Who Are You?

Today I was in church and my preacher said something that has been on my mind lately. He asked

What is your identity?

I had a conversation about this with a member of my PLN that I look up to and learn from the other day. And being asked that question took me back to that convo.

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You see when we introduce ourselves to others or when describe ourselves how do we do so? Do we give ourselves titles? Do we automatically name our job? Is this OK? What’s wrong with this?

When we give ourselves titles, does this hurt us? Many of you are classroom teachers. I hate hearing ‘I’m just a teacher.’ If that is how you describe yourself, does that stop you from making progress, taking a stand, or making a difference beyond your classroom? Titles can hold us back. They can also cause us to miss a learning opportunity if we have an intimidating title. Someone with a lesser title may not feel like they can share the one thing you’ve been wanting to learn. Last week I went to Edcamp Sand Mtn and Michael Fowlkes the organizer was very adamant about leaving titles at the door and just be learners. I think we should do that more often.

Another problem I see it when define ourselves as too many titles and they don’t mesh. Many times we define ourselves by job as well as family status. So we are parents/spouse and teacher/administrator. That’s great bc means you’re more than your job but those two things always don’t go together. So now you can feel as if you are living two lives. Living one life is exhausting, don’t try to live two. You can’t. I wonder if that’s how teacher burn out happens sometimes. Or how we drift away from our families. When that’s how we see ourselves we miss all the inbetween.

None of those things are really defining us. It’s what we do or responsibilities we have but that’s not you or me. And what happens when your job changes or your children grow up and start their own families? If that’s how you define yourself, then who are you now? No one wants to be a nothing. Or have to spend years trying to ‘find yourself.’ That’s precious time you could be making a difference.

So who are you? The real you? Over last 6 months I’ve been figuring this out:
Hi I’m Amanda, the beach lover. I’m a learner. I love to learn new things. I’m always hungry for new things. I love to laugh, I find humor in most situations. I’m also creative, I have a brain that never stops so not all of that creativity makes it out. I’m kinda messy but don’t lose things because my mess is organized. I love watching sports, my children, and having fun.

What you do and your responsibilities do not define you. Don’t let them.

Stop Buying Technology

Ok, so maybe don’t stop buying technology. Or do. Let’s talk. Last few weeks I have been meeting with teachers, supervisors, and administrators about technology in their schools and what needs they have. My goal in doing this is to find out what they have and what I can do professional development wise to make sure they are using these tools to maximize student learning.

The problem I am seeing is that many are not using the tech they have beyond games or teachers use. The schools keep buying more or buying things that do not fit the classroom’s needs. Teachers say they need ipads or laptops but what they have already sits on the shelf. Or worse, things like clickers are being bought in a BYOD classroom.

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So lets just take a moment and stop buying technology. Buying technology or stating that you are going to BYOD is the easy part. Often so much goes into this part that the rest is forgotten. Technology get put in the hands of teachers and then we expect them to use it to meet the needs of the students in their classroom. Does that happen? Yeah there are pretty awesome teachers who take PD in their own hands and do amazing things, but these are not the norm. We don’t buy new curriculum materials and just hand them to the teachers and expect them to know what to do with them. Imagine being a science teacher and given “new and world changing” lab equipment that looks nothing like they have ever used. Would you expect the teachers to use it correctly? What if they were chemicals they had never heard of? This could be a disaster. Yet we do this with technology. The technology is not going to teach. The technology is not going to change pedagogy. The technology is not going to turn itself on if the teachers are afraid. It is a tool, a tool that needs to be taught.

My new rules of thumb when it comes to purchasing technology:

  1. Will improve student learning? Look at the tech. Is it just attractive or could it really make a difference in the student’s experience? If it is not focused on students and learning then it probably is a waste of money. Are teachers going to be touching it or are the students?
  2. Do the teachers/students already have tech that can be used for the same purpose? What does your school or do you already have? Is the technology just a fancier version? If your school is BYOD, you probably do not need clickers, there are plenty of free programs that teachers can use. If classrooms have working Chromebooks, don’t replace them for iPads just because. Use what you already have, if it works. If it no longer works, can it be repaired for a much lower price?
  3. For every new device or new initiative, you need at least 3 professional development sessions.
    1. To learn how to use the devices or follow the procedures properly.
    2. To learn how to use it for student learning. How to use it for high level (think Bloom’s) activities.
    3. A follow up to make sure the devices are being used correctly (or at all).
  4. If all else fells, ask an expert. You have instructional technology people in your district. Ask for their honest opinion on the technology.

Technology is not a magic potion. It is not going to produce miracles. What it can do is enhance learning and lower the walls of your classroom. If the technology is only going to be used for the “S” in SAMR, and you are not going to push it’s use nor provide professional development, then don’t buy it. You are doing more harm than good. New technology without support or purpose is going to cause frustration or will sit in the closet. I see it happen everyday.

So please, stop buying the technology because it was asked for or because it looks cool. Buy it because it can change how students are learning and how your teachers are teaching.

Celebration and Compassion in Education

So this time last year I was confused. I had been to the Bammy Awards and there was some frustration over part of the award show. There was also frustration over the conversations over social media that happened the dates preceding the awards. I wasn’t on either side of the fence. I could see the arguments for both sides. I understood both. So this year when I was a nominee for Middle School Teacher I wasn’t sure how I felt about going. But I wanted to go see my friends and be part of a night I had enjoyed in the past.

Last night I did not leave the Bammy’s with the feeling of confusion. I left being proud of my colleagues. I left being proud of my profession, even if I am no longer a middle school teacher. The 3 min talks were so inspiring and I’m so proud to be able to call most of them my friends. The obvious compassion they have for children and their students are unbelievable. The winners that I knew are amazing educators, people that I enjoy learning from. How can I not be excited by the fact that they are recognized. I don’t think I’ve ever been embarrassed to say I’m an educator, but I will say that what I heard last night made my heart grow a few sizes pure Grinch style.

I know many will always be against awards, and that is more than OK. But how often do we hear that education and what we are doing every day doesn’t get the respect it deserves? This was a night of respect. This was a night a spotlight was shown on a few great educators. Don’t belittle their excitement for the awards because you don’t agree. Don’t bash the awards and cause more rifts in the education online community. Just let it go. Realize that a few chosen for an award are no different than when a website, podcast,  or company chooses one of to spotlight or write for them. This is the same, the Bammy’s are putting the word out there that education isn’t all CCSS and negative news stories, there is more to us. So please celebrate the accomplishments of others. I know that I am. Congrats to my amazing  friends and to those making a difference that I didn’t know. Thank you for showing compassion every day.

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No Changes For Me, Please

How do we change a culture of resistance? That’s a question that has been on my mind. A group of us were trying to wrap our minds around on Voxer the other day and it’s really bothered me that I don’t know the answer.

This week I got to meet with a majority of the tech reps at the schools in my district. We were writing tech plans for their schools. Often I would give suggestions about ways to increase tech use and ‘they won’t do that, no one cares about using tech’ would be the answer. Made me think about the conversation we were having on Voxer. It all goes back to this resistance.

Why is there resistance? Is it because they believe they know everything? I spoke at a faculty meeting last week and the teachers I spoke too literally turned their backs to me and talked the whole time. I taught 8th grade boys and this was a first to me. I think they thought what I had to say was pointless. But if that was the case that explains a lot. I hear often that there is no need to change because it works, kids make good grades, they learn to read, and pass standardized tests. If that is the ultimate goal of education then they are correct. If that is the goal of the school, then they are the best of the best. But is that what school is ultimately for? Or is school to give students skills they need for today and for the rest of their lives? Maybe this is the beginning of the problem. We don’t all have common goals or we have short term goals that focus on now.

Another reason I’m seeing for resistance is the fear of the unknown. When I talk BYOD I hear that as underlying theme. No one comes out and says ‘I’m afraid’ but heard from multiple teachers about not knowing what students are doing on phones/tablets. Or school policies of locking up phones during tests. Umm that is the biggest example of fear. Fear usually comes from a bad experience or loss of control or the unknown. I think letting students take out phones after years of telling them to put them away would cause all three of those problems. Especially without conversations and training. The conversations have to take place first. They need to know the benefits and pedagogy. Same with any technology.

I also wonder if the lack of pressure to change is also a reason. If using technology or other changes are optional, would less take that step? I think those that are driven would but what about the others? So do we need administrators to push change for it to happen or will leaders inside the classroom do that? Can students and parents lead the way for change?

I have no idea the answers to this or what steps to take next. My coworker and I have a plan, but I worry if we are on the right track. Can just a few people make a difference? I like to believe so. I would love to hear from you on this. What do you think causes resistance to change?

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.