Saturday, September 16, 2017

#EdCampLongmont 2017

There's nothing like showing up on a Saturday morning with a large group of educators who just want to collaborate and learn and "talk shop" with each other! Welcome to #edcamp!

It's hard to synthesize all of the learning & thought-provoking conversations that occurred throughout the day, so I'll just share a snippet from each session here:

1. Sometimes, kids need more structure. It is easier for us, as adults, to discriminate what information is important, switch gears, and make the appropriate connections...but students don't always follow our same train of thought! Being clear about this can help our kiddos know what is expected of them and then they can focus on the learning. This is so important for me to keep in mind because I tend to be pretty flexible, and I need to remember to accommodate a variety of learning styles.
Challenge: How can we create structure & clear expectations while facilitating a classroom that is student-led & honoring students' desire to learn in their own individual ways?

2. What are the different purposes for social media (personal, professional, academic, etc) - do students think about using their accounts in all of these different ways?
Deep thoughts & possible conversation with students: Who are YOU as a person and how do you convey that online? Do you have more than one account on a given social media platform? Why or why not? What are the pros & cons of having one account or multiple accounts? How does that affect the way you communicate? What about who your audience is? Does that change the way you portray yourself online? What are the similarities and differences to how you portray yourself online and in real life?

3. I'm still trying to up my game on Schoology. I never used it in my classroom, and while I am getting better, I continue to do a lot of playing around to find what I need. It was great to hear about tips & tricks (& also frustrations) from other teachers!
Question for the masses: What is your best tip or trick on Schoology?

4. Honestly, I just took some time to reflect and catch up. There was nothing on the session board that was calling to me, and it was nice to synthesize all of the information from the morning. It's okay to slow down too!
Challenge: How do you build in time for reflection?

5. Although I am an ed tech specialist now, there is still a big part of me that is a music teacher. This last session felt like coming home. We reflected on how easy it is to feel alone when you teach certain subjects, the challenges of finding relevant PD, and dreamed about organizing a music edcamp for ourselves and our colleagues.
Music teachers: What kind of PD do you find most relevant?

In addition, it is always super fun to see old friends, make new friends, and be around people who are so excited about education!

So...when's the next #edcamp?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Work, Work, Work...What About Life?

This post is cross-posted on Mari, Meagan, & Aubrey’s blogs.

Mari is a middle school Science & AVID teacher and Blended Learning Specialist in San Diego, CA.
Meagan is a middle school Math, AVID, & Technology teacher and the Team Technology Leader in Hesperia, CA.
Aubrey has been a music teacher & Summer Learning principal, and is currently an Educational Technology Specialist in Boulder, CO.
Teach kids all day, then bring grading and lesson planning home at night. Does this sound familiar? If you asked a room full of teachers, I’m sure nearly every head would be nodding - this is the story of our lives! According to an NPR article, “Attrition is high, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen some 35 percent over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all." Budget cuts, paperwork, behavior challenges, and ever-increasing demands add extra stress to our already stressful jobs.


Work/life balance has always been struggle for all three of us. We have this tendency to work many hours past the required hours of our teaching days. It’s very common for us to get into work early, leave an hour after our days finish, and spend a large portion of our nights working on lesson planning, grading, blogging, or various side projects. If you’re thinking this sounds like some “Woe is me” story – it isn’t.


In the end, the underlying issue is that we love what we do. We love being teachers, working with students, developing lessons and, yes, even grading and reviewing their work. Education has never been just a “job” to us – it’s a major part of our identity. It’s our passion. And we spend a large portion of our days working on various projects because we enjoy it. However, we began to realize that it isn’t healthy for our work/life balance or the relationships with those around us to work the majority of the week.


Enter the idea of Work Rules. We each began to create boundaries for ourselves, unique to our specific situations, and write them down. We were amazed (and horrified) at how challenging it was for us to try to define some limits to our work! We also included reminders of what we could do instead of work [behavioral therapy concepts - you can’t just extinguish a behavior without developing a replacement behavior] and why we were doing this in the first place. Then we gave permission to hold each other accountable, which has been key to changing our habits.


Aubrey: I’ll be honest, there is no silver bullet to finding and maintaining balance. I still bring more work home than I would like and don’t always follow my “work rules”. That being said, I have noticed a definite difference in my mindset as we’ve gone through this journey. A night without work is becoming something to be celebrated, rather than a reason to feel guilty. I find myself asking, “Does this really need to be done at home, or could it wait until tomorrow?” more often. And I am slowly getting better at setting limits for myself, such as only bringing one project home (instead of everything that needs to be done) or setting a timer for how long I work (once it goes off, no more work for me)! The accountability and camaraderie has been huge - for picking me up when I am struggling, for spurring me on to do better, and sometimes just to have a place to share how hard this is! In this ongoing journey of living LIFE to the fullest, I am grateful for friends who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and provide gentle reminders when needed. It’s not always easy...but it is worth it!


Meagan: A couple of months ago, I really began to reflect on my work/life balance.  Around this time, Aubrey and Mari shared their idea for “work rules” and…it was amazing!  I quickly began to develop my own set of rules in hopes of developing some balance in my life.  As Aubrey mentions above, I still struggle with maintaining balance and following these rules but I can tell that there has been a definite shift in my mindset.  Although I have always been a good time manager, I’ve started to balance when I will do “work-work” (site/district) and when I will do my “side work” (blogging, presenting, etc).  I’ve been able to use much of my time at school to finish my lesson planning, grading, and projects which has opened opportunities to work on my “side work” projects at home.  Before, I was doing both and it was clear that this would not last forever.  I have also tried to set aside one day of the week where I do not do any “work-work” and at least one night where I do not do any work related to education.  I’ve definitely broken these rules several times but it has been helpful to have friends who check-in and encourage me to keep with these goals.  I still have a long ways to go on truly creating a work/life balance but…you have to start somewhere, right?

Mari: It’s been a constant battle for me to find the right work/life balance because teaching is both my passion and my job. However, I began realizing that in order to be the best teacher for my students, I also need to take care of myself. Prior to creating the Work Rules with Aubrey and Meagan, I felt guilty if I didn’t work all weekend and most weeknights. That pace was neither sustainable nor healthy for me. Now, I give myself all of Sunday off from anything education-related, and use this time to recharge, relax, and pursue fun things (like napping!). As both Aubrey and Meagan said, there are times the rules have been bent or broken; while I’m routinely committed to my Sundays off, I haven’t always given myself a few work-free weeknights due to school commitments or interruptions/distractions during my prep period. I’m so grateful for our group. Not only do they keep me accountable to my work/life balance commitments, but also they encourage and push me to be a better person!
We are on a journey together - far from perfect, yet always growing. Frequently just before or after work, we check in with each other to see what the day looks like and what our work/no-work plans are for the day. This keeps us centered throughout the day and into the evening.

What steps are you taking to balance work and life?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Gentle Reminders

It's a holiday weekend, and I am taking the opportunity to rest, relax, and spend time with family! Rather than writing a fully crafted blog, I'm just going to share a few gentle reminders that have been playing through my head (for myself!) this week...

Love the people around you well.

When you ask someone, "How are you?", really mean it. Then listen to their answer.


When someone asks you, "How are you?", don't be afraid to answer honestly. Masking our emotions is not a healthy behavior.


Use your words to build up rather than tear down.


Extend grace. Remember that everyone has a story. Don't be too quick to judge.


While being kind to others, don't forget to be kind to yourself too.

What would you add to this list?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

"My" Kids

If you talk to me about my teaching, you will often hear me refer to the students as "my" kids. I'm not trying to be possessive or claim ownership (I know they are all "our" kids) - it's just my way of sharing the place that they have found in my heart! Any kid that comes into my classroom becomes one of "my" kids, no matter how long they are there. But, being a music teacher, I often get to work with students for 3-4 years. When that happens, they really become "my" kids!

When I found out I would be leaving my music-teaching job, my mind turned to how to best prepare them for a transition them to a new teacher. Some of the things I was able to do included:

  • Assuring them that the school would hire an awesome teacher for them!
  • Having honest conversations with them about how a new person would be different, and that's okay, as well as how the new teacher will have different strengths and weaknesses than me, and they will learn a lot that I couldn't teach them!
  • Giving students the option to write letters to me (for closure) or the new teacher (to introduce themselves & share their perspective on orchestra) instead of our regular end-of-year reflection assignment.
  • Telling students that they can still contact me if needed - they have my email!
  • Advocating for a student to be on the interview committee, to hopefully create instant buy-in to the new teacher from at least one student (and the rest would follow).
  • Leaving notes for the new teacher, especially a few ideas for kids who might just need a little extra love :-).

The best part of teaching, for me, is developing relationships with "my" kids. Stepping away was (and still is) hard. Intentionally preparing to "pass them off" was hard. I don't regret it - they have an amazing new teacher and I'm loving where I am at now - but I still miss them.

This week, I had the opportunity to see many of "my" kids as I was out in the schools. It was both refreshing and bittersweet at the same time. The smiles and hugs and "Ms. Yeh!"s made my day. Yet these kids aren't really mine anymore. They have moved on and settled in with their new teacher. I love this - it's the best thing I could hope for them. But, selfishly, it makes me a little sad, too. More than anything, it has reminded me of how special our time with students is.

Teachers, you get to create something so precious in your classrooms. 


The culture, the relationships, the routines, the inside jokes, and the atmosphere - the classroom environment is something to be treasured. I always found that, while my classes were similar, I had a unique bond with each group that could not be replicated anywhere else! I could teach that same class again, but it wouldn't feel quite the same. That's the beauty of teaching a class full of individuals, with their own hopes, dreams, and quirks.

I know that days can drag on, lesson plans and grading can seem endless, answering certain parent emails/phone calls can be arduous, and behavioral issues can be challenging. But, please, don't lose sight of how special these moments are. "Your" kids deserve it!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

#Goals 2017-2018

As the school year gets underway, I see many posts about my friends' goals for the year. It's a bit like New Year resolutions for teachers, actually - August/September brings a fresh start and the chance to refocus! I have been thinking along the same lines, but have struggled to define goals for myself because I am still really learning this new job! In many ways, though, that has pushed me to what is most important. Here are some of my goals for the 2017-2018 school year:

1. Encourage

Couldn't we all use a little more encouragement in our lives? One thing I want to commit to, no matter where I am in life, is being an encourager! In this specific role, I am constantly giving teachers gentle pushes to think differently, to change, and to move beyond their comfort zone. Along with that needs to come the support and celebration when they do that! Because, truly, change is hard. And we need to celebrate even the small moments that add up to bigger change. Beyond my work, though, this is just the kind of person I want to be. Somebody who notices others, who lifts them up, and who spreads joy.

2. Learn

Being a learner is another lifelong skill that I want to develop! Being in a new job gives me ample opportunities for learning, as does the ever-changing field of technology. But it's more than just the content. One of my favorite things this past week has been the ability to go into several different classrooms and see what is going on - this is a luxury I never had as a teacher! It is amazing to see so many teachers with different styles, and there is something to be learned from everyone! I always want to keep a growth mindset and never become too comfortable with where I am at. My new role has brought the need to learn and grow to the forefront of my mind, but this is another trait that I want to develop in all areas of life.

3. Lead

Of course, everything circles back to my #oneword2017: LEAD. Leading from a new position can be hard. I still feel unsure about so many things, but by the nature of my job, I am being placed in a position of leadership (the same thing happened this summer). My natural tendency is to sit back, watch, and listen at first, but I'm not sure I'll have the chance to do that. In that case, I want to be willing to step up and lead as best I can! The good news: I am much more comfortable with this than I was a year ago - being a principal for a summer will do that to you. I hope I can lead in many ways - both those that are obvious and up front and those that are less seen, but no less important. I want to lead in my work, but more importantly, I want to be someone worth following in the way I live my life and interact with people.


As I look back over these goals, I almost think this post could be renamed #lifegoals. Leading, learning, and encouraging are not limited to my job, but traits I want to develop wherever I go! These objectives may not be the type that go in my formal evaluation, and they don't quite meet the criteria for SMART goals, but they are some very important things I want to focus on this school year.

What are you focusing on this year?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Transition

Any time there is a change, it offers a chance for reflection. My current transition from being in the classroom to being in more of a support role is no exception. People always ask, "How's the new job going?" As I have thought about the changes I am experiencing, four main themes stick out. I would caution against thinking that one role is "better" or "worse", because really, they are just two different sides of the same coin of giving the best experience we can to our kiddos in school!

Time

At first glance, this is probably the most obvious difference. My days are no longer ruled by bell schedules and passing periods, and I don't have to plan my bathroom trips around plan time! While the flexibility is nice, sometimes it can be daunting. I have a lot of projects to work on, and it's up to me to prioritize, decide how much time to devote to each task, and structure my time well. The summer is a particularly slow time, and I really appreciated the days where I had meetings to break up the big chunks of work time. Sitting in an office all day, working independently, is a shock to the system after teaching! Of course, now that the school year is starting up, I am having the opposite problem - lots of meetings and professional development to lead, and very little work time! I know it will continue to ebb and flow as the school year gets underway.


Team

Classroom teaching is such an independent job. Sure, I had my music team, and my district orchestra team, but we would come together and plan and then go execute, with our own kids, in our own classrooms. It was pretty clear what each of our roles was, and there wasn't really the opportunity to divide and conquer. For the first time, I am working closely with a team, and I love it! The support, the camaraderie, and the thoughtfulness about our work are all top notch. I also appreciate that my team is comprised of people who are not afraid to push my thinking or probe deeper. For the first time, I feel like I can honestly look at my strengths and weaknesses and see how they fit together into the whole. It takes pressure off to not have to be strong in everything, which is sometimes how I felt as a teacher!


Scope

This is another pretty obvious one, but a big difference is in the scope of the work I am doing. While I was often involved in school-wide or district-wide initiatives when I was teaching, the majority of my focus went toward the kids in my class (which is absolutely how it should be). Now, I am working on projects that are district-wide or even wider in scope! This point definitely has pros and cons - I love seeing the bigger picture and setting up sustainable systems, but I do miss those little sweet moments that only come through seeing kids day in and day out. Overall, though, it is exciting to work with a wide variety of people who see things not just as they currently are, but as they could be in the future.


Support

My last observation is difficult for me to write. In my new position, there are great systems of support. I have both the resources I need and the interpersonal support to navigate challenging situations - and it's because there are systems set in place to provide this framework. This is so different than how I felt as a teacher, where I felt like I had to fight for everything. And that makes me so sad! It shouldn't be this way, but I know my story is not unique. Often, whether teachers feel supported or not depends greatly on the specific person or people who are in leadership at the time. We need great leaders, to be sure, but nobody lasts forever - how can we set up good systems to act as that safety net, regardless of what particular person is in that role? This is my challenge as I step into a role that is supporting educators in the district - finding ways that I can help create sustainable systems of support. Of course we want amazing leaders, and of course I want to help people the best I can in this role, but if the entire system is dependent on me (or the leader, or whomever else is in a specific role), we really have done ourselves a disservice. True systemic change extends beyond one person. I'm grateful for the systems that have been set in place that I am benefiting from now, and I want to leave the same legacy for others.


Whether you are in a new role or returning to the same position, the beginning of the year is a great time for reflection. What are you noticing and focusing on this year?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Friday Five - Revised!

Friday Five: The Original

Last school year, I really made an effort to increase my connection with my students' families, which can be tough when you have 250+ students! I sent out a monthly newsletter and utilized the email lists to send not only announcements, but updates on what we were learning in class as well. One of my favorite things that I did was implement a "Friday Five".

I heard about the idea on social media, and it seemed so simple - every Friday, call or email five families, sharing something positive about their student from the week. Kids do cool stuff all of the time - I figured it wouldn't be hard to remember five good things and quickly pass them on! It got a little tricky to track it and make sure I was choosing different students every week, but once I got my system down, it worked well. Every week, before I left work on Friday, the last thing I did was my Friday Five.

I received so much great feedback about this! Parents were very appreciative of hearing from the school about good things, not only when things were going awry, and students would shyly (but proudly) come up and tell me how happy their parents were with them. I always felt good ending the week on a positive note, and it truly helped me deepen the connection with my students' families. Plus, it cost me nothing!


Friday Five: Take Two

This year, I am in a non-teaching position, my office is not at a school, and I will have much less consistent contact with students. I want to continue some form of the Friday Five, but obviously it will have to look a little different! As I pondered this, I really had to back up to the core purpose of my Friday Five. There was nothing magical about the day (Friday) or the number (Five), but it was a chance to acknowledge others' good work, build relationships, and spread encouragement. Those goals are not limited to students - we can all benefit from them! This has helped me shape my new vision for Friday Five this year.

I want to take time each Friday to acknowledge something that somebody did well or that really helped me out that week. Maybe it will be one person, maybe it will be five - I haven't quite figured that out yet. It might be a teacher, it might be one of my teammates, or it might be a student/parent if I have been in their classroom! The structure of this is much looser, but the heart of it remains the same. Spread encouragement and joy. Recognize what people do well. It's so easy to get sucked into complaining, and this is one huge way to combat it with focusing on the positive moments!


Friday Five:The Challenge

How will you encourage others this year? How can you build a habit of focusing on the positives rather than the negatives? How can you continue to connect and build relationships, no matter where you are?

Because, in the end, it's not about the structure -
it's about the people!