of 2017. It seemed like a good time to share it.
April 28, 2017
Early each morning, after my alarm goes off and as my eyes are just beginning to focus, I put on my reading glasses and check Twitter. I read, retweet, share with the #NHCSchat community, and email myself so I can dig a little deeper into certain tweets later in the day....when my eyes are fully functional.
This morning, one of those emailed tweets led me down a rabbit hole. Not uncommon. Never unwelcome - I often stumble across things that resonate. Today was one of those days.
As I read the linked article, I thought about my "wake up" post its that were stuck to the wall above my desk. years ago by a precious child who used to love to come to work with me in the summer...even at 14, she still likes to do that. Might be the possibility that we can sneak out to the snowball stand down the street that entices her these days, though.
This is my daily wake up call. This is my reminder of my WHY - students!
Everything I do is to make the learning experiences of students better. If it is not for that purpose, it sends me into reflection mode.
I am notorious for reminding those that I work with to not lose sight of WHY we do what we do with technology in this school district. We can not forget that what we do impacts the future. We need to make the right choices, not necessarily the easy ones.
“When one realises one is asleep, at that moment one is already half-awake.”
― P.D. Ouspensky
Ever leave a meeting and wish you'd have spoken up? Have you ever withheld your point of view because you were fearful of how it would be received? Or....have you ever become irritated and acted on it when someone disagreed with you? When the stakes are high and viewpoints differ, keeping emotions in check is a must! Crucial Conversations can happen anywhere at anytime - do you know how to handle them?
As I read the first part of this book for the January gathering of this year's NCDLCN cohort, I saw many meetings and conversations I had been a part of reflected in the scenarios presented. As I continued to read, I reflected on not just meetings with colleagues, but meetings and conversations with students, and even a parent conference or two! In hindsight, some of those conversations definitely could have been handled better.
Identifying where the balance in conversations shift is something we all need to be aware of - AND - an awareness of how we handle these interactions is the first step towards improvement in communication!
My "style under stress" is more silence than violence. I also noticed that one of my strengths is exploring others' paths. That made sense - in my role, I do have conversations with others on how to bring about change where they are and how to have necessary conversations with others that will result in positive change..
As I continued to reflect, I started to think that I find myself coaching others on how to have crucial conversations way more than I have them, or do I? Maybe those coaching moments are crucial conversations, too...
As 2017 draws to a close, I'm stepping away from my stack of blog post drafts and going rogue with a reflection.
This fall, I joined forces with a group of dynamic eduleaders in our district. Inspired by a blog post over at Cult of Pedagogy, we formed a Mastermind. District instructional leaders like me, assistant principals and principals from all grade levels set aside an hour each week in our wild and crazy schedules to reflect on a book we read together and take a turn in the hot seat. It changed my life.
I took a turn in the hot seat early. I had a meeting with my ITFs and with a shifting climate surrounding their roles, they were uneasy. I knew what needed to be done, but I needed advice and the perspective of others that were NOT in those roles on how to move my group of ITFs forward. I received so many useful ideas from this group. In a few short months, the ITFs have made tremendous strides - it has been noticed by many. The input from the Masterminds helped to turn a struggle into an amazing journey. I'm not going to lie, the hot seat can be uncomfortable. I'm struggling with my next turn in it. I know what the problem is that I really need help with, but I need to figure out how to phrase it. As I search for the words, I'm struggling most with what is at the root of the problem.
The other great part of this group is the conversations surrounding the book we read. Our first title was Launch, by John Spencer and AJ Juliani. Our fearless Mastermind leader and I got hooked on Design Thinking and its impact on learning last fall. Always hungry to learn more and get practical application strategies, this book was perfect to start our experiment in different learning for ourselves and helped unleash our creativity! Currently, we are reading Lead like a PIRATE by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. At the beginning of Section 2 on Immersion, they led with a post from Seth Godin's blog about 'job" versus "work" and I knew then that in the upcoming new year, I needed to fix a few things.
"So busy doing my job, I can't get any work done"
The job had overtaken the work. The work was my passion...the job was slowly silencing the passion. Something had to give! My brain was in a perpetual state of stuck...frozen by interruptions to my creative flow.
These interruptions were slowly suffocating me. In 2018, that is going to change.
On deck for 2018 are posts about personalized learning, compliance vs. creativity, and balance. That last one just may be my #oneword for the new year.
What is your leadership style?
When asked that question recently, I said my leadership style was quiet. Upon deeper reflection, I realized that often people don't think of leadership as quiet. But I think there is much good that comes out of being a quiet leader - and being led by one. When I think about those that I've learned from during my career, the leaders that made the biggest impact on me personally and professionally were the quiet ones. They made me feel secure and helped me to grow. They believed in me when I doubted myself, were the first to celebrate the wins with me when I pushed myself to try something new, and there to reflect with me when things didn't go as planned - all so I could become better. So what does it mean to be quiet as an educational leader?
A leader should be quiet....when they need to be - which is often. The way I see it, that is the real test of leadership: knowing when to be quiet and when not to be. We must listen to hear and learn, not to react and respond. I listen quite a bit more than I talk. In my role as a Digital Teaching & Learning Specialist, I work with educators at all stages in their careers and comfort levels with digital tools and strategies. I have to be quiet, ask questions, and listen to hear so that I may discern where they are in order to best meet their needs and help them grow. Often, I have to find a common ground or launching point. I need to connect all of the dots to reveal the picture of what is the true problem of practice. In this case, quiet means being
OBSERVANT & PATIENT
As I talk with them and observe their practice, I ask questions. I gather details and listen so that I may identify their true roadblock or source of hesitancy with trying a new strategy or method. We talk about the data...not just numbers and test scores. Quantitative data only presents part of the picture. I may meet with them individually or as part of a role-alike group, and we often schedule a return visit, allowing us both time to process and plan our next steps. In this case, quiet means being
REFLECTIVE & EMPATHETIC
I work to build relationships (ours and those with their colleagues) that will become the foundation for their successes. As we talk and work together, I look and listen for the "sparks" or other little glimmers of what fuels this person, group, or organization. I reach out to others that have the same interests or had similar struggles. I help connect educators with the resources, human and otherwise, that will propel them towards their goals. Once that spark or interest is identified, or ignited if need be, the rest of our work together gently fans the flames of pedagogical growth. In this case, quiet means being
NURTURING & SUPPORTIVE
So to me, leadership is quiet. Leading (or coaching) is an unassuming role that means we put others before self. The purpose of a coach is to support and grow others. I never set out to be a leader, I just had a passion for transforming learning for students and wanted to share that with others, helping them realize their passion for it along the way. I believe this desire in every educator. So when I see those I work with shine, that is my true reward.
If you are waiting for someone to teach you about something, you aren't really interested in learning it.
I had this epiphany when I said that I couldn't complete a specific report because no one had shown me how. I said it out loud and as soon as I did, I paused, smiled and then said:
What I really mean is I don't want to do this.
...and I apologized. Hearing it allowed me to understand what I really meant. I viewed this task as one that was keeping me from doing something else that I needed/wanted to do. Turns out, I was standing in my own way. So, I got in there and figured out how to do that report and made myself some directions for the next time I have to do it - which is every month - but that experience got me thinking...
How often do we hear the "I don't know how" or "no one showed me how" excuse from students - or fellow educators? I know I have heard it before from both. I know I've said it before, too. But now, no more excuses.
The next time I hear a similar statement uttered, it will tell me more than the words that are spoken.
A wormhole is a theoretical passage through space-time that could create shortcuts for long journeys across the universe. Wormholes are predicted by the theory of general relativity. But be wary: wormholes bring with them the dangers of sudden collapse, high radiation and dangerous contact with exotic matter. -space.com
loophole. /ˈluːpˌhəʊl/ noun. 1. an ambiguity, omission, etc, as in a law, by which one can avoid a penalty or responsibility. -dictionary.com
While I am no scientist, I start with these two terms as I feel they describe the conundrum that is....
In the Technology Departments of many a school district, there are plenty of ideas and theories about what we can do to protect kids, but what about what we need to do?Blocking websites instead of having a conversation or classroom management is a temporary solution and teaches our children absolutely nothing about Internet safety, but plenty about finding ways around the rules. We often unintentionally create loopholes - students find them, quite literally, as they seek ways around our filters or around the explicit don'ts we put in place. I'd also like to point out that we as adults take advantage of loopholes by using the stringent filter to stand in place of instruction on how to navigate the vast sea that is the interwebs.
When it comes to social media - we teach about it, and tell them what NOT to do - but do we talk about what TO do? What to do to move forward if they "mess up"? What to do when they need to report something? When to even do that - so many don't know this is an option! How to make the positive drown out the negative. I prefer to think of this digital citizenship journey as more of a wormhole. Intentional instruction can "create shortcuts for long journeys" our students have to take...like life and a career path. There is so much to process that it makes us feel like sudden collapse is imminent and the dangerous contact - when wormholes go wrong - could be disastrous.
As a new school year gets underway, it's THAT time again. That's right, it's time for "the talk"....the one no one wants to have with their students. No, not that one. That's for the parents. The conversation I'm talking about is on digital citizenship. Theoretically, this one could be covered by parents, too. In many homes, it is. Sadly there are too many homes where it isn't.
It's not a difficult concept to get - the premise is rather simple: use common sense, be honest, and be kind. Unfortunately, those are superpowers these days.
But Digital Citizenship - the kind you capitalize as a title - is so much more than those simple precepts. Today's responsible digital citizen needs to be savvy. They need to be able to find reliable information and discern the fact from the bias - notice I didn't say fiction - that is surprisingly the easiest to spot or at least it's easier for holders of opposing viewpoints to agree on what is total crap. The lines that separate fact and biased information are often blurry.
Recently, our superintendent decided we needed to have a digital citizenship course for all middle school students. Last year, we began the endeavor to implement that. So I created a shell of sorts. Then I, along with our CTO, had a meeting with all middle school administrators. One thing that they asked for - a course for all teachers! Knowing that was a GREAT idea, but one that would be possibly met with resistance, I worked with the on-site Instructional Technology Facilitators (ITFs) to create unique plans of delivery for each site that included a teacher component. Thankfully, our state was working on a change to the license renewal process that included digital learning competencies - digital citizenship is one of the core areas covered - so teacher buy in was not going to be that hard.
So over the course of last school year, my amazing group of ITFs came up with different, yet amazingly brilliant, delivery plans. In some schools, the school library media coordinator (SLMC) and the guidance counselor joined the team. Some schools have added a parent night to talk about what parents can do to be more aware of students' social media activity. Other schools communicate parent resources via newsletters, their websites and Facebook pages. Each iteration of this "course" change to meet the needs of the school communities - and that is a great thing!
This year, we grow. The ITFs are already thinking of ways to add to the content. This lesson or that lesson needed a bit more....and they have ideas! I can't wait until our meeting in early October!
I started reading about bullet journaling last year. Not a new concept, but I was drawn to it's evolution. The blending of art and list making - right up my alley! About that time, I noticed Sylia Duckworth's sketchnotes popping up everywhere. My mind went straight to how can I get folks on board with this type of organizing and notetaking? I mean, as an adult, drawing pictures is seen as something you do when you are off-task in a meeting, right? The attitude is the same in classrooms across the country. THAT is what started to get to me.
In February, I attended #iPDX in Portland, Oregon. The keynote speaker was Sunni Brown, author and a Doodler. I loved the message she delivered that morning, and it drew me into her packed session later that morning on the power of Doodles.
Yep - doodles. There I go again. What on earth does doodling have to do with education? It's not innovative...right? I'd argue that it is.
Immediately after returning from #iPDX, I headed to NCTIES,. There someone snapped a picture of me in a quiet corner. Because they couldn't get my attention, they posted the pic and called me out on Twitter. They saw someone engrossed in something so I felt compelled to share - on Twitter - my first sketchnote. You see, I wasn't just lost in thought or playing on my phone, I was making my sketchnote after the opening keynote. I shared with the world...put it right out there. Was it perfect? No way! But I wanted folks to see that I was doing something productive.
Perception is a powerful thing - and it can be wrong.
How often when students are deeply connected to something, fully engrossed in what looks like off task behavior, are we quick to judge and make them do something WE think they should be doing instead?
I felt strongly that I needed to do something to change this; to get teachers, and other school leaders, to think about what they allow students to do to demonstrate understanding. Are teachers allowing choice? Are we building a culture of compliance or learning?
I came back from Portland and NCTIES ready to build some professional development on this. I figured if I could get a few teachers on board with what this process can do for THEM, then allowing doodles in classrooms would be next!
I'm such a Pollyanna sometimes.
What I was met with was strange looks when I talked about it. A few that I shared my doodles with were interested, but I silenced my dream. The time wasn't right. I kept plugging along, sharing the doodle love, taking my notes then synthesizing them adding images to help me remember key points.
But I decided I needed to create something different.
This summer, I facilitated a book study on The Innovator's Mindset.. With each part of the book came a challenge to the participants. Challenge one was a #booksnap. I chose this because it is something that teachers and students can do in any content area...and they don't need Snapchat. We talked about different ways to do this...it has taken off! I think we will see more of this in the upcoming school year.
Challenge two was to sketchnote some element of Part II. You should have seen the looks on their faces. I got the predictable, "I can't draw" and the firm "I'm not going to do this." I shared ways to do this that didn't involve drawing - photos and pre-made art in some apps allow this to be done digitally. I believe in giving multiple ways for folks to complete a task because IT'S BEST FOR LEARNERS!!!
One of my favorite passages from Part II of The Innovator's Mindset says,
"We rarely create something different until we experience something different."
When we met to discuss Part II, after sharing how completing the challenge made them feel, I pointed them to that passage. I asked them to think about students...could they think of a student that would LOVE to take on a task or take notes if they know that they could draw? Everyone of us could.
At the EdTechTeam's GSuite Summit last month, one of the interesting take always for me was the research that shows we learn MORE when NOT in our preferred learning modality. As educators, we try to identify students "learning styles" so we can make sure we design activities with them in mind. But what if the best way to grow them is to challenge them to learn OUT of their comfort zones.
I definitely pushed people out of their comfort zone with the sketchnote challenge. Radical, I know...but our brains are wired to remember things that we enjoy or hate; things that bring us comfort or discomfort. We internalize those moments and what we learn in them. My hope is the folks involved in this book study remember this sketchnoting strategy exists and can get a few others to embrace is as a choice as they craft tasks and activities for students.
I'm presently struggling with how I'm going to create a different experience for the Part III challenge. I have a little time as this new school year is about to take off and these educators have busy days ahead. I need to find something that can ultimately make a difference for the students they work with daily.
Here's to hoping that this year, some students can "experience different" and find their path to learning.
It has to mean something if it has to matter.
- ME (and a lot of other people)
Disengaged. Bored. Lazy. I have heard ALL of those used to describe today's students. If you listen carefully, what your really hear is an excuse to NOT change - a deflection of ownership of the real problem: most classrooms and mainstream instructional practices haven't changed too terribly much in about a hundred years.
"He's disengaged" - Student "playing" on their cell phone? Reading a book instead of looking at the teacher during a lecture? Hmmmm....are you sure the student is disengaged? Many of today's learners (not all) are actually paying more attention than you think. Turn those perceived problems to assets. The student on the cell phone might actually be looking up information you are talking about or taking notes. And that student that reads - that may be how he blocks out stimuli - my oldest who is on the Autism spectrum is one of those.
"I'm bored" - Too often, the translation for this becomes "the work is too hard for the student" when that really is often NOT the case. This reaction is triggered by a topic that is too easy or not interesting to the student or - GASP - they already know the information! It happens, people. Most often they are just uninspired - let them be creative! Somewhere around third grade, kids are turned into compliant learners...well, most are. They learn that thinking differently or being creative is a punishable offense in some classrooms. How do you encourage creativity?
"She is so lazy" - nope nope nope...more likely they are uninspired. see above for remedies for that. However, sometimes they are just tired. Kids today have a lot going on - sometimes that is pressure placed on them by family. Sports, dance, familial obligations, poverty....they take a toll. Are we as educators aware of that? Too often the child deemed lazy has a lot going on that we fail to see. Take the time to get to know them. A simple conversation or two can be life changing.
How often do we create authentic learning experiences for our students? When was the last time you gave them a chance to identify a problem that matters to them and do something about it? These days, versions of 20% Time and Genius Hour are becoming prevalent in our schools. In some schools, there is still the mind set that this learning isn't going to raise test scores - a point which is a) grossly inaccurate and b) irrelevant. Students are NOT test scores. When teachers are told they can't let students learn through Genius Hour or 20% Time activities because this "isn't in the curriculum" I get a little grumpy.
I like to share the story of Richard Turere who identified a problem and created a solution that made a difference for his family and his community.
I can guarantee that his actual project wasn't in the curriculum, but the skills he learned while perfecting his invention - and giving this speech - certainly were. I'm sure that given the opportunity to identify a problem and work to solve it, many of those "disengaged, bored, and lazy" students would thrive.
If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got.
-some motivational speaker somewhere
Sometimes, we have to let go of the way we've always done things to grow. I've been there, heard that, rode the bike...
That's right. The bike. The bike of unlearning. The bike of gracefullness.
Granted, anyone who tries to ride it will not feel graceful, or even very successful. I certainly did not when I gave it a shot two years ago. However, it is all in what you take away from the experience. I can honestly say, I took a lot away from that experience. So much that I knew this needed to be experienced by teachers in the district where I work.
The bike riding adventure above was captured at our 8th NHCS Summer Institute for Instructional Innovation. This year, we were fortunate to bring Jeff Crews and Dean Phillips of Beyond the Chalk to share their message of innovation and the importance of unlearning to learn to teachers and administrators in our district. Their engaging and thought-provoking keynote inspired all who were there.
Together we tried - and failed - and learned the value of new ways of thinking.
When was the last time students came running into the classroom like Bilbo Baggins getting ready for an adventure?? When was the last time YOU came to work like that?
Then there is this passage from the best novel ever....
Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone.
Bilbo Baggins: I should think so - in these parts! We are plain quiet folks and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!
Thanks to Jennie Mageria for reminding me of that passage as she opened her keynote speech at #NCTIES17
I thought about this and reviewed my notes from the conference as I helped plan the June Twitter chat on Design Thinking. A big part of the Design Thinking mindset focuses on learning from failure. In her opening keynote, Jennie Mageria reminded us to turn your FAIL (First Attempt In Learning) into SAIL (Subsequent Attempts In Learning.) ,,but first you have to find your team of adventurers AND a way in.
In The Hobbit, notably a powerful example of a piece of literature that can teach about the power of having a growth mindset, Bilbo and the dwarves always manage to find a way in. A hidden door, a crack...whatever. As educators, we understand the importance of finding that way in. A way in is a place to get your foot in the door: take it where you find it. Build those relationships with the students you teach. Find out what makes them tick.
To get students to learn, you have to get students.
Also as I was looking for Design Thinking resources to share with teachers in my district, I came across this video. I knew I had to share it here so I could dig a little deeper into its power. Take a few minutes and watch it.
In Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students, Michael Roush makes a compelling argument that resonates with so many educators always looking for that way in!
1 Teach like you are Banksy (read the rule book - then rip it up)
Rules are guidelines (in most cases) and need to be adjusted for certain situations. Every learner is unique. What works for one or two definitely won't work for all. Bend the rules, don't break the students.
2 Teach like you are Leonardo DaVinci (be curious about everything - never stop trying to make things better)
For me, the point about not making students pick art or academics hit close to home. I watched my children have to do this and was powerless to fix it. This needs to stop. Leonardo DaVinci is a GREAT example to support this small change in practice.
3 Teach like you are Chanel (strive for beauty and elegance, but understand that those things will be different for everyone)
We all bring our own background music to learning. We need to remember this and create spaces where our students can share their background music comfortably and appreciate each others'. Strive to find some morsel of beauty in everything.
4 Teach like you are Brunel (planning is important, but imagination is what makes the extraordinary possible)
You can't do what you've always done! If you go by yesterday's rules and guidelines, then there is no room for growth. Learn from mistakes and failures and modify the rules as the situations change.
5 - Don't blame the lettuce. If the lettuce doesn't grow well, you don't blame the lettuce.
This is my favorite! How often have we heard folks "blame the lettuce"? Be optimistic about EVERY student! Help students find their strengths and bring out the strengths in others. Through their eyes, try to see your own strengths AND weaknesses.
What steps will you take to find a way in as you plan for the new school year?