Saturday, April 21, 2018

#GoogleET!

I was so excited to receive the email this week welcoming me to the Google for Education Certified Trainers program!


I first heard about this program a couple of years ago, but didn't think it was for me...yet. While I helped people around my school(s) often, I wasn't really leading any trainings or presenting to groups of people. I decided to pursue my Google Certified Educator Level 1 Training. I studied all summer and was excited to pass the test!


I knew I wanted to keep going further, but between teaching full-time and being in grad school, I had limited time and energy. It wasn't until the next summer that I studied and took the Google Certified Educator Level 2 test! While the Level 1 test was a good review of many things I already used in the classroom, the Level 2 course taught me more. It was definitely challenging, but I was excited to accomplish this goal!

As I changed jobs, I realized that I am leading a lot of professional development, and the time seemed right to work on my Google for Education Certified Trainer badge. The problem is...I was still in grad school, and the thought of studying for one more thing (other than my finals and PRAXIS) was just too much to handle. It wasn't until after I finished everything for my degree (February) and took a moment to breathe (spring break) that I completed the application. The Trainer Course was not too time-consuming, since I had already done my Level 2 certification, but the application process made me reflect on how I teach and why I do things the way I do. I answered the short essay questions, and moved onto recording my video. The 3-minute limit filled up quickly! It took me several takes to be as concise as I wanted, but I finally ended up submitting my video at a length of 2:59. *Phew* After a couple of weeks of waiting (I may or may not have been checking my application status nearly every day), the email arrived - I had been accepted! Hooray!

Even though it's only been a few days, I have already appreciated learning from the forums and connecting with other trainers. It's fun when those connections span multiple platforms, as well - finding friends on Twitter in the group or vice versa allow us to strengthen our #PLN connections!

What's next? Well, I've had some amazing friends encouraging me for awhile to work on my Google Certified Innovator application. I've really wanted to do it since first hearing about the program, but just didn't feel like I had the time or energy to really give it the thought that it deserves. [Side note: When I decided to get my Masters, I knew that saying "yes" to that would mean saying "no" to future opportunities - it just took discipline to stick to that so I didn't burn myself out!] But now, the time has come. To be honest, it scares me more than any of the other certifications I have gone for. I know it's very competitive, the odds are slim, and I don't like failure or rejection. Yet I also know that playing it safe and never taking risks is not the way I want to live! Working on the application has already forced me to reflect and grow, and no matter what happens, I am convinced I will be a better educator for it.

I'm sure there will be more posts coming on this blog as I further develop my ideas for #GoogleEI! For now, I will just leave you with this - if you have ever thought about going for any of these certifications, I'd encourage you to do it! They are well-done, applicable, and help you grow in your skills, no matter what your role is in education. Feel free to reach out if you want/need feedback and/or help - I am so appreciative for my #PLN & real-life friends who have helped me along the way!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Other Side of the Table

This week, I was "that parent".

Okay, not truly a parent, but I was there with the family of one of the kiddos I help with (his family doesn't speak much English, so I often help in a parental role with the school stuff).

I was the one in the principal's office, called in because of his behavior. We needed to have a conference RIGHT AWAY, because he was on the verge of losing the chance to go on the end-of-year, overnight field trip due to his defiance in class. On one side of me was his teacher, his assistant principal, and the school counselor. On the other side sat his cousin, his aunt, and him.

I've been in these meetings before, but mostly in my role as a teacher. Or a principal. It is different being on the opposite side.

I have to say that the school did a great job of facilitating the discussion. They were supportive, but clear about what is and is not acceptable. They did a nice job of bringing data & specific instances to the table to guide our conversation. They helped form a plan going forward that included positive supports and ways to ask for help before things escalated.

I still walked away with a heavy heart.


It is sad to see a kid struggling. It is hard to see how his behavior is affecting others, and ultimately, himself. It's heartbreaking to see him open up about where the pain is coming from, a big reason why he is acting out, and be able to do so little about it. I felt helpless. And I felt bad that "my" kid was one of the ones that probably kept the teacher up at night.

This made me reflect on previous meetings I have had with parents, when I was the teacher at the table. Did parents leave feeling judged? Like it was their fault? Upset with their student? Upset with the school? Feeling like partners in education? Feeling like they were told what to do? Feeling supported? Feeling grateful for the help?

All of these things flashed through my mind, at least momentarily.


While these meetings are never fun, what helped me stay positive in this moment was a prior relationship with the school staff. I knew them, and I trusted them. I trusted that they wanted what was best for this student, and the whole class. I trusted that they wanted to help in any way that they could.

It is so important for us, as educators, to be building positive relationships with families. If the only time they ever get a phone call or see the inside of the school is for something negative, it is hard to feel like true partners in education. I know it's not easy. I know that not everyone responds right away. But we can't stop reaching out. We can't stop being creative in how we connect with families. Often, those who are the hardest to connect with need it the most.

How are you building positive relationships with families at your school?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Catering + Interior Design + Marketing + Computer Science

Real-world learning? Cross-curricular collaboration? At this high school, the answer is a resounding, "YES!"

I was recently talking with my brother about a project his computer science class is working on. It all started with a catering class, when they were given this assignment:
Participating teams will demonstrate their knowledge of the restaurant and food service industry by developing a written proposal for potential investors in a new restaurant concept.The written proposal will consist of a defined restaurant concept, supporting menu, and supporting marketing plan."

As a part of this assignment, they added in team members from other classes...
Students in an interior design class became "contractors" helping them design the restaurant.
Students in a marketing class are developing business cards, brochures, and a marketing plan.
Students in his computer science class are tasked with building an app for the restaurant.

Four classes. That's a lot of coordination. But think about what the students are learning!

They are seeing a project through from start to finish, with many different phases.
They are collaborating and working together.
They are practicing entrepreneurship skills.
The computer science students are learning to work with a "client" and design for what somebody else wants (which may or may not be clearly communicated at the outset - very realistic!).
They are putting their unique skills to use to help others.
They are learning to work with people with different strengths.
They are learning that they are just one part of a larger puzzle that makes the world go 'round.
They are breaking down the artificial walls between different subjects and connecting the dots to work toward a larger goal.

I am so inspired about this project and thinking about how it breaks the mold of "playing the school game" and really prepares them for life after graduation. I hope more teachers are encouraged to design learning opportunities like this in the future!


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Coding Fun!

Over spring break, I discovered a new educational website which totally has me hooked, and I wanted to share!
// Disclaimer: I am a total nerd!

codingbat.com

The backstory: 

I have an incredibly talented brother & sister who have been working on developing apps for both Apple & Android products. When I am at home with them, I always see them working and am intrigued, but my music education degree didn't exactly teach me enough to follow along with what they are doing. Naturally...I asked them if I could start to learn some coding basics (did I mention that my brother also teaches high school computer science?)!

I've worked on some high-level pseudo-coding with them in that past (basically figuring out the logic) and done some block-based coding, but what I really didn't have is any background writing actual code in text. I've been through some different tutorials, but they are so spoon-fed, I get frustrated with them and forget everything I've learned after a week.

In short, I wanted something that would:
1) Actually get me writing code, and
2) Gave me a bit of a challenge, so I could LEARN and not just regurgitate the information.
After talking with my brother, we decided it would be easier for me to learn just one language at first, and since I have an Android phone and a PC, it seemed logical for me to learn Java (Android) rather than Swift (iOS).

Enter codingbat.com!

Here's what I love:

1. This site doesn't look fancy, but it has both challenges and help articles/videos right there.

2. After you write some code and submit, it runs a series of tests, and tells you which ones pass/fail. This is very helpful for tracking down your errors!


3. For the most part, this site doesn't give you the answers! Some example problems provide answers, and sometimes hints are provided, but mostly, you have to figure it out yourself.

4. The challenges go in a logical order, so you are not asked to do ten new things at once, but they throw in new twists each time, so you are not just repeating the same thing over and over.

5. You can create an account to save your progress, and even link it to a teacher's account (or a brother's account...just saying...) so that they can see your progress as well.

6. This site is built for both Java & Python. I am learning Java, but you could use it for Python as well.

7. It's working! I'm getting more comfortable with writing with proper syntax, I'm completing some challenges, and I'm getting stuck and researching to work through my issues. All of this means I am learning!

App development, here I come...

//Just kidding. I'm just getting started. But it's a step in the right direction!

Are any of you interested in learning Java?
How do these types of learning opportunities impact our students?
How might we make use of them to model our own learning or to challenge our students?


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Classroom Visits: Lessons Learned

This week, I've had the opportunity to visit the classrooms of two amazing teachers, which has left me reflecting on my own practice. The classes were totally different - elementary literacy and middle school math - but there were some common traits. Here are three quick takeaways from my visits.

Side note: I love getting out in other classrooms now, and it makes me wish I could have done this more when I was teaching kids everyday - it is so inspirational and pushes me to grow!

1. Be intentional

One trait that both of these teachers shared is that they were intentional in the way they planned and used their lesson time. It was evident that they had put a lot of thought into what they were going to do that day and that they had prepared all of the materials ahead of time. Equally as important, they were intentional in the time that the students were there, checking in with them, explaining and clarifying, and not letting a minute go to waste!

2. Don't aim for perfection, aim for growth

Another thing that impressed me about these teachers was their growth mindset. They were willing to try new things and didn't get discouraged when everything didn't go perfectly the first time. They were reflective and looking for ways to improve and grow, but fear did not hold them back from trying something new.

3. Collaborate

Both of these teachers are excellent collaborators, and it was clear that they had not developed their classrooms in isolation. They were open, looking for new ideas, and happy to share what they are using. They are much more concerned about student learning (everywhere, not just in their classroom) than they are about their own ego!

Do you ever get to observe others? What sticks out to you when you go into other classrooms?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Teachers, Take Care of Yourselves

I had planned on writing about other things, but after receiving some tough news this week, suddenly this message seemed more important.

Teachers, take care of yourselves.



All around us, life happens. Family issues, relationship issues, health issues, societal issues, accidents and tragedies, etc. Some of it inevitably affects us. It affects our kids, too.

The problem is that we, as teachers, are really good at paying attention to and taking care of others. That's part of what drew us to this profession! But we are not always as good at taking care of ourselves.




Some of the best advice I have been given
came from a principal, days after a major event happened at my school that affected students and teachers alike. She said, "Don't be surprised if it comes back around and you really struggle with this in a couple of months. Right now, your focus is on helping the students deal with it, and you are not spending as much time on yourself...that's how teachers are wired. At some point, after the intensity has passed with students, you might find yourself coming back around and really dealing with it yourself." She was so right. And her words helped me not feel crazy when, two months later, all of the emotions came back strongly, with no apparent trigger.



So, while I would never tell teachers not to focus on students (not like we could, anyway), I just want to remind us to take care of ourselves, too. As a friend asked me in the middle of my tough week, "What are you doing for YOU today?" Take a moment. Treat yourself. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Give yourself grace. And realize that YOU are worth taking care of, too.




We don't know what tomorrow will bring, but we can all spread love to the world.
Give that love to others, but don't forget about YOU.
Teachers, take care of yourselves.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Leadership

What kind of leader do I want to be?

This week, I have had plenty of opportunities to consider what it means to lead. From a sermon at church to attending interviews for our next superintendent, this question has been on strongly on my mind. As I pondered it, some quotes came to mind:

"Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." ~1 Peter 5:2-3, NIV Bible
Whether or not you agree with the spiritual background of this verse, it is written to leaders of a church, and has some great points to make about leadership in general. Do not lead simply out of a sense of obligation - but out of joy! Don't lead just because of what you can gain, but because of how you can benefit those around you. And do not parade your authority, but model and lead by example. This is what I strive for.

"A servant leader works tirelessly to develop his or her people and is focused on what they can do for others." ~Cheryl Williamson
Similarly, this quote speaks of sacrificing yourself (your time, your energy, your needs) and focusing on the people around you, then widening the circle. Danger: We can't ignore our own needs completely, but if that is the only thing we are focusing on, we are not being good leaders.

"The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office." ~Dwight D. Eisenhower
This connects back to my #oneword2018 of integrity, and really focuses on character. If I can trust my leaders, if I believe they will always strive to do the right thing, I am more likely to follow them. If I have reason to question their integrity, I will always follow with caution. I want to be a leader who is trustworthy.

We are all leaders, in some form or another. As students, teachers, administrators, or support staff, we have influence over many others every day. So the question returns:

What kind of leader do YOU want to be?