Well I’ve “moved up” to high school this year as a data leader, which means I help staff members use classroom and assessment data to drive instruction (that’s the hope anyway.) I have always worked in middle school so I’ve never been able to see “the end product” with my students. Until this year that is. I am at the high school right next door to the middle school where I had my first teaching job and this year’s seniors are my last group of sixth graders from “across the lot.” It has been very exciting for me to see so many of my former students these last few days and sad to see many of them not here because they have already decided school isn’t “the way to go.” When I taught “across the lot” I had all of the ESOL students as soon as they left the Newcomers’ program. I have been impressed and awed by the development of so many of my former students’ language skills – they ROCK! I’ve been really surprised and flattered by the number of students that not only remember my name but also have memories from my class that they’ve been wanting to tell me. These are SENIORS people and that was six years ago, which in “teen-aged years” is practically a lifetime!
I’ve had a crazy semester (thus the non-posting by Ms. M) but as it comes to a close I inevitably reflect on my experiences, both with others and on my own. This is just a random collection of thoughts I’ve had in the last week or two.
- I still truly believe that teaching is the most important career (aside from being a parent) that anyone could choose to pursue. I love kids and am amazed on a daily basis by their perspectives on life – positive or otherwise. I tell my students that I change the world every day, as everything that happens in my classroom impacts them in some way and they will take that with them when they leave me. Thus, it is my goal to change the world in a positive way as much as I possibly can. Every day has to be a fresh start for every child that walks into my room, no matter what has happened in the past.
- I have to realize that I have no control over what happens in classrooms that aren’t mine and that the best way to help students overcome adversity is to be a positive role model and support them even when they don’t think they want or need it. Dwelling on negativity not only doesn’t help anyone, it becomes a disease that will infect my classroom if I allow it. Not only do I need to give my students a fresh start every day, I need to allow myself that same privilege. Every morning I need to start over, forgetting whatever slip-ups I may have had. No one is perfect, so I should not expect perfection from myself. To be human is a beautiful thing – imperfections and all.
- It’s time I start being an advocate again for technology integration and Project-based Learning. With changing schools and jobs this year I have let that slide, and it is unacceptable. I will start blogging again, I will start posting student projects to my class website and I will start offering to host PLCs in these areas. They are things which I truly believe will impact positive change in education (and face it, our education system is seriously damaged right now) and if I want it to change I’ve got to do my part to change it. Someone’s got to be an impetus for change, why can’t it be me?
I am incredibly grateful for my small collection of friends that have helped me through this incredibly challenging semester and am going to try from this point forward to be the positive influence in the lives of both students and teachers that I know is needed. I can not control what others do, but I can control what I do and hope that it impacts others in a beneficial way.
This year has been all about adapting to change for me. My position was cut at the end of the school year last year due to budget cuts so I went on the job hunt and found a science teaching position at Jardine to move into this year. Well long story short I ended up getting moved into the assessment coordinator and site technology specialist position before the school year ever even got started. Then to make an even longer story short, there ended up not being a coordinator for the assessment coordinators this year, so I kind of had to start “winging it” from the get go. No training or PD available left me feeling like I was a day late and a dollar short pretty much all year but I do feel like I’ve kept my head above water most of the time. But to add to all of this, Jardine is going through restructuring this year due to not making AYP for a number of years. (Although this year’s scores look like we will make it this year – yea!) We’ll have a new principal next year and almost 50% of the staff will not be returning, including me. So now I wait to find out where I’ll be placed next year. This means I’m heading “back to my roots” by teaching kids next year. I’m getting pretty excited about it as I feel that I have learned so much in the last four years in the various roles I’ve filled (technology integration specialist, assessment coordinator, DEN Leadership Council member, site technology specialist, Glogster EDU embassador and others) that I will be such a better teacher than I was. It will be really great to share first hand all the new knowledge I’ve gained directly with students to see their reactions and growth for myself.
This week I was privileged to attend the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute at Bentley University in Waltham, MA. It was an incredible learning experience! I it just such an uplifting experience being among so many amazing educators who share a similar vision for education as I do. To be able to converse and share ideas, gain resources, learn new skills AND have fun all at the same time makes the learning so much more meaningful and impactful for me. We started with some networking (the picture is from the networking trip into Boston), spent a few days in learning sessions and completed a professional development project for something in Discovery Education. We even got to view each others’ projects before we left and I was again blown away by the talent of my fellow STAR educators. The best part about the projects is that Discovery Education is going to upload ALL of them into their Professional Development section so that all Discovery educators can utilize the resources. Thank you DE for such an wonderful and educational experience – it will most definitely have a positive impact on my teaching!
About a week and a half ago I was told that due to budget cuts, my position was “being recommended for elimination to the BOE” and the following Monday the BOE approved that recommendation. If you have ever met me or read any posts on this blog you know that I LOVE my job. I love the opportunity to help other educators grow and improve the educational environment in their classrooms. When I lost my job I was at least able to apply for any open teaching positions within the district and have taken a position at a middle school teaching sixth grade science.
So in August I’m “going back” to the classroom.
It’s still hard for me to fully grasp that idea, that I’ve lost the job that I love and it has nothing to do with my job performance or capabilities. In a time where there are entire schools being restructured by having all employees re-interview for their jobs, the only part that factored into selecting my position was that I was the last person hired. Some days I feel like I’m progressing through the stages of grieving, and other days I feel like I’m just going to wake up tomorrow and it will all have been a very long nightmare. And yes, it is a grieving process. I have lost something which I love and had no choice or say in the matter.
This weekend I was starting to see a light and begin to be excited about some of the possibilities with this new job. When I left the classroom blogs had only been approved for use in our district for a couple of months, the only wiki anyone had ever heard of was Wikipedia and the tools like Glogster and Voicethread hadn’t even started yet. When I think about all that I have learned in the last three years as an instructional technology specialist, and pair that with all of the technology I will have available to me in the classroom, I really do start to get excited. I know that my experience as an ITS has made me a better teacher and that I will be able to more strongly impact students when I have that daily, face-to-face interaction with them, but I’m still struggling with the whole idea.
Leaving the classroom to take this position was the hardest thing I had ever done in my professional life at the time as I love teaching, and now I’ll be “going back” with a new perspective and new skills.
I was excited and flattered when an instructor emailed me to ask if she could interview me for a class she is teaching about being a technology integration specialist. Since it is a class early on in the program it mostly covers what it means to be an integration specialist – what skills are involved and such. So the questions were pretty much what I expected: What would you say are your major responsibilities? What is a typical day like as an integration specialist? (This was the hardest question to answer as no two days are alike.) What advice do you have for those looking to become technology integration specialists? It is this last question that was both the easiest and I feel most important question she could have asked. And these are the main points of my answer:
- Expand your Professional Learning Network (PLN) – I learn SO MUCH when I take time to read my RSS feeds and just “listen” to the education talk that occurs on sites like Twitter.
- Be approachable, but not a door mat. – It is important that the educators and students you support know that you will help them when they need it, but don’t do the work for them. If needs support keep your hands off of their computer if at all possible. This may possibly be one of the hardest things I had to learn because “I can do it faster.” But, if you fix the problems for them, they will come back again expecting you to fix another problem and won’t ever learn the skills themselves.
- Don’t let your work take over your life. – It is so easy to sit down “for just a few minutes” with your computer in the evening and then realize that two hours have passed. One of my favorite aspects of my job is that I get to explore the internet for new tools and exciting ways to use them in the classroom. But this can be very time consuming and can cause you to feel overwhelmed if you are not careful.
There were of course a number of other things I could have said, but I felt these were some of the biggest ideas that I wanted to convey. And of course as soon as I publish this post there will be even more that I wished I had added.
Have you ever noticed the number of people that are apparently on serious power trips in the world of education? From the physics instructor who destroys a laptop in class to emphasize that laptops are not allowed in his class. (What is this guys scared of anyway? That students might learn additional information than he isn’t giving in his lecture??) Or administrators that create rules for students simply so they can play “Gotcha!” when a student breaks the rules. To districts blocking Youtube, photosharing sites and a vast number of other internet tools all in the name of internet safety. Or the classroom teacher that simply feels that if they were capable of learning without all these “new, fancy tools” their students should be able to do so as well. All of these are intended to make sure everyone around knows “who’s in charge” and that deviants will be punished.
But why? Why must there be keepers of the knowledge or controllers of the access? If our goal as educators is to make sure our students are prepared for life after school, why then are we actually preparing them for life thirty to forty years ago? Billie McNamara in an article title “The Skill Gap” states “Today, basic soft skills dominate workplace needs: interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge; skills and abilities such as ethics, personal organization and work habits; time management; teamwork and interpersonal communication; anger management; reasoning and problem solving; and managing one’s learning.” How are we preparing students for a work environment that requires them to manage their own time, work with others, manage their own learning and solve problems if we are controlling every move they make? It seems to me that we are moving students in the exact opposite direction of where we want them to be by NOT allowing them to think for themselves or have any say in the direction of their learning.
Personally it is so rewarding to give students the power select which tools they will use in the learning process and to give them a say in how to reach the learning objectives. This not only allows students to learn those “soft skills” that so many employers are looking for in new employees, but it actually reduces stress on the teacher – it’s really quite liberating. So what do you say? Can you give it a try? Just let go…
I have a confession to make…
I failed the second semester of my junior year of high school.
I had chosen Ralph Waldo Emerson as a topic for my junior research paper, which was the majority of the semester’s grade. I painstakingly created 25 note cards documenting my research and wrote my rough and final drafts. But when it cam time to turn in my paper, I had lost my note cards. And since I have been a procrastinator since birth, I didn’t complete the assignment until the night before it was due. This meant that I didn’t have time to re-make those note cards and received an F on my research paper and an F for the semester.
To this day I have no idea what I learned from that experience. As I am scouring my action research paper for APA errors, I am having flashbacks to that time of failure in my life. I still wonder why it wasn’t enough she had already given me the points for completing the note cards on time earlier in the semester. I don’t know if I ever told my parents the real reason I failed that assignment. I don’t even remember if I had enough guts to ask for extended time to create a new set. I wonder now as I did then, what the educational value failing a student for losing a stack of cards was. I still enjoy Emerson’s work and remember some of what I had learned from the research. But what I remember most is crying while digging through my closet, locker and car looking for those cards because I knew that without them I would fail.
So I guess I did learn from that experience, although it wasn’t what my teacher had intended. I still lose paper almost as soon as I put it down (so thank goodness I can take notes on my laptop.) And I still have no idea how to properly document my resources in MLA or APA. What I learned was that was one thing that I never wanted to do to my students, even though at the time I didn’t know I was going to be an educator. All I knew was that I never wanted to another person to feel the way I had because of something I had done.
Textbooks are a staple in most classrooms and can be a great resource for teachers. The problem I find (not that I am even close to the first person to realize this) is that a large number of teachers use their textbook and accompanying teacher’s guide as the ONLY resource for teaching. This is prominent from kindergarten all the way to post-secondary education. The problem with this is that teaching from the textbook shuts the door in the faces of students and locks them into their classrooms. Our world holds so many resources for educators – all we have to do is open our eyes and minds and look for them.
Students today are collaborative, communicate with their peers on a highly frequent basis, create, explore, adapt, and design – except when they are in school. Often times when students enter school they are asked to “power down” their phones, computers, and themselves. On their own, students use technology to explore their world and communicate with others. But in their classrooms, many times the option to use those tools is not available to them. In a large portion of these classrooms, the reason isn’t a lack of access, but rather teachers simply aren’t allowing the students to use the tools available to them. This lack of use is usually born out of one thing – fear. A fear that the technology may not work properly, a fear that things may not “go as planned,” a fear that the students might abuse the technology, and probably mostly a fear of not being the expert in front of students. While it is okay to be afraid, it is not acceptable to allow that fear to prevent you from creating a more appropriate learning environment for students. Even if nothing works they way you plan and the students end up having to show you how to use the tools, the learning that will occur in that time will be completely worth it. The experience may even allow you to see strengths in your students that you may have never before seen.
If you are reading this post you are probably not tied to your textbook, but I’m willing to bet that you know someone that is. So why not offer up a few ideas to that person that will help them expand a learning environment beyond their classroom walls, or at least beyond the covers of the textbook? Introduce someone to the power of the internet for not only creating more engaging learning environment, but also as a way to extend their own learning network. If you’re just starting to explore your options outside of your textbook, seek out another person to either explore with you or someone who could act as a mentor and guide in your journey. Trust me, whether you enter the partnership as a guide or “student” you will find yourself learning from the experience and eager to do more learning and exploring.
A couple of days ago someone on Twitter posted a link to David Warlick’s article If you can’t use technology get out of teaching! which inspired this post, so thanks to my PLN in Twitter (and David Warlick of course.)
In my job I run into a large number of nay-sayers, negative Nancys (or Neds), glass-half-empties, or whatever it is you call a person that always sees the flaws and defects in something first. You know them. When you show them how to use a blog as an online journal for their classroom, the first thing they say is “my kids can’t use the internet at home” or “no way I can get into the lab enough to make it worth the work.” As soon as you show them an internet-based alternative to the “Inspiration” software they don’t have in their new school, they’re pointing out how this tool only saves as an image so you can’t edit it later. When you show them how to create student usernames and passwords for their wiki or content management system, they’re upset because they already know their students won’t be able to remember the password. You know them.
And as much as I try, this can at times be a drain on me, both emotionally and physically. Just this week I was at a school helping teachers learn to use their new SMART boards and the complaints came in mountains. The vast number of pre-made lessons available on our website weren’t exactly how they wanted and they don’t have the time to learn a new tool. “Does the board really have to be re-oriented every time I move the projector?” “I’ve had that table there for three years and now I have to move it because someone put this board in my room. That table won’t work anywhere else in my room.” And this is only about a SMART board. I don’t even want to get into the conversations that happened when teachers found out that our contract with Blackboard isn’t going to be extended and that they’d have to learn a new tool if they wanted to keep their content online.
I have come to realize that it is part of my job to keep smiling and holding hands so that teachers don’t lose faith, so that teachers will keep trying new ideas, and so that classrooms can take yet another step to being student-centered learning environments. This is the most difficult and important part of my job and it wasn’t even in the job description when I applied. So after a couple of years, I’ve stumbled across some concepts that seem to help me do this, the most important part of my job.
To begin, I always try to let “Nancy” know that her opinion is valid. Even if I think it is an imagined hurdle or fear, in that person’s mind it is real and therefore I need to listen and validate it. I also need to make sure I stay positive while I’m listening and responding so that “Nancy” will see that there really is a light at the end of that tunnel. It also helps to be a quick thinker and problem solver so that when a teacher comes across a hurdle, I/we can quickly come up with a solution for getting over that hurdle. The next part is something that I personally have to work really hard at doing, and that is checking back frequently to make sure the solution is still working. I have found this one to be important because so many times if there is one bump in the new road for that teacher, that bump will keep him/her from traveling that road at all. But I have found that if I check back with individuals, it seems to keep the motivation up and that they will eventually feel comfortable enough that they can contact me without waiting for my emails. Finally, I have to be continually looking for new ideas and ways for teaching “old” concepts. This is because technology is changing so rapidly and new hurdles and bumps show up in the road every day. This one is probably one of the best parts of my job, as it means I get to spend time surfing the net and learning from my PLN which always leaves me inspired to do more.
And just in case you’re wondering, here’s a few suggestions for the problems presented above. For blogging nay-sayers: suggest that maybe at first try using the blog as an extra-credit opportunity for journals to see how many students truly don’t have access to internet at home. For those upset that free mind-mapping tools don’t often allow for changes and updates, point out some of the great online image editing tools that will allow for later “additions” so that teachers can demonstrate to students how the learning process is continually changing and growing. And for the teacher that’s worried her students won’t remember passwords, well this is one I still don’t have a fantastic response for so if you have one – help me out and leave it in the comments section.