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
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

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

In my job I spend the majority of my time teaching adults how to integrate technology into their daily instruction. I love my job! That being said I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about the preparations that I do teaching adults compared to when I go into a classroom full of students and how different the two groups really are.

When I was in the classroom, I had learning outcomes, planned the activities (knowing full and well that some wouldn’t get done and some would be modified for each class), and we would move forward. There would be weeks that all would go relatively close to how I had planned, and weeks that I would scrap it all ten minutes into the first lesson of the week. Either way, the students were always up for it. If I said to them, “Hey guys, I don’t think what I had planned is going to work. How about we try something else?” They would follow me into the supply room and help me carry out all the new supplies for the day and we would all learn together – and we all loved it that way.

The first session I did on my own in this job was a total disaster. I tried to do a hands-on educaching session with middle school teachers. I basically went in, told them what geocaching and educaching is, showed them how to use the GPS units, and sent them on their way. It was a total disaster! I had complaints that there weren’t enough hand-outs, complaints that I didn’t explain enough about how GPS works, complaints that we didn’t find enough caches together, and even more complaints that I can’t even remember. On top of all that, someone complained to my boss and he told me he was already thinking that he had may have made the wrong choice in chosing me for the job. Needless to say, I was totally devastated. From then I went into planning overdrive for the next six months. Every time I had a training session, I spent hours planning, anticipating participant questions, creating hand-outs and “quick start” guides, and basically structuring every minute of the session. After six months I still had complaints that I didn’t have enough hand-outs, or the right hand-outs, or didn’t do enough step-by-step instruction. After a while, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying teaching anymore. Not only that, but I was only teaching people how to use the tools. I wasn’t modeling the kind of integration that I wanted others to do. In other words, I wasn’t doing my job.

So I had to do some major self-reflection to get moving down the right path again. I knew that I was a good classroom teacher and I knew that I had things to share with teachers. I just had to figure out where the disconnect was. I realized that the reason my teachers weren’t responding the way my students had was because they were of different generations. I had never really taken time to internalize the major differences between the education styles of “Generation Y” and previous generations. Teachers wanted step-by-step because that was the way they had been taught when they were in school. The only way to get teachers to move away from that model is to push them out of it, but support needs to be provided.

With this new “revalation” (which many, many, many before me had already experienced) I re-invented myself as an instructional technology specialist. I still spend large amounts of time planning training sessions, but my sessions are now almost exclusively hands-on and learner centered. I still make hand-outs, but they are more along the lines of a guided notes outline than the whole printed slide-shows from before. Additional support pages and references are posted to the web and participants are pointed to them if they feel the need to print them. I’ve also started implementing multiple types of resources and differentiation into sessions in order to catch all learning styles and allow learners to go where their needs take them.

In all, I think that I have become more effective and affective in my position and that I am still postively impacting students. I have come to really love my job and the continual learning and growing that comes with it. I find myself actually grateful for all those complaints in that first session. If it weren’t for those complaints, who knows how long I would have wandered down that winding, inefficient, and ineffective path.