From Colleagues to my Second Family

 

Last June, I moved across the state of Missouri.

I was asked to take on an incredible role as a Mentor Teacher and Technology Integrationist in Kansas City. When I heard about this opportunity, I felt God was pulling at my heart to take this chance and to take the risk. “I always envisioned myself in another city, so why not try it now,” I thought.

I know from experience now that moving to a new city alone, while not knowing anything about how to get around, is one fast way to learn and grow COMPLETELY. New town. New workplace. New home. New roads to navigate. New insights. New everything!

My then-boyfriend and now fiance, Adam, supported my move and knew there was no stopping my passion for education. Smart guy! Traveling three and a half hours back and forth to see each other, while planning a wedding and still trying to see friends and family, has been tougher than I would ever admit. But, I would not change a thing.

Through this experience, I have a second family; My colleagues.

After staying at work this week until 7 p.m. and enjoying the time spent with my co-workers, while forgetting that clocks even exist, I finally left work. After driving back home, I messaged my mom to tell her how much I love the people I work with. She responded, with,

“I’m grateful for all of them since they have made it even nicer for you since you are away from Adam and away from where you grew up.”

My mom’s words brought tears to my eyes because she put to words what my heart was trying to express.

We often say as educators that students spend more time at home than at school; The same applies to us as adults. We spend more waking hours at work, with teachers and students than time spent doing anything else. For this reason, and many others, I am grateful that my colleagues are MORE than people I see at work. They are people that I CARE about, and people who care about me; Not just as fellow educators, but as humans first.

They take care of me. We take care of each other.

Just this week:
-A co-worker saw I needed another ice scraper, and she brought one into work to lend a hand.
-I was surprised this morning with my favorite diet soda waiting for me on my desk.
-I looked in my mailbox to find the sweetest card waiting for me.
-A colleague lovingly said she was my “second mom” and my “Kansas City mom.”

I have no words to describe the gratitude I feel for these exceptional individuals.

Thank you for making Kansas City the remarkable city it is. Thank you for risk-taking with me. Thank you for seeing my heart. And most importantly, thank you for loving me.

Here is to everyone who is reading this: Hug a co-worker. Be a family. Show your love. Say thank you to even the smallest acts that make an impact in your day-to-day life.

These days that we spend with each other are not just “school days,” the days are our LIVES. Let’s make them count and love each other UP.

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6 Ways to Use Technology to Boost Student Performance

stumbled across a book titled, “Differentiating Instruction with Technology in K-5 Classrooms” by Grace E. Smith and Stephanie Throne, which was published from ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). After doing more research, I found that Grace and Stephanie are both Educational Technologists and researchers who are dedicated to find best practices for teachers. Through their work, they also discovered a variety of other research in educational tech, which they brought forward in their book as well.

I created the image above based on the information from Grace and Stephanie, which they obtained through CARET (Center of Applied Research in Educational Technology); CARET was founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is a project through ISTE.

6 Ways to Use Technology to Boost Student Performance:

  1. Use technology in a way that “directly supports curriculum objectives.”
  2. Use technology to “foster student collaboration.”
  3. Find and use applications that “adapt to student knowledge and experience, while giving feedback to student and teachers.”
  4. Integrate technology into the “typical instructional day.”
  5. Use technology to give students opportunities to “design and implement projects that tie with curriculum.”
  6. Build a community where students, parents, teachers, and administration “support technology usage.”

I found these 6 points to be compelling and relatable to all I do as an educator. If you take away the word “technology” in any of the above statements, you will find THE optimal learning environment in any classroom, with or without tech.

To illustrate, classrooms should always aim to support objectives, to be collaborative, give immediate feedback, while giving students opportunities to design their learning. Technology can help, but it is not the magic remedy in those equations. Yes, technology can boost student performance in these mentioned areas, but it cannot be done without the positive cultural infrastructure which supports those notions to begin with.

Furthermore, I believe technology is crucial, but I also understand it is not the “end-all-be-all.” Instead, the learning and the environment is what our underlying basis and principle should consist of. Technology can be a transformative asset when used with purpose- but if it is not taking the learning and connecting to the next level, we need to rethink how we are using the tools.

Reflections: During your technology integration journey- Remember that the most thrilling part of the learning expedition is not the technology. More importantly, enthusiasm is won by focusing on the DISCOVERY of learning new things and expanding your skill-set and passions, while inspiring the people you serve to do the same.

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How-to Guide for Starting Student Edcamps

Edcamps for teachers have taken the educational world by storm. Teachers, including myself, have been refreshed and renewed with the “edcamp style” of learning which consists of learning and sharing in an unconference format. In regular PD’s and conferences, you have to sit in one spot, even if you are not getting anything out of it. While, in edcamps, the rule of two feet allows you to move between sessions at your heart’s desire. You gain the opportunity to talk with other teachers and dive into learning organically.

After being apart of many edcamps across the nation, attending an edcamp leadership summit, and creating and co-leading a city-wide edcamp, I felt a stirring in my heart also to try it with students. I thought- If we know edcamps are beneficial for adults, isn’t worth a try to allow students to test them out as well? After all, giving students a voice and choice in their learning should be the compass in which we lead.

 

Click this picture to see the original tweet!

My lovely friends and 4th grade team at my school, Angie, Molly, and Lauren, were gracious and beyond willing to team-up with me to give this a try for the first time!

We learned an abundant amount throughout this process and through just diving in; We found out what worked, what did not work, and how we would build upon our foundation next time. I hope you find these tips below beneficial and encouraging to start a student edcamp at YOUR school:

*Disclaimer: At the end of the day, do what is best for YOUR kids. Feel free to use and takeaway whatever you love from this post and to transform it for your kids! What works for our 4th graders, may not work for your kids, and that is okay.

1. Stay focused on the learning

The edcamp model at its whole should be straightforward and focused on the learning. Period. Do not worry about there being prizes or treats. Keep your vision on the learning, student passions, and incorporating students into the process as much as possible.

2. Collaborate with others before jumping in

Want your own copy of this board to edit? Click the picture.
  • Meet and collaborate with your colleagues online and in person at least a couple times before the edcamp.
  • Create a skeleton outline of what you need to do, “before the edcamp,” “during the edcamp” and“after the edcamp.”
  • Determine the time, date, and how many sessions you will have, and how long you want your sessions to be.
  • Create a skeleton of a blank board (either digitally or on an anchor chart) for students to fill in at a later time.
  • THINK: Do you want students to bring devices to research, if needed or do you want them to be device-less to focus on the conversations?
    • We found some topics fit using technology better than others, while other sessions we learned needed materials/objects next time to make the session come to life.
  • Agree on rooms or spaces you have available and supervision for each space.
  • TIP:
    • For our 4th graders, we chose three sessions with 20 minutes per session, and 5-minute transitions to move to the next session and to reflect with peers on their learning. Looking back, next time we will stick with 15 minutes per session.

3. Prepare students before the edcamp

Students created the norms and agreed upon them.

Before the edcamp:

  • Teachers discussed with their students what a true “discussion” looked like, and they practiced in small groups.
  • Each class created norms on a padlet, and we discussed it as a group.
  • We showed this elementary edcamp example video to students as an exemplar.

4. Meet with students the day before the edcamp

Above is a snapshot of part of our Session 1 room ideas! Click picture to see Dotstorming webpage.
  • Meet with all participating teachers and students together.
  • Answer any questions students may have.
  • TIPS:
    • As a group, we determined that each session slot time slot would have its own TOPIC. For example, for session 1, students chose TECHNOLOGY.
    • After the session topic was set, students were then able to vote and agree upon different room ideas. The winners were: coding, ctrl shortcuts and tricks, google slides, and musically (See below for other session and room ideas!)
    • For this process, I would highly recommend using Dotstorming to give students the opportunity to write in their ideas and then to vote. For each separate session, I created a different Dotstorming link to make it easy to organize.
    • If access to devices is not available, have students brainstorm together and then vote by raising hands, tallying, or writing on a ballot.
Above is the finished product and the session topics that students created, voted, and agreed upon.

5. Day of the Edcamp

Create your own dropdown or check-off form like above.
  • If you want a more clear idea of who is going to what session, create a Google form with dropdown choices.
  • Send board sessions and any other needed items to students in Google Classroom to remind them of session times and locations.
  • Meet together in one big space before starting to go over norms and to get EXCITED!
  • Let go and LET KIDS LEAD.
    • This is hard, but important. 
    • Step back and do your best to let students own their conversations and learn without teacher interruptions.

6. After the Edcamp

Give students time to reflect

  • Discuss as a group how the edcamp went, their favorite parts, and how they want to change it next time.
  • Give students a Google Form to gather honest feedback to make the next edcamp even better (Click this link to view my sample form).
  • As a teacher team, go over the feedback.
  • Then, pat yourselves on the back for a job well-done!

Ever since we had the edcamp, kids have been asking us non-stop to do another edcamp again! I highly encourage you to attend edcamps yourself first before starting a student edcamp. But, once you are ready to start a student edcamp- just DIVE IN. You will not regret it, and your students will thank you for being brave enough to take the plunge!

Soon, I will be teaming up with my 3rd grade team to launch another student edcamp where we will invite high schoolers who are inspiring teachers to co-lead sessions. Stay tuned on Twitter!

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Goal-Setting Checklist

As the new year begins, everyone is excited, and rightfully so, to start the year on a new and fresh foot.

Losing weight, focusing on fitness, spending more time with family, or becoming more balanced are among the common objectives many of us set for ourselves. The hard thing is, once February hits, our willpower to reach our goals often diminishes into the daylight just as quickly as we set them. Trust me, I am guilty of this, too.

The truth is life gets in the way sometimes, and I am here to tell you that is okay. Side note: When life does happen, be kind to yourself.

But, here is what I have found from experience: When setting your goals, no matter what the occasion, it is beneficial to check yourself to see if the goals you are setting are even the goals you truly need the MOST.

Here are guiding questions that I have created and written down over the past three years. I read these often whenever I need a swift kick of remembrance of what matters when setting goals. Also, when teaching, I show these questions to my students as well, while sharing my goal-setting stories and struggles. After all, goal setting needs to go beyond academics.

-What goal will bring the most meaning to my life?

In education, we have “power standards” to choose from which will bring the biggest bang for your buck when teaching and learning; This same theory can be applied to setting goals. We all would love to improve ourselves in a variety of aspects of our lives, but Rome was not built in a day, and neither are strong, accomplished individuals. Ask yourself: What goal will bring the most meaning to my life? Then, go for it!

 

-Am I focusing on what matters?

This question is THE question that rattles me the most. Sometimes what I think matters the most to me in certain moments, is not what REALLY matters. It is easy to get caught up in the nuances of life- Almost too easy. If this question shakes you to your core as well, get a trusted outside opinion of your goals as you set them. I often ask Adam, my fiancee, his thoughts about the goals I set, so he can refocus me when I become cloudy.

 

-Am I setting the bar for myself too low?

If you set the bar low, you will hit it every single time. We often are more scared of achieving than we are of losing. Do not misinterpret this as setting completely unrealistic expectations. I believe that no dream is too big, but you have to pair that idea with real-life action steps.

 

-How will achieving my target help the well-being of others?

Goal-setting needs to move beyond “me” into “WE.” How is what you are aiming to achieve going to benefit others beyond yourself? Improving yourself is a beautiful thing, but if this improvement can also inspire others along the way, THEN you have created magic.

 

-Have I prepared mini-short-term steps and long-term steps to take along my journey?

As Tony Robbins says, people who are inventors create and design everything twice: Once in your imagination, and twice in reality.

Now, take this theory and transfer it to goal-setting. As you set goals, you are the inventor. But, it takes laying out the design, tenacity, and trial and error to find the right recipe for YOUR personal success. Always remember- What works for ____________(Insert name here), may not work for me.

 

-Am I trying to press the fast-forward button on my life without enjoying the present moment?

Life is short. Are we enjoying each beautiful moment giving to us? OR are we trying to wish ourselves OUT of the current moment we are living in to be catapulted into something better?

When I was a child, I spent most of my years trying too hard to grow up as fast as I could. Now, I look back and wish I could have told myself to JUST BE. Sometimes, that little girl inside me now still needs that reminder.

I hope this checklist of sorts helps you in some small way. Here’s to achieving all you were born to achieve and giving yourself grace when you fall.

I believe in you,

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