Friday, June 17, 2011

The Best Kind of Learning aka Finding our Peeps

This week was the Alabama Education Technology Conference in Birmingham, Alabama. I was really excited to attend and present at this conference as I had not been there for the last several years. I was looking forward to getting to share my presentation "Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing? Collaborating in Class and Online." This was also the first conference where my new book would be available. And although both were extremely enjoyable experiences, what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to meet and get to know so many other educators.

As I sat down to sign my first book a thought came to me that I wanted to inscribe in it which was inspired by my friend Nikki Robertson, who was holding that first book out to me. She and I connected first on Twitter  and then met face to face several months ago a EdCamp Bham.

"It's all about learning from one another." 

When I think about the professional journey that I've been on in the last couple of years, I realize that my deepest growth has come from times when I was learning with other educators, like Nikki, that shared a passion for learning to better themselves as educators in order to positively impact student learning.

Sometimes these are formal situations where you are sitting in a workshop or a presentation to learn about a  new tool or strategy that you could use in your class. But more and more often my learning has come from those informal times of just chatting with other educators between sessions, at a TweetUp, or over a meal. When you see the passion in their eyes as they share what they are doing in the classrooms, their success stories, or something that they're contemplating the learning becomes infectious. You want to know more. You ask a lot of questions. You listen. I can hear my students saying, "These are our peeps. They get us." These are people who are actively practicing what they preach. It's not something in theory. They are living it.

Today, my mind is still reeling from the connections that I've made and the new things that I want to try in my classroom, but I find myself missing that constant face to face informal learning that I've had for the last two days. Thankfully for me the learning never has to stop. I've found new people to follow on Twitter. Through some of the sessions, I've found new blogs to read.Because of the age that we live in, we can have that informal constant feeding of infectious passion everyday.

So today, I'm feeling very thankful to all of you who have helped me become the educator that I am today whether you have been with me on my learning journey for a while or you are a new member of my PLN. After all, it's all about learning from one another.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Moment of Truth Part 2

In my last blog post, I mentioned that after 23 months, I had finally  received a copy of my book in my hand.  This thrilling (and noisy) moment of truth led me to reflect on how this experience could lend itself to lessons that we need to apply into our classrooms... like the importance of trying new things.  Here are a couple of other truths that gained from this experience which I feel should be passed on to our students.

Hard work pays off

Was writing a book easy? Absolutely not. To be honest, at times it was a bit painful trying to find a way to make my voice heard in a clear and concise way that stayed true to the story I was sharing about my students.  I wanted to tell their story, but at times their story almost became an all consuming thing, overwhelming other aspects of my life. There were times where I had to take some days away from the writing in order to find myself. After all, what good would I do my current students if I lost touch with who I was because of my previous students? 

However, as I continued to write and work with my talented editor, Holly, I found that these difficult times rendered the best work I had produced. Through her guidance, I learned not only how to become an author for a broad audience, but also how to better guide my students in their writing. The results were not immediate. It was hard. It was tedious. There were times that I wanted to just throw up my hands and walk away.

In our classrooms, our students experience this same overwhelming feeling of frustration. We all have had those students who don't feel like the work is with the reward. They also just want to throw their hands up and walk away. It is our job to reassure them and guide them. We know from our experience that the hard work does pay off. We see it every day in our classrooms. Just like Holly did for me....she saw the forest when I was lost among the trees. We need to help our students see the forest. 

Time to Share
Even though I had imagined a million times what it would feel like to physically hold my book in my hand, the actual feeling was indescribable. Following quite closely to those feelings, was the feeling of showing my book to others...especially my parents. Even as an adult, it was so wonderful to receive the validation of others who valued what I had done. They realized the large investment of time, energy, sweat, and tears it took to complete this job. 

Think of all of the work and projects that our students complete everyday in our classroom. I'm afraid that so often, we are so strapped for time in our jam packed schedule, we forget to let the students take the time to share their accomplishments with their peers, other faculty members, community members, friends and family. They have tried news things. They have put in all of the hard work, inside and outside of the classroom. By forgoing the time to celebrate and receive that validation, we are missing the key element. Let them enjoy their success, their journey.  With the tech tools of today, it is so simple to let them share their projects with people from around the world. They need to revel in their accomplishments so that they begin to value the importance of hard work and personal growth.

So as we contemplate the beginning of a new school year, let's all keep in mind the importance of passing these truths on to our students. Trying new things, hard work, and having a time to share all play a key element in students learning  valuable skills not only in the classroom, but also in life.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Moment of Truth Part 1

Today, after two years of hard work, I received a moment of truth. I was deep in some work preparing for an upcoming presentation when someone lightly knocked on front door sending our beagle into a fit of barking.  Once the noise and furniture surfing subsided, I opened the front door to find a smallish UPS envelope. My heart skipped a couple of beats at I looked at the address…Portland, Maine. Could it truly be a package I had imagined opening a million times in the last two years? I carefully opened the envelope and peeked inside. Out slid one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen….my book.

In my hands I held my moment of truth. The time that over the last 23 months I had yearned for and dreamed of, sometimes wondering if it would ever happen. Would all of these words on my laptop actually end up becoming a book?  After the dancing around and noise subsided (this time me, not our little beagle), I immediately thought about this journey and what I learned from it. There are so many things that are running through my head, and I’m sure once my feet touch the ground again, I’ll come up with many more. I wanted to share a few of them now as I feel like they directly impact our students.

Try new things.

I had never thought about writing a book, but at a presentation in Atlanta, Holly Holland, from Stenhouse Publishers, approached me and asked me if I would be interested in sharing my teaching experience and journey with others. The thought of authoring a book while teaching and fulfilling my other professional and personal obligations was a bit daunting even at the front end of this experience.  But with the encouragement of my husband, I decided to try this new experience. What I discovered was that I loved to write and reflect on what I was doing in the classroom, even if I was the only one reading it. One might say that this experience has born a true passion for writing, and in spite of family encouraging me to take some time off, I started this blog and have even outlined a couple of new chapters for a potential new book which may only be written for my own introspection.

Isn’t this what we want for our students? Don’t we want for them to try new things, overcome the fear that sometimes comes with the unknown? As teachers, it is our responsibility to provide as many experiences as possible for them in the short time that they are with us. We need to be there to encourage them to try something new.  Guide them and reassure them as they discover new passions. How exciting is it to witness those discoveries that students make?

So as you are doing all of your professional learning this summer, keep that in mind. Make some connections, learn some new strategies, discover new avenues of learning so that your students can reap the benefit of trying something new.

(My initial post ended up being so long, I've decided to post the rest in a couple of days...stay tuned!)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Time off or Time to Cram?

As we end another academic school year, many people (not in the educational field) keep asking me if I'm counting down the days or looking forward to having a couple of months off. I'm sure other educators hear similar questions and I have to say that those questions frustrate me a bit. I feel like they imply that I can't wait to get out of the classroom and away from my students, putting us in the stereotypical school situation....which we are not. I don't know about you, but I enjoy being with my students. We have fun in our classroom together where we all learn together every single day. It's bittersweet for all of us when they pass on to the next grade because our tight-knit learning community is breaking up as they move forward to the next step in their learning journey.  I'm proud of them and I know that they are more than ready for the next grade, but I also know that I will miss them.

It's a constant journey that causes me to reflect throughout the year on what went well and what I want to change for the next group of learners headed my way. With that in mind, I am always searching for new resources, tools and insight on what will reach my individual learners best wherever they are in their learning journey. With that in mind, my summer fills up fast with conferences, unconferences, and workshops...not to mention all the webinars, blogs and Twitter chats that I'll have more flexibility to read and participate in throughout the summer months.

And although I do thoroughly enjoy having some time where I don't have to set my alarm clock and I can meet friends for lunch, I do (like many of you) cram a lot of professional learning into those two months off. My husband once laughed and told someone that real teachers don't get time off. They work just as hard if not harder in the summer as they do during the school year. The only difference is that we aren't in classroom with our students. We're out there learning to become the best teacher we can be for our next group of students.

So this summer as I strive to learn as much as possible from all of you, I hope that we can connect and learn together. Because learning together (like in many of our classrooms) is what is going to impact our students most. Providing them with as many opportunities to create, collaborate and work together in authentic learning activities while supporting their work with relevant tools is really what it's all about.