2018 came to a close with this opportunity to share with those of Lutheran Haven on 12/23. You can watch and listen HERE if you so desire! I am constantly reflecting (and analyzing) and I can admit that the challenges of 2018 changed me. I realize that I am not the same person. Not everything felt good, was good, but I believe that it was necessary. Now I, today, take a forward mindset into 2019. 2018 is now behind me or should I say serves as stepping stones. Reflecting on my previous post "Broken, but Built." The obstacles become opportunities, the sticky situations become stepping stones, the problems become possibilities. I am convinced that what we say and think of ourselves is our reality. Choosing my words and actions carefully, I will move forward, starting today.
Filtering by Category: Philosophy
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.
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!
I believe I read a quote at some point that said "If you try to make everyone happy then you'll never make anyone happy." As I constantly evaluate myself and place myself under the microscope, I am really that kind of educator that is all in. I am always thinking and doing something supports my professional role. It's like I live and breathe this educator thing. As if I was an educator before I was even born...and once I was, everything I did, good, bad or indifferent, led me to this point. I remember my first grade teacher who had supreme influence on me while I was a student in her class. I also went back to her classroom every day after school through fifth grade, to help her if she needed it. When I was off to middle school, I would still make it a point to head back to the school to help her in whatever way that I could. As a high school student, I began to track my volunteer hours since that was such a big thing and quite frankly I'd been involved a lot anyway. I went back to help her yet again, and upon graduation, was recognized as a member of my graduating class with a tremendous amount of community service hours. So this isn't the first time I've mentioned that little anecdote, but it is still a relevant piece regarding why I stand here in this position today. I grew up with high expectations, or in other words, those around me expected much from me. That said, as an educator, my expectations are also high, as it applies to those in my area of influence.
I do my best to check my intentions to ensure they are always genuine. In other words, I try to ensure that my actions reflect an awareness of self and a focus on others. I have come to realize that even when actions are genuine, the actions don't always please everybody. As an educator, it's not so much about the quiz or the project or the school year as it is about life, character and responsibility. So my actions, beliefs and overall philosophy is driven by this premise. Perhaps it's a "bigger than me" mentality. It's not about me, but it is about the lives of the those within my reach. And thus, I am always focused on who those people are or who they will be, not the here and now.
The truth is that not everybody will agree with you, believe in you, take the journey with you, or even support you. Whether that means family, friends, colleagues, administrators, parents or even students, trials come that they might make you strong.
However there was a reason this "thing" all got started, and thus there is a reason why it should continue. Obstacles, opposition and trials truly are all a part of the journey and I have come to know that by design, they are tasked with making us better. I would never have known the strength I had to get through something had that something never challenged me or came my way. You realize who you really are in the face of opposition. Opposition can of course come in many shapes and sizes. But I've learned to put the opposition under the microscope too. There are times I've asked myself "What's in it for me?" But the more I live, the more I realize that "Perhaps there is something I need in the opposition."
Philosophical at best, this post is just a reminder (to myself too) that even though there are times that we question why, and criticize ourselves (guilty), we can't stop moving. Funny that the song "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey is in my head as I finish this post. I almost titled the post that way. :)
Challenges & Limitations: Are they the same thing? Can challenges lead to limitations? Can challenges open the door to opportunity? This blog has been written as something to consider and maybe even open the door for conversation, inspired by nature itself. (Side note: there is much to be learned by observing and appreciating who and what we are surrounded by.)
Are challenges limitations? I was watching a nature documentary recently, titled "Africa's Deadliest," I couldn't help but notice the sheer number of animals with physical and perhaps geographical challenges that may serve to box the animal in or by which we are able to identify the animal as it's species. For example, the crocodile is regarded as a fierce predator, who has intense bite force and is able to take out animals that are equal or larger in size. The water is where the crocodile's greatest strength is realized because of its ability to ambush prey, often by surprise as they draw closer by holding their breath underwater.
You might say that the water is the croc's livelihood. However, the crocodile's teeth are not designed to tear and chew it's prey once caught and suffocated. Instead the crocodiles must group together and rely on each other to tear prey and then swallow it whole. Not only that, crocodiles are sloppy & less balanced and effective while on land versus in the water. You might say that the challenges that the crocodile experiences are opportunities for them to capitalize on their strengths and/or cooperate with other crocodiles in order to accomplish the task at hand. Are these challenges experienced by crocodiles also their limitation? Well that depends on how you view it.
Let's take another example. The cheetah is hugely regarded as the fastest land animal on Earth reaching speeds of 65 miles per hour or more. This is of course a feature that enables the cheetah to attain its prey when it travels at intense speeds. Unlike its counterparts and related species, it is able to traverse distances in order to reach what may otherwise be unreachable. A drawback however is the need for cheetahs to recuperate after traveling at such immense speed before it can devour what it's speed allowed it to reach and overtake. In fact, the documentary identifies that the cheetah becomes so overheated that it is close to going brain dead after working so intensely to feed itself. If this wasn’t enough, the cheetah then has to deal with the lions and hyenas, opportunists, that pose a serious threat to the cheetah itself, not to mention its prey being stolen. Is the cheetah’s speed a challenge or a limitation?
A third example is the Monarch butterfly, a delicate creature, faces more than one challenge in its lifetime. Of its challenges are habitat loss, pesticides and herbicides, and climate change. Starting out as a caterpillar, eating constantly, it has to undergo a complete physical change, only to have a limited lifespan once its metamorphosis has taken place. An average butterfly has an average life span of two weeks in which it must carry out its life obligations in order to ensure that generations behind it may carry on, survival in mind.
And so now we attempt to bring it home, to the crux of the matter, the reality of the world we live in today. We all have challenges, animals and human beings alike. We all have things that we face on the daily that we have the opportunity to overcome. If we sat here and thought long enough, we would be able to identify challenges for each animal and even plant on the face of the earth. All living things face obstacles and challenges that “challenge” the existence and survival of the species. Could we ask the cactus plant to stop sucking up water so that it can survive during the harsh times of drought? Could we ask the kangaroo to stop digging holes into the ground in order to cool itself in times of extreme heat? Would it be appropriate to ask the alligators and crocodiles to remain in the water so they do not threaten our existence on the earth? The truth is that challenges can be viewed as obstacles, but are not necessarily limitations at all. They are opportunities to be creative, adapt and find ways to conquer what could have conquered you. We fill continue to face challenges but we do not have to allow those challenges to keep us from moving forward in the best way possible.
So let’s think about education and the roles we have. Our students. Do they have challenges? You bet they do! We as the educators face challenges as well. Our students have various backgrounds, cultures, experiences, values, morals and beliefs that may not necessarily line up with the next person. Does that mean they are any less valuable? Of course not, but perhaps these challenges are opportunities to learn how to embrace and celebrate the various aspects of our world that make it unique and diverse. Where would we be without challenges? We’d never learn how amazing the world and those therein truly are without challenges. We’d never see the bravery if there was nothing to fear. We’d never know love, if rejection wasn’t a reality. We’d never see the stars if they didn’t shine in the middle of darkness. We’d never know the opportunity ahead without the challenges that propel us to pursue with patience that which lies before us! Turn your challenge into an opportunity, don’t let it limit you.
"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said" --Peter Drucker
Now the above quote is the type that really reaches out and grabs me. Consider for a moment that listening helps you to understand what is missing or rather what can be added to a conversation. Is anyone really listening to you when you speak? Do they even care enough to stop talking or doing, long enough to listen to what you have to say? That is the question of the day. When I listen to you, it means that I care about what you have to say and that I am allowing you the space, the time, the platform, or the opportunity to share it. Sounds easy right?
Is there truly anything to be gained from talking and never stopping to listen. I’d heard someone say that we have two ears and one mouth (Epictetus) The more I consider it, the more I realize that there is such value in being one who listens, or in fact, is slow to speak. I can attest to the fact that I have learned so much simply by listening to people, without ever having to utter a word.
My dad had always been slow to speak. But when he did speak, his words commanded the attention of all those in his vicinity. You might say that was due to his profession, his family or his wisdom. I submit that it was due to his decision. I question today the value that is placed on positioning yourself so that you can hear from someone else, "truly." All too often, the experience as been the opposite, where we talk constantly, or even without regard for what someone else may have to offer.
As an educator, one considers the students that he or she teaches; I definitely do. Naturally in a classroom where learning is to take place it requires both listening and speaking skills. Is one more valuable than the other. Perhaps not, however, they do have equal relevance in the day-to-day expectations of a teacher.This is of course not limited to students listening to a teacher, but students listening to other students. Listening is an important skill for all. Surely I cannot truly expect my students to listen if I don't model that, or walk it out in front of them. I'd rather be the example instead of a hypocrite.
They all get excited about sharing. They are all engaged in the process of speaking, and will take every opportunity to talk to others. But what about the listening piece? How do you teach students about the inherent value of being a good listener? How might you model being a good listener for students such that he or she (the students) can understand that if they listen, they can earn greater understanding of an idea, but at the same time, consider a respectful and sound response to what they have heard?
So together, listening and speaking form a conversation. And the conversation is one that has value because the participants are involved in both the listening and speaking components. What would change if we all made it a point to be better listeners? And by so doing, what we are able to add to the conversation is both impactful and relevant, furthering the learning, rather than taking from it. Does listening make you a pushover or "weak?" Not at all. I believe it truly means you understand and respect others when you can see value in their words. We all have experiences. We all have stories to tell. Dare I say that we can all benefit from someone who will listen? Dare I go further and say that listening will change not only the life of whom you're listening to, but your own as well? Someone listened to me. I've not been the same since.
This blog post is partly in response to an extremely intriguing and moving conversation at EdCampHCPS on Saturday, April 1, 2017, and no, it wasn't a joke! Haha. Aside from that, it has played an essential role in my own beliefs and practices as an educator. Thanks to Zac, Alex, Amber, Bryan, Nik, and Maria. What an awesome conversation we had!
I was so fortunate to have been able to attend EdCampHCPS this past Saturday and not only that, but be able to facilitate a session or discussion or conversation about this topic: "Celebrating Diversity and Building Community." I find it important to start with a the why of celebration and building, but further, to identify a working definition for both diversity and community. I believe we are blessed to live in a world that includes different types of people whether those differences are realized through gender, race, culture, language, opinion, viewpoint (perspective) and life choices even.
This is an important conversation to continue to be had. Is there a mold that students are expected to fit in when we really are all different with different backgrounds and experiences that must be taken into account because it makes us who we are? Is there a mold that we as educators are expected to fit in? Are we being asked to change the very essence of who we are rather than attempt to understand & celebrate diversity? The discussion ensued that students are often stripped of their diversity when we expect them to be who they are not, or to fit a predefined mold. How often do we as educators enter the classroom and assume this position: "This is how we do school," even unintentionally? Consider how we limit the learning experiences of students when we choose to intentionally or unintentionally expect every student to be the same.
Suffice it to say we were able to start the conversation at #EdCampHCPS, but we were far from ending it at the time that we were scheduled to move onto the next session.
Thus, the term diversity seems to encompass a whole lot more today than may have been identified years ago, or even captured by dictionary definition. How do you define diversity? Merriam Webster defines diversity as: "the condition of having or being composed of differing elements OR the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization OR an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities." Why is diversity, specifically celebrating it so important? Melissa Etheridge qualifies diversity as our greatest strength as a nation but furthers her thought to suggest that it too has the power to break us down when we choose not to see the value in it and how it has the power to build bridges, fill gaps and connect us."Diversity is not judging a situation before trying to understand a situation."
Everybody has their own piece of the pie and the pie becomes whole when all of the pieces come together. Or consider the puzzle, if you will. Everybody has something valid to say, but we need to be open to hear it!
Diversity: the art of thinking independently together. I must say that I agree with these sentiments because I do not see how we will ever lose our difference. However, I do see how those differences can not be capitalized on when we choose to stay separated. We can be different and we can be together. Let's embrace our "different" while we sit at the table together.
When you think about Dr. Martin Luther King's words here, you can see that though we all have stories, his goal was to bring change to serve the greater good. My perspective is that when we shift our focus on bringing change at this great a scale, it ultimately affects everyone anyway, including ourselves. It does not see us as separate and disconnected, but rather connected at the very core, and only separated due to viewpoints that have not come to the table of "together." What I mean is that there is great value in our own individual perspectives and viewpoints, but there is an immense power when we can bring those all together and reason.
Where would we be without our ability to see. Let me be clear though, it is possible to be able to see and yet have no vision. We need a call to action. We need to not only understand the why of diversity but also things that we can do in order to bring change to our current understanding and fully move forward with the vision of understanding the role that each individual plays and the power that is created when all of these individuals have the space and time to come together.
I think it is highly important for students to learn about other type of people, other cultures, others' backgrounds because when this can happen, we can understand for example, why people do what they do and understand how this new learning can improve the individual. I am better when I know a little Japanese, because I then can communicate with Japanese people. The wall or barrier that would have limited me before is removed when I am able to immerse myself into the learning about others that ultimately builds a bridge where there was once a gap.
How do we take what could rip us apart and translate that into something that revolutionizes us? Melissa Etheridge's thoughts here really make me think. I find it to be amazing that this understanding or lack thereof can build bridges or tear them down. I have personally been in situations that as a black male I am looked upon as someone out to hurt or harm, when truly that could not be farther from the truth. Stigmas and stereotypes exists and often I feel the burden on my shoulders to be the antithesis of what we currently experience. I think this is a perfect example for how we may judge a situation prematurely rather than being open and willing to connect with people, because there is certainly a strength that comes when we take the time to be intentional about understanding and knowing that everyone is not the same, but that they may have an experience that will change me, or make better.
So on the topic of student support, I believe that we must first learn about our students and their needs before we are able to support them. How are students best supported? Do they all have the same support needs? The answer is no. I believe that it is time well spent when we first understand that yes, we are different and ultimately when we are able to affirm the difference in students, the quicker we are able to use those differences to benefit everyone.
Involvement is essential. We cannot make diversity and community big ideas unless we have others involved. How can be make it a focus? My goal is to include, whether directly or indirectly, a focus on diversity and community in every lesson that I teach or in every activity that I ask students to engage in. I want them to understand how what they are doing now is reflected in the real world and the connections between them. Not only are we speaking of meaningful learning here, we are talking about getting them ready for real challenges or experiences.
Empathy is so important. You might define empathy as the ability of one to understand and share the feelings of another. Is it important to integrate this idea into our classrooms? Absolutely. Why? It would totally make us more mindful of what, how and why we do before we do it. It fosters an appreciation for this around us and how we can all help each other in this tangled web we weave.
How do you define community? With regards to community, what thoughts come to mind when you view the pictures below? In what ways do these images reflect "community?" Merriam Webster provides the following as a definition: "a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society." When think about the following pictures below, I understand that each aspect of the environment or these living elements in the same place, has a role to play. They may have a common interest in the sun, or in oxygen and so while they may be different in organizational structure, genetic makeup, physical characteristics, and even their upbringing or origination to bring it to where it currently is, they can commune together in these photos.
As part of the #FLEdChat Twitter chat on Wednesday nights, I have the fortunate opportunity to facilitate/lead a Celebrate Diversity ('Focus on Diversity') chat on every third Wednesday where the focus is on the importance of both diversity and community as these two components are married together. You can't truly have one without the other. Nevertheless, we converse about philosophy, practices, suggestions and even action plans for how we might embrace these two very important ideas in the classroom, creating the space for students to understand their importance as well as the education body at large.
One of the content areas that I teach is English-Language Arts. I love to integrate technology into the core curriculum at every effective moment. And as a result, this year I moved students from using a paper-and-pencil blogging experience to an electronic means of students responding to their reading, either nightly or at the culmination of each book. Students were able to "personalize" their spaces and make them their own. "Class Press" was the platform and unfortunately they are discontinuing the site as of October 2017. However, students were able to "interact" in a space where they shared about their texts and could comment on each other's posts and asks questions where appropriate. As the educator, I was able to do the same. It was also a great way to help students learn revising and editing, because they could make corrections to their posts at any time.
What I did not count on, or should I say "plan for," was the community that was built. Students really dove in to the idea of commenting on other students' posts. It was not strictly academic either; students were essentially "being themselves" within this secure space. I was able to introduce students to Digital Citizenship as well and how to appropriately respond or pose questions to others. Students had many "coming together" moments and continue to do so, although the platform begins to lose viability as it comes to an end this year. Students literally had conversations about the books as well as many generic topics or writing topics they chose to put on the site. It was enlightening to see the students be able to conduct themselves in such a mature manner as fourth and fifth graders. I am very curious about the direction I will take now, as I want to continue to have students blog in a secure space. I have definitely put a plug out there to Fresh Grade, an e-portfolio platform that I already use, as it will be yet another layer of ability and resourcefulness for the already booming student-centered company.
In summary, instilling an appreciation for diversity and community is of great importance, as it serves the greater good. It points to the idea that we are better together. And in the words of Josh Groban, You Raise Me Up, to more than I can be.
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) 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,
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”
I have been so busy trying to implement the strategies and tools gained from attending this conference that I am very late on posting this blog. The Future of Education Technology depends on us learning, knowing, implementing, allowing, embracing, and integrating. There was so much information discussed during this conference, from the keynote speakers to the poster sessions and from the breakout sessions to the many conversations and opportunities for sharing with educators from around the state of Florida and beyond. Below is an example of an activity used within a Language Arts classroom that combines the arts with writing. Google Slides allows students to bring these areas together in seamless display.
One of the greatest benefits and takeaways from the F.E.T.C. Conference was the understanding that technology can be integrated into any classroom and not only that, it should be integrated. The above visual identifies that way in which a school combined Science, Visual Arts and Language Arts into a cross-curricular experience. There are great benefits to connecting multiple areas of the curriculum so that students can understand these relationships, as well as learn in a variety of ways.
In this example, the presenters discussed a way to bring life to a biography. We certainly cover nonfiction reading as a part of ELA but why not make learning more engaging for students by integrating the technology component? In this example, students either created an image (using Sketchbook EDU), or found an image to to integrated into an app called ChatterPix (screenshot pictured below).
For example, if students were learning about Martin Luther King Jr, he or she might google search for a podium graphic, since it represents much of what Martin Luther King Jr. embodied in life. That graphic can be imported into ChatterPix and using coloring tools, colored over, to become a new image. See the video below, that was a bowl made from glass originally, transformed into Captain Granite.
EdTech Karaoke (below) was a fun time, as it brought out the singer and songwriter and artistic talents. It was so great to see so many educators who were not only concerned about their classrooms, but music and the arts as well.
The question "Why" should be asked when attempting to integrate technology into the classroom. We want the integration to have meaning for students and we can't just put an iPad in their hands and expect that they would not need guidance in its use. How can we make technology as meaningful as possible? (Consider why the technology is being used).
- Introduce a topic (Nearpod)
- Build understanding - (Google Earth)
- Apply learning (includes voice and choice) - iMovie, Buncee
Newsela allows students to read on an appropriate lexile level and if students require more scaffolding, they can navigate through and select a lexile level more appropriate for them. This is helpful for students as they learning the research process and there is a wealth of information at their fingertips.
What would any conference be like without interacting and engaging in excellent dialogue with other educators? Just as much as the sessions and the keynote speakers, these conversations allowed for rich learning experiences with lots to think about or consider.
Below is a video that captures a few of the highlights from FETC with my voice in the background. I used this to present to teachers back at the school. It does not encompass everything but do enjoy. It's not about the technology, it is about what you do with it, the pedagogy. Yes! Let's not go backwards.
Michael Meechin shared that "The future of education is you." It can't be done without passionate educators who are excited to try new things, make mistakes, make everything a learning experience, both for the educator and the students and ultimately, keeping the students as the unique focus of every classroom.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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!
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.
Some may say that being an educator is a profession of choice. Others might say that one becomes a teacher because his or her parents or grandparents were teachers. I propose that neither of the two are accurate enough to describe the integral role that educators play in the lives of everyone. Growing up as a child, there were behaviors I was born with, like crying for example. On the other hand, there were many things that were only grasped because someone taught me. Whether the individual doing the teaching had an official title or not, he or she was instrumental in guiding me along to learn the concept, principle or idea. We might say that the teacher(s) made a decision to act, because there was something that I needed to learn, and that they were able to teach me. Naturally, I learned from them. As a kid, I grew up in a very strict household, where my parents expected me to do as I was instructed and that I was responsible for handling my school work. I had the great privilege of connecting with my first grade teacher, who I still admire and respect today. She has a way about her, demonstrating care and concern, yet holding me accountable for anything I did wrong. What's more, is that she had such a great personality and I found much of my interaction with her to be fun and enjoyable. It was her tender-yet-strict-and-caring nature that inspired me. It is inspired me so much so, that I would go back to her classroom every day while I was a student at Hallandale Elementary School, to help her with any items that she needed. Continuing on through middle school and high school, I would always go back and visit and offer my help to her in the classroom. I graduated from high school with the second highest amount of community service hours as a result of what I would call, my passion to do what she did. This passion might be said to be acting on the call I felt to, like her, be part of the educator community. So yes, I knew somewhere deep down since I was a first grader, that I would teach in a classroom. You might say "that's not possible" or "that's crazy, you are too young to know what you want to do." Well here I am today and I have just completed my 10th year as a classroom teacher. Perhaps the call to teach was always there and my first grade teacher cultivated it, or watered the seed such that I am able to walk in that role today. Nonetheless, I am an educator today, because of her.
So you might be wondering. What is the call? A call is a cry made as a summons or to attract someone's attention. It can also be defined as an appeal or demand for something to happen or be done. It is a powerful force of attraction. So the educator feels a strong pull to interact with students and to see them learn and grow. The educator answers that call by following the path to earn the necessary schooling and ultimately walking into the classroom ready to meet the needs of students he or she will teach. What does the call sound like? Well I propose that there is no sound, but rather there is an inward longing to act, to pass on knowledge, to allow knowledge to be created, to cultivate minds, to empower, to build, to enrich.
What is passion? Passion also has multiple definitions: an intense desire or enthusiasm for something, a strong and barely uncontrollable emotion, and a state or outburst of strong emotion. I place great value in deciding to give something my all. Why do anything half way? If you go into a forest half way, you might as well go all the way, because you'll have to back track that half in order to get out of the forest. Being passionate is not only noticeable but it is contagious. If you are passionate about what you do, consider the passion "electric" and you can't even be near the next person without transference of some electric charge. What would happen if passion became electrically transferred because you decided that you were going in 100%? How would this new passionate attitude transform the mindsets and wills to learn of those you work with? How challenged would others feel to be better based on your decision to be better? The call and the passion can collide into an explosion of robust proportions.
What happens when the call collides with one's passion? There is a huge difference between just being "present" and one who is passionate about what he or she does. The passionate are excited and motivated to embrace challenges, be the counselors, nurses if needed, and get down in the trenches with the students. The passionate understand the value of learning so much so that he or she will continue to learn and grow to become better at his or her job. The passionate does not allow complacency to set in because he or she knows that students are the ultimate recipients of all of the hard work put into education. The passionate engages and interacts with other educators to develop and collaborate through professional learning networks. The passionate develop their craft or skill through professional development avenues such as conferences, workshops and social media designed to learn. I would say about a month ago, I really begin to learn a lot about the amount of opportunities there are to learn that was not previous privy to. I happened to jump on Twitter to create an account and hopefully connect with other educators. From that decision to develop myself by connecting with others, that led to Voxer educator groups and most recently my first EdCamp (EdCampMagic) on June 4, 2016. I learned so much through this initial interaction with other educators who all shared similar passions and stories for why they do what they do. I will attend my second camp, EdCampVolusia on June 11, 2016 and another on October 8th, EdCampTampaBay.
When you think about an outlet used to transfer power through a cord, we the educators are extension cords that are plugged into the source, whether directly or as an extension of someone else's cord. The power of connection is just that, power! We have the power to change the world when we answer the call and are passionately in pursuit of continued development.
I am so grateful that I have been able to complete yet another productive year of teaching and learning with my students. As this is certainly not my first rodeo, I understand that in this day and age, students experience so much pressure to succeed and do well but often lack the proper support systems with which to manage the challenges that they face from day to day. What does that look like? It could be the girl or boy, who has both parents at home, but needs extra support that may or may not already be provided to them. It might be that teenage kid that is the product of a single-parent home and the parent is doing all that they can to support them. It might be a child who does not have a very good relationship with his or her parents and is looking for a model or a mentor. It may be that child that likes what they see in you, and seeks to emulate who you are and what you do, but lacks the steps necessary or the knowledge necessary with which to take those steps. It might be the child who has both parents in the picture, but living in two different homes. Lastly, it could be that well-supported child, with both parents providing aid to him or her, pushing them to do their very best, but the child still looks to you to be their guide. Whichever the experience, it is never a bad thing for an educator to go the extra mile. This is what I will discuss here, with anecdotal input regarding the unrelenting need that called my name this year.
Have you heard the phrase "To whom much is given, much will be required?" It is one thing to quote this but it is another thing altogether to see this idea pan out right before your eyes. Let's just say that I wear many hats at the school where I am currently an educator and next year, I will take add a few more to the hat rack. I am in my fourth year at this school, and clearly arriving at the said school was no coincidence. It might be the view of some that teachers are in their profession for the benefits, summers and holidays off and to collect a paycheck. A generalization at best, teachers are not always given the praise for the admirable job that they do. It is one fraught with many challenges from year to year or even from day to day, but some intrinsic motivation or voice compels the educator not only to answer the call to teach and facilitate learning, but to go back every day with a renewed passion to bring hope, light, strength and empowerment to the students he or she teaches to be the absolute best that they can be. There are no limits, except for the ones set forth in the mind of the child, which could be as a result of what he or she experiences, or doesn't experience.
So, what does it mean to "go the extra mile?" The idiomatic phrase could encompass a variety of different tools, strategies, tricks, or tactics demonstrated by the educator to bridge gaps, support students in their learning, bring hope or light to a challenging situation or simply put a smile on a student's face. This is where I would like to mention the first story, of which I shall not mention any names specifically. Last school year, I had a student, who we shall call Student A, that came to me with challenges in the Language Arts content area, and I immediately begin to work with the student to grow them to a level that was consistent with grade level expectations. Things were progressing nicely but as the year went on, I began to learn of other challenges faced by the student that may have placed limits on learning. I decided to get involved and act as another support system for the student, who would hopefully come to me when help was needed, and to make some good of a difficult situation. As a result of the extra time that was spent with this student, the demonstration of care and concern and the establishment of an unofficial mentoring relationship with the student, there was a complete turnaround. Not only was there an increased motivation on the part of the student, the student academically began to excel, and while not completely out of the woods, was making great strides to get there. The parent was thrilled with the change in the behavior because I simply took time. I found myself attending extracurricular activities to support the student as well as devising ways to interact during the school day. This was a win, because I decided to go the extra mile.
I must say that I love diversity and all that it brings to any situation. It is great to learn from others and our experiences and viewpoints are all so varied and meaningful. That said, I have noticed that students tend to look for those that they feel they can relate to at school. That may mean that girls will cling to warm, inviting female teachers or that minority students may look for minority teacher representation within the school. This is not division in any way, but simply their search for a model to pattern themselves after. The second scenario I will share is another student who I taught, but then returned to me in a different capacity for support. This student was dealing with the challenge of balancing life with mom and dad, who lived in separate home situations. In addition, the student was on a search to understand or learn who they really were. The student in question had been having behavioral challenges at school, because he was trying to fit in, balance home life, school life, and at the same time, facing the quest to identify himself. I stepped up the plate in this situation also. I listened to him, allowed him to come to my room during times of need and even to take a break from the norm. The student became very comfortable with coming to me when a talk was needed, or when help was desired on an assignment, a speech, or talking through a problem orally. I have taken time outside of school to interact with the student in a mentoring capacity due to the nature of the need and the expressed interest by the parents of the student to form this mentoring relationship. How has it helped you ask? Well, not only have I been labeled as "uncle" now, I receive hugs almost every day or the student is sure to come and greet me daily. In addition, his achievement has skyrocketed and the students I currently teach are able to look up to the student in question. Another win here for going the extra mile. I could have not taken the time, but consider how that may have negatively impacted the student, who, might I add is very intelligent with tremendous potential.
Being an educator is not easy for obvious reasons, therefore being a passionate educator that is willing to go the extra mile is not as common as it should be. Consider how things might change for all parties involved if the student(s) felt supported. There is much more to be gained from such an experience than what may be lost.
Go the extra mile. It might just light the fire in a student that is not easily extinguished.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this blog. Please feel free to comment or contact me on twitter, @dene_gainey.
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As a tree "climbs" and produces fruit, so does this philosophy. You might be wondering, what is the C.L.I.M.B.E. philosophy and how does it pertain to education? I firmly believe that there is a need for role models, mentors and individuals to make a difference in their area of influence. How then, does this philosophy apply? This is an idea that I have been developing over some time. Students must have insight, wisdom and guidance for the future of society and them individually. It is important that the knowledge and experience that one has is shared with others, otherwise it is simply knowledge that you will leave this world with. I am a lifelong learner.