Friday, June 22, 2018

Feeding Yourself - Musically

I've been thinking a lot recently about a topic I am terrible at - self-care. There are the typical things we talk about, like getting enough sleep, exercising, and being careful about how much work you bring home. I have recently been discovering another important element to add to my routine - a creative outlet through music!

Here's what it looks like:
1. Find a friend who plays an instrument.
2. Find some duet music. Old classics (Suzuki!),, any music you might have at school, etc - it doesn't have to be hard and it doesn't have to cost money.
3. Find a time and play! (Summer is a great time)

It's just that simple. And it is SO refreshing and energizing to play for fun. Why do we struggle to make time for it? I'm finding that I need this even more now that I am not teaching music in the schools anymore - I have to keep music in my life!

I'm grateful for my violin buddies - a friend from church and a fellow music teacher - who get together and play with me. We have dreams of adding a fourth person and using our music teacher skills to play viola & cello for a string quartet, which opens up the repertoire quite a bit. Video cred goes to my friend's roommate who makes us nervous by pulling out her phone when we are playing :-).

Yes, we are doubling parts on the Bach Double.
Playing for fun = no rules, just enjoying ourselves!

Find a musical friend & keep yourself inspired today!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Positive Digital Footprint (for Adults)

This past week, I had the privilege of attending InnEdCO, our state ed tech conference. I had a great time, and I have many takeaways and things that I learned that I hope to apply immediately!

One of the big things that stuck out to me, though, was not something a speaker shared or something that was found in a session resource. It simply has to do with having a digital footprint. We often talk about this with students in the context of digital citizenship - how you present yourself online matters! The thing I sometimes forget is that this is 100% true for adults, too.

I enjoy connecting with others online. I make an effort to be authentic and positive. I share, I respond, and I participate in many communities of educators. I am not always consciously thinking about the digital footprint I am building, but it's there.

I was reminded of this over the week as I met many people who I have only seen online in the past. Some people specifically mentioned that recognized me from my Twitter activity, and commented on how they appreciate what I share there. I still find it a bit weird that others know who I am through Twitter, even if we have never chatted or had a back-and-forth conversation. I know I put myself out there, I just forget that others are watching and listening.

This week was affirming in realizing that I do have a digital footprint, and that it really is positive. I hope that it portrays me as I really am, too! I appreciated the reminder that when I share, I am sharing with real people, because sometimes it is easy to type to a computer screen and forget about the rest.

You, too, have a digital footprint. What is it like? In a world full of technology, let's not forget that we can leverage that tech for many things, but most importantly, to build relationships and connections.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Passing the Torch

It's been a year since I taught orchestra in schools as my full-time job. While I am happy to be where I'm at, I've also struggled with missing being in the classroom. One of the coolest things, though, has been watching a friend really pick up the torch of mashing music + technology together. It is a joy to watch!

Robots + Composition

A few weeks ago, I received this text:
"I assume you've played with the Edison robots? I think it would be really neat to do a composition project with them where the objects/surfaces around it trigger the different notes/phrases...I programmed mine to play the next phrase of Twinkle when it changed to a different surface when driving."

Prior to this, I hadn't heard about these particular robots, but wow, mind blown! I think that coding any robot to respond to outside stimuli differently is an authentic way to mix composition & computer science in a music class. This would make a great #HourofCode project someday!

Video Perspective

A few summers ago, I recorded lots, and I mean LOTS of instructional videos to help my 5th & 6th graders learn their songs. I found that it had several benefits - it helped my students learn their music, but also how to practice, because I talked them through the tricky spots in the video. It also really gave them a multi-sensory way to learn, by listening, looking at my fingers in the video, and looking at their music. Finally, it was a great way for parents to know what their kids were learning and how to help them or for kids to catch up after being absent. It is so common to get an email that says, "I don't know how to help my kid in music," and this game me a great resource to point them to! I even sent them occupational therapist at my school, who was working with one of my students, and she came back knowing how to hold the cello & play our first few songs, making it much easier for her to help this student!

Disclaimer: I totally stole copied this idea from another orchestra teacher in the district...good ideas just get passed around!

My friend shared that she wanted to make her own set of videos this summer, but instead of setting up the camera in front of her, she was going to take it from a forehead mount, showing the exact perspective of the students. This way, they don't have to see what it looks like from the outside and try to make their fingers match that from their angle. How come I never thought of that?!? It shows such a great focus on thinking about the user first, and what their needs are.  I was blown away!

Individualized, Self-Paced Learning

Orchestra Karate has been around for awhile, and is actually something the two of us implemented when we team-taught together. Once again, my friend is finding ways to expand ideas to make them even better! She shared that instead of just doing our "regular" songs for Orchestra Karate, she had made two extra packets - a holiday packet & a challenge packet - that students could work on & earn belts for. This is such a great way to combat the fact that the beginning class has students moving at a variety of paces, and allows all students to be challenged at their own level!


Okay, this last one is just because I'm a nerd and I love organizing my life with spreadsheets. I love finding others who do the same! She was telling me how she had one spreadsheet per school, but IMPORTRANGEd them all into one master spreadsheet, had different tabs to sort by different reasons (like who had district instruments, etc), and used conditional formatting to mark who had turned paperwork in. She also talked about using autoCrat to create nametags (to hang on stands) from these spreadsheets, rather than our usual practice of having students write their own nametags, which often results in small, light handwriting that is impossible to read from the podium :-). These little hacks make life so much easier, and I love seeing others use them in a way that works for them!

Passing the Torch

When I decided to move into this district position, one of the hard things was feeling like I was just scratching the surface of what could be done in a music classroom, and I didn't have time to explore everything I wanted to! These interactions with my friend have been incredibly encouraging in remembering that I am not the only one who is exploring. As obvious (and self-centered) as that sounds, it has been so cool to see her not only embrace new ideas, but take them even further to create the best educational environment for kids!

My recommendation? Find "your people" and keep building on each others' ideas. Continue to push further and deeper. Collaborate & share. Together, we can create amazing educational environments for students!

Friday, June 1, 2018

What happens when you DON'T get accepted to #GoogleEI?

A long time ago, I promised to always write honestly on this blog. That means celebrating the successes, but also being real about the challenges. Two weeks ago, I was excited after applying to the #GoogleEI #LAX18 cohort! Earlier this week, I was disappointed to find out that I was not accepted.

The stages of disappointment

While everybody reacts & processes differently, here's what my past few days have looked like:

1. "Oh."
I wasn't in the best mood that day to begin with, so my initial reaction was basically, "Of course. Why would I expect anything different? It's just more of the same right now." Not something I'm proud of, but that really was my first thought.

2. Sharing
After I had a minute to collect my thoughts, I wanted to share the news. Rather, I didn't want to be asked 1,000 times - I would rather put it out there on my terms. First, I shared with my friends who helped me with my application, then I put it out to the Twitterverse. I wanted to truly congratulate those who got in, and I knew I was not the only person feeling disappointed, so I wanted to encourage those in the same boat as me. It took me a bit to craft a tweet to say what I wanted, but then I put it out there.

This also included liking & replying to many #PLN friends who did make it in, and especially those who didn't. It's so easy to feel like you are the only one, because more people share about their happy moments than their sad ones. I was motivated to break that lie down right away!

3. Thinking
If you know me, you know that I usually don't feel at peace with things until I've had some time to think & process. That happened after I went home for the evening. I hate failing, and I hate being rejected, and even though I know that's not the end of the story, I was definitely feeling both of those things. I appreciate my friends who tweeted, texted, messaged, & talked me through some of my feelings, reminded me that there are many more chances, and drove home the fact that this is not a reflection on who I am. Even though I knew some of these things, it was still helpful to hear them. I also appreciated the reminders that it was okay to feel bad, as long as I didn't stay there forever.

4. Growing & Improving
This is the one I am struggling with right now. I want to grow & improve, and I would never say that my application is perfect, but I felt good about what I put together. So now I'm feeling a bit stuck with knowing how to improve it. I like having a plan, and I don't have one right now! I know it's still pretty fresh, and I think that the best thing I can do right now is step away from my application for a bit and come back to it later with fresh eyes. In the meantime, I want to do what I hope to do every day, regardless of anything I'm applying for - learn and grow as an educator and as a person!

5. Schedule & Logistics
I include this in here, because I didn't realize how much I was planning my summer around keeping those dates in July open! I am a year-round employee, so I work through the summer, and that was going to be my mini-vacation that I took off. Now that it's not happening, I need to make sure to give myself a break somewhere, but the dates are more flexible. This is my next step...figuring out what my summer will look like with Plan B!

The Surprising Benefits

While I still wish I had gotten in, there are a couple of good things that have come out of this:

1. Community
Truly, my friends are amazing. The EDU community on Twitter is amazing. The amount of encouragement I have received is such a reminder that people care. In a world where the negative often gets amplified, I have heard nothing but positive messages. I have no doubt that these people are cheerleaders, encouragers, and a positive force in the lives of their students/colleagues/families as well, and that gives me such hope!

2. Inviting Others Onboard
I don't know if this would have happened either way, but I've heard from a couple of people that they are interested in applying for the next cohort, and there's something powerful about saying, "Yes! Let's go for it together!" It's been cool to see how even my "failures" have encouraged others to step out in their own journey.

What's next?

Well, as I said in my original post, I don't have any regrets about applying, even with this outcome. The application pushed me to think creatively and become a better educator. I'll keep learning and connecting. I will keep working to make education better for kids and for all of us. And I'm pretty sure I will be applying again in the future. Who wants to join me? 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Congrats, graduates!

Usually, I write about professional topics on this blog. But the fact that students & teachers are out for the summer, the three-day weekend, and my overall exhaustion have me dipping a bit into my personal life for inspiration this week!

A week ago, I attended a friend's high school graduation. I have spent years working with her & several other kiddos, who originally came to the USA as refugees, on a weekly basis, tutoring them and just hanging out.

Sometimes, their lives seem so "normal", it's hard to forget where they came from and how much they have overcome. Many of their parents have not attended school, and many of them spent years in camps on the run from people who want to wipe out their tribes.

These may be the families in your school that frustrate you. Not because of who they are, but because you always want the best for your kids, and life doesn't always line up that way. They might be the ones who aren't always there for meetings (night jobs are a real thing). The ones with whom communication (in English) is...challenging. The ones who miss more school than you wish to help with other family obligations.

Look at this community support - isn't it beautiful?

Don't forget - these kiddos have a whole crowd of people cheering them on, too! The support may not look the way that we, as teachers, imagine it should, but it doesn't mean it's not there. This is why I will always advocate 100% for connecting with families, especially those who come from different backgrounds, and listening and learning. They have strengths that we can learn from. After all, our shared goal is for our students to be successful!

Just another American graduation...but there's so much behind it. Congrats, my friend, to you and your whole family!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

#GoogleEI: Taking a Risk

The Journey Begins...

It was almost two years ago when I first heard about Google's Certified Innovator (#GoogleEI) program. Honestly, it sounded cool, but way above me. It's only for super amazing, connected, world-changing educators, right? I couldn't envision myself ever being in a place where I would be "good enough" to take part.

Over the course of time, my perspective started to change. I saw many friends get into the program, and their excitement was infectious! I finally came around to deciding that I might like to apply, but I was in grad school and drowning in the amount of work I had to do each weekend. I had to remind myself that when I said "yes" to grad school, I knew I was saying "no" to other things for a short period of time, so I could just get through. After I finished my degree, though, all of my excuses were gone, and it was time for me to find the courage to take that step and apply.

I waited impatiently for the next English cohort to be announced, and was excited to hear about #LAX18!

Application & Reflection

I truly meant it when I tweeted that the application was a learning & growing process. Whether I get in or not, the application itself is worth it because of the way it's made me reflect, think big, connect with others, and truly understand the nature of the "problem" I posed. In education, it is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and lose sight of the big picture. This brought the big picture into much clearer focus, and gave me a reason to spend lots of time thinking about it. I loved it! The application also challenged my creativity & out-of-the-box thinking.

While I knew I wanted to apply, I was having trouble feeling inspired about what I had to offer until I attended the Aspen EdTechTeam Summit. The way that weekend pulled me out of a rut and got me inspired made me hungry for more professional development around innovative, visionary educators!

I have to give a huge shout-out and thank you to all of my friends who helped me with my application: @MsVenturino, @meagan_e_kelly, @JLenore24, @btcostello05, & @namcmurtry Your feedback helped make it better, and your encouragement kept me going!

The Video

You might be thinking, "Come on, show me the video already!" The application has both a written portion and a video, and the video definitely took the most time. Everything within me wants to give some kind of disclaimer here about the million things I wish were better, but truly, I am happy with what I created.

What now?

Well, first up is a long ten days of waiting! That's actually a very quick turnaround time, but it feels like forever when you are on the other end! If I get in, I will be super excited for a visit to Venice in July! If I don't get in, I will probably tweak my application for the next round. Here's to hoping!

If you have thought about it. #JustPushSubmit. It's scary, it's challenging, it's hard work, but it's also very rewarding. That makes it worth it! And if you ever want someone to look over your application to give you feedback...feel free to reach out!