Dene E. Gainey

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What are my 100 Words?

First thanks, Jessie Boyce for putting this little challenge out there. It's really a little HUGE challenge. I'd never thought about doing this before and here goes my disclaimer: This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, putting my joy of teaching and learning in 100 words.

My 100 Words on Why I Love Teaching

I love teaching because it is a perpetual process of learning & I am just as much of a student when I teach as the students themselves are. I love teaching because of the immense ability to “reach” and not just teach & to see lives transformed through that reach! I love teaching because little by little, the world can be changed for the better. I love teaching because of spontaneous discovery and the ability to empower students to C.L.I.M.B.E. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing students actualize themselves and take ownership and independence when learning.

 

What are your 100 words? I think it’s time to get writing!

 

 

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The Power of a Conversation

Eric Schlosser states:

"Different people, in good faith, can look at the same fact and interpret it differently. But that's where an interesting conversation begins."

I find it very interesting how with all the technology that has made communication amongst people more efficient, it at the same time may be the go-to for communication as opposed to the traditional face-to-face gatherings that still have the power to spark electricity, identify common ground and insight movements in the forward direction. Such a conversation was had on Saturday, March 18, 2017 as a fellow educator and I traversed the lengthy alligator-filled pathways of the Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge in Deleon Springs, FL.

While I did not think quickly enough to document the entire conversation, I was able to capture much of the meat that was both relevant and affirming. I will do my best to transcribe that here today.

Male teachers in education are a rare breed and what power there is when male educators particularly in elementary education take the reins and are all in, in terms of impacting a generation.

Listening to students is so important.

We talked about blended learning and multi-modal learning. We all have different interests and if we approached teaching and learning from that angle, it carries over to the way in which our attention is grabbed in school. Can you give me a way to learn that interests me? I will be engaged if it interests me. Not, let's do this the same way because it's always worked. While that may be the way that is assumed because enough of the students are responding  or due to it benefiting the school in terms of standardized assessment or school grade, what about the rest of the students? What about the students who fall through the cracks?

In the long run, this may create students that attach no value or meaning to learning and ask "Is this what school and learning is all about?" these students may resort to other avenues due to where they were no provided opportunity to explore what interested them. This could lead to increased amounts of students dropping out or not finishing because they felt they had no reason to. "If this is how things are going to be done, then I am going to check out" may be the thought that runs through many students' heads.

What would happen if we flipped that script?  What if we started to actually pay attention to learning styles and student interests and tie that into the curriculum? In no way are we excusing curriculum needs and grade level expectations, however we should work to integrate them. I do believe it is possible to accomplish and in most cases exceed expectations if we tied in blended learning, multi-modal learning so that students are receiving knowledge in a variety of ways, not just sitting in a classroom listening to traditional lecturing all the time. They need to do, they need to get up, they need to move. Maybe with options and variety we empower students to be risk takers because there is variety, and that variety includes learning in ways that are not common to them, but learning nonetheless.

It encourages them to be more risky in their learning. It is not a one shot, all or nothing kind of deal, which is unfortunately a lot of what ends up happening due to standardized assessments. We must be held accountable yes as educators and the easiest way to do that is through test scores. However, if they really want to see  excitement and kids learning and taking risks, it has got to go beyond that (Kim Howell-Martin). Schools that are under-performing are potential for extensive growth.  If we gave kids opportunities and tried new things, even beyond flexible seating, we would see great results. Imagine how interests can even be developed when students are able to see things in a different way than traditional learning? We need to break out of the mold.

It gives new meaning to a PLN and lifelong learning. It is hard to get stuck in a place if you constantly learn. I need to continue to develop because I don't want to ever get to a point where I cannot reach the kids in my classroom. Making that bold declaration would imply by motivation alone that we WILL impact (REACH) File_001 (8)the students in our classrooms because we desire to. It is a constant transforming mindset. It cannot become stuck in a certain way when you are constantly molding your skill-sets and mindsets. In most schools (and if students stay), many teachers will teach each of the students. It needs to become a corporate effort to reach them. If educators approach their REACH differently, imagine how the students' mind sets, motives and drive to come to school in the first place would change.

Kudos to the idea of when you can engage students in a variety of different ways, imagine how much more they will be motivated to come to your classroom and be independent learners and go beyond what you may set as the precedent in the classroom. They will want to go beyond that because you have empowered them with the tools. (Check out Chapter 9 of the Edumatch Snapshot in Education 2016 Published book) What can we do to stretch the kids to decide on what they want to do and then help them to open doors to opportunity?

"The only thing standing in the way of you and what you want to do is you."

What if our kids understood and embraced that thought? What if education at large actually validated that statement by not standing in the way? Motivation is huge. Do they believe they can? They need to SEE what is out there. They need exposure to things in order to develop and learn about what they may want. The whole real world aspect of things is a great way to expose kids. Applying meaning to learning essentially is looking at the real world. What is truly out there? Let's think organization for just a moment, why do we need it? Let the kids answer that question. This is a real-world expectation. We are learning the tool of organization today, why? Why would organization be important in LIFE? Can you think of situations where organization would make the difference between success or failure? Can you recall any personal experiences about how organization was helpful to you or your family? My point here is that connections to the real world are important and students begin to see how meaning is attached to things being taught due to their LIFE-connection.  It goes far beyond my classroom. The light bulbs then come on, the habit is created, and then students have purpose for what they are doing.

I am challenging all of you that read this blog post to engage in conversations. You may never know the power inherent in something that is seemingly so simple if you don't start talking. Who knew that all of this would have come out of a simple walk in the wildlife refuge? Engage. Input. Listen. Learn. Spark. I can't wait to take this conversation piece further through student edcamps within the classroom where the students can also have conversations and they too can see the power! We've got the power!

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's Worth It!

file_000-8 Now you might say what I have said many times, or asked myself...Is it really worth it? We think of our duty as educators to shape, mold and educate the young breed as a calling. I couldn't agree more about the nature of the role an educator plays. It's about something bigger than ourselves. It's a larger than life kind of niche, so much so that the educator plays a central role in the lives of students, dedicating his or her life to instilling in a child the tools and skills necessary to take on a world that continues to grow and change. That's a tall order.

The truth is that the integral seat that educators sit in is not always easy to occupy. In fact, some may say that it is never easy to occupy. Teachers touch tomorrow. Teachers touch today. Teachers made tomorrows easier today. In the words of Dr. Dorian Roberts, we make it look easy. But it is certainly far from that!

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If the truth was to really be told, there are days where I wished I could have slept in on a Monday morning (and maybe not just Monday), whether the weekend was short or long, but the alarm went off (5:15 early), I got up and made my way to work. After my routine Starbucks run, I end up at work, first one there, dragging as I sip every ounce of my Venti hot caramel macchiato, extra shot. Like the flick of a light switch and once I get into the classroom, something happens! I am reminded of the job set before me, not the one I get paid for, but the one I am called to and happen to be compensated for in the process. The creative, enthusiastic facilitator of learning comes alive in me (not to say that it ever sleeps). The espresso just brings him back. Ha!

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The lesson plans, the committee meetings, the staff meetings, the parent conferences, the grading, the paperwork, the after school clubs, the tutoring, the school even nights, is it really worth it? How do you measure success? Is success the educator who stops learning? Is the successful educator the one who thinks that there is nothing more to learn or do? It is a lot to juggle all of these tasks associated with the the educational seat we sometimes so comfortably sit in. Is it worth going to that compelling conference, establishing that powerful PLN, or attending that engaging EdCamp? Well, when you consider the potential outcomes, I think the answer is clear. There is ALWAYS room for growth.

Consider the student that is always eager to get to your class because there is always wonder involved in the learning process. Think about that kid that only you are able to reach. Don't forget about the student who may have some behavioral concerns, but respects you so much and listens to you. Maybe it's that student that you have become an advocate for. The student who only has one parent (or two) and you easily become the other, or the third. Consider the long-term impact of you taking the time to make a difference in the life of child, when you can develop REALationships with them! A REALationship is a teacher-to-student connection that is REAL, authentic, intentional and impactful.

What you do on a daily basis will carry on beyond you. I will be the first to say IT IS NOT EASY to walk in the large shoes of an educator who never sits down, but constantly seeks to learn and grow so that the students can continue to learn and grow. I will say though that IT'S WORTH IT.

“Follow your dreams. I am not saying it’s going to be easy, but I am saying it’s going to be worth it. – Moffat Machingura”

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Mischief Managed.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good! You may be very familiar with the title of this blog post, and if not it is a phrased borrowed from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I am definitely grateful for 2016 and all of the things that have transpired, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Year of Firsts

I have to say that so many things happened this year, many of them for the first time. Suffice it say that sometimes it just takes that first step and then taking that step leads to additional steps and before you know it, you are immersed in the teaching and learning experience. That is exactly what happened to me and as you read through this, you will see what types of things it has led to. I am truly grateful to not be an annual learner, or a weekly learner, but a lifelong learner. I do not want to ever stop learning.

Black History Teacher Nominee - January 2016

I was honored by a few parents as they each submitted a nomination to the state of Florida on my behalf for an Outstanding educator award. Mind you I was not selected as the recipient, however it spoke to the work that I do daily in the classroom and the degree to which parents notice, not just in what they see you do, but how their child's lives are transformed as a result of your diligence, passion and eagerness to help. I was moved by the nominations and received copies of them all and will keep them.

Blogging Began - 5/2016

I'd heard so much conversation about blogging around this point in the year and had to respond. Of course the immediate question in my mind was where to find time to "fit" blogging in, and I also questioned its purpose. Now that is not to say that I have not ever written things down, but specifically, the writing I had done were poems, stories, songs and journaling that I tended to keep to myself. Long story short, I began to understand the value of a blog post as a means to share with others your experiences, findings, "aha" moments and "the stories" we write through our lives. So my blogging began to take shape when I realized that other people actually wanted to read what I'd written. They actually cared about the insights and anecdotes I'd picked up along the way, enough to take the time to read and in some cases, respond. The rest as they say is history because I have posted several times since then and although this is the first post after a bit of a break, I enjoy the blogging and now use it with my students in the classroom.

Just as it helped them to establish community amongst each other in the classroom, through an electronic platform and interaction there, it has helped me to grow and connect with others and enrich myself through developing a PLN.  I couldn't always officially say that I'm an author. But today, I can confidently state that I am, alongside so many "greats" in the education world. Through EduMatch we have pulled a phenomenal project together. So, if I had not started "small" with blogging, I may not have ever developed the confidence in what I had to say, to take part in a bigger writing adventure. Now, I am excited to pursue writing further.

EdCamp Magic - 6/4/2016

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EdCamp Magic was my first EdCamp ever that I'd attended. Prior to 2016, I hadn't even heard of an EdCamp and was basically ignorant of what they were and what they had to offer. But through my voxer and Twitter participation and connections with these awesome individuals, some of which are pictured in these photos, I learned. I made my way to Windermere Prep for what I would say was the best "first" experience ever. I met several of the people face to face that I'd interacted with on Twitter for a while, including: Sarah Thomas (founder of EduMatch), Tammy Neil, William Jackson, Zac Leonard, Alex Stubenbort, Dan Koch, Fran Siracusa, Jennifer Williams, and Amber McCormick.

First Tweet & Talk Edumatch - 6/5/2016

I participated in my first Tweet and Talk, which brings together Twitter and Google Hangouts live on air. I was quite excited to join in and at the moment I do not recall what the topic was. However, Sarah Thomas hosts these weekly and moderators guide the discussions. Panelists sign up to take part in these tweet and talks and I am better because I got involved.

ST4T Conference - June 2016

The picture below are some of the phenomenal individuals who attended the Superior Tech for Teachers conference at the Plato Academy in Clearwater, FL. It was two days filled with learning and exposure to technology. Shout Out to Clarence Tan  who shared his math platform with educators at this conference.

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EdCamp Volusia

EdCamp Volusia is where I met Kimberly Michelle Martin for the first time face-to-face, but had interacted quite often via Twitter and Voxer. This picture was taken during an App Smash where various educators shared great apps or tools that other educators should use or could use as tools in the classroom.

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EdCamp Putnam

Edcamp Putnam was my first time taking the step to facilitate a session or present something to the educators who attended. It's funny how nervous you are when you have to stand in front of others, not knowing how things will go.

In the picture captioned "EdCamp Putnam", I am demonstrating how to use a few apps available on the iOS devices. My friend Kim Martin is to credit for this picture as she is an incredible supporter and works in Volusia County Schools.

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First Pass the Scope - 7/21/2016

PasstheScopeEDU was founded by Valerie Lewis as a means for educators around the globe to share the learning and insights with other educators and students, removing the walls that often serve as barriers to learning. This was my first opportunity to get involved and I have to say, the idea of sharing with a global audience and learning from those in their respective areas, countries, cities or states, was engaging, not to mention unifying.

Fresh Grade Webinar Panelist - 10/6/2016

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I had the tremendous honor (again a first) to be asked to participate as a panelist in a Fresh Grade online webinar, to highlight my experiences in using it as a tool to bridge school and home, individualize learning for students, as well as increase communication between parents, students and the teacher. Alongside another panelist, we spoke of the ways in which we have embraced Fresh Grade, and the tips, tools and tricks by which we are able to accomplish tasks. This was the first time that I'd ever been asked. The presentation was a success and even during the process, I learned from Rob Heinrichs about his approach to the Fresh Grade platform.

I will eagerly support something I believe in. I suppose the focus then is to make me a believer. I am a believer in the Fresh Grade application as a learning management system. It is easy to use and easy to guide others in its use.

EdCamp Tampa Bay - 10/8/2016

Another glorious testimony of the learning that happens with eager educators seek after knowledge. Where does it put us if we stop learning today and never pursue anything new. What message would that send to our students regarding our position as educators and the learning that we expect our students to do. EdCamp Tampa Bay is led by the wonderful Fran Siracusa and Jennifer Williams.

EdCamp Citrus - 11/12/2016

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This is a candid photo of I along with friends at EdCamp Citrus over in Inverness, Florida. Another glorious experience learning about a variety of topics that aid in the development and longevity of our classrooms and student learning. It is always a fun time with this crew.

Social Media/Technology Boot Camp - 11/15/2016

img_4235 This was another first this year. I kept thinking to myself: How can we encourage parents to be more involved in their child's educational process as well as meet a need had by parents? Because of our newest partnership with Full Sail Labs, out of Full Sail University, this was the perfect opportunity to as they say "kill two birds with one stone." Full Sail Labs has partnered with us to increase the momentum in engaging students in the computer sciences as well as the arts, as part of the effort and an extension of the offerings we already provide at school.

So, the idea of a Technology/Social Media Boot Camp came to mind, with a two fold purpose: to educate parents on the social media platforms that exist today and the ramifications of use, as well as to provide them with the knowledge of devices, programs, tools and applications that their children use in school. This would enable them to better assist at home, and provide an overall meshing of the learning process.

Google Forms allowed me to easily create an interest survey to be sent out to all parents at the school by our administrator. As responses came in, we learned exactly what parents were interested in learning and developed the boot camp around these ideas: chrome books, Periscope, Instagram, Snapchat, Fresh Grade and Twitter. These ranked highest among topics identified. The additional topics might be held for a future boot camp. We were able to have the boot camp on November 15th at the school and I was joined by two excellent educators from Full Sail Labs, to run the six 45-minute sessions, three happening concurrently. We had several parents attend and the follow up at the end of the night included expressions of gratitude for the knowledge gained and how each looked forward to additional technology boot camps.

The two sessions I facilitated were Fresh Grade and Periscope. As a Fresh Grade ambassador, I have learned a lot about the platform as it relates to individualizing learning and representing student learning in a variety of ways, not to mention the window it creates for parents into the classroom. I was able to create a mock class and guide parents through the usefulness of the platform as a learning management system as well as show them the inner workings. The parents were engaged and asked several questions about the viability of the platform. I had iPad devices on hand for parents to use to access the app although one decided to download the app on her own mobile device. Session two on Periscope included a greater number of parents and they learned about the operation of the tool and its appropriateness for sharing ideas and learning with others when they are unable to attend. Not only were they all impressed by its potential, several downloaded the application in the very session and began playing around in the sandbox.

We will send out a follow-up survey where parents who attended can document their learning. We will also send out information and tips to continue to develop their understanding. Finally, our goal is to have at least one more social media boot camp prior to the end of the school year. By such time, the word will really be out and we had several that were unable to attend the first event. It was a tremendous success to be enjoyed by all. I am grateful to my principal @charternation for having allowed me to go forward with it as well as the Full Sail Labs facilitators/educators for the awesome job they did presenting information.

EdCamp NABSE - 11/19/2016

EdCamp NABSE was the first Ed Camp that I've ever helped to organize. The picture below does not show everyone, but I will mention all who were part of the organizing team: Knikole Taylor (Leader), Kim Lane, Tammy Neil, Fran Siracusa and myself. It was great day out at the Tampa Convention Center and conversations were had by all.

Christmas Caroling -12/16/2016

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to take part in another of our 49 Acts of Kindness, caroling with a few of my students at the Beardall Senior Center in downtown Orlando. What a great experience it was to participate with them and showcase all of the talent that our school has, not to mention serve the senior citizens that interact within the building. Smiles decorated their faces as they watched the kids perform. We sang a total of six songs and all parties involved were overjoyed by the experience. There is a link to the YouTube video, if you care to watch and listen; The link is here.

News to be Shared on 12/29-12/30

Something great will be announced around this time that I was grateful to have taken part in. Stay tuned!

Final Thoughts

This certainly does not totally capture the year, but this post contains many highlights to all of the events that took place that have shaped me. I am grateful for all that has transpired and I am looking forward to the greater in 2017. Thanks for reading this post and I welcome any comments you may have. Mischief managed!

I have amended this post and added this. Tammy and Justin have been a great encouragement and "pushers," you know the ones who see the good in you and push it out. Please make sure you follow Justin Schleider and Tammy Neil (founder of FLedChat) on Twitter. These are phenomenal people. Justin blogs here and Tammy's writing can be found here

Driven.

One who accepts the call of teacher and truly feels it is his or her role in life accepts more than just the act of passing on knowledge; it is more than a 40-hour a week job. It is not just some whiting an individual gets involved in, but really it becomes life. It is life and breath of the individual who takes on this task, insomuch as teaching is but one of the jobs that teachers really have. From counselor to nurse, from uncle to dad, and from teacher to mentor, a true teacher who cares about the students in his or her direct environment digs deeper, goes further, stretches wider and does what is necessary to meet the clear and present needs of the students in their care. You may ask why this is the case. You may wonder why a true teacher pushes forward despite the many challenges that plague education today. You may ask yourself, where the drive comes from that encourages the teacher to persist, against all odds.The Perception

One of the biggest challenges as an educator has been perception. How do you "view" the challenges, limitations and setbacks experienced as an educator? How do you maintain a student-centered view, regardless of the potential barriers that often attempt to limit your scope of influence? With the student in mind, the diligent and driven educator finds ways to meet required educational objectives as well as student-driven needs. The students are stakeholders and it is this understanding that educators must have in order to prepare them for their paths in life. I must say that there have been times, for me, that I have questioned why I go to such lengths to be there, in whatever capacity for students. There is undoubtedly a greater synergy within me that compels me to pursue, which requires that my perception is right. Wayne Dyer so eloquently stated "Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change." The Action

What are the actions of an educator that are connected to perception? How does perception lead to action? What are the actions of an educator that is driven by a passion that is bigger than the issues and challenges faced? I have ten years of classroom teaching experience and one thing I have come to know is that sometimes my plan does not align with what needs to happen at a given moment. If the goal is to foster a student-centered environment, where the student is the complete focus, and I mean the whole student, then the decisions made about what happened in the classroom should reflect this activity. You have heard the phrase many times I am sure, that actions speak louder than words. Indeed it is still true. We think therefore we act. We are beings of action as educators. We are shaping the next generation; we are the catalysts by which students become leaders. Without the cultivation, leadership, inspiration, motivation, building and enriching of students, then we cannot see them "CLIMBE." "The future depends on what you do today." ~ Mahatma Gandhi. The Will A well-known proverb states "where there's a will, there's a way." In other words, if there is a desire to do something, there is a way in which to get it done. One of the greatest facets of an individual is the will, or the option to choose what one will do or how one will perceive and act. When you are challenged by administration because you have a totally different perspective or perception of what students need in the classroom, what choice do you make? Do you decide on what YOU as the skilled educator knows is best for the current-year students, or do you act based on administrator pushback? Or, do you attempt to demonstrate the effectiveness of your instructional practices and allow it to speak for you? When you have parents that do not agree with your teaching style, do you continue to go down the path that you are driven or do you side with parents and provide alternatives in order to satisfy them? When you have fellow educators that are unwilling to grow and change, but would rather stay stuck in yesterday, do you allow yourself to adopt a similar lackadaisical attitude, or do you realize the growing need for innovation and change and act on it? These can often be tough decisions for educators. It is the will of an individual that embraces the opportunity to be driven. Above all, and considering all of these possibilities, perhaps you are the spark that it will take to start the engine. Perhaps you are the one who will drive the car. Perhaps by stepping out into unfamiliar territory, having the courage to take the step, may cause others around you to start to question what you are doing, how you are doing it and how they may jump on board and do it with you, becoming driven themselves.

The Resolve When the day ends, will the educator be pleased with the strides he or she has made to prepare students to achieve greatness? The student-centered classroom is based on constructivism of knowledge and student empowerment in order to maximize learning experiences. In a student-centered approach to learning, the teacher intentionally acts as facilitator, offering feedback, guidance and challenge to students. The end result is that students own their learning and become empowered to actively engage, construct, define, extend and challenge themselves and others. These are simply a few of the active verbs associated with student learning. When students are the ultimate and driving focus, they tend to determine what is taken away from an experience, or what experiences are necessary even. In this way, educators, like you and I can move away from typical ways of teaching, learning and assessment, to more authentic and meaningful forms. Steven Redhead said "The world you acquire and partake in is purely driven by the choices taken." A future post will follow this one and will be titled "The Case for Empowerment."