Friday, June 29, 2018

Recovering From My 1st ISTE Experience and Fighting Isolationism

Wow. Am I tired.

Wednesday evening I returned home from Chicago, which is only a quick 89 minute train ride south, after four days of geeking out at, "The Epicenter of EdTech," otherwise known as ISTE. It was a phenomenal experience. One that is not going to be wrapped up neatly in a single blog post.

My largest take away was the power of being connected. Everywhere I went, it felt like there was some blogger that I was familiar with or followed. I ran into people from other conferences that I've attended and even reconnected with a former co-worker who is now in Indiana. All the edu-famous I had the chance to meet were just as genuine in person as they seem online. I was able to meet people I follow on Twitter, have written the books I have been inspired by, and run the Twitter chats I lurk in. According to my phone's battery, Twitter has been the app sucking the most battery life in the last seven days. I used Twitter to experience all the parts of ISTE I wasn't able to. The #notatISTE18 hashtag was as interesting as the #ISTE18  because of all the content that was being shared out. Twitter became a critical tool to get the most out of my experience at ISTE. I adore Twitter because I have become connected with educators from all over the world. Most of the time I just read and "like" posts and sometimes I retweet. I'd like to get more involved with Twitter chats in the future. I often read the threads but rarely contribute.

I have some co-workers that poke jabs at me for my love of Twitter. I've been on since 2010 and while my presence has varied over the years I know that it's always a place I can go to learn from others. I have some favorite hashtags and can quickly filter the content I'm most interested in. During rough patches it was a place I was able to go and not feel isolated. In Chapter 3 of, "Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth," Hogan writes:

When educators join forces, offer support, and hold
each other accountable, we all get better.

Fight isolationism. This might be the most valuable piece of advice that I can provide a new teacher or a teacher who is struggling. Everyone is at a different place in their lives. Family must always come first and we need to nurture those relationships that support and love us. My husband is a great guy and provides amazing support in everything I do but sometimes when I try to talk to him about some aspect of my profession it's not the same as if I was communicating with another teacher. We cannot dismiss ways to connect with like minded professionals. Not everyone can be on after school/before committees but everyone can find ways to eat lunch with a co-worker, engage in small talk in the mail room and learn what others are doing, listen to what students are saying about experiences in other classroom and follow up with that teacher. Twitter might be my preferred way to fight isolationism but it's not the only way. 

It's through connections that I feel challenged. I am forced to reflect and as a result I grow. ISTE was not just an amazing learning experience but also energizing. I find my energy in connections and relationships I have built with others. 
Image result for george couros isolation

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Super Fan...

I've been following George Couros on Twitter for years. He was probably one of the first people I started following on Twitter so when I was asked in the fall of 2015 if I wanted to attend a conference in which he was one of the featured speakers I jumped at the chance. I was part of a team from my school who attended the, "What Great Educators Do Differently" conference in Chicago and on the 90 or so minute drive I educated the group about as many of the speakers as I could. I quickly realized that I was a pretty big nerd and sort of enjoyed all the jabs my co-workers gave me. Of all the speakers listed, which included Todd Whitaker (I had read several of his books at this point and was a big fan of, "What Great Educators Do Differently"), I was most excited to hear George Couros. I found his ideas so refreshing and at the time we, as a district, were just starting to make personalized learning an expectation. While Couros doesn't specifically use the terminology, "personalized learning" the message isn't lost that the Innovators Mindset fits perfectly into the personalized learning framework.

This conference came at a time in my career when I was at a particular low point. Spending time on Twitter allowed me a place to connect with people who were excited about my profession. I followed leaders in innovation, project based learning and leadership and often found myself better about things when I got off the computer or put my phone down. I'm not going to go into detail about the challenges I was facing but let's just say that it wasn't the students or parents I served but a co-worker that made my stomach turn with constant negativity and personal attacks on not just me professionally but personally. It was really hard. I was filled with self-doubt on a daily basis. This conference came at the height of all the negativity and I got to hear Todd Whitaker's presentation about, "Shifting the Monkey." Talk about perfect timing. Then, that weekend I got to hear George Couros. He spoke about how innovative isn't about just being different it's about being networked, taking risks, being empathetic, being reflective and resilient. His book, "The Innovator's Mindset" was released shortly after the conference and I ate it up. It was a framework for the type of teacher I was trying to be and a model for the teachers I wanted to surround myself with. 

This week I'm attending the FIRST Education conference and tomorrow the keynote is...George Couros! Yay! I realize that I associate him not just with a fun weekend in 2015 at a conference but with the positive turning point where I was able to find my confidence as a teacher leader. He played a role with helping me find my voice and gave me a push to start this blog. 

I'm really looking forward to hearing him again...can you tell?
October 2015

Chapter 2 of "Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth:" Hook Your Students

When I started Chapter 2 of, "Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth," I thought it was going to be all about engaging lessons. After all the title is:  Hook Your Students. I was partly right. It was the end of the chapter that really spoke to me. The author, Aaron Hogan, included a piece about the invisible student which challenged teachers to find the learners who are in our classrooms who are unnoticed,  compliant and are disconnected. The reasons they are disconnected could be anything; shy, missed the information about how to join a club, communication problems, oldest or only child and doesn't have anyone at home to "mentor" them. These individuals need to get "hooked" in school to avoid becoming that invisible learner.

As a Special Ed case manager, we have meetings every February with our incoming freshman who have IEPs. When I run my meetings I try to learn as much as I can about the person, not just how they like to learn and create but also what are their passions. This information is not important just for transition and career planning but also making sure they find a place in the school. When I know more about a student, I can make recommendations for clubs and activities. In addition to all the expected clubs and activities my high school also has P.A.W.S. (an acronym for something to do with dogs but I can't recall what) and a sci-fi club. These are outlets that a student could plug into and make a connection with school (which we all know is important). Clubs and activities are one way to "hook" the students.

At the conclusion of one of Aaron's sessions last week, he challenged us to learn three things about all our students within the first month of school.

Sounds like an important challenge and one I'm going to try.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Teaching Expectations

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Aaron Hogan, author of, "Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth," speak on two topics; blogging and his book. After hearing his presentation about his book, an Amazon order was placed.

One leadership role that I think every experienced teacher can have is to be a mentor to less experienced teachers. I was fortunate enough to have strong mentors when I was new and most of them weren't in my department. This gave me a unique perspective on the inner workings of the school. Through conversations and simply being around these teachers, I quickly began to understand issues that different departments face. In sort of a give back attitude, I've always introduced myself to new teachers in the building as someone who is here to support students, but also teachers.

The title of the book grabbed my attention because I feel like I've had this conversation with teachers a hundred times; no one is perfect. I was excited when the book arrived and chapter one provided some insight on classroom behavior. It provided some perspective I've never considered and will ultimately change some of my own practices.

The chapter begins with the blunt statement that there's a myth that, "the best teachers never or rarely have behavior problems." As a Special Ed teacher, I spend large parts of my day with students who struggle with self-regulation, difficulty with forming relationships and have defense mechanisms to deal with the difficulty with academic requirements that present themselves as, "behavior problems." Special Ed teachers do behavior mapping, social stories and believe that some students are doing the best they can at that moment with our students with Autism or trauma filled backgrounds. We go back and teach behavioral expectations constantly. We provide visual cues and foreshadow situations that we know are ripe for problems. Sometimes we have success and sometimes we need to try a different approach. Why don't we do this as classroom teachers????

Hogan addresses that teachers use strategies when a student doesn't understand a concept within the curriculum. We try different ways of presenting, different ways to interact with material and different ways to assess. When it comes to behavior, we tell them what we expect on the first day and then that's it. Or, we expect they know how to act and don't require instruction (have you ever heard someone say, "come on, you know better than that?"). He suggests that teachers establish clear expectations and teach them in a positive manner right from the beginning and then go back to them and reteach. He also suggests that teachers make a list of warning signs as a reminder to teach these expectations should situations arise. This was sort of a "duh" moment for me. Why don't we go back and reteach these expectations?

One of my summer goals is to investigate if I can use AR/VR applications to create social stories for some of my students with Autism. I'm not sure how practical it will be given the time it may take to create and I'm sure it will be engaging but will it be even be effective since it won't be "real life?" I still want to give it a try.  When thinking about whole class instruction, the use of apps like Metaverse or Co-Spaces might prove to be a memorable and novel way to teach behavior.

Going back to the perfect teacher myth, I think this idea of going back to reteach behavior just gave me another tool when I work with my co-teachers but also when I'm having a conversation with someone who just wants some advice. Looking forward to Chapter 2!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What I Hope For My Students

On Day 2 of Summer Spark I attended Aaron Hogan's session on professional blogging and why it's important. I didn't need convincing, I needed inspiration. After going through the obvious benefits, he gave us a few minutes to start's me writing.

The prompt I chose was, What are my hopes for my students?  Without thinking too hard about this, here are my three, immediate, gut responses.

I hope my students can manage themselves.  This is so broad. Successful people have strong executive functioning skills and can manage time dynamically. They manage a schedule, manage a project, focus in complex situations...this is what we try to teach our students. I also hope they can manage themselves in social situations or at a job. Can they carry on a conversation? Do they have self care skills to create good first impressions? Can they follow through?

I hope my students learn to recognize differing viewpoints when someone doesn't agree with them.  This does not need further explanation.

I hope my students know how to build other people up and how to ask for help when they need it. Above all else, I want the students I work with to be good people. I want them to strive to be the reason someone smiles. At the end of the year when I'm signing yearbooks or filling out GradGrams for my seniors, I leave them with my favorite quote:

My own self, at my very best, all the time.
William H. Danforth

Finally, everyone needs to know how to ask for help when they need it. I may teach them how to ask for help on a paper from a writing center on campus or I might try to teach them to understand the signs when they or someone else might need help due to a mental health issue. Self-advocacy is one of the most important skills a person can have. 

Aaron gave us some hints or "permissions" as I'd like to call them.
1) Always keep an idea list of blog topics
2) Schedule time (this is going to be the most, most difficult for me...but I'm working on it. See previous blog post)
3) Don't get bogged down in editing or wordsmithing

#3 is my favorite. 

Thank you, Aaron for giving me permission to just get my ideas out and the courage to do so. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Making Time...

Today was Day 1 of Summer Spark, a conference I've wanted to attend for a few years but just haven't been able to make it work with my school's calendar. This year, I was able to make it work and I'm so glad that I did. 

Before I dive in and start reflecting on my big take-aways I need to acknowledge something to myself. This blog was like a failed diet the third week in January. Thirteen years ago I was a prolific mommy blogger and then my kids got older and self-conscience so that sort of went away. Two years ago I started this blog...because I have a lot going on in my head that I want to get out and reflect on. I had a decent start and then I just stopped publishing. I have many drafts but never hit, "publish." I would make excuses that I didn't have time to perfect them. I had dozens of ideas in my head for topics that I wanted to write but didn't. 

I didn't have time. 

I had the opportunity to attend a session led by the Pirate herself, Shelley Burgess, had a great quote about time. This is something that really struck me and made me re-evaluate a lot of things I say I don't have time to do. 

Time is a created thing. To say we don't have time
implies we don't really want to do it. 

Ouch. That couldn't be more true. There's a mound of clothing I need to put away and didn't  because I didn't have time (code for: I didn't want to touch it). I didn't have time this morning to work out (nope, didn't want to do that either). I still haven't unpacked the box of stuff I brought home because I just haven't had time in the last three days. Professionally, there are so many things, everyday, that I say I don't have time to do. I do want to blog. I'm no longer going to make the excuse that I don't have time. 

So, here I am. I updated the picture with a real head shot I had done last year, updated the About Me link and I'm going to eventually clean up all my tags because I'm not going to tag every post with Educator Effectiveness stuff. This is for me...not the administrator who evaluates me. Let's be honest, they wouldn't have the time to search through the mess of labels anyway.  

Back to the conference...I saw some of my big names in my PLN or the people I follow/admire on Twitter. The day started with Tom Murray, continued with Shelley Burgess, Rachelle Dene Poth, then Tara Martin and finished with learning about digital breakouts (going back to the beginning of this blog you'll see I got interested in BreakoutEDU. I now have more locks than any normal human being and run large and small Breakouts. I LOVE them).

I now have a long list of engaging apps I want to learn, books I want to read, practices I want to adopt. I can't believe there's one more day! I'm gearing up for lots of interesting PD I'm going to do on my own this summer and here's where I'll document and brainstorm. I have a pretty exciting June; this week is Summer Spark, next week I'll be at Learning FIRST and then wrapping up June at ISTE in Chicago.  Lots of learning and inspiration!