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
Feb 08

Caution: It’s about to get real candid up in here!
I serve many roles at my school in addition to technology teacher. I am also a mentor, after school tutor and lunch recess supervisor. I get to know my students on a completely different level in these roles than I do as a classroom teacher and make connections I would not otherwise probably be able to make. At recess I am able to be a little more goofy than normal with the kids, in my tutoring group I serve as a reading teacher and with my mentoring group I get to help kids learn who they are as people. At the exact same time though, I “get” to learn more about my students’ lives than many people do.
Now, let’s preface all of this by saying I was certainly no angel growing up and saw some things in my home that I have made sure as an adult that my own personal children will NEVER see. The fact that I had my oldest daughter my senior year in high school is a testament to that. Nevertheless, I have used all of that life experience in my career as an educator in order to connect with my students. But, my heart is broken nearly on a daily basis by the lives that I see my students living outside of the walls of our school.
On the playground I hear some of the most foul language possible to hear, as well as some extremely sexually explicit comments. Yes, some of this comes from media in our culture, but the graphic nature of the conversation indicates that not only are they being allowed to take in media that is completely inappropriate, but also that they are hearing that type of talk in casual conversations at home. Never mind the types of clothing that my students are wearing to school…it’s quite disturbing at times.
I tutor 6-8 grades students and have three students that are at or below my 1st grade daughter’s reading level. The heart-wrenching part is that they are completely oblivious to the fact that they should be able to read much more difficult texts. It pains me to think that “my kids” weren’t read to as small children. No one sat with them at bed time and read Green Eggs and Ham or the The Napping House. In conversation with them, I learn that for most of them they didn’t even HAVE books in their homes when they were little – nor did they have crayons, markers, scissors and paper to use for crafts.
In making phone calls home to my mentoring students I call just as many grandmas and “aunties” as I do moms and dads. I see kids with pants that are far too small, shoes that have been worn way past their end of life and children taking home bags of food from the Communities in Schools programs because there just any food at home. I have homeless students, students who travel from one parent “home” to the other having to be the adult in both homes and so many students who don’t even know both of their parents that it makes me want to cry.
I’m just so incredibly baffled by how this can possibly be. I messed up my life big time as a teenager when I got pregnant but I have spent every day since trying to make a good life for my daughter and be a positive and strong role model for her. I understand that life happens, circumstances aren’t always what they want them to be, but how can anyone just GIVE UP on their kids? How can I have students with all of their brothers and sisters being gang members? How do I have a student hand me a picture of a family member and the student says “This is my nephew and his daddy – he looks really high huh?” In what kind of home does a child have to live that they find it perfectly normal to come to school and call their peers and teachers every cuss word imaginable?
There are days that all I can do is sit with a student and let her cry in my room, or let a boy sleep instead of complete the classwork because he didn’t have a bed to sleep in the night before. Some days I just sit in my classroom after they’ve all gone and cry myself because I know I can just never do enough in the small amount of time I have with them. All I can do is take solace in the fact that I know I can provide a safe, caring and stimulating environment for them to grow and learn.

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.

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

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…

Mar 26

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.

Mar 26

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.)

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.

Mar 26

For the last several years I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a coach in addition to my role as a teacher. I started as a track coach for the urban school where I was teaching at the time. This was such an exciting time for me and it allowed me to connect with my students in a completely different way than I had been able to in the science classroom. I quickly realized though that I was going to have to enlist the help of others in order to get my athletes to where I wanted them to be. Since I am not quite 5’2″, I am not any kind of authority in jumping events – at all. So of course I had to start researching the best way to coach long and high jumpers. I was lucky enough to have another coach that was pretty good with hurdlers, so I was able to have him coach my girls that were brave enough to try to tackle the hurdles. Then I had to make sure my distance runners and sprinters were getting the right kind of conditioning. Not to mention making sure the relay teams got some time to work on handing off the baton. Each day it was necessary to plan out practice making sure each group of girls was getting a good workout that would prepare them for their events in the next meet. It was a lot of stress and work, and there were definitely times where at the end of a meet we realized that I had not been an effective coach in one area or another. So we (the assistant coach, myself, and the girls) would re-evaluate the situation and look for a new approach. Most importantly, my girls knew that I would never expect them to do something that I myself wasn’t willing to do – or at least try. So at each practice I would spend time stretching, running, “jumping” and participating in the training in some way. Sometimes I did well, and other times I fell on my rear (mostly when I was trying the jumping events.) The important part was that my girls saw me fall down and get back up time and time again. They knew that it was ok to not win every time, but that you always have to get back up and try it again.

When the season was over I realized that when I was coaching track was the first time I had really ever differentiated my instruction. This gave me the inspiration and drive to take that strategy into my classroom. I spent the summer teaching 3-7 graders the basics to chemistry and the entire class was hands-on activities, differentiated for the different grade and ability levels. It was so much fun for me and the students and it reinforced the idea that differentiating instruction is the most powerful thing you can do for students. So the next school year it was on! My students, much like my athletes, got to have an active part in how the learning environment was structured and what types of activities we would do in class. Again, I always made sure my students saw me actively communicating, collaborating, and participating with them in their learning. We learned together the best methods for carrying out an experiment. There were definitely times when my students saw me “be wrong” or “fail” in our experiments. Much like in coaching, I would simply talk about what went wrong with the students and we would try again with a new approach. Every time we would “get back up on the horse” and give it another go. Another component that I found to be valuable to my students is letting them see me NOT be the expert with all the answers. Much like when I was coaching, the teaching was a constant learning experience for me and my students, and we were all able to learn and grow together. If we didn’t know the answer, it was just another opportunity to expand on our problem-solving skills and find the answer together. This was another opportunity to do what I had learned in coaching, which is to model the drive and desire for learning that I wanted my students to have themselves.

Most importantly in all of these roles, I always make sure my students (or athletes) see me having fun and know that they are what makes it fun. I can’t always guarantee that ALL of my kids enjoyed having me as a coach or a teacher, but I do feel that being a coach is still the biggest thing that influenced my teaching. That first year after I started teaching, I was able to make the most amazing connections with my students and I truly believe it was because I implemented my coaching techniques into my classroom.