Sunday, September 28, 2014

Knowing the Right Tool for the Job

Day 28 of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge from TeachThought...

Respond: Should Technology drive curriculum or vice versa?

This is a great question to reflect on in this day and age of "more technology, more technology, more technology"!  I have thought long and hard about this question over the past two years and have had to answer it countless times for faculty, parents, students and other stakeholders.  In my opinion, curriculum is always the focus and technology is meant to enhance the delivery, application, and/or acquisition.

Photo credit: http://goo.gl/ZC7tao
We are a 1:1 school where our students bring their own laptops.  In addition, we have iPads available for teachers to use in their classrooms when a mobile device seems more appropriate.  We have done a lot of training of our faculty; we have a Tech Committee made up of teachers who have participated in the visioning process and provided a sounding board for me as the Administrator.  We have an Ed Tech Specialist who is invaluable when it comes to helping teachers identify the "perfect" device, app, or website for their lesson.  With all of these pieces in place, my mantra has and always will be "meaningful integration of technology".



I do not believe in simply using technology for the sake of saying "we use it".  That does not do
Photo credit: http://goo.gl/fXIdP9
anything to enhance the learning experience.  I am fortunate to work in a private, all girls school in the middle of the Silicon Valley.  We have a number of resources available to us because of this combination of geography and demographics.  However, as Spidey knows: "With great power comes great responsibility."  We have a responsibility to teach our students how to use technology appropriately.  Part of that education includes learning how to discern the best tool for the task.  We can only effectively teach that if our teachers themselves know how to discriminate.  Thus, the curriculum is first and foremost.  Our job as educators is to guide our students through the learning process.  When a device or app is the best way to do that, then fantastic.  But when the best technology is good old paper and pen, then so be it.  Bottom line: Know what technology is available and use it to help, not hinder the learning.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A whole lot of edu-awesome

Day 22 of the @TeachThought Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge

"What does your PLN look like , and what does it do for your teaching?"

My #PLN is one of my favorite topics to discuss with just about anybody who will listen.  Having this as a blogging topic?  Are you kidding?!  How long do I get, again?  Oh, right, a paragraph.  OK, just the facts, then.

My PLN is a collection of educators, authors, colleagues, and professionals from other fields.  They are geographically spread out around the world.  Some I follow regularly while others I pop in and out of their stream as the mood strikes.  I follow leaders from many professions as well as peers because I think that it is important to listen to many voices.  Some of my favorite "go-to's" for inspiration include regular writers for Forbes Magazine like @HenryHartDoss and leaders in our armed forces like @JohnEMichael, as well as edu-allstars like @E_Sheninger. However, the majority of my PLN is made up of those that I have gotten to know and collaborate with on a regular basis.  They are a fantastic group of individuals who provide inspiration, who challenge me and stretch my thinking, who offer answers to questions both big and small.  Most importantly, the connections that I have formed through my PLN have helped me to grow as an educator and administrator like no other learning experience has ever done.  A key piece to the learning and growth that has been a direct result of this PLN that I have curated and nurtured over time is that it is constant.  Unlike attending a conference that lasts a few hours or maybe a day or two, this is every day.

Photo: http://goo.gl/6UeqEA
The impetus for my PLN is Twitter and I will defend to the very end the fact that Twitter and my PLN have changed my life.  That might sound dramatic but it is true.  Because of of my PLN I have learned about ideas such as 20Time, the Maker Movement, Project Based Learning and Ed Camps.  I have pushed myself to not only attend conferences on a regular basis but also to submit my name as a presenter.  My life in a silo is over and that is a very good thing.  I look back on my pre-PLN self and feel sorry for myself, and more importantly, for my students.  I wasn't a bad teacher, but I wasn't as good as they deserved.  And of course the irony is that I have discovered this world of edu-awesomeness only now that I am not regularly in the classroom.  So instead of getting to apply my newly-found knowledge to my own classroom, I am sharing it with my entire staff.   The net result is that I can have a broader influence.  It also means that I can absolutely be a life-long learner.  As an educator that is what we want to instill in our students so it is great to be able to provide teachers and students with concrete examples and ideas of how they can do this themselves.

So what does my PLN look like?  It is a broad, knowledgeable, supportive community of colleagues near and far all working towards the same goal as I am: to learn and share as much as possible and cheer on those they meet on the journey.  How have I improved as an educator because of my PLN? I am more confident, more creative, and more willing to try something new.  I am not perfect, I don't know everything, but I know my resources and I'm not afraid to use them!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reflective Teacher 30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 21

"Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching?  Explain"

I believe that while there is a professional relationship that is critical to maintain with your students and their parents, there is also the need to allow them to get to know you as a person on some level.  I believe that when students and parents (and teachers in my case) see you as more than just your title, a healthy level of respect can develop which ultimately strengthens the relationship and allows for a smoother educational experience overall.  So I have always introduced aspects of my non-academic life into my job.

In the beginning...
When I was a younger teacher, I would often share my love of salsa dancing with those students who were dancers.  That opened up new opportunities for communication that hadn't previously existed.  When studying Latin America or Europe with my students, I would share some of my personal travels to the countries we were studying.  Putting unfamiliar places into context allowed the students (especially my younger students) to be more open to the learning.

It's all about relationships...
My son and I enjoying some summer baseball
Now as I work more with parents and students on a different level, I will at times find it appropriate to share about my son's learning differences or my own efforts as an over-achiever in high school, or my derailed plans of working for NASA.  Even in my office it isn't too hard to figure out my likes--my family, SF Giants baseball, and attending conferences. All of these aren't exactly hobbies (though NASA is--you can read about that experience here) but they allow me to personalize the conversation a bit and establish some level of common ground.  With new teachers I will talk about failed lessons and I will dream big with experienced teachers.  I will share articles with our Administrative team or with the faculty as a whole because reading is a hobby.  Whatever I can do to help forge a relationship I will do.

...and being vulnerable
As educators, we are in the business of building relationships.  Without relationships there can be no learning.  Thus I believe that there is a time and place where sharing a little bit of yourself is helpful in doing your job well.  The key, of course, is to never allow the sharing to shift the focus of the lesson or the conversation from the person that you are engaged with.   I do believe, however, that I am a better educator because I am willing to be vulnerable.  Learning done right is a very personal process and thus requires openness and vulnerability.

Setting the example
When I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in Business, a professor taught us to "never ask our employees to do something that we weren't willing to do ourselves."  This adage holds true in education as well.  So if I am going to ask those I work with and work for to be vulnerable in a learning environment, then I have to set the example.  I love having the opportunity to start new conversations based on common ground.  They have afforded me some of the most amazing learning opportunities. So I will continue to share hobbies and interests and personal bits when appropriate because in the end I know they will help the learning process and anything I can do to foster learning I absolutely will.

E-Portfolio Dreaming

Reflective Teacher 30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 20
Image: flickr.com

"How do you curate student work--or help them do it themselves."

This is such a great question and is perfect for learning in the digital age since there are so many tools available to do this well.  Having come out of the classroom a couple of years ago now, I honestly didn't do much more than use the more colorful work as classroom "art" to impress visitors.  However, if I were to have the opportunity to go back into the classroom even part-time I would have my students create a digital portfolio (also known as e-portfolio) of their work.  This method is so popular, you can find numerous LiveBinders on the topic and Cybaryman has a page dedicated to e-portfolios.

As a history teacher, their assessments would take many forms so I would envision something along the lines of a website created by the student where they would have writing samples, pictures of more creative pieces, and scanned copies of more traditional tests/quizzes along with the assignment, the rubric and a reflection by the student of why they selected that piece, what they learned from it and what they would do differently if they had the opportunity to complete that assessment again.  The goal being that over the course of the year their work would improve as they became stronger historians, and their reflections would demonstrate a deeper understanding of themselves as life-long learners as they progressed through the class.

Since I am not officially in the classroom, the creation of e-portfolios is an initiative that I am hoping to gain buy-in from the teachers on because this is such a powerful tool for the students to track their own learning and become reflective practitioners long before they hit their careers.  If we can instill in them now the practice of being reflective learners then they will strengthen any community that they belong to.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen!

Photo: http://centeredchef.com/images/class4.jpg
Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge Day 17

"What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?"

Today's question is really big.  It seems like it would require much more than a paragraph but I will do my best to stay brief.  One of the biggest challenges--I say "one of" because I think that there are several key issues faced by education--is the age-old problem of "too many cooks in the kitchen."   Let me explain...

So, What's Wrong...
It is touted in the news how students are being failed by our schools.  Their scores are nothing to celebrate on international exams, our students are behind many other nations in reading and math, we lack enough prepared student to assume jobs in the STEM fields, the United States issues more PhD's to international students than our own, and on and on.  So this education "crisis" has resulted in one plan after another: NCLB, RT3, CCSS, charter schools, home schooling, year-round schools, merit pay, and the list can go on.  The thing is, most of these proposed solutions to help our students catch-up with the world have been developed by people who aren't in the classroom.  Some solutions have been proposed by people or groups that aren't even related to education.  How can this be that the boots on the ground--the classroom teachers and site administrators--are so rarely consulted about what is best for our students?

Why are the Professionals Ignored?
If they would take the time to ask, they would learn that we have incredibly dedicated teachers trying their best, often in quite adverse conditions, to do what is right for our kids.  They do not need to be  given merit pay.  They can not be evaluated by the performance of their students on a test.  Education is a marathon, not a sprint.  And the best way to improve the success rate of our kids is to actually make legislation that works to the advantage of our schools.  Basic fixes like mandatory classroom size limits, equal distribution of resources, free wi-fi in every school, access to devices for every student, field trips, guest speakers, safe playgrounds, adequate recess and lunch time, and again, this list can go on.

But you get the picture and I said I would be brief.  If the experts in education were truly consulted and if legislators would provide real support for education, and if businesses would donate time, talent and treasure to education rather than trying to manage education, we would be much better off. Sadly, too many inexperienced individuals are trying to make decisions without recognizing that there is a whole lot of experience begging to be asked and if given the opportunity could have a positive impact on education and future generations.

My Strengths as an Educator...

Made at Easel.ly

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 15:

Day 15: Name 3 strengths you have as an educator


We are officially past the half-way point now with the blogging challenge and I am proud of myself for still blogging.  On Sept. 1, 30 days seemed like a pretty daunting task.  Now it is feeling much easier.  Of course, having ready-made prompts to reflect on is a definite plus and one that I appreciate.

But enough of that, on to the topic for the start of this week.  I have to confess, I was ready to write Day 15 Monday night and then started looking at some posts by my fellow bloggers on this journey and got quite intimidated.  Their list of strengths were colorful. They had cool visuals to go with their list.  Eeeek!  I need to do something "cool" too.  Peer pressure.  It can be horrible, but it can also motivate.  In this case, it motivated me to try something new: I made a very basic info-graphic.  Yay me!


Vision: I enjoy looking at the big picture and identifying ways to improve what we do, to be in line with what I consider to be the best educational trends and practices.  Then I enjoy getting others fired up to buy into and bring to life the vision.

Hard Working: For any educator truly committed to this career, you have to be hard working, that goes without saying.  However, I consider it a strength because I do not shy away from challenges.  There are those who reach a point where their attitude is "I've put in my time."  I can't accept that.  Education is constantly evolving and if I am going to be an effective leader, I have to keep working hard no matter how many years I have under my belt.

Fair: Perhaps I should use the more popular term--equitable--rather than fair.  Regardless, I am a big proponent of meeting each person (student, faculty, parent) where they are and helping them achieve their best by providing appropriate tools for their skill set.  Since every person needs a different combination of tools to be successful, I work to learn what they need and then provide it.  If I can help individuals achieve their potential--and even push beyond--then I have done something right.

Compassionate: Much of my day is spent listening to others.  So many people have the need to just be heard.  As they are having the opportunity to speak, to share, it is my job to ask the right questions to identify their needs.  It might be simply someone to listen to them, but it might be much more.  There could be a problem that to me seems trivial but to them is an insurmountable mountain.  I have to constantly remind myself that it isn't about me, it is about whoever is in front of me at that moment.  And it isn't what I think that matters.  I have great compassion (most of the time!) for people and find that to be a great strength since my job is all about people.



And the Super Power Is...

Day 16: If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?



As I think think about the question: "What superpower would I like?" I find myself reflecting a lot on
Photo: flickr.com
the need to effectively differentiate in order to allow every student access to the material.  I have really come to see that more as I have been in Administration looking at the bigger picture, not just my classroom.  So I would like my super power to be the ability to consistently differentiate for each and every student with every lesson.  You know how there are times when you walk in and think "I totally have this!" and then it falls flat?  Or you are really good at differentiating for some learners, but not all?  Being able to completely overcome those challenges would allow such a dynamic learning environment.  My hope is that everyone would feel that they could achieve in my classroom.

Having a child myself who has learning differences, I have become very attuned to how teachers differentiate.  In addition, technology allows us so many options it almost seems criminal not to differentiate.  But I also know that "the best laid plans..." So if I could have the power to know that when I wanted to differentiate I could, and when I needed to come up with good alternatives if my original plan for differentiation wasn't working, I could.  While I learned to work hard at differentiating, I have to admit that there were still many lessons that would revert to more traditional lecture style than inquiry based or student-focused learning.  I'm a history teacher and one thing about us history teachers is that we have our "favorite" topics.  How can I turn those over to students?  What if they don't learn all the super-cool stuff that I can share with them if I just lecture?   That was and is hard to overcome at times.  But if I could fully let go of that sense of ownership and let the students learn in their own unique and sometimes "messy" ways, that would make me feel like a real super hero.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why I Am Happy to be a Life-Long Learner

I don't know if I would technically say that I am "behind" in the +TeachThought #ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge or not.  It is Sunday night and I haven't posted since Thursday.  So in this blog I am going to actually answer three prompts together.  As an administrator, the topics don't always strictly apply.  But I think they can all be adapted.  So this is my adaptaion...

Day 12: "How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years."
Day 13: "Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom , and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness."
Day 14: "What is feedback for learning and how well do you give it to students."

My Changing Role

http://goo.gl/ZmeOP3
In thinking first about how my role as an administrator and how education will change over the next five years, I keep coming back to the ever-changing role of technology both in and out of the classroom.  As much as I hate to admit it, I think that the evolving opportunities technology is creating will continue to re-define what education looks like.  There are so many ways already that technology allows us to differentiate the learning experience for our students, this will only increase with time.  A few weeks ago I attended #EdCampSFBay and was introduced in one session to what appears to be the next "big" thing: Virtual Reality (VR) headsets.  Currently in beta in the gaming world, one woman shared her ideas of how this technology would translate into the classroom.  #MindBlown!  This served as a reminder that as an administrator and lead learner on my campus, I will need to be aware of new trends to share with teachers, students and parents.  It also reminded me that as long as I am an educator, I can never stop learning.  To be the best educator, I need to be a student as well.  Technology will be the main subject that I will be studying for the fore-seeable future in order to continue to improve my craft and inspire others to do the same.

Awesome Tech

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_logo
This leads to my current "super star" list of tech tools.  On my campus there are lots of different tools being used.  We encourage teachers to identify what they want to do and then our Ed Tech Specialist matches up their goals with the best tech tool(s) for the job.  Because I am not in the classroom I don't need to use all of the cool apps that are out there anymore (but Turnitin, VoiceThread and Schoology were my main go-tos).  However, as an Administrator I have tasks and goals that I definitely rely on technology to help me achieve.  Now I am much simpler in my approach.  To help streamline my days and my tasks, I rely on GAFE --and I mean EVERYTHING in GAFE from Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms to YouTube, Blogger, Calendar, Tasks, and GHO.  In addition, I have found myself making more screencasts than ever.  I am currently using QuickTime, but hope this year to branch out a bit and try Vimeo or possibly iMovie.  Twitter and the recent addition of Voxer are my favorite PD tools.   The tools I use are effective for me.  They keep me on task and allow me to worry less about the how of a task.  This in turn equates to more time to engage which is always a win in my book.

Providing Feedback


http://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPad_2
So this brings me to the final topic of the weekend: feedback.  While I am not in the classroom, I am responsible for observing and providing feedback to all of our faculty, counselors, IT staff and librarian.  Whew!  Once again, I rely heavily on technology for the bulk of this task.  The teachers are obviously my biggest "task" list, though I hate to consider it a "task" as observing and coaching are important aspects of my job.  I do walkthroughs as often as possible and am currently using an app for this.  The app allows me to quickly identify what I see in the classroom, write comments and feedback and/or ask questions then send an email to the teacher.  All from the convenience of my iPad.  It also has a running timer so I know how long I have been in the room.  This is great for keeping me moving.  So this is one point of contact for feedback.  However, it is the conversations that are also important and I rely on these as well, especially when there are difficult conversations to be had.  You just can't relegate that to words on a piece of paper or worse, an email.  I will openly admit that I don't give feedback as often as I would like to and I still have trouble with the difficult conversations.  But again, I like my system overall and am grateful that I have a place to start.  I know that my #PLN will share with me their practices and ideas and that in time this system will evolve.  Just as with my overall role and my use of technology, this process will change and improve.

I like knowing that there will always be more to learn.  I am glad that I will never have to worry about being bored at my job.  I think that now is an amazing time to be an educator, in large part because of the limitless opportunities that technology provides for us.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why I Get Out of Bed on a School Day

Day 11 of the @TeachThought 30 Day Blogging Challenge: "What is your favorite part of the school day and why?"

A group of former students having a great time learning
There are so many moving parts to a school day.  How do I narrow down a favorite part?  For me I don't know that it is a particular "part" of the day because when I think of "parts" of the school day I think of first bell, passing periods, advisory, etc.  None of these are what get me out of bed in the morning.  What gets me out of bed in the morning is the promise of "a-ha" moments, happy students and teachers, active learning, creative  problem solving, unexpected conversations with colleagues.  It is all of these points of contact that I look forward to.   We are in the business of fostering relationships.  Real  learning doesn't happen in a vacuum, it requires give-and-take.  It is only through conversations, the challenging and testing of ideas, and the willingness to be pushed by others that we grow.  This is what I want for our students everyday.  It is the promise of encountering these moments during the day that I love the most.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Who Knew...

Day 10: 5 Random Facts, 4 items on my bucket list, 3 hopes for the year, 2 things that have made me laugh or cry as an educator and 1 fact I wish more people knew about me

Today's blog assignment is a fun way to wrap up the day so here goes...

5 Random Facts About Me are:

  1. My first concert was Journey
  2. I have completed a few triathlons and look forward to doing more (when my son is older!)
  3. My original career goal was to be an astronaut
  4. Agatha Christie and Laura Ingalls Wilder were my favorite authors as a kid
  5. "The Trouble with Tribbles" is my favorite episode from the original Star Trek series
http://goo.gl/n5VNzo
4 Bucket List Items are:
  1. Climb Machu Picchu
  2. Fly with the Blue Angels
  3. Visit Tikal
  4. Rent a Villa in Tuscany for a month
3 Hopes for the Year are:
  1. I want to clearly define the amazing program that we have at our school so that all of our constituents understand what we do and all of our current community members can talk about it to anyone who asks
  2. I want to see our Innovation Lab being used multiple times a day by a broad range of departments, infusing the learning with  excitement and real-world problem solving
  3. That my son has an awesome year in third grade
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Angels
2 Things That have Made Me Laugh/Cry as an Educator are:
  1. A constant source of laughter is the friendships that I share with my colleagues.  Laughing at ourselves, our day or or a silly situation truly is a wonderful way to pass time.
  2. What has made me cry is when we have lost students or recent graduates.  Lives cut short is such a tragedy and hard to accept.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masala_chai
1 Fact That I wish More People Knew About Me is:
  1. I don't drink coffee.  (Honest!)  







So there you go, a truly random collection of facts about me.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Little Compassion Can Go a Long Way

#ReflectiveTeacher blogging challenge Day 9: "Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care)."

This one took me a little while to think about.  I don't know about you, but for me, the years run together after a while and many students morph together into composites of students.  Sad but true.  Confession: For a teacher I have a horrible memory!  I am one of the teachers using the seating chart until late in the fall just trying to learn all my student's names.  Now as an AP, I don't have the benefit of a seating chart!  I'm sunk!

But this isn't a reflection on my weakness that no one knows about, this is a reflection on something that I want to celebrate about my career.  So here is what I came up with...

Several years ago we had a student, I will call her Jane, who was not on the right path.  She was a student that many of us rallied around to  get on the right path because we were truly fearful that she would not survive high school.  I know that those of you in public schools (sadly!) have these kids every year.  At a private, all girl's high school this is the exception rather than the norm.  Anyhow, Jane did so poorly in history (my field) that she was not going to graduate.  I wasn't willing to let that happen so I allowed her to do an independent study with me in order to recover credits.  Our time together was sporadic at best.  I spent more time chasing her down than actually helping her learn much of anything at all.  However, at the end of the day I still gave her a passing grade even though most people would say she came no-where near "demonstrating mastery of the content".  Jane graduated and then fell off the grid.

Last year she re-surfaced and surprised the heck out of me.  I truly thought that she had succumbed to gang violence.  She has her life together and is pursuing her dreams.  I was never so pleased to be proven wrong about a student and felt so very validated in passing her.

So why is this on my "proudest moments" list?  Teachers the world over do this sort of thing all the time.  But for me, this was completely out of character.  But I am pleased that my younger self was willing to look beyond the immediate.  Jane needed her high school diploma.  For her to have any hope at a life of success she needed to get past that hurdle.  Had she not graduated, I am not convinced that she would have pursued her GED at any point and without that, her college dreams would have been done.

Now I can not take all the credit for this success story as there were many of us carrying Jane.  But I do know that an "F" would have meant no diploma.   I am generally a rule follower and I could easily have said "no".  Instead, I erred on the side of compassion.  I know I made the right choice.  And that is why I consider this one of my biggest accomplishments as a teacher.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What's In a Desk

Day 8 of +TeachThought's 30 Day Blogging Challenge: "What's in your desk drawer and what can you infer from those contents?"

Today's question reminds me a bit of those commercials for Capital One credit cards--tagline: "What's in your wallet?"  Well, as I am sure most people will say, my desk drawers are pretty standard.  They are filled with the standard issue office supplies: pens, pencils, highlighters, post-its, paper clips, binder clips, staples.  There are pads of paper, thank you notes and envelopes, hand lotion, a tooth brush, some hanging files, extra business cards, mints.  Really nothing unusual.  What does this collection of items say about me and the job I do?  I am not quite sure as there is nothing that I would not expect to find in the desk drawers of any of my colleagues.  Certainly nothing here to change the perception of education in 2014 should my desk suddenly be removed from my office and placed in a time capsule.

http://goo.gl/LXijTA
Ah, but I do have one secret stashed away in one of the drawers.  It is new to the collection this year and I am willing to bet that not too many people have this item in their desk...yet.  I think that in a few years it will, however, become more common.  What is this mystery item?  A pair of Google Glass.  Yes, I have "crossed over" as some people have told me.  "You have what?!" others exclaim. The students are still in the ooh-ing and aah-ing stage.

I purchased Google Glass with one purpose in mind: telling our story from a new/different perspective.  As I strive to help keep our school on the cutting edge, Glass is one way I think we can do just that.  I can use them to capture stories that we can quickly share out with our parent community via the website.  Eventually I don't even have to be the one capturing the stories.  Other teachers and our students can capture the stories.  I just happen to provide a novel means to do so.

So what can I or some future archaeologist infer from the contents of my desk?  I believe my desk says that I am prepared (office supplies galore!), I am thorough (charging cords and pads of paper), I am thoughtful (thank you cards and mints), I am professional (name tag, business cards), and I am a risk taker (Google Glass).  Not a bad summation and one that I am proud of.

Quite frankly, part of me wishes that I didn't have a desk to rifle in the first place--now that would say something!  But the reality is that I do have a desk.  And the desk is pretty full.  However, what is in my desk is not really what concerns me.  I think the bigger question that I work to stay focused on is this: "What legacy will the occupant of said desk leave behind?"  Because the truth is, the desk was in the office before I arrived and it will remain long after I am gone.  It is up to me to do something good while I occupy the desk or it is nothing more than a nice-looking storage bin.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sharing the Journey

Day 7 of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge: "Who was or is your most inspirational colleague?"

Well, there is a question that could take days to answer.  Not because I have to think about who that person is but rather because there are so many people that I believe belong on that list for me.  As a fairly new Administrator, I have to recognize not only those people who inspired me to become an educator in the first place, but also those who encouraged and inspired me to become an administrator, and finally those who encourage, inspire, challenge, and support me every single day in my new role...

I was not always an educator.  I came to this career later in life.  I began in the corporate world and after a few detours ended up in the classroom.  My first mentors and sources of inspiration were a group of high school students that I worked with at my church.  They are now all adults, many married with families of their own, pursuing their own careers.  However, had it not been for their support, their honesty, and their encouragement I never would have considered becoming a teacher.  So to the St. Barts crew, THANK YOU!  You made a lasting impact on me, and by default, hundreds of students.

As a teacher, there have been colleagues throughout my years in the classroom who have inspired me, kept me sane, and been willing to engage in a hallway conversation about a student or an idea for a lesson.  These individuals are also a long list, many of whom are no longer my immediate colleagues, but their influence remains.

Becoming an Administrator was definitely NOT my idea.  Let's just be clear on that.  However, my former principal saw something in me that I did not see in myself at the time.  Her encouragement, along with the daily mentoring of the other Administrators (one whom I replaced and the other that I am fortunate enough to still work with) allowed me to ease into my role.  They are a constant source of inspiration, even though two have retired.  I think it is good to have history to call upon when wrestling with some decisions.  They both were in their roles long enough that their legacy can still be felt and I rely on that legacy at times to help guide my own decisions.

Then of course, there is the PLN that has grown out of Twitter.  I am grateful for this group every day.  And I would know none of them if it wasn't for the happenstance of @DianaParadise1.  If you are reading this blog, it is most likely because you are a connected educator so I will not dwell on the benefits of social media.  I do, however, feel the need to acknowledge the woman who unknowingly got me hooked on Twitter, changing my life and making me a better educator as a result.

3 of my Ladies...
My final nod is saved for that group of amazing women that inspire me and challenge me every day.  I have a group of friends that have made an indelible mark on my spirit.  Some of these women I work with, some of them I used to work with.  But they are all educators and they all challenge, support, and encourage me.  These women are a sounding board, they push me out of my comfort zone, they share my passion for making schools a better place.  They are also wives and moms.  This is important because we all know how draining this job is.  When you have a family it makes it that much harder.  So having a group of women who "get it" is critical for me.

Many people have walked this journey with me.  Some made cameo appearances, others have been in it "for the long haul".  Regardless, they have all left their mark and inspired me to be a better educator.  So as I said in the beginning, I can't pick just one--sorry +TeachThought!  But I am grateful for every single person who has taken the time to share this journey with me.  I am a better educator because of each of you.  Thank you!


Reaching Our Full Potential

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bycp/5694880836/
Day 6 of the @teachthought blogging challenge asks us to reflect on good mentoring.  What a great topic!

Mentoring is something that I think about all the time since that is a good portion of my job as the Associate Principal.  We have a year-long program of orientation, observation and mentorship for our new teachers.  And that is in addition to anything that they might be working on for BTSA.  So that is great in theory.  Lots of support for teachers and staff new to our community.  But what exactly should that program entail and what is my role as well as what is the role of the mentors on our campus.  Those are big questions that I have wrestled with since taking on this position because I feel that strong mentorship can be the difference for a new teacher.  So while I have "official" mentors for every new teacher, I really consider the entire staff mentors because they all can contribute something to the growth and comfort level of the new members of the community.

Good mentors need to be coaches for matters that affect both direct teaching as well as more general community interactions.  Good mentors make sure a teacher is comfortable with both the lesson they want to deliver as well as how to make copies for the lesson materials and order the whiteboard markers that they will need to facilitate their instruction.  Good mentors are that extra set of eyes in the classroom on occasion to provide constructive feedback but they also make sure the mentee has someone to sit with in the lunch room and knows where the bathrooms are.  Good mentors really need to fill the role of coach, confidante, supporter.

Joining a new community is just as overwhelming for an experienced teacher as it is for a first year teacher.  Every school community is different.  Your content is basically the same but your family expectations vary, the actual students will be different in the sense that there will be unique differences based on their demographics, and the adult community of the site will be very different.  I have been at my school since 1999.  I am not unusual in our community.  However, in that time I have seen many teachers come and go.  They all have a different story and they all have different needs in order to feel like they fit in.  And face it, we all have that little bit of high school angst inside of us that appears when we move to a new community.  We desperately want to "fit in" ourselves.

As educators, fitting in means understanding the dynamics of several different constituencies: departments/learning teams, students, parents, administration, board.  A good mentor can and must help facilitate that adjustment if schools are to cultivate strong communities that can meet the needs of their students on a daily basis.

Adult mentors ultimately work to ensure that the mentee reaches their full potential as an educator just as educators work to ensure that their (our) students reach their full potential. It boils down to the same desired outcome.  Mentors push, mentors challenge, mentors model.  Mentors engage in meaningful conversation and help stretch their mentee's thinking.  And really, isn't that our goal in life?  To ensure that we reach our full potential, which we can only truly do with supporters and coaches along the way to encourage, to push, to challenge, and to cheer us on when we fail and when we succeed.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Day 4: Why Bother?

It's Day 4 of the blogging challenge and while it is late, I am working hard to stick to the plan and see this challenge through.  Today's topic is "What do you love about teaching?"  Such an ironic topic for me to tackle at the end of a 16-hour day that included technology nightmares and implosions, angry faculty, Back to School Night, and the obligatory parents who have to corner you and unload because, well, you are there and they are there.  So after that rather depressing intro, I have to  ask myself "what do I love about teaching?" and come up with something positive?  Really?  "Why bother?" some might say.  Well, I disagree!

I think in reality the question is: "What's not to love?"  While today was a truly horrible day:

  • I nearly broke down in tears several times due to a project that I could not deliver on in time for Back to School Night
  • several disgruntled parents found me to unload their frustrations
  • my son lost a tooth and I had to learn about it via pictures since I got home long after he was asleep
Despite these "bummers", I really LOVE my job and can't imagine doing anything else.  There is nothing quite like the moment when a student "gets it", when an alum comes back to say "thanks", when you have the chance to learn with your students, when you are able to help a family problem solve a schedule issue, when you get to congratulate a student on a job well done, when you have the opportunity to collaborate with a colleague on an innovative idea that just might  work (even though it sounds pretty hair-brained on paper), when you get to teach a colleague a new trick--or they get to teach you...the list can go on.

Teaching is by far the toughest job I have ever had (and since this is career v2.5 I feel pretty qualified to make that comparison), but it is also the most rewarding and the most enjoyable.  Yes, there are tough days but we all have them.  I don't care what you do for a living.  It is when you look beyond the ups and downs and focus on the essence of the job.  That essence is helping others.  We are taught from a young age that it is better to give than to receive.  Educators live that mantra and that is why I bother and that is what I love about teaching.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Observing the Little Things

The topic for Day 3 of the +TeachThought blogging challenge is observations.  As the Associate Principal, observations are ideally what I spend the majority of my time on.  Of course we know that reality is very different from the ideal so sadly I do not get into as many classrooms every week as I would like.  Regardless, I want to make the time that I do spend in the classroom as effective as possible.

I have an app that I use for my walk-throughs (though I am thinking about changing apps so if you have a format that you really like, please share!) which allows me to capture a fairly accurate snapshot of what is going on in the classroom according to the standards.  What I have discovered, though, is that it isn't the check-list, but rather the free-form comments and the conversations that I have after I have been in a classroom that have the biggest impact.

So in order for me to provide effective feedback and engage in meaningful conversation about teaching practice, I need to pay attention to the little things, not just what is on the check list.  If I am in your classroom for 10 minutes one day and don't get back again for almost two weeks, how can I expect to give you meaningful feedback unless I actually talk to you about what came before and after my time in your classroom?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/langwitches/3557894144/
Thus, to answer today's question, I want to spend less time on the checklist and more time in meaningful conversations with teachers and students about how the learning is happening rather than what is being learned.  I really don't care if you covered math standard 2.3 today, but I do care if I see engaged learners (and I include the teachers in that category) working together to solve new problems and expand their knowledge base.  I do care if I see the confidence level rise in the room as new solutions are tried...and as some fail.  I do care if as a community I see the boundaries being pushed in different ways.  At the end of the day ( as I said yesterday), it isn't about what you learned but about how you learned because in order to be a life-long learner you need to be able to think, curate, discriminate, curate and engage.  You do not need to be able to memorize searchable information.

My observation area that I want to work on this year is watching for the little indicators (and big) that tell me the school community is a vibrant, active learning hub where we are all able to engage in and observe learning.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

EdTech Integration and Innovation

Well, here we are with Day 2 of the reflective teacher blogging challenge.  Our topic for today is ed tech.  One of my favorite topics!  This year we have some huge changes with respect to the use of technology on our campus and I am super excited about all of them.  So, in no particular order:

1. we are a BYO-Laptop school this year
2. we are fully using GAFE, including several teachers who are utilizing G+ communities for their classrooms, students who GHO to class because they can't navigate the stairs on crutches (we are an old building so so not have elevators) or because they are home sick
3. every department has ah inventory of iPads to use with their lessons
4. we have a brand new Innovation Lab

The newly renovated Innovation Lab!  
For me, the Innovation Lab is the biggest learning curve as we are all exploring together.  Later this semester, the entire faculty will be trained in Design Thinking thanks to a number of conversations that I have had with the Krause Center for Innovation.  I am really excited to introduce the faculty to this more holistic, interdisciplinary approach to learning.  I am also really looking forward to allowing the community to get into the lab and just "play".

Students today, especially in high school, are often forced into boxes of learning because there are SATs, ACTs and AP exams that are the drivers of their future (at least in their minds and the minds of their parents).  I argue that high school can be so much more if we re-think our approach.  My mantra this year to the Department Chairs is: What do our students need to know vs. what is nice to know?  I think that in an age of Google and Smart Phones, there is no longer the need to memorize every piece of information that we did when we were students.  Our job is to teach our students to think for themselves, discriminate between resources and tools, and develop a growth mind set that will enable them to succeed at any task they choose to pursue in their life-time.

Our introduction of a laptop policy that allows families to choose the platform they prefer, forcing teachers to identify software and applications that can be used on any device. The ability for our community to interact, share and reflect via GAFE introduces everyone to a robust world of productivity and collaboration not previously possible.  The availability of the Innovation Lab to approach learning differently will all strengthen our efforts to produce independent, creative thinkers, leaders and problem solvers.

These are not hopes of mine, these are truths that I firmly believe will manifest this year.

I am excited about technology on our campus and the limitless possibilities ahead.  Here is to a great year of technology integration that will allow our community to innovate to the future.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Reflective Teaching Month Day 1

https://www.flickr.com/photos/never_surrender/739519564
This challenge could not have come at a better time!  I want to be committed to blogging because I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my practice.  However, I will agonize over topics for an eternity, and before I know it the moment has passed and another blog is lost.  So thank you @teachthought for giving us a question a day to blog about.  Now no excuses!  So here I go with day one...

Prompt: "Write your goals for the school year.  Be as specific or abstract as you'd like to be!"

As an Administrative Team, we identified our goals a few weeks ago.  I am not going to list them here verbatim as they are very specific to our site.  However, I will gladly share the 30,000 foot view so as to keep me honest and to provide motivation and accountability:

1. Improve communication.  Many of our constituents have faulty perceptions of what we do on a daily basis to help their daughters grow intellectually, spiritually, and personally during their 4 years with us.  However, perception is always reality.  Thus, my job is to change the perception this year, or at least begin the process.  Besides our parents, the faculty and staff are often frustrated by policy changes so I am trying to help alleviate those frustrations through better, more frequent, and clearer communication.

2. It is important to say "Great Job!"  For that reason, I am striving to let students and adults know when they have done a great job.  This might be for getting a solid grade on their first test as a freshman, leading the charge on a project no one wanted to head, or anything in between.  Sadly we have been back for two weeks already and while I have a list of students and adults that I want to send those first notes to, I have yet to find the time to do so.  Note to self: write those notes!

3. There are lots of technology changes in place for this year on our campus.  However, I can't ask the teachers to improve their technology skills if I don't do the same.  So, for my own growth and development I will continue to learn new tech skills (hoping that this will be the year I learn how to make a cool iMovie!) and attend tech conferences as well as seek to present at conferences. I have already been accepted for #FallCUE and get to attend #IntegratED SF with a couple of colleagues after one of them won admission when we were attending #edcampSFBay.  So this goal is well under way.

I am happy to have these goals noted here because I think a more public acknowledgement of them will help me stay more focused on achieving them.

Good luck to all the educators undertaking the 30 day blogging challenge this month.  May we all support each other and learn a little bit more about ourselves in the process.

Happy Reflective Teaching Month!