Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Summer Learning

I am embarrassed to admit it has been over 5 months since I last posted on this blog. I have still spent a lot of time reading great ideas from a long list of other bloggers, but fell out of the routine of publishing anything of my own. Well, leave it to #compelledtribe to get me "nudged" in the right direction.

Which is surprising because I have found over the years that I am very much a creature of habit. I spend most of my "free time" to get my exercise in for the day. Even if it means setting the alarm when the first number is a 4. I have found that through hard work, what starts off as hard becomes easy to adjust to while maintaining a routine. I find running, biking, and lifting weights to be great examples of this. Now, if I can take the time to push myself the same in this writing challenge I have created for myself...

We have been asked to spend some time sharing on our summer reading/learning for #compelledtribe. I have read several books (currently reading one on the early 1970s Oakland As) this summer, but there are two that I have learned a great deal from: Work Rules by Laszlo Bock and Hacking Google for Education by Scott Rocco, Billy Krakower, and Brad Currie. The first book I was not expecting to get so much out of, but did. The second one was filled with great ideas I could implement tomorrow (which I knew ahead of time).

Work Rules is written by the head of Google, Laszlo Bock. The one huge takeaway from this book was the simplicity that explained the philosophy that permeates through Google: Mission. Transparency. Voice. That simple message was a lightbulb moment for me. Being a math teacher, I am always looking for ways to break down difficult concepts so my students can better understand them. I found Bock's message had that same impact on me. I believe this to be a simple message that all educators should embrace. If we focused on these three things, imagine the impact we could have on our classrooms, schools, and districts. I highly recommend this book.

Hacking Google for Education was full of great "Hacks" for schools and districts that use GAFE. I have to admit, there were a few that I already used, but I learned new ways to use Google Maps, Google Calendar, and add-ons to help speed up my responses to emails. I am a big fan of the entire Hack Learning Series, and this book did not disappoint. I also highly recommend this book.

So, I hope you found two new books to add to your reading list. I am hoping I can find a couple more to share with you. Also, I am hoping to develop a new routine of writing and reflecting over the next couple of weeks. Again, thanks #compelledtribe for the motivation to get back at this writing thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Competition and Collaboration

Competition is good. Competition is needed. Yes, you can have competition and collaboration at the same time. That is what separates the okay teams from the great ones.

I have been an athlete my entire life. In my experience, competition is what pushes athletes to do better and be better. That constant push to get better takes a drive that is inside every competitive person.

Having said that, my entire athletic life has been on teams. I have never competed in anything on an individual basis. So, to me, working together (collaboration) is a necessity for teams to achieve their goals. It is about sacrificing individual stats for the betterment of the team.

When does it go awry? When people are more focused on themselves over the team. Think about teams that you have heard described as having "that it factor". To me, that factor is a collective understanding that the success of everyone is far more important than the individual. As the famous saying goes: "The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back of it."

Collaboration helps people push towards a common goal while sharing resources and talents. A great team is a tremendous example of this.

Competition is good. Competition is needed, but it must be the kind that keeps the focus on improving the team first, the individual second.

Friday, February 3, 2017

10 Things I Wish Admin Knew

After reading a post by Rich Czyz from 4 o'clock faculty about 10 Things I Wish Teachers Knew, I started thinking about 10 things that I wish Admin knew. After some thought, here is what I have as my list:

1. If you add something to my plate, please remove something as well.

2. Just a small bit of recognition goes a long way.

3. Support me in public and I will run through a wall for you.

4. I secretly feel like a scolded student when asked to report to your office.

5. I lose sleep over failing students.

6. Please respect the chain of command. Have parents speak to me first about issues in my classroom.

7. I have very little "free" time during school hours. Or after school for that matter...

8. I want Professional Learning days to excite and motivate me. 

9. I am a learner as well. Sometimes it takes me a while to learn new tech/methods. Have the same patience with me as you want me to have with my students.

10. All I really want is what's best for my students as well. And I am exhausted from doing that...

Did I leave anything out? What would you add? Many thanks to Rich for getting me thinking about this...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Now, I Get It!!

I want to apologize in advance. I do not know how much of this post will discuss education, teaching strategies, project based learning, or my aspirations to one day be a principal. This being said, I would like to use this space to iron out frustrations, stresses, and/or questions that have been bouncing around in my head since Election Day. I promise, this is not a rant about any one particular candidate. I will not be discussing my political beliefs much at all, I think. I just need some place to mull some things over...

I was in church this morning, and the priest began his sermon mentioning that this week is a week celebrated as "Unity Week" throughout the Christian Church. Everyone in the pews began shaking their heads in mutual agreement. Unless you have been living under a rock, everyone has noticed how things are very unified right now. We are more divided now than at any point I can remember.

He referenced the two readings and the Gospel, which he weaved his vast knowledge of Christianity with real life examples I could absolutely relate to. Then, he began to talk about a show he loves to watch. He mentioned that this family does not always get along, but every Sunday they make sure they share a meal together. Why do they do this, he asked? Were they obligated as family to do this? Were they being forced? He definitely had my attention....

What was it that brought them to the table every Sunday? It was a respect for each other. It was a belief in something bigger than themselves that guided them. Sure, they quarreled. Yes, they fought. Yes, they had disagreements. But what did they make sure they could do? Respect each other. This is where I had my "Ah-ha" Moment.

See, the last few months, I have not been a good listener. I have not given people a chance to explain why my choice for President would not work; why theirs might be better. I would not listen to people at all. I was so dead-set in my own beliefs that I could not see anyone else's. What example was I setting for my kids (both at home and in my classroom?) Wasn't I always talking to them about Atticus Finch and "walking a mile in someone else's shoes?" I was not being very respectful. I was acting like a child who was not getting their way.

I left church today feeling like a weight had been lifted off of me. Being that angry all the time was weighing me down. I resolved to be a better listener. I am no longer going to assume my beliefs are innately better than others. I resolve to be more respectful. I harp on my students all the time about this idea. We may not agree with others, but they are still people, and they deserve to be treated with respect. So do their ideas, arguments, and rationales.

Needless to say, I left church seeing things differently today. I am glad the Priest took it upon himself to stress the respect angle, and how it effects unity. Here's to hoping I can continue on the same track. We will never come together if we can not respectfully disagree. Thank you for allowing me this space to work through these feelings. Looking forward to a productive, a lot calmer, week. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Professional Learning

Professional Learning is something we have all participated in at some point during our educational careers. Unfortunately, it is usually associated with a dreadful experience for anyone who has to attend. Some teachers save their sick time so they do not have to attend these sessions. Others bring something else to do during that time: grade papers, read a book, check their phone, or doodle on the agenda given when one enters the space. Learning is actually the furthest thing on the minds of the people in the crowd.

Why is this? Why do most educators dread attending what is suppose to help them improve? Usually, it is because the topics are not relevant. It is apparent that the topic for this "day of learning" is just something that must be completed. It is in no way going to help us improve as teachers. It is just something that needs to be done so someone higher up can check off that their district covered this topic. It is quite obvious that there will not be an opportunity to have any follow up at a later time. The attendees never feel connected to what is being discussed, so there is minimal learning actually going on.

I always kept the above scenario in mind when I planned sessions where I was presenting something to my colleagues. I understood that they wanted to leave a session with something they can use the very next day. They want something tangible. They want to be able to work through a process, scenario, or new technology that will ultimately better them as educators. They want interaction. They want to discuss the topic with the people around them. Share ideas. Question. Think. Share.

The funny thing is, I wonder how many of these teachers allow their students to learn the same way. How many of them give their students time to work through something before grading it? Do they get a chance to talk through a process. Share with others in the class? Present alternate ways of solving the problem? Learn from a group instead of just the person standing in front of the group?

Yes, I am being a little facetious, but I do not think I am that far off. I have learned over the years that leading teachers through a process is very similar to leading students through a new topic; both want time to work through the kinks. Both want a chance to talk with others, either to check what they have done, or learn from someone else. Lastly, both want to know that they will get a chance to redo something if they find themselves struggling.

In closing, I guess I just find it interesting both teachers and students learn similarly, only the latter group usually gets graded on something shortly after learning it.

Thank you for giving me time to work through this. I have been thinking about this for a while. Please feel free to leave a comment...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Putting the Learning on Them

My math students have been working on creating blogs over the last several weeks. With the help of our computer teacher, we now have all 6th-8th graders with blogger accounts. I have used the last month giving the students weekly activities to work on and post. Currently, the posts are only visible by a couple of administrators. I am hoping to be able to gradually open these up school wide and then fully public. After about a month of having my students working on these, here are some thoughts/reactions:

1. I have learned that many of my students are extremely creative. A little embarrassing to finally see that after working with a kid for over two years.
2. I have had students ask if they could post activities from other classes. I love the fact many of them are using their own time to create a cool blog.
3. Giving feedback is critical on my part. I am constantly reading blogs and giving them feedback on what I see and what I do not see.
4. Trying to keep the feedback away from saying good job, good work, good points. Trying to make it specific as to what I see and do not see.
5. As interesting as the topics are, I still have some that do not complete the activity. Even when given the choice of topics, some choose to not complete it.
6. Teaching digital literacy is constant. It adds more to my plate, but is necessary in today's world.
7. I am hoping the students will use these blogs as digital portfolios when they go to apply to high school. I have relayed that to them.
8. The topics for the blogs have math connections. I try to get them to connect something from another subject with a topic in math that we have covered.
9. I will not tell them what specific connection they should use. They must discover/find them by themselves. If they ask, I try to push them towards things they are interested in.

Overall, I am pleased with the progress of the blogs. I am hopeful that this will branch out to include more viewers for the students. I am interested to see how the work improves when they know more people may view it. Right now, I am the only one that can see the work.

Thank you for giving the space and time to work through my thoughts. I expect these blogs to be helpful to my students as digital portfolios. I am learning what the difference between these two are.

Any suggestions on how I can have my students make the step from "just creating blogs" to creating digital portfolios?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hitting the Restart Button

I have to get something off my chest. I was not excited about returning this fall. I was not looking forward to starting my 21st year of teaching. I was not looking forward to getting back to the grind of working with students. Pushing them to be better each day. I was really dragging.

Why? Honestly, because I really thought I was getting a new job. I had interviewed twice for Administrative jobs that I was really excited about getting. Both opportunities provided me with the chance for a final round interview with the Superintendent and other members of the Admin Team. I was so close to landing these jobs, I could taste it.

When I received the phone call with the news I did not get them, I was crushed. Actually, crushed does not truly describe how I felt. I really thought I had an excellent shot at both opportunities. Well, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

What helped to pull me out of my funk? About a week ago I started sending "Good Notes Home" to a few students each day. The emails I sent were nothing spectacular, just a brief note describing the things I saw in class: asking good questions, helping other classmates, doing solid work, etc. I wanted to share with parents a brief snippet of what was going on with their child in my class. We do not see them until late November when we have Conferences.

The feedback I have received from parents has been awesome. They really like the fact that I am taking the time to share the "good stuff" going on in our room. I am not focusing the note on the grade they are receiving. I am focusing on the good habits that I see.

How has this little practice helped me? Actually, it has given me the shot in the arm I desperately needed. Also, it has forced me to look for the good things certain students are doing during the day. It has made my observations intentional so I can share these notes with parents later.

I highly recommend starting this activity. It does not take a lot of time during the day (less than 10 minutes), so there really is no excuse. Usually when teachers reach out to parents it is to share a problem. I still may have to make those calls one day, but I will have started the relationship on a positive note prior to that exchange.

Many thanks to George Couros (@gcouros) and Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) for blogging about the importance of getting rid of the excuses and sitting down to write.

What have you done recently to hit the "restart button"? Please share.