Aug 16

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!

Some of my favorites have been memories of the hissing cockroaches I had in my classroom, the time that a student tried to pull the tail off of my leopard gecko, how much they loved “Science in a Box” days, using technology in class “almost every day” and various memories of my former partner teacher and I goofing off in the hallways. One story in particular stuck with me. A little girl that spoke very basic English in 6th grade (Vietnamese is her native language) walked up to me in the hallway and said “I remember you. You were my very first science teacher in the United States and your class was so interesting. You had those hissing bugs and gross lizards, but I loved your class anyway because we got to do the work with our hands, which helped because I didn’t speak English very well yet. And my friends from that class were just talking the other day about how you said that when you got your diploma book at graduation there was a problem and no one got their diplomas that year. You had to go back to the school later to get them. Some of my friends are wondering if the same thing is going to happen to us. We think that would be funny if it did!” It was such a small story that I told to my students yet six years later there is a small group of students that remembers it. It’s astounds me everyday the connections we make with our students and the impact on their lives we have. I don’t know why they remembered that particular story, but it made me feel so very important that they would pay attention to such a little thing like that and reminds me again of the important role we as educators play in our students’ lives.
So with this in mind, remember that your students really are listening when you speak and that you play a HUGE role in their lives – both educationally and otherwise.
Photo courtesy of iStock
Dec 19

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.

Aug 31

This summer educators from across the U.S. and Canada traveled to Bentley University in Waltham, MA for the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute. As an attendee I can definitely say that it was an amazing learning and growing experience and that I now have SO MUCH to share with educators “back home.” While we were at Bentley, each DEN STAR created a project highlighting ways to integrate DE content into your classroom. These projects range from teaching students how to cite sources from DE to using DE content in conjunction with a large number of web 2.0 tools. So as my first act of sharing with my teachers “back home,” I wanted to let you all know that all of the projects have been uploaded (by the amazing Porter Palmer) onto the Discovery Education site and are freely searchable by ANYONE with access to DE content.

In order to access this content, simply use DENSI2010 as your search criteria in DE.

densi-search.gif

Here’s one really fantastic (and funny) example of what you will find when you search for DENSI2010 content. This particular video was created by David Fisher (Florida) and Dennis Grice (California) and will help you teach your students how to cite their sources from Discovery Education.

Jul 23

The clawThis 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!

Mar 26

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.

Mar 26

I am an Instructional Technology Specialist (ITS). It is my job to help teachers to integrate technology into their instruction in order to improve the learning experience for students. When I grappled with the decision of whether or not to leave the classroom I finally decided that I can impact the learning of far more students in this role and took the leap, and I truly love my job. I get the opportunity to lead PD sessions, co-teach lessons with other teachers, and offer one-on-one sessions all in the hopes that more students will be impacted by an improved and more appropriate learning environment.

All that being said, the line between “ITS” and “Help Desk” are often blurred. During my training sessions I hand out my card to anyone who wants it and offer my continued support for helping participants integrate technology into their instruction. But because I hand out my card so readily, I also get a number of calls from people wanting me to fix their computer or hardware. This is where the lines start to blur. Because I am fluent a number of software and internet applications, I have by default learned to trouble-shoot computers and a number of different types of hardware. So the teacher in me want to teach others how to trouble-shoot themselves so they don’t have to make more pleas for help, but the ITS in me wants to tell people that it isn’t my job to fix their computer and that they need to call their building’s tech or the Help Desk. Of course I usually end up teaching them to fix it and then I end up getting more calls and emails for hardware issues.

Another reason the lines are blurred is because I manage the accounts, usernames, and a variety of other “technical support” types of functions for a variety of applications in the district. For example, because I am the website administrator/trainer for our district, I also inherited the job of managing the web server. This further leads people to call me to help them when they need both instructional and technical help with technology. And again, the teacher in me usually wins out and I end up teaching more people how to trouble-shoot and fix their hardware issues.

The reason I let my inner teacher come out in these instances is that I want the issues to be taken care of quickly so that the teachers can get back to teaching and the students can be more positively impacted.The fact is if they have to wait until their building tech can come check on their problem, the learning utilizing that tool will be put on hold and students will be negatively impacted. I also feel that the more teachers know how to do on their own for technical support, the more I will get to do on the instructional side of technology integration. I feel that if I just teach this teacher to be a little more confident in his/her abilities his/her comfort level with technology will increase and the integration will happen more readily. The problem is that there are just so many teachers out there and I get stuck in this vicious cycle that just seems to keep going around and around. The solution for now seems to be keep plowing forward and try to help as many people as possible.

Mar 26

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.