Saturday, August 11, 2018

Am I Welcome?

It's back-to-school time for many of us! In my district, students will start on Wednesday. As students, families, and even teachers come into the building after the summer break, there is a question that many are subconsciously asking.

Am I welcome here?

Can I be myself here? Will I be accepted, with all of my strengths, weaknesses, and quirks? Will people care about me? Will I make friends? Will I be left out? Is this a safe place for me?

Am I welcome here?

As I walk into a school, what cues do I use to help me answer that question?
  • What does the space physically look like? Does it look kid-friendly? Are there lots of signs, rules, & regulations?
  • How am I greeted? Am I even greeted? Is it with a smile? Do I feel like a guest, or like somebody who is interrupting others just to ask how to sign in?
  • Do I know where to go? Are there signs? Does anyone offer to help me find my way?
  • As I observe others in the building, are they happy to be there, or does it look like a struggle? Are there procedures in place? Do kids know the expectations of different areas?
  • What is on the walls of the hallway? Are they boring and institutional, or are they used to display and foster learning?
  • Does this place have its own culture, history, and identity? Is it a generic "school", or do they have pride in who they are?

Am I welcome here?

As a traveling ed tech specialist, I get to go to many buildings. They all have a different feel - part of the fun is seeing how each building has its unique identity! Some schools are older, some are newer, some are more strict, and some are more flexible. All of these are okay! And every school, no matter where they fall on those spectrums, can be welcoming. But the flip-side is also true - and I have seen both.

I had the privilege of visiting a school for the first time since I subbed there (once!) about eight years ago, and it immediately struck me as such a welcoming space. Even though students aren't there yet and most teachers were in training, I came in and was greeted by the office staff. I was a little early for my meeting, and I was welcome to sit down and wait (and get some work done!) in any of several places. I ran into a teacher, who gave me a tour of the building, told me about some of the work they are doing, and introduced me to other staff members. I saw smiles and waves, and was able to talk to several people around the building. I did not feel like an intruder - I felt like an outsider who was being welcomed in. And it felt good!

I know life can get busy. Spaces get neglected, we get absorbed in our work, and we don't always have time to give a tour. But education is a people business, and people are the most important thing. Even in the midst of a crazy day, we can always smile & greet people warmly, and let them know that,

"Yes, you are welcome here."

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Empowering the Voices of Others

Over the past year, I've learned that I enjoy speaking/presenting at conferences. But there's a different kind of joy found in empowering and raising the voices of others!

My district hosted its annual Innovate@BVSD conference this week. Rather than leading sessions (for the most part), my work was behind the scenes, making sure everyone else was good to go. And it was awesome! I loved seeing friends and teachers in our district share their learning. They had amazing things to say! I loved seeing the conference attendees engaging in the conversations and soaking in everything they could. I loved the buzz and energy of a group of educators ready to start a new year.

Having fun is an essential part of conferences...right?
I think my favorite part, though, was seeing some teachers who were nervous to present absolutely rock it! As one of the people organizing the event, I fielded many emails & questions in the days leading up to it. Many were from first-time presenters who decided to step out and share, even if they didn't feel 100% ready (newsflash: no one ever feels 100% ready). I remember being there a year ago...heart pounding, wondering if I was good enough or if anybody would want to come to my session or if it would be a total flop. If you feel that way, you are not alone!

Seeing friends step past their nerves and grow in confidence was amazing. As a teacher, I loved seeing my students step up and grow. As a person who works with teachers, now, there's nothing more rewarding than seeing them become leaders in the district and beyond! Their voices are so much more authentic than mine, because they are doing this work every day in the classroom.

Teachers, we need you. We need your voices. We need to hear from you.

And just like that, I've learned another cool facet of my job. Happy August, everyone!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Ed Tech Specialist: Looking for feedback!

Hey, #PLN - I need your help!

I am really excited that, heading into this school year, my team is changing the structure of how we spend our time. This will mean more time in schools and less time in offices! My mind is overflowing with ideas for what this could look like, but I know that many minds are better than one!

To that end, I put together a form to collect ideas/feedback - if you don't mind taking a couple of minutes to fill it out, it would be appreciated!

A bit of background:

  • I will have 13 schools (7 elementary, 3 K-8, 1 middle, 1 high, 1 K-12) I am supporting.
  • I will be in schools Mondays & Fridays. There is the possibility of going out on other days of the week, but only as time allows.
  • For the most part, our district do not have building-level instructional coaches or technology teachers. There are TOSAs for different subject areas that work with multiple schools.
  • This type of support has not been available before through our department, so it may feel pretty new!

Thank you in advance for the power of crowdsourcing ideas - I will share the feedback on here after a few weeks!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Summit Summary - Colorado Springs 2018

Once again, I find myself sitting down to write a summary after a wonderful #EdTechTeam summit experience! Check out previous blog posts here:
Colorado 2016 | The first Ed Tech conference I ever attended!
Colorado 2017 | My first time presenting - thoughts from before, during, & after
Aspen 2018 | Continuing to learn and grow as a learner and a presenter

Each time I attend, I struggle to summarize my experience, so here are some big themes:

I love reflecting on my own growth as a presenter.

One of the best parts of this summit was presenting with my brother :-). I love that we are both in education, and it is so cool to be able to collaborate on things like this! His attendance at the 2015 Colorado Summit is what sparked my interest in attending & getting into ed tech in general, and look at where that's ended up! I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to share this experience with family and initiate my bro into the world of leading PD at the same time (and I have to say, he is awesome)!

Biggest personal win: I was much more confident and not as nervous as I have been in the past! That's not to say that there were no nerves, but I am growing more comfortable with it all. I even tried two new sessions this summit, and felt pretty good about them (which isn't always the case - I'm my own worst critic at times). I was able to enjoy myself not only during the presentations, but also before and after, because I wasn't worrying as much about everything.

I always learn new things.

No matter how many professional development events I go to, I always learn something new. I learn new ways to use tools, I learn hacks I hadn't known about previously, I learn about the new tools on the market, and I learn how to be a better presenter by watching those around me. And, as I overheard somebody say before we started the second morning, this is good professional development! It includes choice for the participants, isn't just "sit-n-get", and it is about relevant topics. As a person who leads a lot of PD, I appreciate the times when I am able to be a learner.

In the end, it always comes back to the people.

This is not a new revelation for me, but it comes back every time. I was excited to meet some PLN friends face-to-face for the first time, and make new friends F2F that are now a part of my PLN! You know when you find "your people", and it just clicks? I felt that way these past couple of days. I appreciate the positivity, the energy, and also the honesty of those who attended. We are not trying to brush over the hardships, but we are all there because we truly care, and we want to make education better for every single kid.

I also have to give special shoutouts to my old/new friend Lisa who took the time to chat with me and give me amazing advice during lunch one day, to Pam for initiating a Twitter DM conversation a few days before the event so it felt like we were old friends by the time we finally met, and to Jess for continually encouraging me and nudging me out of my comfort zone. That is not an exhaustive list, but it's these personal interactions that I remember the most, and they make the conference for me!

What's next?

Well, I'm not sure, but I'm excited to continue presenting, learning, and forming relationships wherever I go! And, of course, I can't let this opportunity go by without putting in a plug for the next #EdTechTeam Colorado Summit, coming in November! I hope to see many of you there!

Saturday, July 14, 2018


Changes are all around us.
Some are big, some are small.
Some are easy, some are hard.
Some, we have control over, others, we don't.
How do we respond?

What we model is what kids learn.
What do they see in me?

Am I sad? That's okay.
Some changes come with loss.

Am I excited? That is great!
The future looks so bright!

Am I scared? That's okay.
Being stretched brings growth.

Opportunities are all around us.
Some are big, some are small.
Some are easy, some are hard.
Some, we have control over, others, we don't.
How will we respond?

As I ponder the changes that come with this new school year, I am filled with so many thoughts and feelings. It has made me think...our students, too, are experiencing many changes as they head into a new year. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? How can we model looking for the opportunities that come with changes while still acknowledging the sadness/fear/[insert emotion here]?

As important as our content is, it can never overshadow the life lessons - explicit and implicit - that we teach our kids. What are your students learning from you?

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Time + Freedom

Time. Freedom. Those two things seem almost like a dream in our world of education, don't they? But what are we missing out if we don't create space for those two things?

I was reminded of this recently in my work. After spending hours listening to stakeholders & working on a project, we were finally able to sit down and make some great progress! Why? Well, along with getting lots of input, we were able to get out of the office, be free from distractions, and take the time to really explore the "problem" and all of the people it affected. I felt like we were so productive, precisely because the pressure was off, and we were free to dream and explore.

Transfer these concepts to the classroom...

Getting out of the office - Sometimes, all it takes to spark creativity is a change of scenery. How can you change the environment for your students? Could you go outside, move furniture around your classroom, or redecorate?

Be free from distractions - Distractions and interruptions are all around us. How can we teach our kids to focus in the midst of them? Additionally, are there distractions that we could remove? I am so guilty of giving my kids a block of time to work, then interrupting it with an announcement or question. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is let our kids get into their own "flow".

Take the time to explore - How often do we give students the time and freedom to think deeply? In my experience, not enough. I think this is why I love the idea of passion projects, genius hour, or 20time (whatever you want to call it). It gives kids the time & freedom to pursue their own ideas without a prescribed solution or "right" answer from teachers. Are our days filled to the brim with content, or are we giving students the time to think on their own?

Of course, we do have plenty of constraints in the classroom. But how can we keep students from feeling the pressure of those constraints? How can we build in the time to allow them to move, focus, learn, explore, innovate, and solve the problems they see in the world?

How can we afford not to?

How do you give students time & freedom in your class? Please leave a comment with your ideas!

Friday, June 29, 2018

#ISTE18: It's All About the Relationships!

This year, I was so excited to go to my first ISTE conference! After stalking the #notatISTE hashtag for a few years, it was amazing to finally be there!

I thought about writing a recap, but a picture tells a thousand words, so I'd rather just share my sketchnote of the conference. Each little sketch represents a memory of my time in Chicago! Looking back, I notice a lot of food on here...yep, food = good memories...maybe a little too much ;-).

As I look back, the thing that I will remember the most is all of the friendships & relationships. I loved sitting down next to new people (or, more accurately, standing in line) and being able to strike up a conversation, because we were all connected by our love of education! Even more meaningful were the people I got to have more in-depth conversations with, because this isn't the first time we've connected. From my amazing teammates to the Breakout EDU crew to #sunchatbloggers to other people I've connected with online, it filled my heart to spend time with so many amazing people!

My mind and heart are full. Thank you, #ISTE18!