It’s Time For Change, Y’all!

It had been a while since I’ve blogged. Mostly because I’ve been busy. A lot of changes have taken place since I’ve last blogged. Mostly, I have a new job. I am now one of 2 of the instructional technology coaches in my district. My district is the second largest in the state and we’ve had no one in the instructional technology department since first week in August. So I have a little bit of work to do.

Sounds like a stressful situation, but I’ve never been so excited in my life. So far I’ve loved every minute. I haven’t been there a week yet but never in my life have I felt like I am in the perfect place for me. This is the job I’ve been working for for at least 7 years now. I’m here. I’m getting to do it. I loved teaching, most days, haha, but not like this.

I feel like a beginner one minute and then remember what I know or help someone and realize I’m really not. My brain is tired from learning so much. (So that’s my excuse if this post is a little scattered.) Today I figured out to use GAFE, Global Scholar, and Compass Learning from admin view. And wrote district BYOD PD plans between learning this. All of it is so exciting, so a little brain overload is good. I see all the potential our district has and I feel like we have the right team in place to make stuff happen.

With that being said, I’m not sure what direction my blog is going to take. To me, it is still going to be a place for me to reflect. Reflect on what I’m learning and what I’m teaching. I’m ready for this journey and I hope y’all will join me as I make this transition. Your encouragement helps me more than you’ll ever know.

The old cheerleader in me keeps thinking “L-E-T-S-G-O! Let’s go!”

Don’t Forget What They Need

Every morning my first period class almost has a routine. They are a different group of kids than a typical classroom. It’s a class of  17 and only 2 are girls, 15 are 8th graders. The guys in the class are mostly football players. They are students who usually get in trouble in class, not because cruel, but mostly because they can’t sit still. I had majority of students in 6th grade. When I saw the class roster I literally pushed crtl A then delete on my lesson plans. I knew better than plan lessons that didn’t relate to them and weren’t mostly hands on.

This morning routine we have. I walk them to my room because my room is on the 6th grade hall. While we wait for them we stand there and they always tell me who got in trouble or what happened to one of them the day before. While standing there I make sure they are in dress code, usually 1/2 have to tuck in their shirts and pull up their pants. Once I make sure they are dressed we walk to my room. While waiting on announcements they get out the lotion I bought them and put on knees and elbows that look ashy. Always one needs a band aid for a major scrape from football practice the day before. Unfortunately during this waiting I usually loose control of them. One the other day was “stealing swag” and putting it in a ziploc. A shoe once was thrown away. Bean bags get leaped on. When announcements and class starts they are back to students. They usually work hard but also joke around with each other while doing so.

So why do I tell you this? It’s not to show you why I’m exhausted by 8:30. Or why my stomach usually hurts from laughing. I tell you this to remind you that they are just kids. Even at 13 and almost 6 feet tall (I’m barely over 5′ so I’m the little one in the class), they are just kids. They need help getting dressed. Someone to get them a bandage, lotion, paper, etc. They need to be taken care of. They need a time to pretend. If they want to pretend all the white tiles in the hall are acid, OK, let them leap from square to square. They have adult bodies and voices but they aren’t adults. They need adults to guide them. To care for them. To laugh with them. Discuss good manners with them. They are the only class I’ve ever had that I shut the door when class starts, we’ve talked about we do it because it’s a safe place stupid questions can be asked.

I never imagined that class would be the highlight of my day, but they are even more than that. Every day they remind me why I went into teaching. They have no idea how much they add to my life. I’ve had some emotional things to deal with lately and they bring me the laughter I need for the day. I’d probably never admit that to them, haha, we can’t encourage bigger egos. And they’d make fun of me for being a sissy.

Please take the time this week and look at your students, especially middle and high school, and remember that they are more than students. They are children. There is a reason they can’t live alone yet. Someone has to take care of their needs. Not every student has someone to do that, so be that person. Remember why you are a teacher, not to teach test, but to teach children. And that’s exactly what they are, no matter how tall, they are children.

Top 5 Qualities People I Look Up To Have In Common: My Post For #leadershipday14

Today is Leadership Day. Thanks to Scott McLeod for starting this years ago. Every year I look forward to reading posts from today. I usually don’t write a post bc I don’t always feel like a leader, but leadership, especially Digital Leadership, has been on my mind lately, I figured I’d write about others that influence me.

No matter what, there are people in our life we ‘follow.’ Those people we look at as leaders. Leaders I really look up to seem to have the same qualities. So since I always think of Leadership Day as a throw back because I can remember reading posts years ago, I’m going retro and making one of my lists.

Top 5 Qualities People I Look Up To Have In Common (AKA How To Be an Awesome Ditgital Leader)

5. They focus on learning not products.
I love hearing about the newest technologies as much as the next person. But blogs that focus on mostly products lose something with me. Blogs and people who draw me in are those who focus on the roots of education. Good pedagogy, big thinking, and believing in their students. Those are the difference makers. They may not get as many blog views as others talking about products, but those make lasting impressions as technology changes.

4. They share what not with whom.
I know, I know, my last blog post was on this, but it’s so important. People who share what they are learning at conferences or through conversations are really making such an impact on me. Much more than those just posting who they hung out with or talked to on Voxer. What’s the use of learning if not sharing. I’m noticing that I’m picking up a whole new PLN now this has become a focus of mine. I’m searching out for people posting their learning and have met some pretty amazing people. Leaders share their learning.

3. They question instead of tell.
Some of the blog posts that have really stuck with me this year have been more of questioning and searching for answers than telling me what I need to be doing. It’s like in the classroom, we want to ask questions to get our students to start asking their own. This has been great launching pad for some of my thoughts this year.

2. Reach out beyond their niche.
I’ve always made a big point of not just following people like me. Follow people who have different beliefs, cultures, and most importantly other professions. Don’t just follow them, make them part of your PLN. I learn and connect so much from people from outside education. They truly push my thinking. I also get to show them what awesome things that are going on in education. Don’t write someone off because they are in marketing or IT, they will influence you more than you will ever know. They could’ve written me off as ‘just a teacher’ but invited me into their world and I’ve learned so much.

1. They admit when they make mistakes and have solutions.
I have enjoyed a lot of posts this year where people have admitted failure and then offered solutions or talked about what they did to fix it. It takes so much strength to admit you were wrong, but it takes more strength to reflect on that failure and do something positive with it. I don’t know about you, but I love having someone making the mistakes before me so I don’t have to.

These are just five. I could probably come up with ten but no one wants to read all of that. But those who have really made an impact on me over last year hit all five of these. I hope one day I will have a majority of these qualities. Thanks to those who have given me something to strive for!

What Are You Sharing?

Summer for a lot of educators is time to attend professional development and conferences. As summer is wrapping up (for me it’s over, I went back to school last week) are you reflecting on what you are learning? What are you sharing from the conferences you have attended?

I worry that a lot of times as connected educators and/or presenters we focus on what we present and forget to take the time to learn. I’ve seen more “had a blast presenting/working with so-and-so” twitter/facebook/instagram posts than I have “—- made me think” or “My reflection of —-” this summer. When that’s the majority of posts I see from conferences I start wondering what I’ve missed out on. The beauty of being a connected educator during conference season is seeing what others are learning and hearing their views. That’s how I got connected on twitter almost 6 years ago. I joined twitter in Sept but didn’t get hooked until EduCon when seeing people post their opinions and reflections as well as notes from sessions. It was huge for me to follow an entire conference, 1,000 miles away. I’m not seeing that as much as I used to. Now I see conference hashtags and know who’s hanging out with who or who’s presenting, not what’s being presented. I miss it. A lot.

Thursday was my second day of school. I was exhausted and just kind of wanting to see what others were learning or thinking. I needed motivation. I looked on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook looking for this. Only posts I saw were about who people were having GHOs with or presenting with or working on projects with, but nothing on what they learned or even what they taught others beyond a title. What are we teaching each other when doing this?

I’m guilty of this just as much as everyone else. I’m reflecting here on my summer postings as well. I’ve posted about having a GHO and not talked about the learning or conversation that was had. That’s not using the medium wisely. I have been wrong. How can I speak to others in my district or online about the power of being a connected educator if we aren’t using this medium to share what we are learning from each other? Hard to say “look at the power of the medium” when not practicing what I preach.

I apologize for being that person. Who would’ve thought the chick who beats herself up on her blog has become egotistical on twitter? I am making a promise now to not tweet who my friends are but what they are teaching me. I am also challenging you to share what is important. Share quotes from one another, share what others have taught you that has changed your thinking, tell us the main points of your presentations. I’m looking forward as this school year is beginning again to learn from each of you. I look forward some of you challenging my thinking and my teaching.

I hope my honesty doesn’t upset y’all, I love y’all. I just want to change my behavior and would like some of you to help me along with it. Call me out when I go back to that.

Think Like an Innovator

Innovation. I remember the first time I heard that word, I was at Epcot at WDW back in middle school. They had this building and inside were “innovations” for the future. I remember nerding out at all the technology. (That’s the best part of vacation with your family, you can be your geeky self and not have to try to be cool.) I remember my mom explaining to me that innovation meant to take what someone has already invented and make it better. That stuck with me. Mostly because the stuff was so state of the art cool!

In education innovation is a word I have been hearing a lot when discussing STEM and makers. I love it. I love the idea of students looking at our world and want to improve what they see. That’s exactly what school should be, preparing kids for now, teaching them how world changing these critical thinking skills for a changing world are.

So where do we start? I was talking to a friend the other day. He’s not an educator but an amazing thinker. He works for one of the largest companies in my state and was telling me about a contest they had. The CEO asked people to submit ideas for innovative ideas that the company would be using by 2020. We laughed at how it became a suggestion box and crazy ideas people had. We then started talking about design thinking and where to start when thinking innovatively. I confessed to him my idea for a big project for my class, the one I mentioned last post (Nope still not ready to reveal yet.) and he took the ideas I had and push me to think deeper. Ideas already in my head got bigger and better. The project in my mind was completely transforming as we talked.

Our conversation kept coming back to “what is the problem?” I was reminded how when you are just trying to make things better, it’s not really innovative because you get stuck on what’s already there. But when you start asking the question “what’s the problem?” you start looking at and thinking about things differently. You start trying to solve the problem instead of adding to what we already have.

Now as I’m looking to this school year, which starts Wednesday, I’m reflecting on what I did last year. But instead of saying “that didn’t work, I’ll add this to it or I’ll just do this instead” I’m looking at “what was the problem students had ___?” and start thinking about how to solve the problem. I hope as I go through the school year and lessons aren’t working I’ll do the same. Those of you in admin roles, I hope when something isn’t living up to expectations in your school, go backwards, what’s the problem and what’s the best route to solve it.

Also, teachers in classrooms, take the time to have students think of ideas to solve problems. Teach them best practices for questioning to find the “problem.” Have these discussions with them, get the thinking process going. It’s not only important for us to think innovatively, but to teach students to be innovators.

Where Are You Making?

So my job is changing again this year. And again this year it wasn’t by my choice. That makes it difficult. Having to plan something that you didn’t get a choice on can really mess with your creativity. We know this, as teachers, we see it every day in our classroom. Luckily, my change is to a subject I do feel very passionate about. So I have that going for me.

Next year I’ll be teaching middle school STEM. If you are someone who flows me on twitter or read my blog on occasion you probably know this is a huge passion of mine. STEM, MakerSpaces are something I see as game changing in education. But every time I sit down to write my curriculum (yes I have no curriculum -nor money- for my new class) I start feeling kind of hypocritical. And there is something that really starts to bother me.

All summer I have presented, written, or had conference calls about how to use STEM across the curriculum. The focus on how to not make it separate, but how to blend it with what you are already doing. So when I start writing my curriculum as a separate “subject” I start getting frustrated about how hypocritical I am being. I’m separating the STEM thinking from math and science classes.


The more I reflect on this, the more I wonder if STEM classes and MakerSpaces are our way in education of taking something great and “doing it wrong.” I’ve been thinking a lot about MakerSpaces and wondering if making them something different than part of the typical classroom is negating the whole purpose. When I speak of STEM and MakerSpaces I tell teachers these are so important because students can see “why” they need the problem solving skills, how science affects us everyday, and it answers the questions of “when am I really going to use that?” that are often used in math class. You see, using STEM as part of those, as well as other subjects, shows the students the “why” and “how” behind using these skills as well as increasing understanding. If we have a STEM or MakerSpace class, we are still keeping them separate. We aren’t allowing them to take the skills of the subjects we are teaching and adding that real world experience to it. It is just “play” or “create” time. While, yes, they are using those science, math, engineering, tech, and design skills it is not organically becoming part of the learning that is already taking place.

I know I can’t fix this for me. I was asked to teach the class. I am looking forward to it, I’ve decided there will be a lot of play and have a pretty exciting project coming (more as the year progresses, so stay tuned) Yes, I will be emphasizing the science and math curriculum as we build and create this year. But to the rest of you, especially classroom teachers, librarians, and tech coaches, if you have these MakerSpaces in your library or school figure out a way to make it part of all classes. Use these spaces and materials as part of your lessons. We have to stop separating STEM if we really want to make an impact on student learning. So don’t assume others will teach STEM for you, it will not make the difference that we need in our society that way. My former principal used to say “every teacher is a reading teacher,” for our students to make a real impact on our world, every teacher needs to be a STE(A)M teacher as well.

Lastly, I have been sitting on this post for about a week now and the lovely Rafranz Davis wrote this blog post today “The Undefined MakerSpace” about a part that I couldn’t figure how to add to this. I wanted to add how not only are we keeping STEM/MakerSpaces separate but we are limiting them to specific “making.” So I took out the parts I wrote about that, now the post flows much smoother, and she does a perfect job saying exactly what I was thinking, so no need for me to repeat it, now go read her post!! Definitely worth your time.

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc

Are You a Connected Educator or a Connected Person?

So this post is one that has been on my mind for about a week now. Today I was having a conversation on Voxer, an extremely inappropriate conversation to be exact with a group of girls, well professional educators. (If you know me personally, you are probably not surprised and can probably guess that I started it.) This conversation gave me the laughs that I needed to get through the day. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of post about how we can use Voxer as a professional development tool. I’m sure a lot of awesome ideas has come from conversations there. Just like on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Pinterest. We are so connected and we are so passionate, we flock to social media to connect with others like us.

But here is my worry, are we too connected, are we too serious? I remember years ago when Twitter was new. People didn’t have 10,000 followers because there weren’t 10,000 people out there. It felt like one big Voxer where we could bounce around ideas in a small and safe environment. Back then I would make a joke or off the wall comment and get DM’s from people saying that it was a place for learning and if I wanted to be taken seriously I needed to tone it down. Yeah, whatever. I’m going to be me so move along, please. But I would worry about those people. I would worry about their passion overcoming their lives. I also worried that they were missing out on a huge part of social media – the social part. We see a new platform and immediately think we have to use it for professional purposes, because that is what is expected of us as social media experts, that is great, but we need to remember that we need a break from work sometimes.

Try not to use social media as a place for only seriousness. Think back to when you were in school, you did not learn as much from the teachers who never shared anything personal about themselves. You learned from study groups with whom you became friends and learned about the interest of those in the group. I’m sure college was not all studying and classes, there was time for fun. So when you are using social media, don’t forget there is fun to be had. Don’t forget to turn off social media and be present with those around you in person. Don’t get obsessed with your profession. Your job is not who you are. Your job should not take up more time than time with your loved ones. Your job should not come before your health, I hate to hear colleagues put off doctor visits because of work. Stop doing that. It is not fair to you nor your family. I hear so often of my coworkers and my PLN going through depression and anxiety (myself included) and I worry if a lot of it is because we don’t turn our jobs off. Being connected keeps it on longer than we have in the past. We have to remember to live life. To laugh. To make friends, not just colleagues, friends we can laugh and cry with.

My challenge to you, chose one social media platform this month and use it for YOU. Either for entertainment or to connect with others on a personal level. Choose one, instagram, Pinterest, Facebook (that one is hard for me because so many of my friends are my PLN), a chat app whether Voxer, WhatsApp, Messenger, heck Snap Chat if you want, something you have wanted to try for FUN. Don’t feel bad about it. Don’t get sucked into work on it. When I joined Pinterest (over 3 years ago) I promised myself it would be for ME. I promised I would never use it for education. Now I do follow a few educators on it, but if I click on the links, I save them to bookmarks not to my boards. I always giggle when I see an educator follows me there because unless they like cupcakes, pretty fonts, and shoes they are going to be very disappointed. So find your place for you to be you. You are everything that makes up you, not just your profession.

So be a connected educator, but don’t be an obsessed educator. Use your connections to make deeper friendships based on silliness or hobbies not just on education. Be a person, not a just teacher or parent, be you! Hi, I’m Amanda Countryman Dykes, I love baking, creating art of any kind, and have an addiction to shoes. I am a parent to 2 brilliant yet hilarious kids and a spoiled rotten dog. I’m an educator who has a passion for seeing technology used correctly and while being invisible in every classroom. I’m a connected educator who learns how to be better at what I do every day. That’s who I am. Not just a middle school teacher. You are so much more than your job. Kids of America (or whatever country you serve in) deserve leaders who know themselves first. Be YOU first. Isn’t that what we tell the our students every day?! Take your own advice. Enjoy the good things in life as well as what is going on around us. Lastly, I’d love to hear what platform you used for more than seriousness this month!

Where Do You Go From the Soap Box?

So it happened. Now what? When we push for things for years and all of a sudden it starts to become the norm, what are our next steps? Do we move on to something else “new” or still stand on the “soap box.” Or are there other options? I think there are other options and that is where I will head next.

Let me explain what the heck I am talking about. Five (almost 6!) years ago I joined Twitter. It took me about 4 or 5 months to really catch on but once I did my teaching and learning changed forever. Since then I have been on a mission to teach others about the power of being a connected educator. It has been a long road, I can remember doing a session on using twitter at a conference and only 10 people showed up. Even worse, one of the 10 was a principal in my district that called my principal to complain I was telling people to meet strangers online. I remember my first ISTE and clicking on the hashtag #ISTE10 and knowing every single person posting in the search. Not so much anymore. It is the norm for districts to have “chats” and have leaders online connecting with others. I read a report from Twitter the other day that educators make up the largest group on twitter (once I find that link, I forgot to bookmark, I’ll post it), we are to that point that we have preached about for years. But now what? I really miss that intimate space I used to have on twitter but I like that education is moving forward quickly.

Another soap box I have been on for about two years now is STE(a)M and Makerspaces. I wrote this post in March 2013 about the need of these in school and how this will get STEM into the schools and classrooms. While at ISTE this year, Makers and STEM were the key words I heard over and over. Last year I had to search for sessions on these topics and this year I had to decide which one I wanted to go to. It is fantastic. I am so excited and relived that this is something that others are now seeing the importance of. I love hearing how others are using this across the curriculum, something I have been talking to teachers about all spring and summer.

So what now? My two big soap boxes are no longer needed. What I have been pushing for and have worked so hard to get the word out on is now the norm. Where do I, and the so many others like you who have been pushing for things we know are essential to education go from here? No where. We are still the experts. We are no longer just passionate about this, we are experts. So now we need to take that expertise and guide the others. We know where it leads, they are just putting their toes in and wading around. We need to be their tour guides. We need to give advice, hold their hand, listen. We need to learn from those who are new. We need to tell others we are here for them when they do mess up or need that advice. So often I worry about those that are only a year or two into social media and have jumped to “twitter fame.” Without connections, it will fizzle out pretty quickly, I have seen it several times. We should be there supporting and connecting with them before that happens. We also need to keep moving forward. technology and social media are changing every day. Those of us on Twitter 4 or more years ago have seen this, those of us who had people look at us like we are crazy for pushing “making” in an everyday classroom understand pushback. Lets use those leadership skills as well as our knowledge of this for moving forward.

I don’t know what the next ‘soap box’ will be and I may be too tired to jump on, but wow it is incredible to see that soap box I was on so long is no longer that, it is now the ground floor with everyone else. It is awesome that movements that my friends/colleagues and I have have pushed for so long be something that is accepted and popular. Gives me hope that when something is right, it will work if we keep believing in it. And if not, we all learned something from Google Wave, right?

Hope y’all are having a fantastic summer!

Summer is for Reflection and Relaxing

So I’ve been out of school for a week now and I’ve been wanting to write a post to reflect on this year over the last two weeks but I’ve been so busy that it has yet to happen. And then there is the deal of when I start one in my head its either too much or not enough to make a whole post on. So I’m going back to what I did at midpoint of the school year, a top 10 list of what I’ve learned the last week of school and the first week of summer break. I’ll try to keep it short, I’ll try. Here goes :

10. Relaxing is not laziness.
Last week I had so much to do but I took the time Monday to have a long lunch with my daughter then on Wednesday I got my “hair did” which was much needed. Both times I felt like I needed to work or picked up my phone to work. Luckily I stopped myself. We need breaks. We need to stop and enjoy the life we have.

9. Reflection is important.
Don’t just end the year thinking “that was good” or “that sucked.” Look back through the year, what worked, what didn’t. You can’t grow without reflection. Use data in that reflection. No matter what I reflected on I didn’t feel like I was successful this year. But when putting together the evidence of my end of year professional plan we have to do here in AL I saw data and I saw my successes.

8. You are not the failure you think you are. And when you do fail, learn from it, then share the knowledge.
Friday night I saw the movie “Mom’s Night Out.” The whole point was a mom going through all the stresses that women, especially southern women who have to smile and not have moments and be perfect 24/7, go though. This past year I have gone through a lot in my classroom. I’ve never felt like such a failure in my life. Usually I wouldn’t care. The last two years have really taken a lot out of me. I’ve lost all my confidence in myself as a teacher. It hurts. I’ve never had insecurities like I have and I let that control me sometimes. But in all of this, I looked at the data I kept up with throughout the year and saw what worked. I’ve taken that and tried to share this with y’all. Half of my PBL presentation last week was on “what I did wrong and how I changed it.” Why let others make your same mistakes?! I also learned others outside your situation see you a lot different. Being nominated for a Bammy floored me. I still don’t think I deserve that nomination but wow can I say humbled?!

7. You are your soul not your body.
Whether you’re like me fighting health issues or you have everyday physical insecurities, that is not what defines you. Changes have to be made to keep your body healthy but never let them stop you.

6. Social media can destroy faster than it builds.
I saw this first hand this week. I everyday is just part of our story, so we need to keep writing it when we’ve been torn down, so chin up. But please everyone, think before you post. Think about everyone affected. Never use the “I’m not naming names” comment but give enough details that everyone can guess. Just don’t. Think.

5. Yes, we are all entitled to a bad day, but keep it to yourself.
One bad day, one “having a moment,” one lashing out can destroy everything you’ve worked for. I have no advice for when it has happened but when you have insecurities or hurt, keep it to yourself until you have calmed down. You can’t take it back. You can only apologize so much. But damage is done. And that hurt is worse than anything else. One day can destroy the most important thing in yout life. Also, on the flip side, if someone hurts you on that bad day, be forgiving.

4. Don’t be just a presentor.
Many of you that read my blog go to conferences and present. When you do, take the time to meet people who are in your sessions. Make sessions have time for people to get to know those around them. Met some pretty cool people that I learned so much from in my sessions at #AETC2014 last week. I met a STEM teacher from a private alternative school who drove his hydrogen modified car hits students built to the conference. Totally learned so much from him. Met so many more through emails and tweets. Relationships are our key to learning, y’all.

3.  Establish an “Ask don’t tell” policy.
Changes have to be made. As a teacher or a principal, when those changes effect your students or teachers, ask their opinion. Even if you have made the decision and nothing will change your mind, run in by those people involved. That’s the difference between a leader and a boss. Just that little action can make people feel like they matter.

2. Your passions should become more.
Looking over my resume the other day (I’m still looking for a tech specialist job, know of any? I can’t move but I can travel ;), my mom and I noticed that I had the word passion in there a there times. But she said this “I know these are your passions, but look where you did _ and _, these more than passions, you’re an expert at this. They are now your expertise.” Wow that struck me. Yeah I guess so. It is easier to “brag” that we are passionate than experts. I look at the passion based learning movement, that’s what it’s doing, taking kids passions and not only are these passions making our world a better place, it’s giving them experience to be experts in something they love.

1. It’s about process not product.
When I talk about PBL my big focus is on letting teachers know it’s about the process not the product. I learned my own lesson this year. I feel like writing my own curriculum while teaching the class and trying something new was my own PBL. But here I am, focusing on products. Not the amazing process I went through. Isn’t that what life really is? This whole process. We don’t really have much of a product in the end, just what we leave behind.

So over the past few days I’ve been reflecting. This is just some of it. Have an amazing summer. Reflect and relax!