Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lessons Learned - Part 2

Rich, Vicki, Patti, Lisa, Peter, Me & Tony
Digital Leadership Conference, Liverpool NY 2014

This is Part 2 in a three-part series on lessons that I have learned over the course of this school year. In my first post I wrote about the lessons I have learned from the students in Room 103. This post will focus on the contributions of my colleagues, both near and far and the value of being a connected educator. So picking up where I left off...

4. The Connected Educator & The PLN (Professional Learning Network) 

A few songs come to mind immediately, "With A Little Help From My Friends" by the Beatles and "Thank You For Being A Friend" by Andrew Gold...Yes, I'm a little sentimental and a touch nostalgic, but it's the truth. Having colleagues in your building or district that encourage, support, empower, inspire, and challenge you is critical. Having colleagues spread across the globe that also play these parts is just as important. I really believe that the more we interact, the more we connect, the more we share, the more we learn, the better we become. We have to look beyond our own front door. Of cours, venturing out into the unknown can be scary, and for many beginning the "connected educator" journey can be just that. Putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, it takes no small degree of courage. Baby steps. (Cue the classic Bill Murray in "What About Bob?" ) Connecting with educators around the world however, is transformative. Being a connected educator has introduced me to people, and opened up opportunities I never could have imagined.

The beginning of becoming a connected educator for me was participation in the weekly organized chats on Twitter. It is through these chats that I have engaged in professional development weekly, if not daily. A few that I participate in fairly regularly are #SATCHAT, #COLLABED, #EDTECHCHAT, #NYEDCHAT, #ARKEDCHAT. These are the chats where I "met" Tony Sinanis, Daisy Dyer Duerr, Brad Currie, Tom Murray, Scott Totten, Jamie Armin, TwoTeacherZ, Marty Keltz, Jena Ball and Scott Bedley, all tremendous teachers and leaders in their own right. I do feel the need, however to highlight  #NYEDCHAT in particular, which has allowed me to connect with other great educators in my own state. Peter DeWitt, Lisa Meade, Vicki Day, Tim Dawkins and Patti Siano, a group that I now consider my "go to" educators. Over the past 6 months we have worked together to plan EdCampUNY, a project that has brought us closer. Now when I need to share an idea, gather feedback or vent, they are there, and again, most of them I did not know a year ago.

I have learned so much from all of the educators listed above that it is difficult to encapsulate it all, but it is probably best summed up as courageous leadership. Whether they are teacher leaders, building leaders, or leaders in educational enterprise, all of these individuals lead with heart, and understand the importance of developing the whole-child.

My journey as a connected educator had me looking for other professional development opportunities as well.  This past fall I attended the Edscape Conference in New Milford, New Jersey where I was able to meet many of the people that I had been interacting with regularly through Twitter. You can read more about my reflections following Edscape here. Attending conferences such as the CNYRIC ITD: Talks, NYSCATE annual conference, Edscape, and the Digital Leadership Conference this year allowed me to expand my professional network and provided an opportunity for me to meet face-to-face for the first time with many of the educators that I have connected with online.   Sitting here now, reflecting on how much I have grown professionally and personally as a result of the relationships that have been forged and built over the past year, connecting with these individuals and many, many more, well I am truly overwhelmed. I have been blessed beyond measure. I have written about the power of the PLN before - see this.

5. The Power of the GHO

This year I wanted to learn more about using Google Hangouts in the classroom. I know it sounds cliche, but Google Hangouts have been an absolute game changer! We were able to connect with amazing students, teachers and creative geniuses. We participated in Google Hangout sessions with:

  • Scott Totten, Music Teacher in New Jersey
  • Scott Bedley and his students in California
  • Bill Selak and his students in California
  • Michael and his teacher, John Lozano in California
  • Barbara Phillips and her students in Ohio
  • Lauren Lenzini and her students in Illinois
  • Susan Hippelli and her students in Pennsylvania
  • Jena Ball and Marty Keltz of CritterKin (more about this in a future post)

These opportunities enriched the dialogue in our classroom, provided us with an authentic audience for our work, and gave greater meaning to what we were learning. Google Hangouts allowed us to connect with peers from across the country, and in doing so, learn how truly connected we all are. We learned about each other and our communities and what makes our part of the world unique. We learned about kindness and empathy. We learned  that the words of Mem Fox are indeed true, "Little one, whoever you are, wherever you are, there are little ones just like you, all over the world..."

I feel again, like I have only just begun to scratch the surface here. I may have to come back and add to this post, as I sit a little longer and reflect a little more. But I think right now, if I had to sum it up. It would be the importance of relationships and human connections, because that is what is at the heart of being a connected educator, participating in a PLN and connecting with others through tools such as Google Hangout. What do you think? How have you built professional relationships this year? How have you modeled learning from others for your students? Hoping some of you will share by adding comments below.

Lessons Learned - Part 1

It's hard to believe that another school year is pretty much in the books, and what a year it has been! After teaching 6th grade for the better part of 10 years, I volunteered to change grade levels and moved to second grade. Moving to second grade was exciting and a little daunting, I wasn't sure what to expect. My first teaching position in my current building was in second grade, but that was more than a decade ago, a lot had changed. So I spent a great deal of last summer trying to prepare, but nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead. Reflecting on the year, I have learned and re-learned some very powerful lessons. The next two or three blog posts will be devoted to these lessons.

Lots of things may have changed, but the most important thing that has not changed (at least not yet - thankfully) is the natural wonder and curiosity of second graders. The students in Room 103 love learning, and have this genuine curiosity and joy around learning. Every day has been an adventure, and their enthusiasm is infectious.

2. Students
Kids are kids. These last few weeks of June are no exception. Rather than fighting the current, I allowed myself to get caught up in it. We had June Fun Days this month with each day having its own theme. We dressed up silly, played games, had fun, and yes, a lot of learning continued to happen. But if you walked past our room it was messy and a little chaotic, and it probably would have made a few folks uncomfortable. There was a time when I would have been uncomfortable, but not now.

3. Students
Life is hard. We have seen a steady rise in the number of students severely impacted by trauma in the family, poverty, mental illness, the list goes on. For many of our students, school is their safe haven. It is a place where their bodies, minds and hearts are nourished. A teacher's job is as important today as it has ever been, and maybe more so, because we take on these additional roles, and do more than facilitate the learning of specific content. We nurture the whole-child.

The top 3 lessons learned and re-learned  were related to students, which really isn't all that surprising as they drive everything we do. I could have probably dug up more, and as I continue to process the year in the next few days I may need to add to this list, but these are my significant take-aways as far as students are concerned. The next two posts will focus on: colleagues, a PLN and being a connected educator, the global classroom and a community of learners, leadership and humility. I hope you will stay tuned, give the upcoming posts a read, and share what your own takeaways for the year have been.

This link will take you to an Animoto that I put together as a tribute to my students and their learning this year. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

More Than a Number

I recently had my rubric review with my principal.  That's the meeting where you sit down to discuss, and reflect on your performance and growth, in relation to the goals that you set at the beginning of the year. You then apply all of that to the Danielson rubric, and based on a numeric formula you have a score out of 60. I personally think it is an interesting process, on the one hand you have the potential to encourage greater self-reflection, engage in meaningful conversations with your building leader, and ultimately focus on professional growth. I feel there is one huge obstacle however, and that is "the score".

I can't help but wonder what this process would be like if there wasn't a score tied to it. Would there be a way to use this reflection process to improve climate? What if in addition to sitting down with our building leader, we sat down with our colleagues, and reflected collectively on what we have done and what we are doing? What if we identified our strengths as a building, and our weaknesses? What if this process brought us together, rather than isolating us? What if we collectively refused to be defined by a number? We are professionals; we do important work every single day and this must be our focus. I think a lot of good can come from the process in general, but we have to move beyond the numbers.

I would love to get your thinking on this. How is this working in your building or district? What are the strengths or benefits you have seen? What areas do you think need improvement? I appreciate you taking the time to read and contribute your thoughts on this.