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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Me, An Innovator?

I just finished "The Innovator's Mindset" by George Couros (@gcouros). I am not going to treat this post as a review of the book, maybe that will be at a later date. For now, I really want to focus on one of the discussion questions George posed at the end of the last chapter: "What is one thing that you are going to try immediately to help move closer to a new vision for learning?"

I really like this question for several reasons: One, it asks what is the ONE thing that you can try. This is perfect for me because I have a bad habit of trying too many new things in my class that I never feel like I come close to "mastering" any of them. The second reason I love this question is the word immediately. Again, I usually spend too much time thinking about ways to change my class. I will weigh the pros and cons before deciding on whether it is a go. The bad part of this? By the time I make a decision, I feel like a "new, better version" of something comes along that I want to try.

The focus of this post is on the last word in the above question: learning. I love the word because it does not specify whose learning we are talking about. As I usually view things, I saw it as the learning going on my classroom. The learning going on for everyone in the class. Including myself. What change am I willing to make to help improve the learning for both my students and myself?

Well, this week we began having all 6th through 8th grade students create their own blog through Google Blogger. I am seeing these blogs being used for the students as a place to display their learning and thinking. I am hoping they use if for more than just math. I want them to use this space to display the cool things they try: making videos, podcasts, powerpoints, or just plain writing. The students seemed genuinely excited about setting them up.

I am hoping our students use these platforms as a digital portfolio when they begin to decide where they want to go to high school. I hope they use these portfolios as a symbol of the work and dedication they put into their learning while at our school.

I will be learning more about upgrading my blog right along with them. I am working hard at creating a blog that really reflects my educational beliefs. This is a work in progress, since I really saw a blog as some place to write. George's book really opened up my eyes to the different ways I can use my blog. I am hoping to add these new elements over the next couple of months.

Thank you, George, for creating something that will resonate with a lot of educators. I hope we help to accelerate the learning as we share how impactful this book was to us, and ultimately, our students.