#STEM is What Earth Needs, Literally

There are some days you will never forget. You hear the date and remember sights, sounds, feelings, etc. For most Alabamians, one of those dates are April 27, 2011.

On April 27, I remember the power going out when getting ready for school. Then getting to school and trying to figure out where everyone was and the chaos when I walked through the doors. I’ll never forgot the next 24 hours of pure stress and fear. Before it was all over, entire communities were destroyed and 249 people in my state lost their lives. It is a day I will never forget.

So imagine my feelings when I watched this:

Day after day I get on my soap box and tell anyone who will listen why we need to integrate STEM into our classrooms. I give reasons like, preparing them for their future, raising problem solvers, or even showing how STEM can actually support Common Core. But this right here, it puts it all into reality.

Our world is changing so fast. Usually we see this as a good thing. But it isn’t always. The Earth of 1915 and 2015 are not the same. Heck the earth of 1965 has gone through so many changes. Our future needs a society of people who not only understand these changes but the causes of them. And they not only understand, but they are looking for ways to stop the decline of our environment. We need to teach empathy along with problem solving so they understand why we need to take care of the Earth then come up with best ways to protect it. A society that understands science and the world they have been given will be more likely to find ways to restore it and prevent the deterioration of it. Train these students to think like engineers and they can change the world. Change it to a world we want to live in.

We don’t know if this theory is 100% true. But what we do know is that 249 people died and that pollution can have adverse effects on our Earth. We know that pollution is preventable. And I know I never want to experience another April 27.

Who Did I Help Today?

We all have a hero. Someone who shapes our thinking, our opinions, and how we handle situation. I have a hero. Lucky for me I lived with my hero for almost 20 years. She’s my mom.

No one on earth could ever compare to Vicky Countryman in my eyes from the time I was old enough to hero worship. As I get older and as she gets older, I realize just how amazing she really is. Watching her go to work with her chemo in her purse and it still plugged into her port or last year going to work in Nike’s because she has 4 plates in her leg from a roller skating accident was pretty darn inspiring. She has strength I wish I had. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Friday night my hero retired. She had worked at the same place since the day after her high school graduation. Forty four years later she retired as AVP of compliance for one of the largest credit unions in my state. Pretty good career if you ask me. I decided to go to her good bye at work (in typical Vicky fashion she refused a party because thought the attention was silly). I’m so glad I went because once again she inspired me.

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You hear often of parents feeling pride when they hear compliments about their kids, I felt this pride for my parent. As her boss and she talked about their career together my mom became my hero again. Here’s why:

1. She started by saying how proud she was of everyone in the room. She spoke of the people sitting there and told them why she was proud of them. Talked about their growth personally and in the company. Most people don’t focus on others during a time like this.

2. She said she was asked for advice from a coworker and her advice was this “laugh it off, don’t take this place so seriously.” I love this. We all need to do this more. I am a big believer in laughing at what life gives you. You have to.

3. She ended with this, “everyday I leave here, the first thing I ask myself is ‘who did I help today?’ I’m back office staff, my job is to support those who are working with the public and are on the front lines of our company. If I’m not supporting them, I’m not doing my job. Now let’s eat cake.”

That last statement really hit me hard. As an instructional tech coach, I’m back office, my job is exactly what my mom’s was, to support those on the front lines. Those in the classrooms, in the schools, who are working with our students. Teachers need support everyday. I know what it like being in a classroom, I hope I never forget what they deal with every day. I don’t want to go into my schools and throw them a bunch of information and put unrealistic expectations on them. I also don’t want to walk out of a building without every teacher knowing that I’m there for them. First thing I do is give them my email. While I can’t be in the classroom of all 10,000 teachers in my district I can make sure when they reach out to me through email I can help them as quickly as possible. I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in emails and friends tell me so many times that I don’t have to answer all 40 something I get a day, if it is from a teacher, yes I do. That’s my job. That’s what I want to do, not push them off on someone else, help them the best I can. I’m not there yet, I have a lot of improvement before I am as helpful as she was. I need to judge less and ask what I can do to help more. I want to be that support system and over time I hope I will be.

Will I ever help as many people as my mom? Probably not. I don’t expect to. As she and I walked out of her office one last time, she said talked about how hard that ‘non party’ was. She said it was weird bc most people get cake everyone says bye and they leave and she couldn’t figure out why everyone kept sticking around talking to her and giving her the most thoughtful gifts. I probably looked at her like she grew another head. She didn’t get it. She reached her goal. She helped everyone. She was their support. I’m pretty lucky to have a hero like her, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from her for 33 years now and can’t wait to learn from her 33 more.

The Education That MLK Fought For

I’m from the South. Birmingham, Alabama to be exact. If you have ever spoken to me, you know because it’s obvious. In the south, from the moment you step foot in a school you learn about the struggles of the civil rights movement. Even first year teachers have to go though Lee vs Macon training that focuses on racism and equality. Southern history is embarrassing but the purpose of learning history is learning to avoid mistakes of those in the past. And I think we are getting there. Watching protest going on around the country has made me thankful I live in a place where my kids are surrounded by people of all races and I’m so happy that they seriously do not see color when they look at their friends.

One of the main fights during the civil rights movement was desegregation of schools. Today it is insane to think that just 50 years ago your skin color determined your education. I could never imagine treating a student in my classroom any different because of their race. I am so thankful for those who fought and even gave their lives so my children can go to school and have friends of all races.

Today I saw this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

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I started thinking about what MLK and others went through so their children,  children of the our lifetime, and the future could have the education they deserve. BUT are we giving them the education that was fought so hard for? Would MLK look at education today and be proud? Would he determine it was worth dying for or would he be disappointed?

King nailed it here, education is to teach to think critically and intensively. Are we teaching this? How many times a day do you encourage this kind of thinking in your classroom? You can’t teach this with worksheets or test prep.

Just imagine if King had never thought critically. He would have accepted life as it was because that’s what he was told to think. His life and unfortunately lives of so many would have been and still would be different. You cannot change history by using our brains for just regurgitating facts and accepting things the way they are. As teachers you have the power to influence the thinkers and leaders of our future. Don’t take that for granted. One person can push for change, that one person may be in your classroom needing just a small push, don’t let that opportunity slip away.

Have a great week y’all!

2015 – A Challenge of #365success

Good bye 2014! Many people write reflections on the year that is ending.  Well, I didn’t like 2014 too much. The last few months have been pretty nice with me having the most incredible job ever, but until then, it was a rough year. 2014 was a year where failure and struggle was part of my job and life every day. So I’m ready for a change. I really don’t want to relive most of that year. Another thing I am not going to do is make a New Year’s Resolution. No need to set myself up for failure or focus on just one cheesy goal.

So why on earth am I writing this end of the year post? Few weeks ago I read this article called “What Happened When We Created Daily Lists of Our Successes.” The article has really stuck with me, and if you knew how many articles I read a day, that is a big deal. In the article they stated that after a while they slept better (could you imagine less insomnia!), finishing goals and to do list became easier and less overwhelming, and they started to appreciate others more as well as things that were important to them. So what would happen if we spent a moment every day and looked for one success for that day? What if our students did this? Can you imagine how powerful this would be. Think about that student who feels like they could never do anything right (I taught middle school, that was like 99% of my students). What if their “bellwork” or “exit ticket” at least once a week was to write down one success. Even if that success is getting to school on time or not punching the bully who made fun of their shoes. Over time they would start seeing the good in their lives.

Imagine if teachers did that as well. Last school year I felt like a failure every day. Every single day I received an email or a comment about what I could have done better (parents can forget we are human and don’t understand that writing a curriculum while teaching it isn’t easy). I really focused on those failures. But the last week of school I was finishing my Educate Alabama and I was putting in all my evidences and I had 7 pages of successes that matched my goals for the year. I keep wondering what it would have done for my sanity if I written down my successes as they happened. I think as teachers we get so caught up with standards and tests and grades that we forget those little successes. We don’t become teachers to grade papers or help kids get A’s. We become teachers to make differences in children’s lives, to pass on knowledge of things we are passionate about, etc. So if we record these good things we do everyday, we won’t forget why we are here and let the negatives take over.

So I have a challenge for you. Starting January 1, 2015, post one success a day. Just one. No one uses the hashtag #365success so I’m claiming it and that is where we can post them. Take time in your classroom to have students write things they did well and are proud of. Yeah, it may take up class time that you don’t have enough of, but make it homework or realize that those 5 minutes could really encourage students to look at themselves differently. Have them use the hashtag as well.

Happy New Year and have a great 2015! I’ve missed all of you and your encouragement. I do have a goal to blog more in 2015, so hopefully I will be back! I look forward to reading what you succeed in every day!

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!”