Showing posts with label professional development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label professional development. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"I Have Nothing to Say"

Have you ever thought, "I have nothing to say in the world of education?" I often hear educators make claims that they have nothing to share with their colleagues, locally or globally. They point to their perceived weaknesses, shrug their shoulders and move on. They turn down opportunities to fulfill leadership responsibilities, let opportunities to share their experience formally or informally pass by, or they remain quiet in online discussions lurking and learning rather than joining and participating.

In the interest of transparency, I must admit that I have had moments where I felt like I had nothing left to share with others. In my mind, I made very similar excuses. I've sat in front of a blank screen wondering what I could impart that would have any impact or relevance to others. I've had requests to do all day workshops and I was at a loss as to what I could present that would enrich the lives of the students of the educators that would spend a day with me. What if I have nothing to say?

We all have moments of self-doubt. I have come to the conclusion that is absolutely okay. What is not okay is giving in to those doubts, remaining silent, denying other educators of your unique perspective and experience. So I thought I would address some of the most common excuses we may give ourselves that prevents us from sharing and connecting with others.

1- "Others know more than me." While that may be true, they are not YOU. As we all recognize that our students are unique, so are each of us. Although there may be a world-renowned author/speaker/educator out there who has a massive following, that has no bearing on what you have to share. You have different perspectives and experiences. He/she is not in your classroom every day with your students. Chances are they haven't read many of the same articles, Twitter chats, research, or books that you have. And even if they have, you are looking at it with a different lens; one that frames into within the context of what you do each and every day.

This is the same as saying, "I don't know enough." Would any of us accept this excuse from one of our students? I hope not. My students become adept at adding "yet" to the end of statements like this. It sets the lack of proficiency as a goal to strive to learn more, reach higher, and grow personally. One thing that I learned quickly was that not every teacher is teaching at the same level. Like our students, teachers are each at different places on their learning continuum.  I've been in sessions at conferences where one group of teachers walked out completely overwhelmed and confused, while others claimed that they were bored because there wasn't anything new shared. This was in the same presentation. No matter where you are in your journey, whether you are talking about differentiation, questioning techniques, reading strategies, writing practices, assessment, or digital literacy, there are individuals who need to benefit from your expertise. They may have been overwhelmed or underwhelmed with someone else because they weren't being fed what they needed. Continue to learn so that you can fulfill that need in others.

2- "I could never be as good as ______." Here's something to think about: Education is NOT a competition. We are all striving to provide our students with the best education possible. It's okay if you are presenting at a conference and the room across from yours is packed while you only have a handful of people. That does not mean that what you are sharing isn't worthwhile. Our responsibility is to share our experiences with others in a hope that  they can not only benefit in their own practice, but also their students can reap the reward.

Personally, I've had educators compare me to others who are more of a "rock star." Without a doubt I came up lacking. How did I handle it? After much reflecting, I realized that I am full-time teacher who shares my experiences with others. What I'm sharing is what really works with students...it's not some theory by someone who has only read/heard about it from another party. I know it's relevant and meaningful because my students are the evidence. When I speak, I share their stories. For me, that speak volumes that a disconnected researcher can never touch. Our intention should never be to become a "rock star." Our intention should be to give back to the educational community that has given us so much over the years. As educators it is our obligation to share what we know...whatever that may be.

3- "No one will listen." Would we permit our students to enter something with a defeatists attitude? Then why do we allow it to get in our way of sharing with others? If we blog, tweet, post, or pin things that are value to us, I guarantee that there is someone out there looking for what you are sharing. If one person benefits, isn't it worthwhile? Sometimes it about having the right frame of mind when we share. If we are looking for the number of reads, likes, or retweets, we might be disappointed. However, is that why we write or share? I know that I write to reflect on my own experiences: what goes well, what doesn't, and how to improve. That transparency is what connects others to you. I share because I know that others have done so before me and I want to pay it forward.

We need to remember that someone out there is counting on each of us. They are searching for answers, support, and encouragement that only you may be able to provide. Speak up. Share your voice. Inspire others. It can make all the difference in the world.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Is Professionalism Becoming a Thing of the Past?

I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to connect with other educators from around the world. These connections are what have shaped me as an educator. I love professional events where I get to have a face-to-face reunion with those who have become friends and meet new individuals to begin new learning ventures. It's inspiring and energizing to be able to turn a digital connection into a deeper one that has a long-lasting impact on us as professionals and colleagues in education.

However, I have been alarmed over what seems to be a rising trend. I have spent weeks, months even, contemplating what I have observed and experienced. What I am about to share is not hearsay, but first hand experience. My point in sharing these scenarios and reflections is to cause all of us (myself included) to think. Isn't that what we want for our students? To become reflective thinkers? To weigh our choices against the impending consequences? Shouldn't we do the same for ourselves? 

As David H. Maister said in his book True Professionalism,
Professional is not a label you give yourself – it’s a description you hope others will apply to you. 

Where are you?  

For most educators today, attending professional development events is a luxury. Professional development funds are being cut...or in many cases are nonexistent. Yet, many of those who do attend are simply not in attendance. They are out sightseeing or sleeping off last night's adventure. When you are at a conference and the second day's general session has a fourth of the number of participants in attendance, there is a problem...especially when the social media feed for the conference is packed with their late night exploits. I  know of two school systems who no longer permit their teachers to attend conferences held near the beach or in Las Vegas. To me this speaks to the fact that this is becoming a real problem: using educational funds for a personal vacation. It's irresponsible. That's right...dad just took away the keys from their wayward child. Would that have had to transpire if the individuals were conducting themselves professionally? Absolutely not.

Because of the actions of a few, many more are losing out on the potential to grow professionally. I've often heard teachers returning to schools extolling how wonderful the conference was while being totally unable to share anything that they have learned with anyone else. That cheats all of us of potential learning. I realize that all learning is not done formally. There needs to be time to separate from a learning event and reflect. There need to be times where we re-connect or build new collaborations, for ourselves and for our students. But the focus is always on the learning, growing, and connecting that we can do to sharpen our teaching practice. We need to be present to make that happen. Show up. Be there. Participate. Learn. Be present every day. That's why you're there. 

Who's listening?

I was recently at a major national conference and sitting on the fourth row (Sweet seat, huh?). On the row behind me were four individuals who worked for the professional organization whose event this was. As some prestigious awards were being announced, the individuals behind me were giving an extremely unkind commentary on the attire that each of the recipients were wearing (the recipients were all dressed professionally, by the way). At an organization where we are there to grow as professionals, these individuals were completely negating all the hard work and dedication that the recipients put forth every day with their learners.  [This was not an isolated incident].
Is this what we've come down to? We teach our students to look for the inward qualities of others. Honor their thoughts, ideas, hard work, differences, and struggles. Shouldn't we do the same? Being a middle school teacher, we work on this all year long. My eleven and twelve year old students would never behave this way in a classroom...hopefully nowhere else either. So why are so many negative, insulting, and unkind to one another? We are professionals. We will not all agree on a specific strategy, method, or tool. That is absolutely okay. Our words shape other people's perception of us as individuals and educators. Aren't we already fighting against enough as educators without adding the stigma that we're petty, backbiting, gossips? As my mother always said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

What's being watched?

In addition to having people, educators and non-educators, listening to us, they are also watching our actions. At a recent conference, during the four days that I was there, I took two cab rides. In both of those short rides, cab drivers shared their experiences with educators who were also attending the same conference. One's tale was of two teachers who identified themselves as conference participants in the midst of a barrage of foul language and over intoxication. The other's tale was of a group of educators who got in an argument with the driver over what amounted to a dollar difference in their fare. The police were called. 

Yes, I know that we are adults. But, all of the people in that area knew there was a large teacher conference in town. They immediately drew conclusions about all of us based on their little interaction with other educators. I know this may seem cliche', but we are representing ourselves, our schools, our districts, and our profession. When we take our students out on field trips, we expect them to be positive ambassadors for our schools. We want them to understand this so much that we have a glorious speech prepared and many times the principal repeats this as well before departure. It's important to communicate expectations. Shouldn't we expect the same of ourselves? You never know who will be at the next table or in the seat across from you on a plane. You may be the one who changes their opinion of educators based on the integrity with which you conduct yourself in informal settings. 

Who's looking?

I'll admit that this one is a pet peeve of mine. I've mentioned it in two other posts, but I think it bears repeating. Although we should never judge a book by its cover, as humans that happens. I'm also learning that a first impression matters. This first time I thought about the message that I was sending by what I chose to wear was the first time I read The First Days of School by Harry Wong. Let's face it, we are in a (very important) service industry. To be successful educator, we need to have credibility with our students. We need to sell them on learning. They need to know that what we are doing (educating and inspiring them) is valuable and serious business. I am not proposing that we need to wear a suit every day, but our students need to know that we are educated professionals who are there to guide them in their learning journey. They need to trust that. Appearance conveys that to them...and their parents, board members, and community leaders. Trust me, you never know when a camera crew/reporter is going to drop by the school unannounced to do a few shots for a story.

Likewise, your appearance at professional events does the same. Before we open our mouths to meet someone new or share an idea, others will make an assumption on the quality of what we have to offer based on the choices that we make in our appearance. Remember this is a professional conference. You are there to learn and connect. Your appearance should not get in the way of that goal. Your students and colleagues are counting on you to get the most out of these opportunities. Yes, you need comfortable walking shoes and attire that fits the climate. However, who is going to take you seriously when you are dressed like you are working in your yard, heading to a backyard barbecue,  or making a late night run to the grocery store? This goes back to the idea of taking pride in yourself and our profession. We have the most important career of all...one from which all other careers are possible. We need to dress in a way that reflects that.

Will professionalism become a thing of the past? We have the most honorable profession. It is one that has the potential to greatly change the world in which we live. It needs to be led by confident, bold, well-educated professionals who will clear a path for the best learning opportunities for our students. Their future depends upon the choices we make make today. Let's make them count.

photo credit: A Guy Taking Pictures via photopin cc

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Power of One Word, Choice

As this year's IRA conference is coming to a close, there is one word that has emerged as a central theme across general sessions, social media feeds, presentations, and informal gatherings...the power of choice. This message was one that organically became the talking point at the heart of all other messages. If you want students to become readers, writers, and ultimately lifelong learners, choice is the key ingredient. Choice, the ingredient that is missing from prescriptive programs, most pacing guides, directives and mandates coming from the "higher ups." Too often we are pressured to focus solely on numbers while slowly losing our focus on what really matters...our students.

I have written many times about the impact that choice has upon student learning (see below), but after joining the conversations this week, I have come to the conclusion that it goes much deeper than their learning. I think that giving students a voice is empowering them with the ability to take ownership and control over their lives. We are giving them a sense of self-efficacy in both their academic and personal lives. We are showing them that what they say matters; their needs are our priority; they have value in this world.

Does this impact their lives in the classroom? Without a doubt! We have all seen students read books that were "higher than their reading level" because they WANTED to read it. We've seen students become prolific writers because they had a choice in the topic, genre, and means of publishing for an authentic audience. In our classroom, it is very common for students to choose to write or read over other "more popular activities" because they want to...and these are students that enter a classroom at the beginning of the year claiming to hate reading and/or writing.

As teachers, we understand the importance of a strong education to set students on a successful lifelong adventure. But I couldn't help but wonder, if we take away their choice in controlling their own future, are we truly preparing them for life outside our classroom walls? Are they gaining the life skills of decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution, time management, choices-consequences relationship, collaboration, and communication when we are continuing to make those choices for them? Are they being given the opportunity to fail, learn from their mistakes, and grow as individuals? Yes, there is no doubt of the power of an education, but isn't it our job to prepare the whole child, not just the one that appears on a page as a test number?

So as the learning at the IRA conference draws to a close, I am more committed than ever to provide my students with a choice in all aspects of life in our classroom. Our support should only be in place until the edifice is in place...after all, this is their life, not ours.

A few of the pieces I've written on choice and student voice:


photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

Sunday, May 11, 2014

How to Avoid Inflicting Atomic Wedgies on Our Students


Dav Pilkey, known for his wildly popular Captain Underpants series, just completed his keynote for day two of the IRA Conference. Over the years,  my students (especially my struggling readers, Ex Ed and ELL) have loved his books. However, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would I find inspiration from the author of these wildly funny books? What could he say that that would help me sharpen my teaching practice?

I received a major reminder about the lasting influence that a teacher can have upon a learner for the rest of their lives. Now, those of you that know me, know that I am a teacher because of one teacher; a teacher whose thoughtless words and negative attitude led me to the realization that no student should ever have to sit in a classroom and feel the way that I was feeling. This is a sensitive area for me...one where I am vigilant in monitoring in my own practice. So, when Dav Pilkey was explaining how his teacher tore up his "silly" comic in elementary school and told him that he should "grow up" and that he could never make a living writing silly books (boy, was she wrong), I began to look inward. Have I inadvertently said or done something that negatively impacted a student and the course of their lives? I sincerely hope that is not the case. This is an area we all need to be consistently conscientious. 

I thought I would share some of the lessons (and reminders) that I gained from hearing about Dav Pilkey's journey in hopes that it would spur some of your thinking as it did mine.
  1. Reading is reading. Pilkey shared that for an individual to be considered an expert, he/she mus
    t put in at least 10,000 hours of practice. That applies to reading. They need to read. Read often; read what interests them...regardless of our perceived value of the text, print or digital. Reading is reading is reading. We want them to become master readers.
  2. Our evaluation of literature doesn't matter. We aren't the ones reading it, they are. They must have a choice. If they want to read comic books, guides to video games, or Mad Magazines, that's okay. They are still reading... learning, thinking, and becoming a stronger reader. They are becoming lifelong readers. Pilkey loved to read, Mad Magazine, Dynamite Magazine, joke books, and comics.  However, the adults in his life took away those books from him because those adults did not deem them as valuable. We can’t do this to our students. That will zap a love of reading faster than Captain Underpants can inflict an atomic wedgie.
  3. Don't judge a book by it's cover. Just because a book has a cartoon superhero clad in underwear does not mean that it will not challenge our students as readers. When was the last time you read a comic, graphic novel, or a Captain Underpants book?The vocabulary is challenging for students. The plots are complex with multilayered, deep, and complicated characters. To comprehend these texts students have to employ a host of higher order reading and reasoning strategies....because they WANT to. Why would we, as teachers, ever want to take that away from our students? 
  4. Don't judge a book by it's cover. When we see a student drawn to books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Bone, the Middle School series, or Captain Underpants series, as their teacher, we need to take clues as to how we can support their learning in a way that is meaningful to them. They have reached for those texts for a reason. Dav Pilkey shared his struggle functioning in school because of learning disabilities partnered with ADHD. Teachers often got frustrated with him and devalued his reading and his writing instead of seeing the enormous amount of inspiration and creativity they could have harnessed to help him become successful in their classroom. Dav Pilkey reminded us of the importance of using creativity to inspire others inspire of challenges. “People with challenges can change the world."
  5. Involve students in designing expectations. Pilkey explained that his criteria for books were things like short chapters (gives students a sense of accomplishment), lots of illustrations (supports understanding of text), and fun characters (mad scientists, superheroes, robots, and monsters) which didn't align with the teachers' expectations. When he began creating books for kids like him, he took the two lists and combined them. By including our students in creating a list of expectations, we are valuing their voice while also empowering them with ownership over their learning.
I can think of no better way to wrap up my reflections than to share his final words. Pilkey ended his presentations with this thought: A reading revolution is happening. We just need to get out of the way!

Isn't that the truth?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

#IRA14: Frivolous or Founded? Opening Our View in the Classroom

Today at the IRA conference, I had an epiphany. As teachers, so many times we write off things as having very little value in the workings of our classrooms: doodling, sketching, humor, video games. Yet, these are things that are part of who our students are as people. They doodle, sketch, crack jokes (even those involving bathroom humor), read comic books, and spend an enormous amount of time playing video games.Often as teachers, we make the mistake of seeing all of these elements as competition to our instruction when in reality they need to be invited into classrooms.

Jeff Kinney, the author of the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, did just that. He spent an enormous amount of time reading and creating comics. Then, after a Washington Post article touted his new comic as the "next great thing" only to receive an onslaught of rejection letters, he left his world of drawing and writing comics to immerse himself in video games, including working with FunBrain. He knew he needed to snap out of his video game streak, so he began to write in a journal. When I saw a page from his journal, I sent this tweet:


I think that sometimes our vision for our classroom is too narrow. Those journals are what eventually led to his Wimpy Kid books. They gave him time to formulate ideas, play with plot lines, and explore characters. Because he took that time, many of our students have found books that they can relate to. Like Greg, they find humor in everyday events...eventually.

When our students come to class and they want to read comic books, we need to remember that we never know who the next Jeff Kinney will be. Sometimes a student who is intimidated by a book, will open a comic and become so engaged and enamored with the possibilities, they become voracious readers. These learners are reading, exploring new worlds, igniting imaginations, and for most kids, formulating new stories based on these characters.

Our learners' experiences playing multi-user games are teaching them how to communicate, strategize, collaborate, and formulate solutions to challenges. These games are complex and sophisticated. They take an an enormous amount of stamina...and yes, in many of these games, there is a vast amount of reading and writing embedded into them (something that had escaped my attention until last summer).

So as I end my IRA day, I am beginning to think about the small things that my students do that could easily be harnessed to support their learning. As teachers it is our responsibility to meet our students wherever they are as learners and move them forward.  Who knows, the next Jeff Kinney could be sitting in our classroom right now? We need to be the one to encourage that in our students because the next generation of students will need inspiration too.

#IRA14: In the Beginning There was...a Flood?

Yesterday, IRA kicked off it's 59th Annual Conference. This year it's in New Orleans. With that came the rain. Cell phones had their emergency warnings sound for the flood. Stories poured out about many of the restaurants and shops flooding. People were getting caught in different parts of town trying to wait out the deluge. However, nothing could dampen the spirit of the thousands of educators who flooded New Orleans. As I began to reflect on this occurrence (and dry out), several ideas came to me. There truly was a flood happening...one that had nothing to do with what brings to mind animals entering an ark two-by-two. I thought I'd share my observations and I'd welcome you to add yours to this list as well.


  1. Flood of optimism- In spite of seriously torrential downpour, no one complained. No one let the rain dampen their excitement for learning with and from fellow educators. Everyone took this as a minor inconvenience and kept with their plans to have informal conversations at one of the many locations around New Orleans. This speaks volumes about the type of educators that I am fortunate to be among for the next three days. Teachers who look at something like a flood as a mere gnat buzzing around their faces while they continue to connect and learn.
  2. Flood of learning- I was unable to join the pre-conference this year. Yet, I was still able to learn all day yesterday...through the social media feeds. There was a constant moving stream of learning begin shared through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (#IRA14). This speaks to the vision of the educators here. They are not here just to learn for themselves, but to pass it along to others. The streams were flooded with so many epiphanies, resources, recommendations and learning that I found myself becoming completely engulfed in the events taking place yesterday. I couldn't wait to join the conversations and sharing today.
  3. Flood of passion- I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in conferences and learning events all over this country....which I totally enjoy. But this year, there is something a little bit different about this year's conference. It brings to mind the time several years ago when my mother, sister and I met at the beach...we were overwhelmed with excitement, laughter, and the opportunity to make new memories. Through our precarious drive, I had ongoing conversations with friends and colleagues through text, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  Through all of these communications, what became very apparent is our shared passion for positively impacting student learning.
So as the conference is about to "kick off," join the conversation, either face-to-face or digitally. Jump in, wade in, or do your favorite belly flop. The water is great here at IRA14 and we're all in the for the ride of our lives.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

IRA14: New Orleans, Here We Come!

Now is the time that thousands of educators are packing their bags and descending on New Orleans, host of the International Reading Association's 59th Annual Conference. In April's Plugged In column, Confessions of an Avid Conference Participant, I shared some my tips for preparing for an large professional learning event. I love professional learning and connecting with fellow educators. For me, it's often like a family reunion, getting to re-connect with educators that I haven't seen, other than on social media, for the last year. Without a doubt, meeting with friends and making new ones, fans the fires of my passion for providing students with the best possible learning opportunities possible.

With so many formal and informal learning opportunities at IRA, I thought I would share where you can find me while you are in New Orleans so that we can connect.  I hope to get to see you there and hear about the wonderful things that you are doing at your school.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Global Read Aloud: One Book to Connect the World (1:00-2:00; Room 348-349) 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 or school.

Book Signing (2:15-3:00, Stenhouse Publishers, Booth #2423) I will be there to sign copies of Can You Skip Lunch and Keep Writing? Collaborating in Class and Online, Grades 3-8. This is also an opportunity where we can chat, connect, and begin collaborations.

Sunday, May 11, 2014 

Twitter-a-ture: Creating Content and Connections (11:20-11:40, Digital Classroom, Booth #1010) Twitter is more than a byte-sized social network-it's a powerful writing and publishing tool. Learn how you can use Twitter with your students to create book reports, short stories, and six-word memoirs, among other projects.

Mid-level Educators Tweetup (1:00-1:45, Tweet Suite, Booth #1056) Do you work with learners in Grades 3-8? This tweetup is for you! Come meet other mid-level educators for this informal gathering in IRA's new Tweet Suite. Not on Twitter? No problem! Expand your personal learning network (PLN) the old-fashioned way with face-to-face contact.

Of course, you can always find me on Twitter and Instagram. I'll be posting my learning and using the #IRA14 hashtag throughout the conference. I look forward to seeing you soon!

~Julie

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 thing...you 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!

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.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Concerned Teacher...thoughts from ISTE13

Everything is Bigger in Texas.
ISTE is "my conference." If I don't go to any other conference during the year, I always block out time to be there. This year was my twelfth year...eleven of those I have presented. Yes, ISTE is bigger than life; I guess what they say about everything being bigger in Texas is true at ISTE too. However, as I begin to process and contemplate on my experiences over the last few days, I have to say that I am concerned.  I am concerned that as educators, we have lost sight of what really matters. This conference is not a technology conference; it's an EDUCATIONAL technology conference. It concerns me that many of my fellow educators have lost sight of that distinction.

With so many options at ISTE, it is difficult to select the right events, sessions, and activities. The word I heard most often was "overwhelming." Today, our students are diverse individuals with unique needs. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. As educators, we must have a plethora of options. Using my previous ISTE experience, I looked for sessions that would deepen my understanding as a teacher. I want to continue to grow and learn new ways to provide my students with the best possible learning opportunities.  I want to sharpen my teaching practice. After all, this is an educational conference...we're all educators.

As I attended session after session, I became a bit disheartened. In almost every session, the entire focus was on tools and apps. Very few student examples of work were shown. The work that was used as examples, although fun to watch, held very little merit. After a day and a half of this, I sent out this tweet:


I am a concerned teacher. Where is the high level of engagement? Where are the learning activities that are promoting higher level thinking and problem-solving? How are students connecting their learning to their lives? Where is the creation of something new to share with an authentic audience? And collaboration...maybe I have a different definition than many others. I believe collaboration is when students each contribute something unique to a project. 

I began to wonder if I had unrealistic expectations. If so, I realized that I would not have very many to attend my session, "Are you integrating or innovating with technology?," because in my session there is a heavy focus on best practices and the role that technology has within our classrooms and schools. Yes, I share tools and apps; yes, I share student examples. But these tools and examples are used to support how we as teachers need to change our thinking and our practice in order to empower students. The conversation we had during this hour I found exhilarating. Many of the people who attended (it ended up being a closed session with people being turned away) expressed similar concerns to mine. They also had been looking for substance that they could take back to their schools and districts.

Of course, there is a place for the "60-tools-in-60-minutes" type of sessions as we do need to know what is out there, but it doesn't need to stop there. As Vicki Davis tweeted, we must "transcend hype and share practical ways that give us hope to reach all kids." We need to remember to keep our focus and become discriminating in our teaching practice. Dressing up a pig doesn't change the fact that it's a pig. Likewise, all the bells, whistles, and animations does not take the place of true learning and teaching. After all, it is not about the tools....it's about the learning...and our students are counting on us.

P.S. I'm positive there were other sessions out there offering fantastic models, practices, and ideas. I'm sorry I didn't find you this year. Please realize that I'm writing from my own experiences. Thank you ~J

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Top Seven "Forget-Me-Not" Presentation Practices

The busy spring time is upon us and for some of us, it will carry us into an even busier summer. One thing that I love is the opportunity to travel to speak and facilitate training all over the U.S. I thoroughly love the opportunity to meet and learn from other passionate and dedicated educators. Even though I do present, I try to take the time to continue by professional growth as well. I attend a lot of sessions. Every one of the presenters is knowledgeable on their topic, but sometimes it does not translate well to an audience. In Pay It Forward: 5.1 Ways to Share Your Expertise, I mentioned ways that we can guide our colleagues into sharing their teaching successes and experiences. Not one of us can claim to be where we are as educators without the assistance of others; it is important to give back to the educational community. Once teachers begin to feel comfortable sharing their best practices, the next progression is to present at a conference. The teacher who had asked for my advice in the previous post asked for some tips in creating an engaging presentation. Here are my top seven "forget-me-not" presentation practices.
  1. Set the tone of your presentation. People walk in wondering if they are in the right place and whether or not this is going to be beneficial or not. Music does a good job of setting the tone when people arrive. Also, add humor to your presentation. I am not saying that you should be a stand-up comedian because that sends the message of "I am silly and what I am saying is not all that important." However, when you add humor to the beginning and people get a chuckle, their brains release endorphines that help them connect with you and become engaged in what you are saying.
  2. Streamline your presentation. Slides with too many words or images takes the focus off of what you are saying. If someone cannot easily read or see what you have on a slide from the back of a ballroom, do not include it. The slide/image is there to support what you are saying. It is giving the attendees a visual or a graphic that will help your message stick in their brains.
  3. Be prepared. Time is one of our most valuable commodities. How many of us have sat through "death by PowerPoint" presentations where the presenter read off of the screen? How much did you learn or remember about what they said? If you are going to speak, prepare a presentation where your expertise is the focus. You are the expert. Practice your presentation and prepare for tech malfunctions. Could you do your presentation without your slides?  If not, then you are not prepared enough to speak as an expert. Here's what works for me: I have a pretty good memory, but I am not memorizing a script....especially for those 6 hour workshops. My presentations have graphics. With each graphic, I learn key phrases that I want to say within the point. Practice makes it flow easily for me when I am in front of an audience.
  4. Provide resources. Everyone wants to leave with something, but let's be honest about handouts. We get a paper handout, it goes home in our conference bag, and then it sits in the hall closet until we get rid of it a couple of years later. We live in a digital world so we need to provide our attendees with access to resources digitally. There are so many ways to share information in our world...blogs, websites, DropBox, Evernote, wikis, Facebook, etc. Most people now attend with a smart phone, laptop, or tablet. You can give them instant access to your resources and save them from lugging around the paper version. 
  5. Accurately name your session. We have all attended sessions based on their title and then come to realize that the session was nothing like what the title indicated. You want the people in your session to know what you are going to present about so that you have the right audience for your message. Don't worry if there are only a couple of people there. Those are the people who need to hear your expertise. If one person walks away with something that makes them a better educator, your presentation was a success.
  6. Listen and engage participants. As teachers we know that one of the least effective teaching strategies is straight lecture. Yet, you see educators doing this in presentations. The active participation strategies that work in your classroom with students will work those in attendance at your session. Facilitate conversations in your sessions, get them actively engaged, and remember it is about THEIR learning. Your goal needs to be to let them learn from your experiences. We know that the brain learns best when it is active in a fun and relevant manner. Don't forget to add that into your session.
  7. P.S. They're looking at you. You are there to share your expertise with other educators. Although we have always heard that we "don't judge a book by its cover," let's face it, we do. When people first see you, they are going to make a judgment about your ability to lead professional learning. Flip flops and vendor T-shirts do not instill a lot of confidence in your professional credibility. They want to know that they are not wasting their time by staying in your session. If they walk in and you look like your going to the ballpark or making a quick run to the grocery store, they are less likely to stay or open their mind to learning what you are sharing. (see Because Books are Sometimes Judged by Their Covers by Amanda Dykes).
These are my suggestions to those new to presenting at conferences. I would love to hear what your suggestions are about what makes a session a great professional learning experience.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pay It Forward: 5.1 Ways to Share Your Expertise

As we are beginning a new year, I have seen many posts, Tweets, and blogs about people paying it forward to individuals they do not know personally. In a world that is often driven with negative news, it is heart-warming to see people reaching out and helping others. It has gotten my mind to thinking about us as educators. We spend our days giving our best to our students, but often we keep what is happening behind the closed doors of our classroom.

I recently engaged in a conversation with another teacher at my school. She hesitantly shared an after-school program that she had started two years ago. She explained how she saw that her students needed some extra tutoring in academic subjects, but they could not afford to hire tutors. She also recognized that many of them lived in single-parent homes where the parents worked multiple jobs. This limited the types of extra activities that they could provide for their own children. To address those needs, this teacher began an after-school program on Friday afternoons where the students could stay after school for an hour for some additional help in academics. Then, the second hour each Friday, this teacher had arranged different community leaders to come in and do activities with the students. This has made a huge impact on her students, their families, and built a strong line of support from the community.

This amazing program was going on in the same school where I teach and I had no idea! When I encouraged her to share her experiences, she told me that she did not think it really counted as an important enough idea to share. That's when I realized how important it is for us to find these hidden gems that are lurking behind closed doors and encourage these teachers to share their ideas. She told me she had no idea where to begin so I shared with her a few of my suggestions.

Here are my suggestions for those just beginning to share their expertise:

  1. Share informally with co-workers. Because she was so reticent about even talking to me one-on-one, I knew suggesting that she speak at a conference was an unreasonable idea right now. I suggested that she begin sharing her program with her grade-level co-workers. She has some really open-minded co-workers who I am sure would be interested in joining her program and helping it to grow.
  2. Celebrate success at a formal meeting. In our weekly faculty meetings, occasionally, we are asked to share successes. This is an open opportunity to share a quick piece of what is going on behind classroom doors. This allows teachers in other grade levels and content areas to know what you are doing. Chances are they will have a contact that would like to participate or support a new and innovative idea.
  3. Speak up at training session or presentation. The best sessions are the ones where there is audience participation and much discussion. This is a way to build more support for that new idea. You never know who is in that room who can help you sharpen your ideas or challenge to reflect on how you could make it more impactful for your students and your school. It also increases your level of expertise in this area and build further support for your project.
  4. Volunteer to have others visit your classroom to see your expertise at work. Sometimes people are hesitant to try a new idea, program, lesson, tool or strategy until they see it at work. If you are the one they are visiting, it is really not any more work on you. You are not putting on a show, but letting them see your idea in action. Let them observe, get involved, and ask questions. They are not there to criticize you (they were interested enough to come for a visit), but to learn from your expertise.
  5. Begin blogging. This is an excellent way to share what is going on in your classroom and it gives you a global audience. All of the educators that I have encountered through blogging have challenged my thinking and helped me become a much stronger educator. It helps you clarify your thinking and make tweaks to your ideas. By gaining a much larger audience, you are also broadening your horizons and influencing others by your experiences.
    • 5.1 Tweet on Twitter. This microblogging site allows you to connect with other educators and have on-going professional conversations all within 140 characters per tweet. Like with blogging, you have the ability not only to share your expertise, but also learn from some of the best educators from around the world. Not sure where to begin? Here's a post I wrote Why Should I Tweet on Twitter?
As is often quoted from an unknown source, "The hardest part of any journey is taking that first step." That's what I hope I have been able to do for my colleagues as well as some of you and your colleagues...encourage people to take that first step and pay back what so many have given to us in our quest to become the strongest educator possible.

photo credit: sidewalk flying via photopin cc

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Professional Learning: Is it Pulling Teeth or a Sundae with a Cherry on Top?

I have written several posts in the last couple of years regarding our growth as professional educators (see the links at the bottom of this post). Recently, I have been doing much reading and contemplating about the forms that professional learning can take in today's world. Several years ago the term Professional Learning Communities (PLC) started popping up in blog posts, research, articles, and conference sessions. Those of us who have been in education know that there seems to be an ebb and flow of new ideas and initiatives which, in their essence, are a really good idea, but somehow get turned into something far from the initial vision. Unfortunately, those who are not fully aware of these new ideas, take these seemingly positive movements/programs/ideas and can quickly turn them into something negative.

I think that the whole idea of a PLC is one of these ideas. I have heard several stories similar to this one. A faculty was presented with a book that they were required to read as part of a Continuing School Improvement Plan. As they did the required reading and engaged in the required activities, there was an undercurrent of negativity. Teachers may even say, "I've taught for fifteen years. I think I know what I'm doing. I'm professionally developed enough." Then the faculty goes on to have mandated PLC meetings as grade levels, content areas, teachers with ELLs, and teachers with ExEd inclusion classes. They were always reminded that these meetings were mandatory. All of the paperwork that they had to complete as evidence was mandatory. Do you see a reoccurring theme here? Required. Mandatory.

I believe that most educators really do want to do whatever they can to help meet the needs of each of their learners. That is what PLCs do. Teachers with a wide range of experience meet to discuss challenges and look for possible solutions together. There is a dialogue. Sometimes there is a healthy debate. However, there is always an overlying mission of focusing on helping students become successful. It's a positive experience. The conversations are energizing. The collaborations help teachers to find that passion that led them to teaching in the first place because it is all focused on the students.

What's the difference between the two? One is forced; the other one is inspiring. That is such a small shift, but it makes such a huge perception in how educators engage with one another.

We are fortunate to live in a time where we can find the PLC that we need, even if there is not one where we teach. To me, that is where Personal Learning Networks come into play. If we don't have access to a PLC where we teach, through the use of social media and digital tools, we have access to educators from around the world with whom we can connect. As most educators are, these connected educators are willing to discuss the challenges that we might having and provide insight on how to meet those challenges. These are the people who are in the classroom trenches every day just like you. They know what works because they are living it.

Several years ago, I found myself craving some professional growth that was not available to me locally. I began to connect with other educators through Second Life, Twitter, blogs, nings, and Facebook. They helped me address the challenges that I was facing. They celebrated my successes. They asked my opinion in helping them to meet their challenges. It became an online relationship where we all contributed. I found myself renewed each day after connecting with these educators. As I awoke each day to go to school, I couldn't wait to try out something new I had learned.

I was so excited about my PLN that I realized that I wanted to provide this type of collaborative learning to my fifth grade students. That is when there was a real shift in our classroom. My learners began forming their own PLN. First they built it within our classroom, and then online through social media as we connected with students from all over the world. My learners look to their peers for assistance now instead of to me. They problem solve together collaboratively. Each day they enter the classroom excited by the possibilities without fear of the unknown. They are fearless because they know that they have a strong network to support them on their learning path.

Isn't that the purpose of building PLC and PLN, to empower our students with the tools to become self-motivated students with an unquenchable thirst to learn? So next time, when one of those required meetings comes up, remember what your mission should be, helping your students. And if you find yourself in a quandary as to what to do in a particular situation, keep in mind that there is a world of possibilities available at your finger tips online. All you've got to do is grab a spoon and dive in.

So is professional learning like pulling teeth or is it the sundae with a cherry on top? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Some of my other posts about professional learning:


 Sundae: photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wild Jungle Brains...How to Tame the Beasts

Yes, that's right..my brain is a wild jungle full off all kinds of gibberish. I'm on overload right now. I know it's the summer, but I have been going at a frenzied pace speaking, researching, tweeting,  reading, writing, learning, blogging, planning because the summer is the time I can really dig into new ideas. I have the time to read. I spend more time on Twitter and reading other people's blogs. I meet smart educators at all of the conferences where I travel to speak. All of this brings amazing epiphanies and new plans for next year.

BUT...I find myself struggling now to focus on one thing. As I sit here typing on my antiquated desktop (my laptop decided to go on permanent vacation this summer), I found I needed some quiet time for my brain to slowly begin to formulate some clear thoughts. I needed to find some takeaways from all this PD I've been shamelessly partaking in for several weeks now.

That is when this occurred to me...maybe in the rush to meet all the standards, pacing guides, and mandates and still provide our students with the hands-on, student-directed learning they crave, we bombard our students with so much stimulation that they struggle to actually form one clear and concise thought or sentence. More is not actually better.

We have no idea what is already going on in their heads. They already have a jumble of thoughts before they walk into our classroom. We need to make sure that we are making purposeful choices in what we bring into our classroom, whether it's a hands-on activity or a new tech tool. We need to ask: Is this the most powerful opportunity to support my students' learning or is it a fun activity that kind of relates to the topic at hand?

We are the content specialists and strategists in the classroom. It is our responsibility to provide our students with the BEST support that we can. We aren't doing them any favors by bombarding them with a lot of mediocre projects/stations/tools/activities that will cloud their minds from what is most important...their learning. They need the time to formulate ideas, plan projects, reflect on their progress, and set their own learning goals. By providing them the support and time that they need, we can tame those overstimulated brains and help them find their own paths to success.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Professional Development: One Size Does Not Fit All

For many of us, one of the busiest times of the year is upon us.Yes, it's summer, but for most educators that means a summer filled with a myriad of opportunities to learn and connect with others. I have colleagues who think I'm crazy to spend my summer travelling to speak at a host of conferences. I had one teacher say to me, "I'm professionally developed enough. I've been teaching for 22 years. I think I know what I'm doing." I didn't quite know how to respond to her comment in that moment, but as I've had time to reflect, I think she embodies the perception that many teachers have. They have been forced to go through some workshop or training regardless of whether they need it or not. They view it as something they have to suffer through so that they can get back to what they want to do with their students in the classrooms.

Perhaps the problem isn't these mandatory training sessions, but the fact that many have lost sight that each teacher is an individual with a different background of experiences, different interests, and different talents. These need to be taken into consideration when pursuing professional growth. Aren't these the qualities that we seek out in our students so that we can best meet their needs?

People seem surprised by how many sessions I attend at the conferences where I present. I'm often asked how I choose which sessions to attend when there are so many from which to choose. Here are some of the factors that I take into consideration when selecting professional development for myself.

In what area do I need to grow professionally? My natural inclination is to gravitate towards presentations that include technology, differentiated instruction, or literacy. However, those are the areas that I present on myself. Is that what I really need? Although I do attend some of these sessions, lately, I've been seeking out opportunities to learn about teacher leadership, math (because I've just started teaching it), innovation, and strategies for (further) promoting student-directed learning. Like our students, we all know the areas in which we don't feel as strong as educators. This is an opportunity to strengthen those areas and make connections with other educators.

Who is the presenter? How many of us have gotten into a session and been "sold" a program or tool for the hour long session? It's rotten because often we know our school doesn't have the money to purchase the program. One of the first things that I consider is whether this person is in the classroom like me. I don't want to hear theory about how something could work in a  classroom. I want to see how it's used. I want real examples from real students. I want a practitioner, not a theorist. Do they actually practice what they preach or are they just good a research? Once you start looking, I think you'll be amazed at how this narrows down which opportunities you pursue.

Is this worth my time? Not every session is for every person. Just because someone is a renowned speaker that everyone wants to attend, it doesn't mean that it's what you need. Sometimes in spite of narrowing down the choices of sessions for ourselves, we might still find ourselves in a session where the speaker isn't offering any content that we need. If you get into a session and the presentation isn't what was portrayed in the program, it's okay to move on to another session. If a presenter rolls out a "death by PowerPoint" and reads every word on all slides, it tells me that they didn't value my time enough to be prepared for their presentation. Here's a novel idea: Get up and leave. Your time is valuable. Find something else from which you can glean something.

Although most of my examples involve attending a large conference, the same principles hold true for other professional development whether you are building a PLN through Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Second Life or you are attending virtual discussions and webinars. Your learning is personal. You are in charge of your own growth. Take a few minutes to consider if this is the learning that YOU need because ultimately, your students will be the ones to reap the benefits.

Monday, March 19, 2012

ASCD Annual Conference

Come join me on March 25th at ASCD's Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to discuss "Empowering Students with Web 2.0 and Social Media to Foster Student-Directed Learning." Can't wait to meet you!


Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Own Educational Reform

I’ve just concluded a week in Washington D. C. This week I had the opportunity to participate in Hill Day where I got to speak with 8 of Alabama’s nine legislators (or their staff). At the National Boards Professional Teaching Standards, I co-presented two poster sessions promoting the Alabama NBCT Network and the Second Life Network. I also had the opportunity to meet several Stenhouse authors and have my first official book signing. And I presented a session called “Empowering Students with Web 2.0” in person and virtually.

I knew that I was going to be busier than any other conference that I attended. I knew was I was going to get to connect with people that I’ve been connecting with for several years virtually. I knew that I was going to hear dynamic speakers like Daniel Pink, Diane Ravitch, Sarah Wessling, Arne Duncan, and Pedro Noguera. And let’s not forget about the amazing Save Our Schools March.


With all of these events, speakers, and activities, my mind has been struggling to find a single thought and lesson that I can take away from all of this outstanding professional development….I am on overload. However, as the conference was winding down last night a thought came to me. I need to do a better job of having my voice heard. That may seem strange considering all of the speaking, blogging, social media and PD in which I engage on a regular basis. But, as I was sitting in the final activity, I realized that I need to be better at practicing what I preach.

In my classroom, I am always encouraging my students to share their voice through their writing, their work, their projects, their collaborations. I listen to their voices grow stronger through the school year. I let them voice their opinions and guide their choices in the classroom. Shouldn’t I be putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak?

I think as educators, many of us have been threatened with our jobs if students’ standardized test scores don’t rise or if we don’t teach scripted programs to fidelity. Fear has been used to try to make educators compliant and time and again it has been proven ineffective. It’s ineffective because good educators are not doing the job for pay or incentives. We do it because we are passionate about giving our students the best education that we can… in spite of the challenges, lack of support and difficulties.

So although I do speak up on occasion, I plan on making a much more concerted effort to stand up for what is right for our students. I am going to show them through my example what it means to have your voice heard because they are the ones who are ultimately being affected. My legislators (and administrators) are going to know me by name and they are going to see the work my students do. There are many more educators than there are elected officials. It is up to us to be the voice of change. Things will not change by just talking about it amongst ourselves. We must speak up. Our students can’t wait. Who’s with me?