Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Questions = Learning

What do these words mean in the context of education, in the context of preparing our students to head into their lives with the tools and mindsets they need to be successful regardless of what path they take? I've always believed you can have too little of these things in education, but can you have too much? Can there be too much choice? Too much, empowerment? 

Perhaps the bigger question I have is “How?” How do we empower a 7 year old, a 17 year old, with their learning experience? How do we help students become self-directed so they take charge of their learning, their lives?

Moreover, I wonder about my own teaching philosophy, the things I hold closest to my heart, my core beliefs of what education, schools, classrooms should and could be. I think about all the schools I’ve walked into and immediately felt like it was a beautiful place to be - enjoying the amazing culture and atmosphere that has been built. I can viscerally feel the incredible things that are happening in the building. I can’t help but walk away inspired, excited by the things I have been a part of, even if for just a few fleeting moments in the hallways or a classroom. I’ve come to realize that the schools I hold in highest regard are the ones where I can’t help but smile as I watch kids learning. I can’t stop myself from wanting to talk to students, to experience their classroom with them. They are the kinds of schools I would feel honored to send my own (hypothetical) children to, and the ones I really want to attend as a student myself. But what are the things that make me feel this way? What is it about these schools that gets me thinking so deeply and examining what education could and should be? When I walk into a classroom, what do I want to see?
  • Laughter, Joy, Smiles
  • Student collaboration (digitally and face to face)
  • Students as experts; Teacher as facilitator
  • Shared ownership of learning among students and staff
  • Relationships
  • Trust, Respect, Kindness
  • ...
Yesterday I was really forced to ask myself WHY? Why do I believe so wholeheartedly that these are elements of effective classrooms, of amazing schools? Why do I believe this is better for students in the long-run? What rationale do I have that makes me think this is what’s best for students, that these elements of classrooms and schools will lead to higher levels of success in their lives? I've just always known these things to be true, taken them as givens that I know I believe in. I suppose that is not entirely true, since I have spent many beautiful days in amazing classrooms where kids were laughing, smiling, collaborating, learning. But being in a position where those beliefs were not taken as givens and needing to provide rationale for my values was really thought-provoking. I know these are my beliefs, and I still believe them wholeheartedly, but I am definitely still working on the WHY.

In addition, I am left asking related questions about the models and structures that are cropping up as blended, personalized, highly differentiated, individualized…
  • What percentage of class time should students be quiet or silent? 
  • Conversely, how much student talk and peer work time should be present?
  • How often should students be collaborating compared to independent work?
  • How should class time be divided? Instruction, practice, re-teach, assessment, reflection...
How do all these pieces impact a student’s learning experience? Do these elements positively impact a student’s learning? How?

I am really happy with this learning trip because I am walking away with far more questions than answers. Regardless of what questions I have or whether I've figured out the complete rationale, all the "whys", I know in my heart and mind that questions = learning. So, yes, it has been a trip full of learning..because it has been a trip full of thought-provoking questions.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Real Power of Student Voice & Choice

If we're being honest, I haven't been following the events in Colorado's Jeffco school district incredibly closely. Perhaps I should be, and maybe after what transpired last night I will, but this post really has nothing to do with the issues brought before the Jeffco School Board last night or on which side of things I stand. For me, this is really about how powerful it is when students step up and share their voice with the world.

I was losing steam scrolling through Twitter for something worth staying awake for last night when this caught my attention:

As I headed over to the #standup4kids live stream and looked back through the Tweets I found that a group of students had been escorted out of the building. Not being one to believe everything I read on social media or the internet, I watched intently to see what other information I could gather from the situation without being there myself. Minutes later, Tweets like this:

I followed the stream for a while longer and checked back in when I got up this morning. This is where Ashlyn comes in:

Watching this video gave me chills. Not because of the issue she is fighting for, but the way in which she is sharing her voice with the world. She wasn't provided the opportunity to speak her truth, so she found a different way to put it into the world. She created her own opportunity. 

I felt so encouraged as I watched this young woman advocate for herself, her beliefs, and what she thinks is best for her classmates present and future. "This is it!" I thought. "THIS is what I want every single child to learn in school." As an educator I think about my students, the children who I had the great fortunate to teach and learn from, and how proud I am of them when they advocate for their needs and take ownership of their experiences. It is brave and creative students like Ashlyn, her classmates in Jeffco Students for Change, and other young people around the world who give me great hope about the future. They remind me that nothing is impossible, that when you truly believe in something you've got to go after it, and above all they remind me that the dream education system I so desperately want for every child and teacher is worth fighting for. Because if these students can step up and advocate for themselves and others, I certainly can step up and advocate for them. 

For more information on the Jeffco School Board Meeting and to see video of the students being escorted out:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Celebrate Success & Failure

Some processing about the importance of celebrating the successes and failures of ourselves and others, and the need to openly share and support one another every day.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What I'm Thinking AND Feeling: Change

I've been doing a lot of contemplation about change lately. Now I know there is lots of research about change, many books and articles I could read (and some that I already have), and quite a few different schools of thought. But I have been less interested in seeking out the research and more interested in how my questions and thoughts about change make me feel. I'm not entirely sure why, but this time when I think about change it feels intensely personal, and meaningful, and heavy yet exciting all at the same time.

This change, and the contemplation surrounding it, have taken many paths and many forms in my head, but I keep coming back to the same questions:

  • Can you ever really enact change from within the system? 
  • Or can the most impactful changes only truly happen outside the system? 
  • But can change outside the system ever impact the system itself?

I am leaving this vague, perhaps even a bit confusing. What do you think? What do these questions lead you to think about? Do these questions make you feel something?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ed Tech and A Tangled Web of Learning, Sharing, Reflecting

I can't seem to escape Audrey Watters this week, and I can't say I mind.

It started when +Nancy White shared on Twitter about Audrey Watters' article Beyond the LMS . I immediately couldn't stop thinking about it, so I shared on Google Plus: "I think I've held some of these thoughts and beliefs for a while but hadn't been able to really articulate them, for myself or others. I have a feeling I'm going to be working through some of this thinking for a while. Who wants to process with me?!" 

Luckily for me I have an incredible PLN, and the (Ed?) Tech tools that provide me time and space to process and push my thinking even further. +Chris Rogers , +Nancy White and I have been talking all week on Voxer about the article and its contents, both in the context Watters presents as well as in the contexts and perspectives we each bring to the table. I won't get in to my thoughts on that topic quite yet, but I do wonder… 

Is my ability to build a strong PLN, reach out to them via Twitter and G+, and then hold a conversation with people who live thousands of miles away from me a benefit of educational technology? In this case I am the learner, and in a very authentic and meaningful way I am connected to other learners who carry different perspectives and are helping me to push my thinking to a new level. If I had read this article in isolation and had nobody available to discuss it with, would I still be thinking about the article's contents or re-reading it for the 5th time a week later? Maybe, but maybe not.

Several days after my (first) encounter with the LMS article, +Kevin Croghan posted on Google+ about Teaching Machines: A Brief History of "Teaching at Scale" #t509MassiveThis article, also by Watters, discusses some of the history behind ed tech and teaching machines and prompted a blog post by Kevin entitled Is it TechNo or TechYes? Once again I find myself contemplating and rereading, and I feel incredibly lucky to know that when I am ready there will be any number of ways for me to process and share my learning with others. After all, isn't that one of the benefits of the (ed?) tech we have at our disposal? I get instant access to rabbit holes of learning (in the middle of reading all these articles and watching the videos below I often stopped to look up a name, a term, or a concept to fill a gap in my knowledge or bookmark an idea to return to later). I see what others are learning because they are able to publicly share articles, videos, and their thoughts. I am no longer constrained to only learning with and from the people I physically encounter. For that I am endlessly thankful, because if we're being honest the limitations of the ideas and people in the room have often been huge barriers in my educational experiences since a very young age. Luckily I had other outlets to keep me motivated as a learner, but shamefully so many students do not. I digress, but more on that later.

I was starting to reach some consensus in my head around these 2 articles, and then +Ben Wilkoff messaged me on Hangouts with 2 of Watters' recent keynotes. What?! Earlier this week I had reached out to process and share a learning experience with fellow educators, and now someone was reciprocating that and extending my opportunities for learning even further? I know, right?! I am basically the luckiest. 

So I woke up eager to start my day with some learning, motivated by both the awaiting content and the acknowledgement that when I was ready to share my thinking someone would be there to share it with. Now I could interject a download of the fascinating courses I took all those years ago about motivating learners, but I don't think it is necessary. What is necessary is acknowledging the incredible opportunities all around us for learning. It starts to feel like an unwieldy sort of web just to relay my experiences of the last week, but that is a true representation of the process and products of my learning. Twitter, Google+, blogs, YouTube, Hangouts, Voxer… If I didn't have these outlets, these numerous places for idea consumption and reciprocal creation, none of this learning would have happened. Not only am I more motivated as a learner, fascinated by the ideas Watters presents and excited to continue the rabbit hole learning journey she has sparked, but I am also more inspired to continue with the work I do each day. For every new thing we learn, every idea we are pondering, we also bring a new perspective to our work and, for me anyway, a new dedication to the contributions to be made.

So where is all this going? Honestly, heck if I really know! That is the beauty of this space where I get to word vomit my thoughts onto a page. Sometimes I start in one clear direction and veer drastically in another. (Case in point: This blog post started as a way to share the notes I took and thoughts I had around 2 of Watters' keynote videos. It headed in a different direction, so that will be a separate post to come.) Perhaps this is a sign of my writing abilities, but it is something I have grown to love about reflective processing via blogs and vlogs. In the midst of sharing my thoughts I happen upon new ideas that hadn't occurred to me in hours or days of thinking things through in my head. I tell people all the time that the best way to get started with reflective blogging/vlogging is to stop worrying too much about the audience or the presentation. Those are skills that develop over time, but are often so paralyzing they prevent people from ever getting started. I suffered from this paralyzation for a long time, as evidenced by the trail of dead blogs and mostly unused online spaces I've been leaving behind me since about 1998. Recently I reflected on what has changed, what is different this time around? It is that every time I write, record a video, or share something on social media I remind myself who the audience is: me. I am the most important audience member I have, and so long as processing my thoughts aloud in these spaces is beneficial to me I will continue to share them. The amazing thing about that shift in mindset is that once I embraced it I began to get more people asking me about the process and content I share, and of course it feels great to know I am helping others in the process of helping myself. It is an exciting and sometimes precarious situation to be in when you gain viewership, so I will continue to remind myself of my primary audience and purpose for sharing my thinking to thwart off the paralyzation from ever creeping back in. 

Some thinking from an earlier blog post The Communities of Practice Gardener about how we cultivate and maintain our online spaces for learning. Needs some revision but feels related.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"You Make a Difference"

On Friday I received one of those emails that makes my breath catch and chokes me up a bit. You know, it is the one you want to print and hang up to read every morning so you'll remember what's important. The one you want to share with the world and simultaneously hold close to your heart.

It was an email from a former colleague who now has in 6th grade some beautiful kiddos I taught in 4th. That class is extraordinarily special to me because they are the class that almost killed me as a teacher. There was so much going on with those 30 amazing young people, and the intensity lived all balled up in our spacious and climate-controlled (ha!) classroom of 800 square feet. Each day was a test in survival and patience, and while they pushed me to my utmost limits not just as a teacher but as a human being, it also meant that I grew immensely because of them. For all our challenges we became a stronger community, and I'll never forget the number one concern expressed by kiddos in June when I asked why they were so nervous about 5th grade: "I'm afraid about our community being split apart, and I am worried that we won't build a new family like we had this year." Out of the mouths of babes, eh?

My babies on Valentine's Day, 2013. Heart you!
If you know me from my time in the classroom you know that instead of posting rules on the wall we had only Words to Live By, all chosen and created by the students, and we had Kohlberg's Stages of Morality. I'd been doing both these things since my first year teaching, but with this class I really relied on them to help us through every situation that came up. I also relied on our Words to Live By and Kohlberg's stages to keep myself grounded in why my work, though incredibly challenging, was important. I had to model what we talked about and make sure my kiddos knew how much I cared about them developing and taking ownership of the skills and mindsets necessary to contribute as a positive member of a community.

Our interpretation (a mountain we help classmates climb together) of Kohlberg's 6 Stages of Moral Development.
These guided our class discussions, read alouds, classroom management, and so much more each year.
The end of every year with my kiddos is (err, was - still getting used to that) always tough because I am sad to say goodbye and because I worry. I worry if I devoted the right amount of time to the right lessons, whether the way I empowered students to own their learning will benefit them in the short and long term, and most of all whether they will remember and follow through with all the work we put in to becoming better individuals and better community members. Each year I fret over these things and each year I remind myself to trust in myself and in them - to believe that the tools are in their toolbox and they need an opportunity to apply them without me being there to remind them so often. It is their chance to take full ownership of our Words to Live By and remember their importance, without seeing them on the wall every day.
The Words to Live By chosen by my first class of 5th graders.
Although I tell myself these things I can't deny the doubt that creeps in when they've been sent off to new teachers and new experiences. If I'm being honest I suppose part of the doubt is wondering whether I really made a difference, and if it was the right kind of difference, in their lives. Maybe that's one reason the texts and emails from students, and the stories of their successes, are so valuable to me. Perhaps that's why this email means so very much, especially as I process the start of my first full school year out of the classroom.

It is so nice to hear how they've remembered these lessons through the years, and it brings me great comfort to know they're with teachers who value and honor them as individuals. My teacher heart is so very happy right now, and I am reminded how crazy thankful I am for those 30 beautiful humans who changed my life for the better that year.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

To My Students and Colleagues, A Wish For You...

As the school year starts up and I find myself outside a classroom and a school I am struggling to reconcile the empathy I feel for my colleagues, the sadness that comes with missing my students and the traditions and excitement of a new school year, and the relief I have to not be carrying the constant, crushing weight I remember so vividly. My normal response throughout a school year would be to help a teacher friend by lending an ear or a helping hand after school, or to bring them coffee and a muffin in the morning. I would be offering a smile, a pat on the back, or a hug to a student in the hallway or in my room, and making sure they felt safe and cared for each time they walked into and out of the building. In the absence of those little things my hope is that the small gestures and decisions I can make each day in my current position will impact teachers and students, and help us move closer to my vision of what being an educator or a student could look like some day. I write these thoughts with the names and faces of my colleagues and lovely students in my mind, but I am also writing it to all the teachers and students who deserve nothing less.


To My Teacher Friends Around the World,

I know things aren't always easy, and that the career you have selected is often one of the most rewarding and yet most all-consuming. Please know how much I empathize with you and appreciate you. I will try each day to do at least one thing to make your life better and support you in some way. 

I wish for you...
  • to have all the resources (tools, materials, thought-partnership, learning opportunities, time and space, in-building support...) that you need to be successful in your job each day.
  • to have an exciting idea that you are passionate about pursuing in your classroom and your teaching practice, and that you feel supported and empowered to make this idea a reality.
  • to find joy in the "small" things of the day - like a smile from a student, a funny joke you share with your class, a celebration with a kiddo about something new they learned or achieved, or a great planning session with a teammate.
  • to find purpose in your days and to have at least one thing you look forward to every week.
  • to have the elusive, guilt-free balance we never seem to capture but always start a year attempting to find.
  • a personal life full of people who support and understand the work you do, and who give you a reason to put work aside and be present in the relationships and activities that fill your bucket and make you whole.
  • to know, at all times, that the work you do is appreciated and that you are a respected, valuable professional.
  • to feel trusted and empowered to do what you know is best for kids, and to feel safe enough and have places to go to reach out when you want help or guidance. 

My beautiful students, I wish for you...
  • a safe and fun place to go every day, where you feel valued and respected at all times.
  • days chock full of learning and growing, not just academically but socially and emotionally.
  • adults who model kindness, compassion, and excitement while challenging you to be the very best human you can be.
  • opportunities to take ownership of your learning and follow your interests in a way that cultivates passion and honors who you are while pushing you to explore new things.
  • an education system that prepares you to step into the world as a forever learner who contributes to making it a more wonderful place.
  • to remember that I really do mean what I said at the end of each year when I sent you off after one last end-of-the-day hug with tears in my eyes - I am always your teacher and I am always here for you, no matter what. 
Though our community is spread out physically now it doesn't change what we built and experienced together. We may not see each other as often as I'd like, but we are always rooting for each other and I am always thinking of you - when I see your favorite video game character or a great book you'd like, when I hear our class song on the radio and hear your voice singing your favorite part, or when I get asked to make a choice that could impact your school experience - you help me stay grounded in what matters and stay true to the reason I became a teacher. I believe in you and in the things we learned together. Hold those learnings close and Follow Your Feet

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lightrail Learnings: Situational Context

I haven't taken the train much this summer, but with the constant and overlapping meetings I had all day I figured it was a great chance to steal some "me" time before and after work.

Normally I ride the complete route from first stop to last because of where I live and work. Like usual, this morning I stepped onto a fairly empty train around 7am, chose my corner seat against the window, and went into my own world listening to music, checking up on things before the day, and reading. It is part of my routine, I know what to expect, and it feels comfortable.

Usually I would repeat a similar process on the way home since I get on the train before many others who accumulate from busier stations, but my teammate offered to drive me to the station by her house so we could catch up and chat. Lovely time well spent, but as I climbed aboard a full train of passengers at this somewhat unknown station I felt very much out of place. You see, I didn't have time to acclimate to the situation or people who were already on-board. If something funny or dramatic happened at any of the previous stops I would be none the wiser. The people who were standing and sitting had presumably claimed their spots through some kind of, usually unspoken, situations that happened already. Maybe Passenger A offered Passenger B to sit down in the last available seat, but knowing they were getting off in a couple stops Passenger B declined the seat. Perhaps someone had relinquished a seat to an older rider and chosen to stand in an awkward spot near the steps. Regardless of what had occurred so far on this train, I was walking into the situation without having any of that context. Now maybe it is my hyper awareness of others' emotions and mannerisms that causes me to notice and contemplate these things. It could be my mother's attempt to create such a polite and considerate human being that I am constantly analyzing how my actions influence others. My guess is that one contributes to another, and in this case it is a bit of both. Regardless, I climbed aboard and tentatively made my way to the middle of the train to make room for a bicyclist who was trying to stand at the front with his bike. As I stood there I was struck by just how much different this experience felt than my typical ride, and it wasn't the first time I had encountered that feeling. I started thinking about what was contributing to this discomfort and realized it was most likely that I was missing context and background by entering a situation partway through the experience. 

Now I know this is common for many, and goes unnoticed for most, but for the few who do take note this experience can vary from mildly uncomfortable to downright unsettling. Furthermore, what implications does this kind of situation have in other contexts? When students get pulled out in the middle of class and re-enter after the mini lesson has happened for the next subject, do they feel this way? I'm certain there are kids who feel this on a sometimes severe level when they move and start a new school. (I'm certain because when I was 15 I was that kid and, for a number of reasons beyond missing context as a rural Sophomore entering a close-knit urban K-12 community, it sent me for such a loop that for the first time in my life I had the great displeasure of experiencing depression for the first time...yay.) My mind then bounced from the student perspective to adults, thinking of the new employee in a well-established office or the stay at home parent who goes from book club to parent/play group trying to find the place that feels "right". 

Don't get me wrong, many of these experiences are healthy, necessary parts of life. We all have to learn to navigate the sometimes uncomfortable waters of being "the new kid" or entering at somewhat unlucky timing in a situation. I guess it just got me thinking about what the rest of us can do to help ease some of the discomfort. Do the students who come back mid-class from their pullout group know how and where to access the lesson and directions so they can re-enter seamlessly? Do the new colleagues in the office get a warm smile in the hallway and have a place to, like the students who missed the lessons, build some context on the work being done without having to wait for someone to explain it all to them? Without always knowing the people in these situations how can we ensure that they are engaged in a healthy amount of challenge or discomfort for a finite amount of time rather than being pushed past these points and plummeting into straight-up anxiety and fear? For whatever it is worth I am going to be watching for these situations a little more closely and hopefully I can help fill in some missing context or, if nothing else, make a friendly gesture towards someone who may or may not be feeling uncomfortable in that moment. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Google Slides & Who I Am as a Learner / Facilitator of Learning

I started writing this "quick little" thought (HA! Have ya' MET me?) on G+ but it turned into something lengthier and perhaps more fitting for this space, so here it is. In my ever challenging effort to blog more and worry less about formatting & perfection I am just dumping this thinking so I can process out loud for a minute. You've been warned...

Background: I have been collaborating via Slides with some of my favorite colleagues for an event we are hosting tomorrow to help any central office district folk who wish to learn more about Google Drive and the guidelines we have begun crafting. Normally I use Docs for all my adult learning facilitations, but since this was a group effort someone began the presentations and a few crazy-talented co-workers jumped in full force and built some beautiful slides. Now I fairly regularly used, and enjoyed, Slides for my 4th and 5th graders, but the more I work on them the more I recognize not just that Slides are not my happy place, but the reason that may be.

Why I think Slides don't always meet my needs as a learner or facilitator of learning. 

  1. I am a perfectionist, incredibly visual, and my skillset is not that of a graphic designer. This means I spend an inordinate amount of time moving text & images from place to place trying to make it look nice. I know when it looks bad, but I can't see exactly what to do to fix it without messing about for a long while, and even then it might still look mediocre at best.
  2. I am a content-driven person. I love all the resources, information, ideas, and incredibly transparent learning and facilitating I can get my hands, err..brain, on (i.e. don't just say /share something, explain your thought process so I can learn from that, too). This is great and all, until I am asked to put all of that thinking & learning onto a simplified, beautified slide. Ermahgerd!
  3. I am all about self-driven and asynchronous learning and anything I create/share/teach needs to be able to hold its own outside of that hour or day when it was used in a lesson or facilitation. That means anyone should be able to look at the things I create and get something from them, learn from them, and ideally transfer that learning to others if they so choose. The premise of Slides, and similar tools, is to help a speaker give a presentation. That's great, if that is your purpose. But rarely do I ever teach in this way. I don't want to be the speaker, the keeper of the knowledge, or to present learning to others. I want to engage people in conversation, answer questions, facilitate their understanding and exploration of new information, and ultimately transfer ownership of the learning (both content and process) to the learner so they can apply and share it long after I am gone. (That doesn't mean presentations don't have their time and place, but I rarely find myself in a 30-60 min keynote kind of situation, and even then I want the audience to have something to take with them, that can be shared with people who couldn't attend, and that people can connect to during and after the talk. Hmm, actually I think I am just trying to be polite and PC here.. I would be hard pressed to find a situation where, as the learner or speaker, it would not be helpful to someone to have access to the information being shared. That just seems like good practice.)
  4. As a learner I want to engage in the content being shared so I can connect to it personally and apply it to my own needs. It drives me crazy to not have access to presentation materials so I can click on links, add notes/thinking/resources, and discuss with the others in the room through a backchannel. I don't want to spend time getting distracted Googling a resource or website when I could click on it and move on, and I certainly never want my attendees to do so, either. When I sit down and realize there is no way for me to access the materials being projected or discussed I have a very strong, very visceral reaction. I think this is something fairly recent, and probably stems from being spoiled in certain circles where people operate this way by default. I remember a year ago sitting down to hour 1 of the week-long preservice PD at my school and realizing there was no way to get the PPT, Word, and Excel docs being used. I vividly recall the feeling I had as I internally flipped my shit. *How am I supposed to manipulate this data for my own needs?!* *What if I want to take notes ON the presentation materials?!* *How can I provide my 2 cents on this stuff and share resources I have and hear what others are thinking and OH MY GOD NOBODY WANTS OUR INPUT OR CARES WTF WE ARE THINKING!!!!* Yeah, it seems dramatic...but it happened. I wanted to be part of a conversation, a valued member of the community we should have been building, not a receiver of information that 1-5 people deemed best for us. Learning should ALWAYS be reciprocal.
  5. My previous rant segues into the next point: I am most fulfilled and engaged in learning when I can give back to others. When I am not positioned to help people or to give something to others I am often very unhappy. I learn so much through the process of sharing my thinking, helping answer someone's question, providing a resource I have found helpful, or just telling people I am available as a thought-partner should they choose. When people are looking for help, even if that help takes the form of listening to them process, I am learning. Everything someone else says is a chance for me to hear a new perspective, to figure out where I stand and what I think, and to identify areas of growth or interest I want to pursue. Thus if I have a space to backchannel, hear what other people are thinking or wondering, and to answer questions people have during a session or presentation I am a happy camper who is learning a ton. 

So, when these things are met I can almost guarantee I am a happy camper who is learning a whole lot, and I try to ensure my sessions meet these needs for any learners in the room who feel similarly. Does everyone feel this way or learn this way? Nope, and that is awesome! I try to meet their needs, too, and to get feedback about how I can make the experience positive for everyone in the room. 

TL;DR: Slides are awesome, if they are meeting your specific purpose, but I prefer other tools as a learner and facilitator and now I better understand why that is.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Does Your Title Define You?

I'm thinking about the roles & responsibilities we take on, the titles that are given to the work we do, and how that influences some people to work and act a certain way. Here's what I'm wondering:
  • Does your title accurately describe the roles and responsibilities you assume on a regular basis?
  • When you tell people your title, does it help them understand what you do or further confuse them?
  • Do you do certain things, and perhaps not do others, because it is or is not (by definition) part of your title? In other words, does your title limit you or what you imagine is possible for you to accomplish?
  • Do you interact with or perceive people, or yourself, differently based on their title?
  • If you had no title and were going to create one based on only the most impactful as well as interesting things you do, or want to do, what would your new title be?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

#CoEdNet Goes to #ISTE2014 - Part 1

At InnEdCo...

The conference is held at a serene mountain resort within driving distance. Most people stay at the resort, and those who choose offsite lodging are still there the majority of their time during the sessions and festivities each day. Everything happens within walking distance, and there is a shuttle to take the trek from one side of the resort to the other in about 5 minutes. This means it is easy to meet up with little to no advance notice, and you often bump into fellow InnEdCo-ers while eating at one of the few restaurants or walking to and from your next activity. All this happens at a ski resort over the summer, so almost everyone there has a shared purpose of attending the conference as a learner, leader, and facilitator of learning.

For many years the conference was held at the same resort so there are enough friendly people who know their way around that you can easily ask for help finding something. Even next year when the conference moves to Keystone it will be easy to grab a resort map and navigate from place to place on foot.

At ISTE...

The conference is held in a large city in the summer and the recommended conference hotels always sell out before all attendees have secured lodging. Transportation is tricky whether you have a car (hello pricey parking!), are trying to use public transportation can also be burdensome and time consuming (wait..which train can I take and where is the closest station?). This means that impromptu meetups are much harder to coordinate and there is a higher level of stress in finding your way anywhere. It also means that instead of spending your time and energy learning and connecting with amazing people you're probably spending a while getting from point A to point B and hoping your friends haven't taken off for the next stop on their agenda before you arrive. Friendly smiles and hellos as you walk past people on your way somewhere are replaced with being on guard about where you are going, how long it will take you to get there, and clutching your purse a little tighter as you walk down unknown city streets at night.

Every year the conference is in a different city around the US. This is exciting for some, scary for others, and probably a bit of both for many. Each year the learning curve of finding your way around is reset, with the exception of people who have spent time visiting or living in the host city.

The Metaphor...

Going to InnEdCo is like being in your small town or college campus where people are friendly and often know each other - it feels like "home". Going to ISTE is like being an 18 year old stepping foot on a large university campus for the first day of freshman-year classes.

#CoEdNet Goes to #ISTE2014 - The Frame

Yesterday I arrived in Atlanta with my rockstar teammates +Kevin Croghan and +Laura Mitchell to attend the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. We have been looking forward to this one for a few months now, and I am excited to see what all the buzz is about since this is my first ISTE experience.

Last week we had the great pleasure of being at Copper Mountain Resort for the similar but smaller and more local Innovation Education Colorado (InnEdCo, formerly TIE) conference. I still haven't digested all of the fantastic things I learned and started to think about throughout that week, and many of my intended posts on the experience have yet to make their way out of my journal and into the blogosphere. What I can say is that being able to attend InnEdCo truly feeling like a Colorado Connected Educator this year made all the difference in how valuable the experience was for me. I had the great pleasure of presenting and being positioned to help other attendees (some from our district, others from around the state), which was a dream come true. I am still processing all the ways this year was so different for me and hope to share some of those takeaways soon because I really want to help others have the same transformative experience when they attend InnEdCo and other learning "events" in the future.

In the meantime I've shifted gears to ISTE for the next few days and want to share some of my thinking as it pertains to the conference experience itself. I anticipate this is going to look like a comparison of sorts, but we shall see how it evolves. This is by no means meant to be taken as criticism for either conference, but instead to be viewed as things I notice and wonder in an attempt to further process my experience and grow as a learner, attendee, facilitator, and organizer of adult learning.

I am also setting a goal for myself of lowering, as in way, WAY lowering, the expectations I have for sharing my thinking in this space. I am a forever perfectionist and writing purest of sorts, which means blog posts usually take me quite a little bit of time to create and actually share. (Ex: I have only recently taken to not proofreading & editing every email I send, though I still do so for quite a few depending on the audience.) That being said, I want to experiment a little with how I choose to use this space to capture my thinking, process ideas, and track my own growth over time. So over the next few days you may see some typos (just the thought makes me cringe!), and some of the thoughts shared might range from slightly rambling to incomprehensibly long-winded and fairly off-topic. My love for the Oxford comma and temptation to use it at every.single.turn will absolutely make an appearance at times. All of this is ok. I am not writing a book to be published, nor do I want myself or others to feel as though blogging has to be the kind of activity that has to take hours on end and be your absolute best work each time. My purpose in blogging is to process my learning and share it with others so they can learn with me and push my thinking even farther.

And with that, we're off!...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Who Decides the Value of Learning?

On several occasions recently someone has asked me, in reference to participating in a learning opportunity or facilitating PD outside the district, "So how does this benefit us?" or "What are we getting out of this?"

I've struggled each time to explain my rationale. In my mind I think, "Why wouldn't we participate?" The need to justify these choices seems absurd to me because I am fortunate to be part of an amazing community of learners around Colorado and across the globe. Every day these people share things that I benefit from and in turn, when shared with the teachers and leaders I work with, our district benefits from. I sometimes forget that there are lines between our district and the next because so often with the people in my PLN the lines are blurred or nonexistent. These educators offer their thoughts, advice, ideas, templates, resources, time, and so much more without blinking...and I try to do the same for them. Even within the district I'm fortunate to work with some fantastic people on cross-departmental projects because we all have similar interests, passions, and dedication to the students and teachers we serve - regardless of our titles or which budget our paychecks come from. These people go above and beyond to accomplish their more than full-time workloads in addition to helping with these projects, and it is incredibly rewarding to know that we all want what is best for our community. So when someone asks me to justify participation in something outside the traditional walls of the district or department I work in I feel they are also asking me to put a finite price on learning, on sharing knowledge, and on helping others - both those I serve within my district and those who work in places near and far.

What if instead we assumed that every experience someone felt excited or passionate about participating in would be infinitely valuable? Valuable to them as a person and a learner, valuable to those they work with now and those they haven't met yet. What if we stopped feeling the need to quantify learning and sharing our talents and instead believed that every experience, whether positive or negative, would provide value?

I am challenging myself, and would ask the same of you, to model the value in openly participating in and sharing the learning and talents we each have. Pass on that thought, idea, or lesson learned so those around you can come along for the ride. If we each shared just 1 idea or reflection every day imagine how that learning could multiply and spread to others. If we continue to push the boundaries and not let invisible walls stop us from connecting and sharing across districts, states, and countries just think of how much faster we could achieve our goals and the dreams we have for students and teachers. 

So what will you share today? 

National Tap Dance Day 2014

When I was 7 I had a break in between a couple of the dance classes I took each week, and while the other kids were learning to tap I would work on my homework..or at least that was the plan. I was mesmerized and it wasn't long before I was tapping in my jazz shoes and helping some of the kids practice their steps. My dance teacher asked my mom to buy me a pair of tap shoes and sign me up for the class but she was very hesitant, not wanting to buy another pair of dance shoes in the event I ended up not following through with dance. Finally my teacher convinced her to buy me some secondhand shoes and offered me the class for free so I could participate. Within the year I had my first dance solo, and it was tap. Within 3 years I had changed studios and started dancing competitively around the country, receiving my highest scores as well as scholarships for my tap routines. For much of my life tap was the dance form I excelled at and that came most naturally to me, and it is the one I fell completely in love with first. 

Eleanor Powell & Fred Astaire - Begin the Beguine (Cole Porter)
One of my favorite numbers to learn and perform.

Through the years I have been fortunate to meet and dance with some of the masters of tap, and to learn not just about tap as an art form but to hear firsthand about tap's rich history from many of the dancers who are credited with making tap what it is today.

Happy National Tap Dance Day!

The Nicholas Brothers (Harold & Fayard Nichols) - Stormy Weather
Considered one of the greatest tap dances ever filmed. I was fortunate to meet & dance with Fayard Nicholas.

A couple of the tappers I've danced with:

Jimmy Slyde
Received a Tony nomination for Black and Blue. His successful career spanned almost 6 decades.

Brenda Bufalino
Known as a trailblazer in tap. Choreographed the famed, "Morton Gould Tap Concerto"  with Charles "Honi" Coles.

Jeni LeGon, one of the 1st African American women to have a solo career in tap.
Swing is Here to Stay (1937)

One of the defining moments in my tap career was dancing with Gregory Hines. He was an incredible dancer, performer, and all-around wonderful man.

A dream day in my tap-dancing life, tapping & talking with:
Gregory Hines, Fayard Nicholas, Diane Walker, Jeni LeGon

Cholly Atkins & Jimmy Slyde

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Do What You Love...Share Your Passion"

Why do you love it?
How are you sharing that love with others?

Sometimes I steal away into my computer and re-connect to my first passion, the very thing that taught me the meaning of loving something so completely that it consumes you in the best possible way. Late in the evening, when I should be finishing up my day and heading to bed, I grab my earbuds and pull up YouTube to watch dance videos. I search for contemporary or modern, especially loving the videos of classes and rehearsals in a studio. Those are my favorite because they are palpably real and raw, and the dancers have nothing to lose.

www.ektopia.co.uk - Holstee Manifesto
I love dance because I can always connect to it. It always makes me feel something...

I can feel the marley dance floor under my bare feet. I feel the hot breeze of a fan across my face while dancing away the humid Maine summers of my childhood in an aging 2nd floor studio. I can feel the floor burns and blisters on my feet, the bruises on my knees and shoulders, and the calluses on my hands. I can feel the nervous excitement of standing on stage right before the curtain goes up on a first performance and the intense commitment to dancing harder, running faster, and nailing each jump and subtle head movement the next night.
My first pointe solo, 1997
I know right away when I've found what I'm looking for because I want nothing more than to be dancing with them at that very moment. To climb on stage, to walk into the studio, and to move across the floor in the same way.

Most days my love for dance sits quietly on the sidelines, waiting patiently for a connection to the other parts of my life so it can pop into the spotlight for a split second before slipping once again into the background. But sometimes I take the time to reconnect to this important piece of myself. Without skipping a beat it jumps loudly into existence and takes over every aspect of my being. It oozes and drips from my soul and transports my thoughts simultaneously to my past and my future.

montenbaik.com - Holstee Manifesto
For over 20 years the way I shared my love for dance was quite simple. I danced. I performed. I taught dance to children and adults. I rehearsed and went to class for hours each day, 5-7 days a week, 12 months a year. The ways to share my passion with others seemed so obvious, so natural. And then I stopped dancing. Gradually I went from dancing every day to dancing one day, and some weeks no days. What had once been my career and my life - my identity - became my hobby. Then I started teaching, and I got to share my passion with my students throughout the year. I taught them dance. I showed them videos of the master tap dancers and modern greats. I brought in my pointe shoes and tap shoes and read them my favorite picture books about dance. Most of all I modeled that when you find that thing you love completely it's important to not just invest yourself wholeheartedly but to share that passion with the world.

And then I left my classroom and I no longer had a wide-eyed and inquisitive audience to share my passion with. So now I need to find a different way to share what I love, and that means taking risks and making commitments. It means pushing myself to reconnect to dance by taking class and auditioning so I can rehearse and perform this summer. It's exciting and scary and requires acknowledgement that I am not the dancer I was 10 years ago, and acceptance from myself to be ok with that. For most of my life the thing I was most passionate about happened to be the thing I devoted my life to training in, but there's no prerequisite to be amazing at all the things you love.

So what do you love?
Find something that brings you joy, that thing that instantly makes you want to climb out of your seat and onto the stage, and then do it as often as possible while sharing it with others.

The Holstee Manifesto: Typography Video

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lightrail Learnings: Personalization for All

I usually ride the train very early in the mornings but today I was heading into town midday with a different demographic of riders, many of them college students of  various ages. I was struck by watching them study their course material using index cards, handwritten notes on lined paper and in composition books, notes jotted in the tiny margin of PPT printouts, and questions that appear to have come from a digital assignment or assessment but have been converted to a PDF or other format to be printed.

This comes on the heels of watching my husband, a very tech-savvy programmer, suffer through an hour long pre-recorded webinar to verify he read a company's info packet so he can move to the next round of job interviews. *eye roll*

Meanwhile, my (former *tear*) 4th graders are intuitively programming robots and simple web apps, using Google Apps like pros, and determining which tool (digital and otherwise) will best meet their needs and purpose. On a daily basis I read posts about the incredible learning and thinking going on in tech-enabled classrooms everywhere: like + Brandon Peterson talking of 1st graders listing ideas like "webcasts, QR codes, building websites, infographics" when asked how they might share their learning. Right now I am owning my learning experience by reading articles, engaging in online communities, and reflecting on my thoughts while composing this post on my blog - all from my phone while I ride the train.
This makes me wonder about the current state of things, and where it is all headed. What kind of learning experiences do college students of all ages as well as adults in the workforce want right now? What kinds of experiences would enhance what they're doing? I then start to think about what my kiddos, the current students who are in K-12 classes right now, will expect and want when they enter college and the workplace. Are professors and institutions of higher ed going to be ready for them? Will the system be prepared to honor the student-driven experiences and competency-based learning many of them will have engaged in the majority of their lives?

Sometimes I wonder, and maybe even worry a little, about the changes and shifts that need to be made to truly honor each individual learner in our society. But I also get super excited at the possibilities. Every time I see that student on the train trying to memorize material on an index card or quiz themselves using a printed PPT I have ideas about changing their learning experience. I also know there are a number of people like me who also get excited by the possibilities of digital tools and a more personalized experience for every single learner, and those people are doing amazing things to get us all closer to that dream. I feel so lucky to interact with some of these fellow learners regularly, and I never cease to be amazed and excited by the impact we have and the things we can create together - much of which has yet to be dreamed up.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Countdown to InnEdCo 2014

Late last night I agreed to take part in the Countdown to #InnEdCo14 and I am so glad I did. Here's a few reasons why:
  • Purpose & Productivity
    • I got to spend a whole day thinking, reflecting, and sharing about 1 topic. It gave me focus and a reason to steal away into my head/journal/computer for a few minutes in between meetings and car rides from site to site. It was a refreshing change of pace throughout a busy day that can sometimes lack a sense of immediate feedback and accomplishment.
  • Sense of Community & Authentic Audience
    • I was sharing out to a broader community that shares a common interest with InnEdCo. It is nice to feel like part of something bigger than yourself that still has an authentic audience.
  • Excitement Building
    • This time of year (ok let's face it, most times of year) can be stressful and chaotic. It can start to seem like you're limping along while losing steam and positivity - and that feels just plain gross. Getting to step out of your head and imagine the possibilities to create, share, and build excitement for yourself and others around an event is pretty awesome. Now that I've started down this path I want to continue, and that gets me even more excited! I can't wait to see what others put together for the Countdown day they claim, and I have something to look forward to for myself in continuing to share my own excitement as we approach a week of incredible learning and connecting with one another. 
As the day came to an end I felt a little sad that I hadn't gotten to all the things I was hoping to share in my 24 hours, but as with most things this isn't the entire conversation - it is just the beginning. I only got to 5 of my "10ish Reasons I'm Excited for #InnEdCo14", so I think I will continue to post the ones I have written down and the ones that haven't come to me yet. I have lots of #InnEdCoMemes and #InnEdCoGIFs created, and some that I haven't made but want to. Those will also get shared over the next 39 days. Signing up for this Countdown gave me a reason to start pondering a blog post or two about my experiences at Copper Mountain last year, my hopes for this year's conference, and why I think events like InnEdCo are so valuable. I'm looking forward to fleshing out these ideas to share over the next month and know that in the process I'll develop new ideas to think about. 

*A big thank you to +Ben Wilkoff for getting this Countdown going and encouraging me to participate, and to +Innovative Educators Colorado for working diligently all year in an effort to be innovative with how this conference can continue to push the boundaries of professional learning events.

#InnEdCo14 Countdown Club

The Countdown to #InnEdCo14 is an awesome way to share why we love the annual InnEdCo conference. It's also a great opportunity to grow your PLN of educators to connect, or reconnect, with at Copper Mountain in June. But the fun doesn't have to end when your day is over!

Once you've participated in your Countdown day (they're going fast - grab yours now!) join together with other members of the Countdown Club by jumping on Twitter and any other social networking sites you love once a day to share your continued excitement leading up to June 16 with #InnEdCoADay. Miss a day? Don't worry, just jump back in the next day. Let's keep the conversations going and get pumped for #InnEdCo14, one day at a time!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Stand Up Meetings

In software development (particularly the Agile framework) there's a meeting that occurs each day during a sprint called the stand-up (or sometimes daily scrum). This check-in is a time for the dev team to share a brief (no more than 2 minutes each) update of their progress. All team members who are physically able stand for the duration of the meeting, the idea being that a level of discomfort for standing too long will discourage meetings running over the allotted time.

Impediments / stumbling blocks are noted by the Scrum Master and a resolution is worked on outside of the meeting. At most, a team member may make a brief statement in reply, such as, "Let's connect more on that after the meeting." No detailed discussions happen during this meeting.

Other Guidelines:

  • All members of the development team come prepared with their updates.
  • Meeting always starts precisely on time, even if some team members are missing.
  • Meeting should happen at the same time and place each day.
  • Meeting is timeboxed to no more than 15 minutes
  • Anyone is welcome to attend, but only core roles speak.
Things I Like:
  • Daily collaboration among team members so everyone is aware of each other's progress.
  • 15 minute limit values each team member's time.
  • Opportunities for offline discussion, problem-solving, and establishing a thought partner when needed without the rest of the team feeling locked into the meeting.
What benefits could this have to projects and meetings you lead / are involved in? What challenges to this kind of meeting structure do you see?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Communities of Practice Gardener

Been thinking about this for a while and finally had time to make a little something in Explain Everything that represented the 2 varying states of mind I encounter with my online communities. Still working out how these each manifest and the pros / cons of this fluctuation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Passionate Disagreement is Good for the Mind

This article was running rampant around my Tumblr dash and showed up on some other social media this weekend and it definitely brought me pause. While I have some passionate feelings about it I do appreciate how sometimes the things that get us most fired up might also be the ones that get us thinking more deeply. I love spending time with like-minded individuals who keep me inspired and "get" my philosophy, but having your ideas challenged and being required to provide a solid rationale for your argument can be quite powerful as well. Healthy debate in a constructive space is important for both our own practice and for the students in our classrooms, and it gets the blood circulating pretty well, too!

So since I spent time writing, and then re-writing (thanks so much for that, Tumblr iPad app *eye roll*), my thoughts I've shared them here as well. As always please share any thoughts you have by commenting or posting your own 2 cents somewhere. I'd love to hear your take on it.

A couple people have posted some thoughtful reflection about how technology impacts their kids and families, as well as envisioning their own childhood with handheld technology added to the mix. I really appreciate their perspectives and wish more adults took some time to think about how technology might be affecting the children they interact with. Picturing our own childhood and how it might have been different if technology were so prevalent is a powerful idea, and something I’m going to have to ponder and think about for myself and for the teachers and parents I work with.

That being said, I have a huge problem with the way this was written and the blanket statements being used here. Some of the ideas could be used as an argument for better education for adults and children around technology use, but using this “evidence” and “research” as a call to action in banning technology for children under 12 is misguided at best. I would urge readers to click through to the original post and read some of the comments being left, as many of them bring up important points.

The majority of the author’s arguments are focused on how the technology is being used and monitored, yet those same arguments are being used as a claim that the technology itself is causing harm. Does sitting children in front of technology as passive consumers for hours each day have implications we need to consider? Absolutely. Assuming that every time someone picks up a device they are using it in this way, though, is just not accurate. Technology is being used by students for meaningful creation, problem-solving, collaboration and teamwork, and some of the most authentic learning experiences you could imagine. Sure, not all students and teachers are engaging with technology in this way every time they use it, but that is why we need to support these teachers through open communication and sharing about meaningful technology integration.

Having technology available to students provides them the time and space to learn how to use it in a safe and meaningful way so they don’t become the same disengaged citizens this article takes such issue with. Technology is not going away and keeping it out of the hands of our kids is doing them a disservice. I have been blown away by how much my students have grown this year because they’ve been empowered with technology. They paint, dance, play outside, build, create, think critically, problem solve, and make decisions about how and when to use technology to engage more deeply in and share back all of this learning with each other and a wider audience outside the walls of our classroom. I’ve seen my kids become more confident and engaged in their learning, helping each other on a daily basis and coming together as a supportive community in ways I never could have imagined. I’ve watched the surprised looks on their faces at the beginning of the year when principals, teachers, and staff from around the district came to our classroom and looked them in the eye, asking them to share thoughts about their learning and valuing their ideas about technology in the classroom. Those looks of surprise quickly faded as my kids realized, and came to expect, that adults should be constantly asking them what they think and using that feedback to make decisions and shape the system that is supposedly serving them. Technology has empowered them beyond belief, and they have multiple authentic audiences for their work and ideas.

I’ve found myself constantly wishing I had this technology for my previous students and imagining how it would have been a game changer for my kids, and for me in trying to provide what they really needed. I see the faces of my kiddos in previous years and think of how much they missed out on and how much I struggled, and failed, to differentiate for so many needs. My kids this year have access to the same content as the rest of the class but in their native language at the click of a button and can have materials and books read to them out loud as they follow along. They move through standards at their own pace without feeling rushed ahead or held back and they are able to take charge of their learning with timely feedback and data to inform goal setting. When they have a question or get excited about something they can dig in on the topic immediately without having to ask for permission to learn, taking their understandings far beyond what any 1 teacher could provide them. Most importantly each one of them is developing a strong knowledge of self, a drive to contribute and give back to a larger community, and is engaged and taking ownership of their learning while acquiring skills and understandings that will serve them in life regardless of what path they choose.

The transformation I’ve seen in just 6 months never ceases to amaze me and I get truly excited to think of where these kids are headed if they continue on this path that is aided by technology as an authentic tool for learning. Please do think about the implications of technology, know when and how to use it meaningfully, make informed decisions, and most of all discuss and raise awareness of these things with kids and families, but don’t jump to conclusions and propose we take technology away from them. I've seen how amazing a technology-enabled classroom is in providing an authentic learning experience. These classrooms are shifting the landscape of education for the better so that we can ensure our kids are excited and ready to have a positive impact in the world.

ETA: Check out what +Erin Jackle had to say in her blog, Transforming With Tech