Saturday, July 27, 2013

Social Media: Who is watching you?

All of you who have read my blog, attended one of my presentations, or have spoken with me know that I am a strong proponent for the use of social media as a means of profesional development and as a medium for giving every student a voice while connecting them to the world. However, over the last several weeks, I have heard many stories about educators who have lost their jobs because of choices they have made through different social media outlets. These are educators who are well-known as experts in their fields, not those new to the profession moving social media from a strictly social means to one that is used for professional learning.

Social Media:"With great power comes great responsibility"
I keep hearing how unfair it is to be judged by one tweet, one Facebook post, one pin on Pinterest, or one Instagram photo. However, I don't believe this is an issue of fairness.  This is an issue of professionalism. We are choosing to make our lives public by joining in the conversation through social media outlets. Most of us put "educator" in our profiles. We are proud of our chosen profession, but we need to remember that there are many people who are reading the content that we put out into the world. Many of whom will never interact with us. That can be an extremely positive never know when interactions can lead to your dream job. Consequently, the reverse is just as true. Other educators, parents, students, board members, and community leaders are all watching you. Good, bad, or ugly.

The good news is that you control what you put out there. You have the power to uplift, encourage, educate, lead, share, connect, and learn. Social media is not something to fear. It is powerful...and "with great power comes great responsibility." Educators are put under intense scrutiny. For all of us, let's take a moment before we push "send" and make sure that no matter what we are putting out into the global community, it is something that enriches the lives of others.

 photo credit:guccio@文房具社 via photopin cc

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SDE's Extraordinary Educators Conference

SDE's Extraordinary Educators Conference. I am eagerly anticipating being a part of this exciting professional learning event, July 21-22. If you are unable to attend, the good news is that there is a conference hashtag (#SDE2013) where you can learn from the comfort of your own home.

Here are some of the sessions that I will be facilitating:

  • Creating Student Directed Learners with Web 2.0 & Social Media (Gr. 3-12) Learn how, by creating a student-driven classroom and using technology supported projects, learners become self-motivated experts at mastering state and national standards and in integrating digital age learning skills into their lives inside and outside the classroom walls. With the effective support of Web 2.0 tools and social media, learning becomes relevant to students while advancing critical thinking, collaboration, communication skills, and creativity. With these tools students are empowered to make thoughtful and powerful choices for their own learning journey. See collaboratively produced Web 2.0 projects and social media applications spanning grade-levels and content areas.    
  • Technology in the Classroom: Are You Integrating or Innovating? (Gr. 5-12) 
    Is there a difference between integrating technology into the classroom and innovating with digital age learning skills? Today there is much discussion and focus on the technology tools that are being brought into the classroom, but often the focus becomes on the tools and not on the actual learning. This discussion focuses on strategies and practices that challenge our perceptions of digital literacies and the role of technology in today’s classroom. Is adding a technology project into our regular classroom routine enough? Will it help our students become competitive in today’s global society? Is there a key ingredient that our instruction must include? We will discuss best practices on meeting ISTE National Educational Technology Standards for Students, how to give students the tools to make decisions and guide their learning choices, and what innovation looks like in today’s classroom.
  • Can We Skip Lunch & Keep Writing? Collaborating in Class & Online (Gr. K-3, 4-8)  How can we motivate our digital-age students to embrace writing? By guiding our students into finding a relevant reason to write and providing them with an authentic audience, they become highly engaged in creating and communicating through their writing, across content areas. With a collaborative environment supported with digital tools, learners address their individual needs, pursue their interests, and step from the role of learner to leader by becoming experts at genre, mode, and content areas. Engaged in rigorous, critical-thinking writing projects, students not only embrace the opportunity to create and collaborate through their writing, but also actively seek more time to continue writing inside and outside of the classroom.
  • The Global Read Aloud: One Book, Thousands of Connections (Gr. 1-8) 
    Do you want to give your students an exciting, authentic reason to read and discuss a great book? Through different web tools and apps, the Global Read Aloud provides students an authentic reason to read, discuss, write, and publish with thousands of other students from around the world. By connecting with a strong network of fellow educators, you bring the world into your classroom promoting literacy and supporting digital standards.  Learn about the Global Read Aloud project, methods of becoming connected with other classes, and strategies for making this project work in your classroom.
  • Tools & Apps for Amplifying Student Voices: Making Formative Assessment Happen (Gr. 4-6) In today’s test-centric world, we may wonder how much of the content standards our students are really mastering. Through the use of formative assessment, supported by digital tools, we can determine exactly what each student has mastered. When students are given the opportunity to design their own rubrics, set their own goals, publish their own digital portfolios, and reflect on what and how they’ve learned, assessment becomes a personal investment for each student. Although managing formative assessment may seem time-consuming, simple strategies and digital tools shared in this presentation will enable teachers to easily facilitate it within their own classroom, empowering their own students to make their own choices.
  • Ask the Expert: Pinterest:"Thats' Pinteresting!" (Gr. K-12) What is Pinterest and why would I want to use it? Pinterest is a virtual pin-board where one can pin images, and their URLs, from websites across the Internet. The boards one creates can become an excellent tool for organizing resources and connect (and learn) with others from around the world. Join me in this informal session to learn how to set up a Pinterest account, manage it to strengthen your teaching practice, drive an audience to your professional blog, and create a professional development hub for your school, district, or organization. It's fun, it's educational, it's Pinteresting!
I always look forward to all of the amazing educators that I meet and get the opportunity to learn from at events like these. See you soon!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What Do You Teach?

Most of us are in the “Summer Swing” now. I have already attended a couple of conferences this summer and there is a general buzz about ideas for a new school year. There also seems to be a general hum of trepidation as many educators are facing full implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). 

I’ve spoken to several administrators over the last six weeks who have asked me if I am ready for CCSS. I spent much time contemplating this question in lieu of the buzz traveling around the education community. When one examines the Common Core Standards, one needs to remember that they are just that, standards.

In a world that strives to standardize everything, there is one thing which can never be standardized, our students. These attempts to standardize everything in education brings to mind Camazotz in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and the failed attempts at standardizing an entire polulationIt fails to work because people cannot be standardized.

Students come to us with a richly layered, diverse background. They are each different and unique. As teachers, we must get to know our students: their quirks, humor, personalities, habits, likes, hopes, fears, dreams, triumphs, and challenges. Our focus must always remain on the students and how we can  help them continue their growth towards preparing them for lives beyond our classroom walls.

Yes, we have standards. In our lives, we have expectations, rules, and procedures that we must follow. However, in our classrooms, we need to remember that the standards represent the content that we deliver. It's up to us, as professionals, to decide HOW we teach...and that is determined by WHAT we truly teach....our students.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

You Can Handle the Truth

Truth. Sometimes it creeps up on us. Sometimes it rips right through us like a horrific hurricane. Truth. Sometimes we can ignore it. Other times it's irrefutable. Truth. It can set you free. It can be terrifying. Truth. I had to take a long look at myself as an educator and face it. There it was. In spite of all of my advocacy for a teacher's continued professional growth, in many areas, I had stopped growing. Truth. My enthusiasm and passion for teaching was beginning to fade. How had this happened to me?

At first, I wrote this off as being overly committed. For a full time classroom teacher, I have a full speaking schedule. Although I give my students my first priority, there are a few days where I am out of the classroom. I try to travel as much on weekends and holidays so that I can continue to share my students' stories and the impact that should have on our teaching practice. I also write a monthly column, Plugged In, for the International Reading Association, in addition to pieces that I write for several other educational organizations and the two new books that I have underway. I am also a full time grad student which consumes much of my evenings. This, of course, is in addition to keeping my priorities of faith, family, and friends at the forefront of my life. However, were my commitments really the cause of my light dimming?

As I reflected on these ideas, I realized that my professional commitments were not the cause. Truth was unblinkingly staring me in the face. I had to face the fact that I needed to make a change. Fear set in. Although life in the classroom is never easy or boring, I realized that much of what I was doing had become routine, mundane even (to me). My students still loved to come to school to learn...begged for it even. I didn't want for that to change. How could I have let this happen? I love teaching and learning from my students every day, but I knew that before my practice began to negatively change I had to make a change. I needed to face the fear and find a new challenge.

With this truth staring me in the face, this winter, I began praying and looking for new opportunities. It seemed that everywhere I went to speak or learn, I had amazing conversations with middle level educators. I began to long to return to teach in a middle school. Along my journey, the last several months, I met some of the most amazing English teachers, which reminded me of where I began my profession, teaching English at a urban middle school. And there it was, Truth. I longed to return to where I began my career, as an ELA teacher in a middle school. So many of those teachers had come to learn from me, but what they didn't realize is that they helped me find a path. (Thank you!)

Now that I had a path, I knew I needed to continue to find a new home. Facing some hard truths about why I wasn't growing, I understood what I needed. Iron sharpens iron. I knew that I would need to find a community of learners where I could continue to sharpen my teaching practice. I wanted a place where I had opportunities to collaborate and grow as a professional. I wanted to find a new "home" where I could provide my students with the best learning opportunities that I could offer. A place that was open to new, innovative ideas. A place where teachers and students could be creative. I continued to pray and search for this place. Does this place even exist?

The answer was a resounding, "Yes!" I have found a new home and in the short time since I became part of their team, my passion and creativity has escalated exponentially. Each day, I wake up with a renewed energy and an abundance of ideas. I cannot wait to meet my new students and work with the amazing educators that have already inspired me more than they know. Truth was I had drifted further than even I had known. It wasn't easy to face that truth, but because I did I have a feeling of rejuvenation that I didn't even know was possible.

I realize that this is a very personal story, one that was difficult to share, one that in many ways is out of character for my writing. But, I felt that by sharing, maybe someone would stop and re-evaluate their own choices. Often times as teachers, we make excuses as to why we can't try something new: new strategy, new tool, new practice, new position. I see it all the time. I think we fail to stop and truly look at the truth staring us in face. We may be unhappy in our current situation, but do we stop and look at the truth of the matter? Do we stop and re-evaluate if our decisions are what's best not just for us, but most importantly, for our students? Do we let fear of failure, fear of change, or fear of the unknown stop us? Do we let fear overshadow truth?

That is the real danger, fear....stepping outside of your comfort zone. We can see the truth and let fear stomp it out. If we are stepping into a new position, new school, new district, new community, there will always be those anxious feelings, but we cannot let that cloud the truth. As long as we are educators, we must remain passionate and excited about what we do everyday. Without that, our lights will dim; we will lose our drive to meet the needs of every student. Truth is that our profession is crucial for the success of future generations. Our learners are counting on us. Will you stop and look at Truth?

Epilogue: Yes, I have found a new "home." I will be teaching 6th graders ELA at Rock Quarry Middle School. I am so excited to be able to learn from and collaborate with the amazing educators there, many of whom have already reached out and welcomed me to their team.