Tuesday, July 5, 2016

to be continued...

I've been thinking a lot about death lately.  It's surrounds me.  It is me.  In so many ways. On the morning I left for Colorado, we took our dog of 13 years to rest. After only a few weeks of knowing she had lymphoma, she could no longer continue the fight.  On the morning I left for Colorado, I found out a former student who is very near and dear to my heart had lost her little baby sister to a drowning accident.  One of our days in Colorado, there was an active shooter blocks away in Downtown.  He was after one person and, as far as I know, only managed to kill himself.  On the night I arrived home in St. Louis, I was hearing shots fired as I drove through a neighborhood.  For the first time in that week I asked myself the question "Could this be my time?  What happens when my time comes?  How will I be remembered?"

I've read so many obituaries lately, it makes me think of an assignment many students used to think was ridiculous.  I want to write my own obituary so the world can hear my culminating thoughts and no one leaves out the best parts of my journey.

I want to talk of the chances I took and the people I touched. I want to tell stories of the places I've gone but also the times when I stayed.  I want to tell how there was rarely a person I found a stranger but not everyone always liked me. I want to tell some of the stories of this past week that have been so amazing but also how I feel guilty having those moments because I've been given so much already.  I want to include some of the greatest failures right alongside my successes.  I want to be able to say that I was me, but there are also times I was misunderstood.  I want to say that the good times weren't always worth the hard times, but the good doesn't happen without the bad.

I'd want my story to say that I lived.  In spite of shyness, divorced parents, moving around as a kid, student loans, and less-than-ideal working conditions.  I lived.  I excelled at something I was passionate about and touched the lives of many, so that they could touch the lives of even more still.

And for that reason, my story will not end just because I stop writing it.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

ISTE 2016: A Reflection

My favorite thing about ISTE is #NotAtISTE16. This might sound a little strange...because I'm at #ISTE2016 so let me explain.

Some background:

Being my first time at ISTE, I'm glad to have learned from others who had tips and resources. One thing I know from my experience connecting face-to-face and attending conferences locally is that it is the starting off point, the beginning of a journey. When the conference ends, it's up to you to keep it going.

Last year, I was #NotAtISTE. I watched and learned from afar as people I knew (in "Twitter only") had a blast connecting. I made the decision that I would attend the next ISTE no matter what. It is a decision I stood by even when it meant paying my own way and figuring out how to make it work financially. Even when it meant I was the only person from my district. It is a decision I am glad I made.

I attended alone, but I have not been alone. I volunteered several hours in the Welcome Experience, handing out ice cream and encouraging aspiring DJs on the Mash Machine. I met many members of my PLN in person for the first time. I rubbed elbows with Edu Rockstars and generally had the time of my life.

The #NotAtIste16 hashtag led me to pay it forward to those who were learning from afar. As a (former) special education teacher, I also see this in a more powerful way to continue this connection after week leave. While many tweeted #ISTE2016 with things they learned, I also tweeted #NotAtIste16 with intention, adding nuggets of information as well as links to presentations so those #NotAtISTE16 could be part of the action.

I love the idea behind the concept and hope you will pay it forward as well. If you tweeted resources, consider retweeting your favorites (or all of them) with #NotAtISTE16. So yes, my favorite thing about ISTE has been #NotAtISTE16, because it doesn't have to stop here. Remember that while you were #ISTE2016 this week, next week we area all #NotAtISTE16.

Friday, June 10, 2016

I want to have a funeral for "We've always done it this way"

I want to have a funeral for "We've always done it this way."  I want to write it on a piece of paper, light it with a match, and watch it burn until it is no longer recognizable.  I won't spread the ashes in mourning, but as a reminder that our students deserve better.  We deserve better.

There isn't really a story with this one.  Just something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

When I first sat down, I thought I'd have more to say here, but I think anyone reading this will get the point just fine on their own.  This is a post more for me than anyone else, because I don't ever want to be a person who is ok with maintaining the status quo.  So for me, for you, for us...Let's stop making excuses for why the world isn't the way we want it to be.  Let's just go out there and do it differently.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

LAUNCHing a maker project

A rock shattered the rear window on my car today.  It was an awful thing, but it doesn't mean I had a bad day.  It was inconvenient, but it doesn't mean I let it ruin my afternoon or week for that matter.

My students began working on a maker project building Roller Coasters from cardboard (and various materials) yesterday.  It's a design thinking lesson from Launch, a new book out by AJ Juliani and John Spencer.

The part I have enjoyed the most so far is seeing students who are quiet during academics come alive and get involved during this activity.  Our casualties so far have been: 2 X-acto knives, 1 hot glue gun, and about 38 egos.  The former two wore out due to continued use.  The latter is for the better.

Yesterday afternoon, one student moved up to me to ask a question, but hesitated.
Student: Is it ok if I...no it's probably not.  Never mind.
Me: Just ask the question.
Student: Is it ok if we work on this at home and bring pieces in?
Me: Absolutely.  Any specific ideas you were thinking?
Student: We might do some welding.


WHAT?!  (A few things while I let this sink in)
1. Student wants to work on something for MY class outside of class?!  That's a rarity during the school year.
2. Student is interested in welding and is thinking outside the box, literally metal not cardboard.
3. How awesome is that?!

Yeah, it's been kind of an amazing week.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

I'm a Google Innovator, You Just Don't Know Me Yet...

It's the first line of my application video for the 2016 Google Certified Innovator Academy and I believe every word of it.  That doesn't mean I always did.

Let's rewind.  Years ago, in my undergrad educational technology class, we were introduced to Google Docs.  After living much of my life tied to various types of drives--Mainly floppy (the ones that literally flopped, the 3.5" ones) and flash (which consistently failed me at 11PM the night before a major paper was due)--this concept made so much sense to me.  In our world of internet and connectivity, why shouldn't you be able to start writing something on one device and pick it up on another without having to deal with multiple versions and formatting issues?  Why shouldn't you be able to share something with someone else to work on it at the same time?!

Fast forward to January 2014, and my school decided to go 1:1 with Chromebooks, starting with my classroom and the rest of our math and science departments.  My love and appreciation for all things Google had continued through these years, in fact, my students had personal Gmail accounts so we were able to use Google Drive and its capabilities even though we weren't a GAFE school yet.  This was a big turning point in my teaching career.  After having signed up for the computer lab or laptop carts for EVERY class period for over a year, it was exactly what I and my students needed to increase our efficiency.  I'll admit I was very excited that the startup time of a Chromebook was 7 seconds, compared to the nearly 15 minutes it took to acquire and get logged in on our school laptops.

I've been accused of being over-reliant on technology in my teaching, mostly by those who don't understand the motive, method, and madness.   I have used my personal time to acquire knowledge and skills, often submitting presentation proposals so I was able to attend the conference for free.  I went into this knowing it is difficult for a district to justify sending a math teacher to so many tech conferences, and I'd made attending a career non-negotiable.  I'd go alone, not knowing a single person and have a blast being out of my comfort zone.  I've come to realize being out of my comfort zone may just be my comfort zone.  I quickly found my people, two kinds of them actually.  One group, they had these really cool Google badges.  They were confident and simply amazing at what they did.  I found there was a shared knowledge between myself and them.  Whatever it took, I was going to be one of them.

It was at one of these conferences, MOREnet 2014, that I found another group of people who would become the biggest support system I never knew I needed.  I found my #tlap crew (Teach Like a Pirate).  I've told the story several times and will continue to tell it as I move through my career.  After hearing Dave Burgess speak, buying the book, participating in a LIVE #tlap chat, and basically "drinking the Kool-aid" of the entire #tlap concept, I was inspired to focus on creating an environment I would want to learn in and that I was excited to teach in.  The power of this community was in being connected, weekly chats and inspiration 24/7.  It took care of the post-conference lull I would have after returning to my school with great ideas, but not one who really "got it."  The list of names of people in this group who inspire me daily is long and wonderful.  I would not be the educator I am today without this amazing community.

By melding this and technology together, I was able to tweak what learning looked like in my classroom.  I have also taken the same approach with how I teach and support other staff in my building with technology.  Whether it is for this reason or others, one thing I do know:  Students and teachers enjoy coming to learn in my class.

The best advice I got from Google Certified Teachers (now Innovators) at these conferences was to just these tools in my classroom.  That seemed easy enough.  So I went another year using Google apps in my classroom, then passed the Google Certified Educator Level 1 test quite easily.  Due to the rush of the school year, nearly a year passed of planning to take the Level 2 test.  I was going to wait until the summer once I realized there wasn't really enough time to get in on this round of Innovator applications anyway.  Luckily, some people in my PLN reminded me that inaction is telling myself "No."  My good friend, and Google Certifed Everything (Level 1, 2, Innovator, Trainer, Administrator) Nick Cusumano refused to let me make excuses.  He never treated me as anything less than a Google Certified Innovator, and I will never be able to thank him enough for seeing that in me.

It was with the busiest week ever (state testing) I arrived at my decision to go for it.  I spent at least ten hours each day going over and over the materials from the Google for Edu Training website and working with tools to make sure I was ready.  I holed myself up at home, put the dogs, who lay on my computer to get me to take a break, outside and took the Level 2 test.  With time to spare, I saw the words on the screen that let me know I passed.  I almost didn't believe it.

The next week was still busy.  Things I put off the week before still needed to be done, but I was as determined as ever to finish my Innovator application.  I was ok with the idea of not getting in, but I had to try.  The hardest part of that process wasn't answering questions or even the time restriction (down to the wire) I had put myself in, it was deciding which thing I am passionate about would become my Vision Project.  Originally, I had thought I would do one on better PD for my school, but the video I had in mind would likely have not been very highly regarded by my admins.  Including teachers saying lines such as "Couldn't this have been an email?!" when referring to staff meetings and trainings would have been true and entertaining, but the biggest change would have been the stability in my career.  At the end of the day, I have a car payment.

I decided on Google Parent, an initiative to help schools educate parents and help parents who are seeking more information on the use of Google tools in schools.  On a daily basis, I am reminded of the gap between school and home and that even when sharing a link, some parents just don't understand how to interact with it.  And that's ok, for now, but that also means that we still have a job to do.  Innovator or not, I was excited to see where I get to take this project.

I clicked submit and put it all in the hands of the people at Google for Edu.  Watching the other videos made me worried, made me second guess myself and my ideas.  But I began to see that this process was about so much more than just getting an acceptance letter, it's about me doing the things that make me, well, me.  It's about not settling for the status quo.  It's about connecting and finding ways to innovate in my own way.  No matter what happened in the next ten days, nothing would discount the strides I had taken as an educator and the impact my style of teaching has on students.  More importantly, it would not stop me from continuing to do so.

Of course, all of this was running through my head during THE.  LONGEST.  TEN.  DAYS.  OF.  MY.  LIFE.  SO.  FAR...and this was in my inbox on May 20th!

I didn't do this alone, I did this with the love and support of people I (mostly) haven't met in real life.  My family doesn't bat an eye anymore to the idea that I talk so often with people I've never met.  I never was good at listening when told not to talk to strangers.  In turn, I haven't known many people to be a stranger (at least for long).  I can't wait to get to Boulder and meet everyone in the #COL16 group.  What a ride this has been and will continue to be.

When I said "I'm a Google Innovator, you just don't know me yet."  I meant it, but that doesn't mean I'm stopping there.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Yes: A reflection on not telling myself No

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about not telling myself "No."  That was my advice to my students.

Since then, I've been trying to practice that--taking my own advice--in everyday life.  I think I've found that the key for me isn't so much about just not telling myself "No," it's about telling myself yes.  Telling yourself "Yes" to that opportunity.

And ever since then, every single opportunity that so have had (and I always thought I was good at this), I've been really good about making sure that I don't say "No" to an opportunity just by omission.  So I have said "Yes" to every opportunity that has presented itself.  And amazing things have been happening in my life.

So my challenge to you: Don't settle for just not telling yourself "No."  Make sure you tell yourself "Yes."  "You can do this."  Be your own cheerleader.

I will admit, it hasn't been easy.  I'm extremely busy this time of year: testing, paperwork, keeping my students from climbing the walls because it's May.

It's been a lot of work.  Which makes me think about a video we show our advisory students each fall.  It's Ashton Kutcher's speech at the Teen Choice Awards a few years ago.  He shares his advice with a crowd of kids who I hope heard his message.  One of the pieces that always sticks with me is when he said "Opportunity looks a lot like work."  It's true, opportunity looks so much like work.  But when it's an opportunity you want to take, it's work you want to do.

I found what I want to do.

What do you want to do?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Why I won't be teaching math next year.

This post has been a long time coming.  I haven't been happy with the rush of standardized testing and the effect it has on both my ability to prepare students for life after high school as well as the rush for districts to choose boxed-style curriculum, taking away the creativity and undermining the teaching ability of the classroom teacher.

I don't teach to the test.  I don't do a lot of things that teachers of math who know their very jobs rely on how their students' scores on said tests probably should.  I see the frustration in my students' eyes when I don't have enough time or they don't have enough ability to embrace abstract concepts.  I see the frustration with focusing on one test at the end of the year instead of seeing through to the rest of their lives.

So today, I offer my resignation to teaching math.  Next year, I will be teaching students.  There may happen to be math involved, but my students will come first.

Don't you think they deserve it?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Failure is not a destination...

My nephew is in the 7th grade.  There are less than two months before the end of the school year, and he is failing.  He has been failing all year.  My sister didn't tell me until last week and my heart is broken for him.

I know he's probably not the best behaved student in the class.  He's one of the youngest in his grade and is a very active kid.  He plays just about every sport possible and spends lots of time outside or playing with friends.  He's a good kid, but I'm sure it's hard for him to focus on school because "sit and get" is not his strength.

He's not very different from many students I know.  When classes aren't interesting, I'm sure he checks out.  Whatever the case may be, he hasn't been learning everything his teachers have been teaching.

If a student fails the homework and fails the test, they haven't learned what I was teaching.  I haven't done my job.  It is still my job to teach them, even if that's in the form of remediation.  I know it sounds like a lot of work, but that's my job.  My responsibility is to teach, not just provide information.

This isn't just because I teach students with IEPs and accommodations, this is because I teach students who are also human beings.

If I could go back to the beginning of the year and make sure my sister knew what to say to or ask of my nephew's teachers, he may not be failing now.  I'd tell her when would be an appropriate time to contact the principal, attend a parent-teacher conference with her to find out more information, offer to observe him in class, or help him after school.  There are a lot of processes I understand because I am a teacher.  It's easy to forget that parents don't understand or know that protocol.  That's why the burden falls on us to communicate with parents.

There are many lessons to be learned from failure.  But for the sake of my nephew and the other kids out there, please make sure failure is just a place along their path, not a destination.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Should I Tech This Lesson? Guiding Questions

Teachers who do not know me well often know me as the techie teacher.  I don't really have a problem with this, except when it sends the message that I use technology in my classroom solely because I like technology.  In a previous post, I gave some examples of "Why I Tech" from a teacher planning standpoint.  I acknowledge that my entire thought process happens in my head and it can sometimes be viewed as flippant decision rather than an intentional, calculated choice.  Today, I'd like to give some more details on what goes through me head when I make decisions regarding technology use with students in the classroom.

Guiding questions when considering technology technology use in your classroom:

1. Are you prepared to effectively manage technology use during this lesson?
No: Don't use it, seek out resources for properly managing student use
Yes: Proceed to next question

2. Can the lesson be taught without the use of technology?
No: Not really a choice, gotta use it
Yes: Proceed to next question

3. Will using technology improve the quality of learning for this lesson?
No: Possible overuse, consider next question
Yes: Go for it

4. Will using technology improve positive student engagement in this lesson?
No: Likely overuse
Yes: Don't forget to have students engage each other and not just the technology.

My definition:
Overuse: Using tech for the sake of using tech. It should benefit the lesson not just replace a pencil or paper.

The language I use here suggests likeliness of overuse, not certainty.  If there's anything I know, it's that every situation is different.  You are the master of your classroom.  Never let someone's list tell you any different.  This is just what I consider.  Take it or leave it.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The only "No" I fear is the "No" I tell myself

Sometimes I just write in the notes app on my phone.  A line gets stuck in my head and I have to keep it.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the advice I give my students.  I tell them often, "If you don't ask, it's an automatic 'No.'"  I encourage my students not to give up on themselves.  I challenge them not to let others decide how they feel about themselves.  Even as some of them turn 18, my students are still children after all.  Nothing wrong with that, but they have so much left to live, so much yet to grow.  They have so much yet to learn.  Both about the world and their potential.

So here is my advice, do with it as you wish:

The only 'No' I fear is the 'No' I tell myself. 
So I'll keep asking, but not for permission*.
I'll keep dreaming, but not of chances I didn't take.
I'll keep wishing on shooting stars, but not because I don't have the power to make wishes come true.

*[Permission is philosophical here, to further your knowledge and decide your destiny.  Students, you still have to ask before leaving the classroom.]

Don't forget to follow your own advice.  What will you accomplish when you stop telling yourself "No"?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Two questions I haven't heard in my classroom this year.

I may have fooled my students into thinking I was a better teacher this year...

Short story:

1. Is this for a grade?
2. Why are we doing this?

Two questions I haven't heard in my classroom this year.


Not-so-short story:

Do you ever just stand in your classroom in awe that your students have done as you instructed?  Sometimes I think to myself: "They have free-will and have still chosen to follow my instructions."  It's kind of amazing.  My goal isn't to have a classroom full of quiet compliance, but the sound of my students individually problem-solving is music to my ears.  When I first started at my school four years ago, it was a struggle to get students involved in the lesson and trying.  I actually did an in-flip classroom and had students on individualized learning tracks.  It was easy to make it through a walk-through.  When my principal came to observe, she was just happy my students were engaged and doing math.  Sometimes I have to remind myself just how far my students have already come.

I'd like to think it's because all my lessons are that engaging.  (I wish.) I'm sure it's at least partly because I mix technology and student choice and take preferences to learning styles into account when lesson planning.  (Probably a big part of this).

I have a feeling it's mostly because I make a promise to my students at the beginning of the year to not give them work just for the sake of work.  Busy work is not my thing.  When we begin units, and lessons, and activities, I explain the why along with the what, so they aren't left wondering.

That relationship, that rapport, the trust.  That's what makes my classroom a better classroom this year, but this is not the first year I have noticed it.  This is the first year I have given myself the credit for building that kind of classroom.

Is there a place in the teacher evaluation process that celebrates and encourages that?  There needs to be more of that.

What is something you rocked this school year?  Give yourself credit for your hard work and dedication.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

3/18/16 Friday PD: ACT Aspire data, IPI + SAMR

This week, we spent Friday PD as a large group.  We went over ACT Aspire data and the results from our latest IPI-T data collection (Instructional Practices Inventory-Technology*) as well as comparing this to our previous data collection in September.  Then we were given a brief overview of the SAMR model* guiding tech use in the classroom.  (For those who do not know its Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition).  I can go into more detail on these, but even though I've been through trainings on both, I'm not an expert on either of these, just because it wasn't anything I didn't know already, but most of our staff had little to no experience with this before.

*Note: If you are viewing this and you don't know what IPI and SAMR are, you should look them up (it's ok, you're already on the Internet).  I don't claim to be an expert in this post and Google keyword searches are allowed in the real world.*

After all of this, we were put into groups and given roles, an IPI level, a SAMR level, and a random topic (ours was fruit snacks, others included donuts, coffee, reality tv).  We were tasked with creating a lesson to fit our given IPI and SAMR levels.  It was nice to work with a cross-curricular group and come up with something entirely off the wall.  It was refreshing to see a group of educators who usually exclusively sits for PD, up on their feet talking and sharing.

All-in-all, it good PD.  We learned some information and then did an activity to show our understanding.

Here are my take-aways:

1. Of a 60-minute PD, ten minutes of this was spent at a level 5 for IPI (student learning conversations). But this not being "new" material to many of us, this also could be argued as a level 3 (student work, teacher supervised), but err on the side of the higher score.  So as a PD, we spent 10 min/60 min = 1/6 = approx 16.7% at a level 5.  Which means...

2. Of a 60-minute PD, we spent 50 minutes at a level 4 (teacher-led instruction). So as a PD, we spent 50 min/60 min = 5/6 = approx 83.3% at a level 4.

3. If conducting IPI collections during PD at the same rate as classrooms, it is likely we wouldn't have scored our PD as "higher level thinking", but rather teacher-led instruction.

4. Remember, and I cannot say it enough:  Jerry Valentine stresses that there is need and room for all of the levels except  one (1 complete disengagement).  "3s and 4s are ok" is basically a direct quote from the man, who did my training last year.  We shouldn't feel like kids need to always be at 5s and 6s, we just want to try to get them there often.

Here are some take-away a from PD that I'm not sure were intended:

5. With reflection, I just took our PD to a 6! (Also using SAMR level Modofication because I am able to collaborate with others through the blog and build on these ideas, which could cross over into Redefinition of following up on a Twitter chat or Voxer group)...I know, I know, I just geeked out on you.  Sorry.

5. In ten minutes working with our peers, we came up with the start of an amazing lesson that is cool, but doesn't have any practicality in our respective classrooms right now (i.e., Except for a few select classes, we can't go in on Monday and use that lesson). BUT, imagine what we could do if we had all 60 minutes to make something that we could use in our own classroom.

In summary:
If the desired result is higher-level lessons in our classrooms, we need to spend more time in higher level professional development.

What's Your Warning Label?

I require a warning label.

I recently had a discussion with a friend about warning labels on foods and household products which eventually led to us pondering the warning labels that would help us better understand our students.

"I didn't sleep last night (so I'm sorry I put my head down during independent work today)"

"I don't know where my next meal is coming from (so I'm sorry if don't have a pencil when I arrived in class)"

"Someone sold my meds (so I'm sorry I can't focus today and the next month until I can get a refill)"

"My dad got arrested last night (so I'm sorry your assignment wasn't my first priority)"

"I stay home to take care of my siblings (so I'm sorry I miss school a lot)"

There are some more complicated ones than that, but, unfortunately, they are all too similar.  The point I want to make is there are things below the surface that we don't experience, that we don't see or know about unless our students trust us and open up.  Some of my students I would know right away, others I can only guess.

Teachers have warning labels too.  We wear many hats, so ours are big labels.  Here's mine, both as a teacher and a person.

"I understand I'm not always the easiest person to deal with.  I set high expectations for myself and those around me because I want to be the best version of myself.  I'm stubborn and I talk too much.  My impatience could occasionally be described as self-destructive.  I sometimes dig too deep in my quest to understand nuances in daily life.  Just because I don't shout my daily successes from the rooftops doesn't mean I'm not happy.  I stand by my friends through thick and thin.  I offer help to strangers stranded on the side of the road.  I play the role of "parent" to many of my students, even when carrying their stories and burdens threatens to break me emotionally.  My good qualities far outweigh the bad.  I'll still be willing to help you, friend or not, student or not, on your worst day, but I'll understand if you're not there for me on mine.

I require a warning label, but only because I care too much instead of not enough."

 And at its core, the same can be said about most of my students.  They just have different ways of showing it.

What's your warning label?  How are you a different teacher because of it?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

That One Teacher (who changed my life forever)

We all have that one teacher.  The teacher who changed our lives forever.  It is impossible to know that moment when it happens, but there is one teacher in particular who made an impression at a time I needed it most.  There is no telling how my life would be different were it not for my 6th grade teacher, Brian Clyne.  When I read Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess, I actually wondered if Mr. Clyne had just changed his name.

Several years ago, I went through a very trying year.  I was in my second year of teaching and stuck between a rock and a hard place professionally.  I had an inaccessible mentor and an administrator who had differing opinions on what I should be doing in the classroom.  I was new at this and worked tirelessly to please both of them, to no avail.  I learned the hard way that trying to please two people is like having two #1 goals--you have to pick one or lose at both.  Maybe I'll write more about that another time.  Maybe I won't.  The good news is that I landed on my feet the next year in a much better place.

Once I had my footing, I really began to appreciate all the amazing teachers I had learned from.  The things I learned from them often pop up when I least expect it and usually have nothing to do with the lesson itself.  Every once in a while, I see a glimpse of my younger self sitting in my classroom and remember the power that goes along with my position.

It was after one of those days when I finally found Mr. Clyne to thank him personally for all he had done for me.

"I have been trying to find you for some time, to let you know how much your teaching meant to me. In writing this, I wonder if you will remember me. I wonder if you remember me as the girl with so much potential, if she didn't feel so invisible. You came into my life at such a tumultuous time. My parents had divorced, my mother was in the midst of reliving her youth with the man who would become her 2nd ex-husband. I always liked school, but hadn't cared about it for over a year by the time I arrived in your sixth grade classroom at Auburn Elementary in 1995. You were exactly the kind of teacher I needed at that point in my life. You taught me that my voice mattered, even if the only person I wrote to was myself. Most importantly, you never belittled me for trying to control the few things in my life I had influence over, which, unfortunately, resulted in me not being at school very much or completing much schoolwork. In the years following, my sisters turned to boys and bad habits. I turned to writing and I began to believe in myself. I graduated from high school in the top 10% of my class and set off to KU to major in education.

Now, I am working as a Special Education Math teacher at a realatively small high school in Missouri (about an hour outside St. Louis). I tell my students stories of how I learned about probability through Blackjack and how to add and subtract fractions using the Stock Market. I'm still trying to figure out how to work Marsville [quite possibly the coolest project ever] into my math curriculum, but I've got plastic sheeting and duct tape in my cabinet for when the moment strikes.

The other day, one of my students had his head down on the desk. I walked over, and instead of lecturing him on getting back to work, I knelt down and asked him "How are you doing today?" Turns out, his mother was in the hospital and he hadn't slept at all. So I told him he could put his head back down for as long as he needed. Those are the things they don't teach you in education classes, so I count myself lucky that I had a few amazing teachers to learn from. Teachers who were mentoring a person, rather than preparing for a test score. In the last 3 years in the classroom, I have found being a great teacher is not always valued by other staff and administration, which makes me appreciate it even more.

Sorry it has taken so long for me to tell you all of this. I'm just glad I am finally able to share it with you."

There are several of these teachers.  I need to make sure they know the difference they made too.  In the meantime--Thank you.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What Makes Me Tech

Any given day, I have more devices in my bag than I probably need.  The right tool for the job, I suppose.  Chromebook, laptop, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, Kindle...a combination of school-provided and personal investments.  No wonder my bag is always so heavy!  

Most teachers in my building probably think I use technology so extensively because I have all kinds of time on my hands.  Admittedly, I don't have children, so I'm sure that results in much more "free time" outside of school than the average teacher.

The truth is, I use tech because I don't have time NOT to use it.  In addition to teaching six different classes, I also have the paperwork, meetings, mentoring, and parent contacts involved with having a Special Education caseload.  If I'm not careful, all of this can take over my life outside of school just to keep up.  Early on in my career, I decided to work smarter, not harder.  This is why I tech.

If I record a lesson, it is there for future use.  If I create a digital activity (even one that can be printed), I can have one student or 40 students use it each year.  When technology automatically differentiates student math homework, the students benefit and I spend less time grading individual assignments.  I don't have to worry about which device I carry home because all of my files will still be at my fingertips.  This is why I tech.

When my classroom computer slowed down and became unreliable, I purchased a 25-foot HDMI cable and bypassed it altogether.  If there's anything I don't have time for, it's wasted time when something doesn't work properly.  With the HDMI cable, I am able to connect either my laptop or chromebook to my projector and even have an ipevo document camera (connected via either device) for the times I need to show something on the board that I don't have available digitally.  For example) Last week, I dislocated my wrist and was not able to write on the board.  I had a graphic organizer and card sort activity prepared, but I was able to project from my document camera using my activity keys (uncovering sections as we went).  This is why I tech.

My Sub Plans are in a Google document.   I keep it updated as my rosters change and also post a message in Google Classroom to create consistency for my students.  Of course, I haven't used a single sick day this school year, but this has also come in handy when missing for PD.  Next time I'm sick, instead of agonizing over plans while not feeling well, I can send my plans to the high school workroom copier from the comfort of my home with just a few clicks.  These plans as well as my Emergency Sub Plans are shared with key staff and team teachers so any one of them can access and edit if for some reason I am not able to.  This is why I tech.

For me, technology is an important tool in my toolbox.  Do I use it every day?  Yes, but sometimes only for attendance, email, grades.  Do my students use it every day in my class?  No.  And that's more than ok.  

I enjoy learning new ways to use technology in the classroom.  It's part of what makes me who I am.  This is what makes me tick.  This is what makes me tech.

This post is my semi-continuation/follow-up to the #satchatwc conversation on Time today hosted by Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman). Join #satchatwc Saturday Chat West Coast (and CST peeps who like to sleep in) Saturdays at 7:30AM PST moderated by Shelley Burgess @burgess_shelley

Saturday, February 20, 2016

I'm the teacher no one wants their child to have.

I'm the teacher no one wants their child to have.  It's not because I'm "mean."  It's not because can't always make learning fun.  It's not because I'm not good at my job.  It's not because I believe in choosing battles and natural consequences.  Or because I set high expectations but maintain an environment where it is safe to make mistakes.  And it's definitely not because I have been known to bring cupcakes to celebrate my students' birthdays each semester.  It's not because I teach math.  And maybe it's not even because I teach special education classes.  Or maybe it's because of all of these things.  Maybe it's none of these at all.

These thoughts go through my head every time I meet a parent for the first time.  Every time I have a meeting with parents about concerns with their child at any point in the educational testing process.  Every time I meet with a parent, no matter how many times I've met them before.

And this is about the time you should realize--if you haven't already--that this is anything but a rant post.  I will say in my experience, I haven't found a parent who wasn't supportive of me working with their child, both on the regular education and special education sides.  That being said, I know it can't be easy.  From the moment your child is born, the world is their oyster.  Then you, or a teacher, or a doctor notices that your child isn't progressing as expected.  There are a series of meetings, discussion about what your child can't do rather than what they can, and then there is a label.  Next, we plan.  We plan for ways to level the playing field.  When we can't level the playing field with accommodations, we modify instruction with special education classes.  And that is one of the ways I become the teacher no parent wanted their child to have.

I'm the teacher most students in the building never meet.  When students at my school vote for their favorite teacher each May, I wouldn't be able to win even if all of my students voted for me.  Luckily, I'm happy to get just one.  I find joy in what I teach but also who I teach.  I also understand that it isn't about me.

I'm the teacher no parent wants their child to have. I'm not the teacher they want, until I'm the teacher they need.