Dene E. Gainey

#CLIMBE Aboard! - Welcome!

Filtering by Category: Focus on Students

The Students Ed Camped It

It all started with a conversation about the possibility of creating the space and time for students to learn together in a space. We had our first student Ed Camp on May 16, 2017, after introducing students to the idea and getting them motivated and excited to engage in a non-traditional form. Of course this didn't much because students were stoked at the idea of sharing with others their own learning experiences, talents, skills and passions, whether academic or not.

Sensing, Understanding, and Delivering

To teach is indeed a calling. To know that what you do daily has the capacity to live far longer than you do is mind-blowing!  I can't help but wonder if there are certain people that need the very words that come out of my mouth? Perhaps there are students who, for whatever reason, are in situations that you can speak life to, provide solace in, and help them get out of through embracing, encouraging, and empowering them.

Embrace: This could be a physical embrace or a metaphorical one. Maybe a hug is in order or perhaps simply knowing that they can talk to and relate to you because though you are a superhero in their eyes, you are still human.

Encourage: Maybe they need to hear something positive. Acknowledge their strengths, help them to identify and find areas of weakness to work on and improve themselves. Help them to see the value of personal responsibility.

Empower: Teach them to reach, to dig, to expand and to grow, whether you are standing there or not.

I was recently engaged in a conversation at an EdCamp during a session called "Building a Positive School Culture." In the session was the discussion of the concern raised by teachers, namely the "the loss of instructional time" that comes through school-sponsored events, the time taken to redirect student behaviors and combat the societal things that walk boldly into the classrooms, etc. I challenged them at the end of the session to flip the script.

I create lesson plans every two weeks that are to guide the teaching and learning in the classroom. More times than not, there is a deviation from what I planned. In fact, if I were to be completely honest, I hardly ever stick to the strategic plan that I've outlined on paper. What I find to be true is that the real strategy is being able to deliver, provide or allow for what is needed by the students in the classroom at that moment, in the here and now, dependent solely on discerning the environment, knowing students and being able to be sensitive to the needs of others. That cannot be planned for, however, as an educator, I have placed myself in the position to be flexible and shift based on the needs.

Perhaps in lieu of building school culture and cultivating a rich, innovative and dynamic learning environment, we should not see these deviations from the norm as loss of instructional time. Perhaps these deviations are more instructional than any 'instruction' will ever be. Perhaps it is the words or activities that flow that are much more meaningful for the time, and without them, the curriculum would not stick anyway. So, if I flow with the needs of the class and increase my sensitivity to the needs of the day, how much more will the content itself stick when it does occur.


One who does not stay the same.

When Love Has Everything to Do With It.

So I haven't been able to carve out time in quite a while to blog and I am not happy about that. Things have been so incredibly busy, and positively so! I had the most incredible experience this summer in Tanzania (a future post will go into more detail about this 30-day immersive experience). However I will say that while there I was reminded of the fact that heart connections can be and should be made as it drives us to act if we truly know love. It's easy to say I love you, but it means something altogether different when you have an experience that reinforces or deepens that said love. Needless to say, Tanzania ignited (or heightened the flame) of a love in me to help, encourage and motivate others. Likewise yesterday, our school hosted its annual Meet the Teacher, which is the chance to bring in and drop of school supplies, as well as get important information regarding the start of school and to meet the teachers. While I had the grand opportunity to meet most of the students that would make up my homeroom class this year, many of them being new to the school, I was overwhelmed by what I would call heart-throbbing experience.

You might say that you really don't know your full impact as a teacher until after you've taught them and the students have moved on. Likewise some might say that you will never fully know the totality of your impact as an educator. However, one thing is certain. Love has everything to do with it. I made it a point to count how many of my previous students who have either moved onto middle school (while still at our school) or who have gone on to high school with siblings attending our school who came to visit and say hello. By the way if you were curious, I counted 27. Even some of the new students offered hugs.

I was completely consumed by the reciprocated love I felt from my students, the countless renderings of heartfelt hugs and the fact they hung out, felt no need to rush and leave but we're completely comfortable there, and their parents either joined them or checked in on them all the while, knowing that they were okay. A couple students needed some reinforcement that they would be okay and shine and do well in middle school and then I felt honored that they would be able to lean on me for support and encouragement even beyond the classroom.

All things considered, I believe that the proof is in the pudding. When you show them love, not only will you have an irreplaceable impact in their lives, it will come back to you time and time again, a reminder #theYinYou and the reason why we must continue to #CLIMBE. If you have not yet had the chance to grab a copy of my first solo book, please do so on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The title is "Journey to the 'Y' in You." It speaks volumes. See the links below. Take care and remember that love truly has EVERYTHING to do with it! See you soon!

Barnes and Noble


Stand Up Teacher

Well, this is officially my first post of 2018. Times have been so busy that I had not had the grand opportunity. I recall about three years ago as part of a team-building exercise, I along with staff members at my school went to an improv comedy show. I'd never done it before and thought about the opportunity to laugh and decompress at an event such as this. Being that is was improv, I suppose I had no idea at the time that I could (or would) become part of the show. In fact, the topic had shifted to "pick up lines" and I was positioned as a judge to determine whose pickup lines were worthy of a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It was a lot of fun, I won't lie. I was nervous and had no idea how this would end but now I can say that I did it, had the opportunity and laughed a lot as a result. If it ever happens again, I won't be so nervous I suppose.

My point today is this...being a stand up teacher. I clearly stand up all day, and rarely sit down, whether at a table or desk. My feet tell me so at the end of the day, coupled with all of the walking and getting my steps in without any problems at all. This is not what I mean at all though. Challenging times and scenes today both in and out of classrooms seem to suggest a need for educators to be sensitive to environments, students and needs. This is not to say it hasn't always been important, but I have encountered many experiences this year alone where I have had to alter the course of travel for a class, for a week, for a student, for a group of students because the climate dictated a different way that day. I spend so much time planning and even learning in order to plan effectively. However I realize more and more that these lesson plans do not always go "as planned."

I'd learned about a strategy for teaching that includes drama, more specifically referred to as "Actor's Toolbox" which includes aspects of social-emotional learning as well as opportunities to teach students about those elements of themselves that are necessary in order to experience success in school. It further provides an opportunity for students to move, form randomized groupings for class activities as well as reinforce expectations.

There is a part of the Actor's Toolbox that includes a focus game that students love. The students move to a circular standing formation in the room when the cue is provided (music for our class). They "sign" the five-part contract that says they will be in charge of their bodies, their voice, their minds, their focus and finally cooperate with others. This is all done with miming or gesturing (drama). I then get the opportunity to try to distract them as they focus on a point on the wall opposite where they are standing. The goal is for them to remain calm, focused and balanced. Additionally, I like to ask students to point out any "strong" choices they observed other students do, such as moving quietly and calmly. We also discuss "weak" or undesirable choices made by students, like laughing while coming to the circle or running. This is such a powerful way to start our class and I really have seen students step to the plate and develop in maturity.

Actor's Toolbox is fun. I've had students group using the following statement: "By the time I count to 6, find yourself in a group that has an even number" (or someone wearing glasses, or someone wearing black, or having at least one boy). They can use non-verbal communication but are not encouraged to talk while moving into these groups. However once assembled, they might discuss a topic that comes to mind, like a book they read over the weekend. Or I might create a talking piece based on something we are learning in class at that time, giving them an opportunity to discuss it with random students (and those not normally paired with). I always follow up with sharing as a whole class a couple of the really great thoughts from the groups.

My point in sharing that example is that I have used it during times where there was clearly a need to "do something different." I use it almost every day as it is, but definitely use it to break up any potential monotony and in those times that the conditions call for something more. I feel educators are the great balancers and jugglers! Or at least we should be flexible and aware of the climate, which changes oh so frequently in order to meet the needs of the diverse learners that we all have in our reach. As I have heard many times, Maslow, before Blooms, because Blooms will be so much more effective once Maslow is in place.

Thanks for reading! Have a good one!

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!







Guest Post @soperwritings: Cultivating Classroom Culture

Cultivating a Learning Culture that Empowers Students

As a middle school social studies teacher, one of the very first things I teach my students each year is a unit on culture. Sure, the concept of culture is first up on my curriculum guide, but the overarching concept of culture is something that is essential to setting the tone for a productive year.

We begin the unit as most would expect: we define culture, we identify our own cultural markers, and we examine the cultural makeup of key civilizations throughout history.

But then we take a turn. I shift the conversation from cultural identification to cultural activism; we look at how the problem of cultural extinction is rapidly changing the face of our world. The students engage with stories from the past and from the present about how real people are faced with the challenge of carrying on and preserving cultures that are fading away forever.

For my students, the culture unit is no longer about defining cultural elements, it becomes about cultivating and preserving cultures in the face of increased globalization.

This may seem like a heady ask for a room full of 12-year-olds (…and it is), but by infusing a sense of agency into the learning, students buy in. They aren’t learning because they have to, they engage because they have a felt need to learn. By learning about culture in this type of classroom environment, I am setting the table for a classroom culture that will empower my students to be active learners.

Empowered learning is engaged learning

This trend of trying to motivate students to learn from an intrinsic place can be truly challenging. I have spent time as a part of a Learner Active Technology Infused Classroom (LATIC) cohort over the past three years that has worked to try to bring about this fundamental shift in our respective classroom pedagogies. It’s a lot of work, but it’s important work.

The studies are out there, but any educator who has had the experience of watching a student or even an entire classroom of students chasing knowledge knows the impact of a learner-driven environment.

In order to do so, whether it is in a classroom or a small group tutoring environment, there are a litany of considerations that need to be made:

  • Students need environments that are differentiated and choice-driven.
  • Students need meaningful task statements and unit rubrics to help guide students through their choices and growth.
  • Students need access to technology and resources to be able to pursue their self-driven learning.
  • Perhaps most importantly, students need authentic assessment experiences where they are expected to engage with real world issues. After all, learning without a goal or any potential for true impact will come at the expense of student buy-in.

The educator as a resource rather than the tour guide

Again, this type of pedagogical approach takes a lot of work. There’s no denying that. But when students are the ones running their own show, it frees up the educators to facilitate learning on a one-to-one or small group level rather than trying to apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

In an era of increased automation and privatization, the best educators are the ones who are able to create meaningful connections between students and content. No computer program or software suite will ever be able to do that!

By front-loading the preparation efforts to create student-driven experiences, the relationship between educator and student can be tailored on the fly to help create true understanding and engagement. These are the classrooms of the future.

Sheldon Soper is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey and as a writer for The Knowledge Roundtable, a free tutoring marketplace. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as a M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. You can connect with him on Twitter @SoperWritings.

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

















I Can't give you Success, but the Tools I Offer

Student empowerment is a big deal in classrooms of today. I believe it is safe to say that we (educators) want our students to not simply reproduce the knowledge that comes through the many varied lessons that we teach, but that we want them to construct knowledge, go after knowledge and even create new content. Is a dream worth going after without the tools by which one needs in order to ascertain it? As an educator, I have seen over my years of experience, the trickle down effect of increasing expectations for students. So as educators, we constantly evaluate and review expectations in an effort to have a firm grasp on the skill set(s) necessary for the students we serve. While we teach them in a certain grade or a certain class, I believe it is necessary to teach beyond that. It is limiting when we focus simply on what needs to be attained by the end of the year, as if to remove the opportunity for students to exceed those expectations. One of the things I have been excited to do this year was teach technology. Technology continues to advance, and quickly. I graduated with my bachelor's degree in the winter of 2003 and the iPad had not yet hit the market. How, 14 years later, the iPad is readily available, in many shapes, sizes, and versions. Having always had an interest in technology and gadgets, I always had something to play with and I remember well when I first purchased an iPad. Compared to the one I have now, it was much smaller in size as well as capability and storage space. I could only maximize it's function when connected to the wireless Internet. Oh but now, I have a larger device, capable of storing a huge amount of information, a Bluetooth keyboard that is attached to it, a case that is designed to convert to desktop computer style as well as the apple pencil that is connected to the iPad device via Bluetooth and can charge by plugging into the iPad itself. What I was not able to do in 2003, I am able to do in 2017 and in many cases, much faster or more efficiently.  So consider the tools. Tools are necessary in order to accomplish a task. If I wanted to change the oil in my car, I would need tools in order to replace the oil filter as well as release the used oil from the bottom of the car. In order to build and compound knowledge, I need the tools that enable me to research, plan, execute and further my learning process. Tools are not simply hardware devices that provide some type of service to the learner, but may also include: organizational skills, encouragement, motivation, affirmation, space & opportunity, and perhaps even a model to follow after, albeit the educator himself or herself, or someone to whom the learner can look to for direction or guidance.

One of the phrases I use in class often is "prior planning prevents poor performance." I say it so often, that now all I have to do is start it and the students in the class will finish it for me. It has been ingrained into them as a practice and an understanding, or even a philosophy. It's a belief system. My goal is to aid in the development of good habits. Now even as adults, I am sure that we can all admit that we have procrastinated a time or two. However, it is my belief that we should teach students to be proactive consumers and producers of knowledge, rather than waiting until the last minute. Quality is always the desire over quantity. I further believe that you can tell someone something long enough that even if it was not believe at the onset, they will eventually begin to believe it and not only that, but see the change or the outcomes, or the reality of the thing they have been saying over time, out of routine or mere instruction even. "You are the best and the brightest," does wonders for motivation. It is amazing how many students feed off of the positive reinforcement and affirmation. Perhaps they don't receive such at home, or often enough, so I believe that it is important even in this way, to give students the tools we might call affirmation and motivation.

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I further believe that when students are engaging in the learning process that meaning is attached when you can makes connections to their lives. Why does this matter to me? Why should I learn this? Well, "student one, when you read with feeling and expression it helps to captivate an audience, gain their full attention and ultimately deliver to them the information you have defined as important." In life, this equates to being able to deliver messages, having good listening and speaking skills. It may even include empathy and caring about those to whom you speak. This is a life skill. All of a sudden the electric current running to the light bulbs in students' heads is at an all time high. No longer am I learning something because "it's what we do" for 6.5 hours at school." It has new meaning and I know that what I am doing now (or not doing) is going to matter to me as I continue to learn, grow and develop.


So this is something I have been focused on this year to get students motivated about "tools" that are available that support the teaching and learning that is already happening in the classroom. This technology class is set apart from the rest of the day, however, students are being introduced to so many different tools, available in the iPad that can be used to plan in the ELA content area, take notes, document learning or create based on learning that has taken place, which is the largest component (the application of knowledge).

Fresh Grade

This is an e-portfolio tool designed to connect teachers, parents and students in a Facebook-style electronic portfolio that individualizes learning and captures ongoing successes as well as areas to improve upon and reflect on. Not only can this be accessed via an Internet browser, but it is also available as an iPad app. We make use of the iPad app frequently during classes.


Popplet has become a hit with students because it provides them the opportunity to document their learning and even plan using a popple-organization format, where they can visually organize information using text and pictures.

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Students love the ability to create using iMovie and are currently working on a year-long project titled the "Year-Long Reading Review" which will be completed documentary style, hopefully.

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The white board app called "ShowMe" is used to draw and create freehand, with integrated pictures and recording ability. Many have integrated their "ShowMe" creations into other applications, such as iMovie.File_001 (1)


Buncee is another great tool that students use to create for many different purposes. It has a variety of components that when pieced together, can result in a comprehensive student presentation that contains pictures, text, and even animation.



Tellagami is another great app used to animate oneself. Students take a character and tweak it to look like themselves. From that they can record voice and add to the animation, or use voices that come with the app. It is a fun way to create using voice as well as appropriate background scenery and character costuming.

Emoji Me

I love Emoji Me, simply because students can form visual representations of themselves as well as characters from a text, for example, based on author description. I love providing students will tools to bridge the visual learning with what they are hearing.



Telestory is the newest app introduced to Students because of its versatility in telling a story. From creating a news show, to featuring a band or even the Eye Spy scenario, this app allows students to experiment with augmented reality, adding overlaying costumes, sound effects and other features into a seamless video format which can then be exported as complete video and shared.


Inspiration is an app that allows students to organize information visually using an assortment of graphic organizers as well as pictures that can be associated with topics in every subject area. This is great for visual learners.

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Chatter Pix

Chatter Pix Allows students to create characters and animate them as well, by adding in their voices. Example below.

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To recap, I have shared these apps because they are tools that have been employed in the classroom. Students are able to use them at any time to accomplish tasks and demonstrate and/or showcase learning. The likelihood of learning becoming a chore or boring is lessened when we are able to approach learning from a variety of different ways. Tools. We need tools in order to accomplish tasks successfully. Without the appropriate tools:

  • We are stiffened.
  • We are limited to one way.
  • We are boxed in.
  • We lack motivation.
  • We are stuck.

But being provided access to the tools opens the doors to success. Success for one may not be success for another, which is another reason why offering variety is important. I am grateful for the tools that lead to success, whatever that success may be.



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!


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!


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”


In My Own Skin.

In My Own Skin. I have the same skin today as I did back then (maybe a little darker thanks to the sun), but of course I am not speaking literally, per say. I often think back to all of the times where I underestimated myself, didn't see where I had value and basically doubted that I had anything to offer anyone. Do I have what it takes? Can I accomplish the purpose hidden within my existence? Can I act on that drive that so often bubbles up inside of me? I have often asked myself if I had it in me. Isn't it ironic that the guy who doubted what he had to offer came in contact with an amazing first grade teacher who CARED? She cared about the way I learned. She CARED about the way I wrote things on paper. She CARED about who I grew up to me, my character if you will. She CARED about the days ahead that I didn't know anything about. You might even say that she CARED about me more than I did at the time. I had AMAZING parents, and along with this teacher, my life was shaped. I wonder if I would have turned out the way that I did without this teacher's influence in my life. You might say she saw what I was too young or naive to see, but had she not had the eyes to see it, just maybe my entire path would have been altered.

img_1050I became a teacher in 2004, immediately after I graduated with my baccalaureate degree from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. I was completely motivated by the idea of being able to enter a world where I could help others, perhaps like my eloquent and CARING first grade teacher. I started out with so much enthusiasm and excitement and that enthusiasm and excitement was contagious. My students saw it, my students felt it, my fellow educators and principals saw and felt it too. While that excitement and enthusiasm has stayed with me over the course of the eleven years of being a classroom teacher, there have been many challenges along the way that could have easily encumbered me, if I allowed it. It's not a gender thing, though in some cases it has become that. It's not a color thing, though sometimes it seems to be that.. It's a human thing.

It is impossible to "C.L.I.M.B.E." when the pressures and weights are allowed to weigh you down. Pressures and weights are vast and can take on many shapes and forms. As an educator, I feel it is my role to help my students C.L.I.M.B.E. I can't very well succeed in that endeavor when I am not comfortable in my own skin. What do I mean by that? Well I absolutely believe that educators have to have a tenacity and a desire to not just teach students, but reach them. The reach is not always comfortable. You may not always feel the support you think you need. You maybe be the only one in a space that thinks like you do, but the students must be reason. The students must be the focus. And so if they are the reason and the focus, then I, the educator must be comfortable in my own skin. I must be comfortable enough to pursue, to go after learning, to keep learning, so that I can keep impacting.

I don't know where I'd be or who I'd be without the challenges and obstacles. They couldn't be taught to me in the four walls of the brick and mortar college. Learning came in the challenges. I took away some things from the obstacles. I quickly learned that the obstacle is the way. So when challenges rise in the world of education, I have to remember the purpose for which I entered it. It was for the students. It was to make an impact. It was to give selflessly to someone else such that we can all be better. So if I am to be comfortable in my own skin, I have to be willing to be the first one to try something. I have to be the one that is willing to go out on a limb for students. I have to be the one that acts intentionally with purpose and mission. Sometimes that purpose and mission makes you feel alone, even when you are in a room full of people. It is important to embrace the difference and be comfortable with that difference and its uniqueness and authenticity. Maybe that difference is the difference necessary to be a catalyst for change. One of the greatest things in life is understanding and appreciating the differences in people, so that we can use those differences to bring us together.  I have to okay with what may be eccentric thoughts and innovative ideas when they don't line up with another's thinking, or a cookie cutter approach. I have to okay with the desire to fully embrace being compelled to reach, teach and be, In My Own Skin.

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EdCamp Ocala

EdCamp Ocala

EdCamp Ocala was another exciting adventure, bringing together teachers, librarians, technologists and administrators to learn and grow together. I honestly do not think it is possible to gather on an off day (Saturday), not getting paid, on your own free will and not learn something from someone else. While some ideas shared were like a review of learning, others were ideas shared that were motivating for me, so much so that I could not wait to become immersed in it with my students. So I am sharing just two of the big ideas taken away from today's EdCamp experience.



Why is STEAM so important in education today? The arts seem to be getting lost in translation more and more. Yet we wonder why the ability to be social and interact with others is lost? The arts is a great way to put students in social situations causing them to have to work together to solve problems and even build tolerance, celebration and teamwork.

One idea conveyed in the session on STEAM was the use of visual representation, whether through artwork or video for students to convey their understanding of learned content.  This type of activity definitely goes a lot farther than a simple worksheet, not to mention that it may be wasted paper. Even allowing students to record audio as a means of solidifying their knowledge (podcasting is an example, shared in next session).

Another idea (shared by Kristin Harrington) in the session was the EPALS Smithsonian “Invent It Challenge.This opportunity is for students from ages five through 21, and is less contest driven, but more in line with allowing students the space to create. They walk through the engineering process of:

1) Think it

2) Explore It

3) Sketch it

4) Create it

5) Try it

6) Tweak It

7) Sell It

and can gain a patent for their creation. What a great way to engage students in the arts as well as make learning fun.

Problem-based learning within STEAM is also another way to get students engage in the creation process (whether visual arts, fine arts or performing arts) as well as promote teamwork, cooperation, problem-solving, critical thinking and even resourcefulness. For example, I mentioned a problem-based learning exercise of my own creation that easily connects to a unit of learning about Native Americans, called “Build it or Bedlam.”

I have also used tableaus where students are tasked to use themselves to visually represent ideas from a lesson or literature. I have shared some pictures here. Students work to form a house using only their bodies. For additional challenge, students all had to be at different levels, which was another piece of the learning process, as we talked about how a level 1 was different from a level 5 and a level 10.


Podcasting is an idea that I have recently gotten into and of course my students are very excited about. We started our first one, with an idea from Sean Farnum aka MagicPantsJones titled "One Word for 2017," which may have been something the student wanted to focus on, or otherwise a word that the student found relevant for 2017. Students wrote a paragraph at most to express their word and reason for choosing it, and perhaps an anecdote that they wanted to share. I am excited to say that students are just so honest  at times. I cannot wait to finalize the podcast and share it.  I learned more from the educators in the room at EdCamp Ocala, including topic ideas and how each of them might approach podcasting in the classroom and its various uses. We talked about Audacity and Podomatic as platforms that are useful as well.


This information was passed along to me by a theater teacher within the session. He talked a lot about improvisation and getting the students up and moving, as well as understanding how to visually represent ideas and even better understanding characters, for example, when you have to put yourself in another's shoes. All in all, for Ocala's first Edcamp, it was a great opportunity to connect with other educators and spend time with many educators already known, as well as meet in person those that you have interacted with on Twitter.