Sunday, December 22, 2013

PLN Blogging Challenge

PLN Blogging Challenge and My Thanks...

I had a couple of ideas percolating for an end of 2013 blog, and then the PLN Blogging Challenge came along. I was tagged in this challenge by one of my EdCampUNY friends Lisa Meade. I'm going to try to mesh my end of the year post with the challenge. Here goes...

In my year-end post I wanted to take the opportunity to thank the many individuals that have contributed to my professional growth this year.  When I sat back and thought about all the truly amazing conversations, chats, and interactions I had this year with so many gifted educators, I realized what a truly remarkable year it had been.  A difficult year to be sure, but one filled with so many blessings. When I become overwhelmed, or discouraged, I read my Twitter feed.  It is filled with examples of educators doing extraordinary things, and making a difference one child, one moment, one day at a time. So thank you for inspiring, challenging, encouraging and empowering me this year. And now without further delay...the PLN Blogging Challenge.

The Rules of the Challenge:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition and blogging love.
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they've been nominated. *You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.

11 Random Facts About Me...

1) I believe in God, the Father Almighty. Jesus Christ is my Savior. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, I will wish you a Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.

2) My roots are Canadian.  I moved to the United States in 2000.
3) I attended the University of Toronto at Scarborough and studied Environmental Science, and had not initially planned to pursue a career as a public school teacher.
4) My husband hates taking me to hockey games, especially if the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Toronto Marlies are playing. Apparently, I get a little into the game. See #2 for the explanation.
5) I have two children that I love beyond measure. Josh was born on Dec. 24 and Cassie was born on Dec. 9. Yes, December is a little busy in our house.
6) I have skied (downhill) since before I was 2 years old. Love Whistler, B.C.
7) My first teaching assignment in my present building was in 2nd grade. After that year, I moved to 6th grade where I remained for 10 years.  This year I returned to 2nd grade, and the very room I started in.
8) I grew up in a rural area outside of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). Blackstock, Ontario was a great place to grow up.
9) Social media has allowed me to stay connected with family and friends from "home" and that means the world to me.
10) I love Italian food.
11) I love the magic of Disney.

My Answers to Lisa's Questions...

1) It's a toss up Lord I Need You by Matt Maher or One Thing Remains by Passion
2) Depending on the day, it would be Pride and Prejudice or Love Actually.
3) High. Stakes. Testing.
4) 1:1 implementation and a more collaborative physical space.
5) I reach out to my PLN (those in my own school, District, and those online) 
     and I pray - a lot!
6) Daisy Dyer-Duerr (@DaisyDyerDuerr), Scott Totten (@4BetterEducatio), and Ross Cooper (@RossCoops31). I am wicked excited to meet Tom Murray (@thomascmurray) in January.
7) To be really present, and in the moment. Not racing ahead to the next thing.
8) Jesus of Nazareth 
9) Professionally - Recent collaborations with Dr. Dixon (he was a teacher of mine in elementary school) around Cognitive Kinesthetics and Helping Boys Learn.
10) Professionally - The deaths of students, Andrew Sleeth and Hannah Coye.
11) Hard-working, dedicated and caring.

Bloggers I'm Challenging...It is supposed to be 11, but most of my PLN that blog are already working on this. Here are three friends that I hope will jump in and blog...

Scott Bedley (of the Bedley Brothers)
Scott Totten
David Hochheiser

My 11 questions:

1) What inspires you? 
2) Favorite childhood memory.
3) If you could go anywhere and do anything, where would you go and what would you do?
4) When you have free time, how do you spend it?
5) What book are you reading?
6) What changes would you make in the current education system?
7) Proudest professional moment.
8) Most humbling professional moment.
9) Favorite song.
10) What I see myself doing in 10 years.
11) If you weren't in education you would be...

I love how this has helped me to get to know my PLN a little better.  I have such an overwhelming sense of gratitude for you.  My professional life has been forever altered, and I cannot thank you enough.  I am challenged, inspired and empowered daily by all of you. I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a truly blessed New Year.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thoughts on Testing

An interesting #vachat led by @philgriffins last night around testing, and what it should look like. Led me to post this. 

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Let me start by saying that I am not in favor of the current method, or really any method, of high-stakes testing.  Assuming a single snapshot can encapsulate a child's learning, or understanding of content, or their ability to think deeply and critically seems utterly ridiculous to me. Politicians have corrupted the assessment process by tying teacher evaluation, principal and school evaluation scores to these tests. This needs to change if our desire is school improvement and impacting student learning. My opposition to high-stakes testing however, does not mean that I oppose assessment, or accountability.  I actually believe in both, but I think the focus must change and our purpose for testing must change, and the information that we collect and analyze must change.
Educators (and politicians) must move beyond analyzing summative test scores or student achievement in isolation, and consider formative assessments, observations, enrollment data, contact time, demographics, in conjunction with other institutional information in order to make truly informed decisions.  It is also necessary to gather data of specific teacher behaviors that have impacted students. Data about student engagement, desire to learn, and the impact of teacher feedback should be gathered and analyzed. Looking at the interdependence of these allows decision makers to analyze patterns, and ultimately prioritize, problem solve and plan appropriately for action.
We need to be purposeful and attentive in examining all aspects that are likely to contribute to student success.  We must examine our impact on student learning and make our decisions based on the wide range of evidence available to us. We must promote instructional strategies, and share the practices that are yielding the best results. Data driven decision-making is an important aspect of continuous school improvement.  Data provides educators with an overview of strengths and weaknesses in targeted areas. It is necessary therefore, that districts develop a culture of collaboration in which student information is considered essential to improving student achievement and supporting the whole child.  Our focus must always be that children are healthy in mind and body, supported, engaged and challenged.

Final thoughts...Part of the drive for high-stakes testing was supposedly our performance on testing compared to other countries. Do these international rankings really matter? Is this an artificial concern? What is our measure of success as a nation? What should be our measure of a child's success? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Connected Educators, Twitter and The Edscape Conference

Getting connected...

I joined the Twitterverse about two years ago.  Like many educators I talk to now (not presently connected online), I had many misconceptions about the use of Twitter, and plenty of doubts about what it could do for me as a professional. I really didn't think that being connected on Twitter could, or would change me as an educator. I felt that I was connected to other educators in my area, and particularly in my own district, I maintained membership in professional organizations, and read current research; I figured that was enough. I was wrong, really, really wrong.

I could never have imagined the positive impact that being connected to other educators on Twitter would have on me professionally. The people I have connected with inspire and challenge me, and my thinking about education just about daily.  The discussions about current trends in education, best practices, the education reform agenda, leadership and learning, are nothing short of amazing.  Witnessing the dedication and thoughtful reflection of so many other educators energizes me, and compels me to reflect more deeply on my own practices, and beliefs about teaching and learning.

I began the way so many of us do, by lurking.  I did some homework, and looked for some of the key players, and began following who they followed.  I took some of the "Who to Follow" suggestions from Twitter, and then I lurked.  I tried to pick up on some of the nuances of Twitter and the Twitter etiquette.  I started slow.  I followed chats, and began to retweet comments or questions that struck me.  Then I began to contribute.  It didn't take long for me to realize how this social media tool could be transformative, and a real game changer. Connecting to other educators on Twitter has done nothing short of changing my professional life.

If it wasn't for Twitter and being a connected educator....

  • I would have not learned about George Couros (@gcouros) and the amazing work he does around innovation. Let alone have the opportunity to meet him. 
  • I would have never believed that I could participate in professional development in my pjs, while sipping coffee on a Saturday morning. Thank you to #satchat and its founders @bcurrie5, @wkrakower and @ScottRRocco. 
  • I would not have realized how many of us are seeking out answers to common questions, looking for best practices and how universal some things really are. Shout out to one of the first chats I participated in regularly #CollabEd and the co-moderators @askteacherzcom and @JamieArmin.
  • I would have never met so many talented people, and imagined connecting in the ways that we do virtually.
  • My class would not be connected to the global community in the way that we are now. Check out our class Twitter account @LuceClassPage.
  • I would have never learned about Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) and the amazing work he is doing in New Jersey or the exceptional conference he and his team organizes each year (#edscape)
This list could go on and on, but I would like to instead spend a little time today focusing on the Edscape Conference that took place yesterday.

The power of #edscape

The Edscape Conference is orchestrated by Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School and a dedicated, connected educator.  He and his team organize the conference around innovative teaching and learning.  It is an opportunity for educators, with a wide variety of backgrounds and professional responsibilities, to gather and share on a wide variety of topics related to teaching and learning. For many of us, it also becomes an opportunity to meet in-person the people we are connecting with online each week. The conference is held on a Saturday at the New Milford High School campus and is supported by a number of corporate sponsors.  This year's conference drew, and connected about 400 educators from 11 states, and Canada. You can learn more about the specifics of the conference here:

The feeling yesterday at the conference was electric. By no exaggeration, this was hands-down the best professional development day I have ever had - period. I am struggling to put into words just how powerful this conference is and the impact that it will have on so many teachers and students. It really is something that needs to be seen to be believed.  If you would like to see some of the learning and reflection that came out of the presentations be sure to check out the backchannel (the real-time online conversation about the presentation topic/speaker) by using #edscape.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank publicly Eric Sheninger, his team (which by the way includes some of his students!) and the corporate sponsors for their hard work and dedication to this effort. Thank you for the opportunity to learn, to share, to grow as a professional. xo

Saturday, September 14, 2013



As I embark on my own leadership journey through the Central New York Teacher Leadership Program, I have been reflecting on what it really means to be a leader, and specifically a teacher leader. I have spent a lot of time considering what makes a great leader, and what I have come up with is that great leaders lead with their hearts.  I have some pretty amazing leaders in my PLN, but a few in particular standout: Steven Garraffo, George Couros, Peter DeWitt, Tony Sinanis, Leah Whitford and Fr. Christopher Celentano.

These individuals have demonstrated through action and word what it means to lead with heart. There is so much we can learn from them, but perhaps the most important lesson is the absolute necessity of valuing human relationship, and how vital it is to lead with heart. Leading with heart is more important than the knowledge you have of policy or pedagogy.  It is greater than the wealth of your experience, all of these are important to be sure, but they pale in comparison to effectiveness of leading with heart. 

Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Reflections on Leadership

Reflections on Leadership...

This past weekend I was working on an application and I was asked to describe my contributions to my school community, my profession and in short how I have demonstrated leadership in each. It was a challenging task. I was extremely uncomfortable writing about myself as a leader. I expressed to a friend that I felt rather unworthy of being considered a "Teacher Leader".  And then over the next few days the most incredible things happened. I received emails from colleagues thanking me for helping or encouraging them, a friend and former colleague sent me the most encouraging note in the mail, and then an educator I follow on Twitter shared the TEDxToronto Talk by Drew Dudley, Leading with Lollipops, and my mind was blown. Drew's introduction summarized perfectly what I had been feeling. His talk actually challenged me to redefine leadership and to think of it in a more global context. So right now I want to thank each of you who recently helped me to recognize the moments when I have indeed taken on the role of leader. And now it is time for me to pay it forward.

Thank you Marlene, Donna and Priscilla for these...


#mindblown #thankyoudrew

Monday, June 3, 2013

Climate, Culture & Teacher Evaluation

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Climate, Culture and Teacher Evaluation

After attending the Teacher Leadership Conference in Syracuse last week, and reflecting on the discussion of Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), I began to think about the impact of a given district's/school's climate and culture on teacher evaluations.  It seems to me that a positive school climate, and a culture that has a consistent and clear stance on learning are necessary for teacher (and principal) evaluations to be viewed as an opportunity for reflection and growth.  A supportive community of educators and administrators with a shared sense of purpose, shared leadership, collaboration and trust is better positioned to use the evaluation process to improve and enhance school effectiveness.

Making a Case for Peer Assistance and Review

Like many of my colleagues, I support an evaluation process that reflects and puts an importance on what I do everyday.  I welcome evaluators, peers and the casual observer to see first-hand how I engage, motivate and challenge students, and the opportunity to show the incremental student growth as well as the milestone accomplishments is welcome.  However, we don’t have to look very far to find teacher evaluation systems that are cumbersome and often punitive.  With limited, and often infrequent, feedback teachers lack the opportunity to leverage the information into meaningful professional development that could potentially improve and enhance their effectiveness.
Peer Assistance and Review used in a district/school with a positive school climate and culture can put the emphasis on professional growth.  With the high-stakes attached to teacher evaluations it seems only sensible to have a process that incorporates performance review and assistance from a consultant teacher, in addition to the support of curricular specialists and administrators.  This collaborative approach goes a long way in helping to establish trust and promote a shared sense of purpose.
I am interested in the experiences of those who have participated or are currently participating in PAR.  How is it working in your district or school?  How do you see it fitting in with the mandated teacher evaluation processes taking place across the country?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Finishing Strong: A Case for Project Based Learning

Myth: The School Year is Winding Down

There seems to be this myth circulating that the school year is winding down. Here in NYS we have an entire month left of school so that is the furthest thing from the truth.  What contribute to this myth however are the NYS testing schedule and our own local assessments.  For many outside the classroom these "summative" assessments would seem to indicate the end of the academic year, and that is reasonable to assume because they are supposed to be, well summative.  The problem is these assessments are given in April and May and we still have an entire month of instruction left.  The rub then is this, how do we convince students and families that what we are doing in the last months of school is just as important as what we were doing leading up to the state and local assessments?  It is important that we finish the year strong and end the myth that the school year is winding down.  We need to be sending our students out with a willingness, dare I say an eagerness, to look for their own learning opportunities over the summer. 

The Case for Project Based Learning

Project based learning engages students in exploring real-world problems and challenges.  Students see the connections between what they have learned in one discipline and its application to another.  It allows significant opportunities for active learning and collaboration.  Project learning promotes critical thinking and decision making, and it helps to teach persistence.  Students are motivated and engaged, and often seek out additional resources and information on their own.  These are precisely the learning habits that we need to form in our students.  If the learning that takes place in these last months of school has students taking control of their learning, applying the skills and concepts that have been learned, and breaks down the invisible barrier between the classroom and the world outside its doors we will have gone a long way in convincing others of the myth that the school year is winding down.

In The Classroom

Recognizing the waning enthusiasm of my students, and detecting the impending restlessness that comes with June, I wanted to go big for the last month of school and try something new.  I came up with an idea to change the architecture project that was designed to assess student understanding of geometry concepts. The standards assessed remained the same, but I wanted to incorporate the project with what the students were studying in English language arts, social studies and science.  I wanted my students to see the connection between different disciplines. I believed that if students took more responsibility for their learning and applied the concepts and skills they had learned in all their classes, they would demonstrate deeper understanding and greater levels of engagement.

I approached my colleagues about trying thematic and project based learning for the last month of school.  We decided to use the Middle Ages as our backdrop, and address our content standards through project based learning.  Students are presently researching and writing papers on the Bubonic plague, how it spread and its impact on life in Europe.  They are researching medieval manors, creating scale-drawings (floor plans) and building models of castles.  This upcoming week students will be challenged to design, build and launch a trebuchet providing them with an opportunity to learn through experience about technology in the past. 

The use of project based learning has been very rewarding. I have observed students exploring, making judgments, and interpreting and synthesizing information in meaningful ways. There has been improvement in many students’ abilities to work with their peers, and the level of excitement and engagement is nothing short of amazing. The myth that the school year is winding down is just that, a myth.