Friday, July 14, 2017

I have a secret or 2, or 3, or ...

This summer has been a crazy one. And I am trying to recharge in my own way which actually means working on growing my PLN, reading a book or 2 or 3 and even finding time to not think about my classroom or the upcoming school year.

Well this morning, while driving my son to work (proud mom moment - it's his first job and it what he's gone to tech school for so it's very exciting even if I have to get up, during the summer, to get him to work each day for 6:30 am) I started reflecting on a few things I had read. So I got home and started an email to go out to my fellow teachers. As I started typing, I quickly realized what I was typing was more than an email. I recalled my very forgotten blog that I had every intention of keeping up with last year. So I looked at that as a sign to revive my started blog and moved my "email" to it.

My Email

I want to let you in on a few secrets:

Secret #1: 

I love my job, not just love my job but LOVE my job. I love coming in and seeing what each day is going to bring. I love the excitement of a new year. I love seeing the students and wondering what I'm going to do, say, share with my students that will make a difference to each and every one of them. I remember those years ago when I started teaching and saying "If I can make a difference in just 1 student's life, my job will be worth it." Well, now I look back on that statement and realized how much I've changed and my view on what I do has changed. Today, I strive to make a difference everyday in each and every one of my students. Every one of my students - even the ones that make me crazy, drive me nuts and push my buttons. Now don't get me wrong, I have those days where I struggle to get out of bed, tired of the BS that goes around, feeling like I'm not being heard, thinking that others don't understand, even - to an extent - dreading "those" students - we all have those days. But, when "that" student comes into my room to talk about - what it appears to be nothing, when a student comes back to visit, when I see that "Ah Ha!" moment on a student's face, when a group comes into my room after school to just "hang out", I then remember exactly why I do what I do.

Secret #2: 

I'm not really teaching Computer Science or Earth Science or whatever - I'm teaching students, I'm building relationships, I'm showing each and every one of them that they matter, I'm trying to help them find their passion, I'm working to guide them and show them that they truly can do anything. Just like technology is just a tool to aid in learning, the subjects I teach are just "tools" in reaching my students and helping them to become excited about something.  Think back to when you were a student.  Think about the teachers that you really connected with, really learned from.  What characteristics did those teachers have?  Chances are they were passionate, caring, and you connected with them on some level.

Secret #3: 

And this one may be surprising - I want my students to fail. Now I don't mean get an F for the school year, get an F on a test, or not hand in an assignment kind of fail. I want my students to take a risk, try something and have it not work out. Think about it. When was the last time everything you did something and it went exactly as you planned and as a result you learned something? Now think about the last time you tried something - took a risk - and it didn't go well. Maybe you tried a new recipe, tried a new seating arrangement in your classroom, built something and it didn't work. What did you do? You made a change, you scrapped it, you started over - you learned what worked and what didn't and you grew from it. 
F.A.I.L: First Attempt In Learning
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” This quote by retired basketball legend Michael Jordan in a Nike advertisement speaks for itself.

Secret #4: 

I truly believe that each and every one of my students is a genius - I just have to find that spark and help them realize it. Next time, "that" student is pushing your buttons, take a minute to read a little bit about Albert Einstein and think about what it must have been to be his teacher!
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ~ attributed to Albert Einstein

Secret #5: 

I don't typically give detentions and I have simple rules. 

My classroom rules
Do your best
Respect others
Respect the space
Respect yourself

Sometimes those rules mean picking and choosing my battles. The student that is always thrown out of class, given a detention, yelled at, becomes immune to the effect. We all know that the child that is pushing buttons is the one that needs the most - we are told that time and again. For those students, negative attention is better than no attention. That air of indifference by "that" student is a defense - they are scared. So how do I deal with it? I begin to build a relationship with that student - all my students - on day 1. Before the problems even begin I learn about them, I share with them and they share with me. Years ago we were told "Don't smile before Christmas in order to lay down the law" People that know me know that I could never do that.  But, since I don't raise my voice, give detentions, remove students from class, when I do need to raise my voice, my students know my limit was hit and they listen. Now, none of this means that my students are perfect when they are in my room. I just manage it in my room. Sometimes I need to touch base with that student immediately, sometimes it requires an after class discussion. And when the situation requires, I will give a detention or call an administrator in the talk.  I will also contact the parent if needed.  But, a big part of classroom management is letting the students know that they matter and when they are doing well. Think about it, bad things we hear about ourselves are easier to believe but the positives are more difficult so it take many more to reverse the affects of a negative. Think of "that" student. She/He comes to your room 5th period. If all 4 of the previous periods the student is hit with a negative "Why can't you ever sit still?!" "What a surprise, no homework again." "Why can't you ever make it through a class without talking?!" and so on. How do you think that student is feeling when they arrive in your room? While we should never give inflated positive - students know when it's not sincere - we should give it and not take for granted that the students "know" when they do well.

Secret #6:

I want feedback - but I want it to be constructive - and I want it from my students. Feedback is a gift! I will be honest, this is one of those things that I bring with me from my training in scouts. I attended Woodbadge, advanced leadership training, as a leader in BSA. It was the best leadership training I have ever received and it has helped make me a better teacher. One, very important, part of the training was on giving and receiving feedback. I have brought that into my classroom and began to teach my students about how to give and receive feedback. If we want our students to grow, how can they grow from just a number on a paper. What does that number truly tell them? But, if I sit down with that student and explain what they got wrong, we talk about it and discuss how they can change something, it goes much further and will produce better results than the arbitrary number on the paper. Having students give each other feedback, allows them to get views from more than just me. But the scariest thing I have ever done was to ask my students to give me feedback and I asked them to be honest! After all, I need my classroom to work for them - they are why I am here! When you care a great deal about something, it can be very difficult to get that feedback which, in many cases, can be "not glowing". But the first time I requested that feedback from my students, I looked critically at it and really "listened" to what my students were telling me. I then applied what I could. The day a student came up to me to ask if I did something because of her feedback and I replied "Yes", her eyes lit up with shock and surprise that I was listening and valued what she had to say, made receiving that feedback - good and bad - all worth it.

We all have our classroom secrets.  Sometimes we don't even realize we have those little things that make our classroom special or what we can also refer to as our "secrets". Take some time to think about your classroom.  What are your "secrets"?  What "secrets" can you bring into the classroom this year to help make your school year better?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Helping others to break out and move forward with change

In my position at my school, I find myself regularly getting frustrated.  To me, it seems so simple to put the learning into my students hands, to recognize that I no longer hold the keys to everything they need to know, to no longer be the center of attention - the "Sage on the Stage".  I see the excitement in my students eyes when they discover something new, I get the opportunity to work with those that are struggling or need direction while those that can move along don't feel "held back" and "bored" while they wait for their peers to catch up.

So why can't the other teachers I work with see the same things I do?

Sometimes I get so caught up in my own excitement I can't see the other teacher's perspective.  When I take a minute to step back and really try to put myself in their shoes, to try to remember a time when I was told to change things and I wasn't ready to, that's when I can see their side of things.  Many teachers will teach they only way they know how and that is how they themselves were taught.  So how do we reach out to them to help break out of their comfort zone and make small changes to reach today's students?

1. What causes you to use different styles to reach different students?

We can sometimes forget that they other teachers around us are really just students.  We need to teach them where they are.  For people that have been teaching a certain way for many years, comfort zone is where they think they teach best.  We can't just walk into their classroom and rip out their podium, move their desks around and throw out their seating charts.  That could send the most dedicated teacher straight over the edge.  Depending on your position within your school, help them take 1 step - put the desks into a circle, invite the teacher into your room on a day when what you are doing ins't so far out of their comfort zone, co-teach a lesson with them and have each of you use your strong points to put together a lesson that can show your fellow teacher a few small ways to make some changes.

2. Human beings, by nature, tend to be resistant to change.

At one time or another, we have all been in a position in which the thought of change was so scary that we resisted.  I can recall being asked to fill in as a pre-k aide for a year in the school that I would teach 7th grade.  At the time I was driving school bus (a job to fill the time while my son was still little and didn't require me to get child care).  For me, the idea of being in a room with a bunch of 4 year olds was scarier than the most difficult run while driving bus.  I actually asked the bus company if I could return if it didn't work out with the pre-k!
We need to remember how we felt in those times and gather up a little sympathy for those fellow teachers that are scared beyond belief at the thought of giving up control.  As we all know, once we work through that change we find things on the other side can be be better and not quite as scary as we thought.  We just need to help our fellow teachers get there.

3. PD, PD, PD

We need to model our professional development to be what we want our teachers to use in their classroom.  There is nothing better than actually seeing what we want to happen in action.  Giving teachers that aren't ready for major change small, bite sized bits of change that they can walk into their classroom and use right away can be the best way to open that door for more change.  Breaking up professional development into tiers so that those teachers that feel too scared to move beyond the very basics can still bring something back to their classroom and those that are ready to dig deeper can have that opportunity.  But be very clear to your teachers when something is moving beyond the basics.  But make sure that the basics are usable immediately in the classroom!

The biggest complaint I hear is that teachers aren't prepared for the changes that the school wants to see.  We are all together in this and we need everyone to be successful.  

We have a responsibility, regardless of our position, to help our fellow teachers succeed!  When our fellow teachers succeed, then we succeed and our students succeed!

So lets work with our fellow teachers to make our schools the best place they can be!

Friday, December 30, 2016

And so it begins...

Here we are, near the end of the holiday break.  While many teachers in my area are focused on spending time with their families, tech coordinators, integration specialists, tech directors, never really shut our brains off.  Even if we aren't at the school, we rarely take the time away from researching the latest trends, attending conferences, networking, blogging, writing, speaking - the list goes on.  But we do it because we love it and we know that we are helping our students - your students - to have a better educational experience.

About Me
I began my education career as a teacher.  Over the years, I have taught almost every subject in middle school and even a few at the high school level.  My first love is science - specifically geology - however, I have always had a passion for technology.  When I took a few years off to be a stay-at-home mom, I began delving into the online world that existed at the time and taught myself how to write HTML (CSS didn't exist at the time).  My plan was to design some website pages so that our family could follow the growth of my boys even if they didn't live close by.  That excitement grew and I continued my self teaching of technology.

I returned to the classroom just before finding out that I was pregnant with son #4.  When I returned to the classroom, I was excited to be one of the first in our area to be blessed with an interactive whiteboard.  I spent so much time learning everything I could do with it and the different ways I could use it.  The students loved getting to be a part of the class by going up to the board, writing on it, presenting from it.  I loved getting to see their excitement.  As the years went on and I moved schools, I found myself spending so much time "teaching" science (read "sage on the stage") that I never had time for the hands on labs that were the reason I loved science.  I missed the excitement in my students eyes when learning.  I knew there had to be a better way.

So I did some research and came across John Bergmann and the Flipped Classroom.  I jumped right in and started flipping my classes.  I was able to keep the students from spending all class period sitting and being bored (because, lets face it, none of us want to sit and listen to something that we aren't interested in).  That kicked off my desire to find new ways to reach my students and led to my role as a technology coordinator.

I have now been in the position of technology coordinator at a small Catholic 6-12 school in Connecticut for 4 years.  I am a life-long learner and love to lead change.  I am a sponge to learning new ideas and finding ways to integrate them into my classes.  My goal is to inspire students to become life-long learners and find their own passions.  I also hope to inspire other teachers to make small changes and build new ways of learning that help students find their desire for learning.

So join me on my adventure of transforming education and leading change beginning in my own classroom.