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


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?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Days in Schools are the Best Days

As an ed tech specialist, I truly feel that the days I spend in schools are the best days. There's just nothing like the energy of a school building!

But what do I do in schools?

That's a great question. It looks very different based on my purpose for visiting, and sometimes, what I have planned and what ends up happening are two completely different things! Here are some examples of what I do:

Classroom Observations
Since I'm not directly teaching students anymore, I really appreciate the time I can just sit in classrooms and watch what is going on. It helps keep me connected to the day-to-day life of teachers and students and informs my ideas for the future.

Trying something new in your classroom is intimidating! Sometimes, it helps to plan with another person to talk it through and think of all of the angles. I really enjoy planning with teachers and seeing the ways they are thoughtfully encouraging their students to grow.

In the same way, there are times when it just helps to have another adult in the classroom! I love the days when I am co-teaching, whether that looks like switching off in whole-class instruction, splitting the class up into small groups, or allowing students independent "work time" while both teachers wander and conference with groups.

Planning Meetings
Aside from lesson planning, sometimes there are other planning meetings that need to occur. Meeting with technology committees/teams, working on both the logistics of the tools and the vision of instruction in the building, and/or planning with administrators are all part of my job in schools.

Professional Development
Over the course of the year, I have been a part of many staff meetings where I have either facilitated or been an observer in different types of professional development. Because I am not actually working with the kids most days, the most "bang for our buck" comes when teachers feel more comfortable and confident with technology and instructional practices!

Parent Meetings
As technology takes over our world, parents are interested in finding out both how this impacts the school and how it can impact their parenting. There is definitely an element of community outreach at the school level that is present in my job.

Informal Conversations
This is one of my favorite things to do in schools, yet it can't be measured. Often, you can get a good feel for the culture of a building just by being there. I love chatting with teachers in the copy room, saying hi to kids in the lunchroom, or seeing how the day is going in the office. Many times, this will lead to questions or requests that I can help with - those things that are not burning enough to actually call IT, but that could really help make others' lives better! I'm not talking about fixing broken technology (my department deals more with instruction than hardware), but things like, "Is there any way to do THIS?" or, "I was trying to figure out how to do THAT..."

Fellow coaches/TOSAs/district leaders...what do YOU do in schools?

Teachers...what do you WISH we would do in schools?

I'm always looking for new ideas to collaborate - feel free to chime in below!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

One Last Hurdle

25 months ago, I applied for my educational leadership program.
21 months ago, I started classes for my Master's degree.
14 months ago, I applied to be a summer learning team lead (basically a summer learning principal).
13 months ago, I began my summer learning job in a position of actual leadership.
8 months ago, kids started in summer learning, and I got a taste of what being a principal is really like!
2 months ago, I finished my last class and officially graduated with a degree in Educational Leadership.
6 days ago, I completed my final hurdle to getting my Principal's License - passing the PRAXIS test!

As I finished the test, I progressed to the screen that said something like:
Do you want to submit your answers or cancel your scores?

My heart was pounding, my breathing shallow, and I started wondering: 
Was I good enough? Did I have what it takes? Was I crazy to even be trying this? What if I mess it all up? What made me think this was a good idea? 

At every point along this journey, I have had moments of struggling with those same questions, this familiar cycle of self-doubt. What's more, I know that I am not the only one who asks these questions - I believe we all do, children and adults alike. Why is it so easy for us to be hard on ourselves?

With a deep breath, I made my choice, and pressed Submit. Thinking that my mental torture was over, my anxiety was heightened when I came to another screen:
You have chosen to submit your scores. Are you sure?

In every journey, there are times of standing up and stepping out in faith. Sometimes these moments are big and momentous, but at other times, they consist of simply putting one foot in front of the other. Whether big or small, these moments take courage. And sometimes, the courage it takes is only known to the one who is in the moment. It may not look like much to the outside world, but that does not mean that it feels easy on the inside.

As soon as I clicked Yes, submit my scores, my unofficial score popped up - well into the passing range. I smiled through my still shaking hand and pounding heart and thought:
And I considered, even if only ever so briefly, not submitting my scores! Why do I worry so much?

Are our students going through these internal battles? Which moment are they at when they come into our rooms - the one there they are thinking, "Am I good enough?" The moment of decision, when they have to take a leap of faith? The moment of victory? How can we, as teachers, meet them where they are at and reassure their doubts, encourage their risk-taking, and celebrate their wins? Of course, there are many ways to think about where our students are at - academically, socially, and in life - but this experience added a new layer to my thinking about how to help my students take the next step.

After all, the best teachers are always learning, right?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Music + Tech

I am a music teacher. I am an educational technology specialist. But how do those two mix?

Recently, I have become more and more excited about how my background gives me a unique perspective into how to integrate educational technology into the music classroom. The more I got into it, though, the more frustrated I became. Here's what I heard the most about:

  • SmartMusic
  • Finale/Sibelius/Noteflight/
  • GarageBand
  • Practice/playing test videos
  • Electronic practice logs

Now, don't get me wrong, I think all of those can have a place in the classroom, and I used many of them myself. But we are only talking about the tools. This usually means that we are only talking about substitution - substituting a paper-and-pencil task with an electronic version. What are students doing differently that they couldn't do before? What are they learning? That's the conversation I'm really interested in having!
  • How are we teaching our students to be creative with the tools at our disposal?
  • How are we helping our students collaborate, both inside and outside the class, using these tools?
  • How are we ensuring our students are becoming critical thinkers, rather than just relying on machines to think for them?
  • How are we teaching our students to communicate, through words and/or music and/or visuals, in a way that tells a powerful story?
  • How are we, as educators, taking advantage of the globally connected world that we live in to reach out, learn, and grow ourselves as professionals?

These are the questions worth asking.
These are the conversations we should be having in professional development sessions.
These are the things that will truly change our classrooms.

To anyone who works with music and technology, I'm begging you to make it about more than just the tools. We're aiming for a mindset change & instructional shift, not just a change in what tools we use. Let's not sell our classes short when they can be about so much more!

And, really, can't this apply to any content area? The deeper we go, the more our students will benefit. I want to keep designing professional development that challenges the notion that ed tech specialists just want to see you using technology in the classroom. It's so much bigger than that.

How do you move beyond just substituting tools in your classroom?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Doing the Impossible

At one of our 21st Century Cohort (#bvsd21cc) meetings, a teacher shared a lesson plan idea that stopped me in my tracks. Seriously, it was that good.
Side note: This is why I love our PD opportunities - as a facilitator, I always learn so much from the amazing teachers that come!

It went something like this:
1. Ask the students to make a list of what a Sphero can't do (they had previously had an introduction to Spheros).
2. The teacher goes around and stars his/her favorite idea on the list.
3. Ask the students to figure out how to make Sphero do that "impossible" thing.

That's it. It's that simple. This teacher said that all of the students were able to complete the task, with her favorite being a contraption to help Sphero deliver McDonalds. I can only imagine the empowerment her students felt and how this helped them shift perspective about what they "can't" do.

This lesson was designed using Spheros, but it could really be replicated with many different materials. It's not about the tools, but the mindset, the creativity, the critical thinking, and moving past constraints. These are transferable life skills that our students must learn to be successful both in school and beyond!

My personal challenge: What do I think is impossible right now? How can I make it happen?

What's your "impossible" dream?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Different perspectives. Different Understandings.

In a world that sometimes feels like it is full of conflict and division, I always feel refreshed when I'm able to have a respectful dialogue with someone who has a different view than I do on a topic. I know that varied perspectives always expand my thinking and push me to grow, plus I don't think we do enough of really pushing on ideas in education, so I try to welcome these moments!

Last week, I wrote a blog about going into classrooms as a "district person", and making a plea to make that room a welcoming place for everyone who passes through. My post drew an interesting response from a fellow teacher on Twitter:

How's that for a thought-provoking question? Luckily, we were able to tweet back and forth to chat about this subject. It became clear that we had very different experiences with visitors to the classroom, which contributed to our thoughts. A Newcomers class welcoming a string of board members is a very different thing than an ed tech coach coming in semi-regularly! Chatting about these different perspectives definitely led me to a deeper understanding of what "welcome" in the classroom means!

I was further reminded of this topic in my own work this week. While working on communications for a project, I was not shy in expressing my opinion about what we needed to do, and I struggled to understand why others were so gung-ho about doing things a different way. Finally, in a lunchtime conversation, a co-worker made a comment about how the project worked, which was completely different than my understanding! After checking around a bit, I realized that I had a very different idea of what this project was...and that informed my idea about what our communications needed to look like. Once I understood the full perspective of the others, it was much easier for us to come to a conclusion and feel good about moving forward (and I'm so glad they didn't listen to me the first time)! Different perspectives led to a different understanding, and this time, I had the "fun" opportunity to humble myself in the process.

Finally, I went to a memorial service today to support some students who have spent time in foster care. Often, I think that people associate foster care with having a "bad parent". No one who was at that service today could have left with any doubt that this was a mama who loved her kids, despite her own struggles. Different perspectives. Different understanding.

As I have pondered these interactions, I've started can we teach our students these meta life lessons that don't necessarily show up in the curriculum? How can you teach empathy? Listening? Walking in another's shoes? Taking the time to seek to understand before being understood? And how can we, as adults, continually relearn these lessons to ensure we are making this world a better place?

I know that there are some amazing teachers and resources out there that focus on this very thing. But it starts with modeling and creating a classroom culture that values true dialogue, not just talking over each other to prove a point. How do you incorporate this into your classroom?