Saturday, December 30, 2017

#oneword2017 Reflection: LEAD

I can't believe 2017 is almost over! As I look back, the #oneword I chose for 2017 was almost prophetic in nature: LEAD.


Even on the surface, 2017 was a year where my career reflected my steps into leadership. I taught and played with my kids one last time in May before jumping into a summer school principal position. Despite being overwhelmed, I learned how to focus on the students in my new role, saw some of the good, the bad, and the ugly, experienced some #eduwins, and did a fair amount of both leading and managing. I then took another step into the unknown by joining my district's ed tech team, which included different leadership responsibilities than I had as a teacher, developed some goals, and ended up presenting at a Google Summit, which was way out of my comfort zone!


More importantly than my role or title, 2017 brought out a new confidence in me as I learned how to lead in both good and hard situations. I worked to amplify the voice of a refugee student, and gathered my courage when I needed to stand in the gap for some kids. I remember how much my heart was pounding in this moment, and it was a foreshadow of what it is like to choose to enter into difficult situations...for the right reasons! 

I reflected on finding joy in relationships, the necessity of taking risks to grow, made room for some gentle reminders about who I want to be, grew in my ability to be flexible, felt the refreshment of being cared for, and found the courage to step into some hard conversations. I took (what felt like) a risk to write about what it means to be #bettertogether and how we often miss that as educators.

I became more comfortable with not knowing what's going on all of the time, and took away some key lessons from my summer that have followed me into this new role. I tried to lead in developing a more healthy work-life balance by making time for quiet, committing to work rules with my #PLN accountability group, and saying NO to work.


If you are a sci-fi nerd like me, this clip
from Stargate Atlantis might make you laugh!
How can you sum up a year's worth of learning in one post? Here are some of my top takeaways:
  • Leading means taking risks, big and small, for the sake of benefiting others. It means getting out of your comfort zone.
  • Leading means taking a stand. Anytime you commit to something, you will probably have some people who like it and some who don't. But standing firm for our students and for what is right is worth it.
  • Leading means listening. It means being humble. It means being flexible. It means realizing that everyone has good ideas to bring, and that we are at our best when we can work together.
  • Leading sometimes means doing the grunt work. The work that nobody else wants to do or has time to do. It means doing it with a cheerful heart, because you know it's helping others.
  • Leading has to do with how you live every day. It means encouraging others, finding joy, not getting drawn into the muck, and being a consistent presence for good. And it means owning up to it when you make a mistake, because nobody is perfect.
  • Leading can happen no matter what role you are in - because it is about how you live, not how much "power" you have.

What's next? Stay tuned for my #oneword2018!

Saturday, December 23, 2017



Sometimes it looks like speaking up when it would be easier to be silent.
Sometimes it looks like being vulnerable and admitting a weakness.
Sometimes it looks like facing the fact that there is a problem, even when it has previously been swept under the surface.
Sometimes it just looks like just showing up.

I've had numerous opportunities the past few weeks to practice courage. Most of them are small, nothing I would usually share about - just those little moments that make up a day. But they have put courage on my mind.

Here's the thing: it's never easy. 
It's a decision each and every time to take a deep breath and step out and take that risk.
But it's worth it.

This is something I want all students to learn!

I want them to speak up when they see injustice in the world.
I want them to understand that being vulnerable is okay - nobody is perfect, but admitting that is the first step to growth.
I want them to deal with their problems and not run away from them.
I want them to show up and engage in their learning, in their relationships, and in life.

How can I expect them to learn if I do not model courage?

This is my commitment - to continue stepping out in courage.
Even when it's hard. Even when it's uncomfortable.
To have those tough conversations.
To not be afraid to admit that I don't have it all together.
To not bury problems - but to deal with them.
To be present and engage.

Will you join me?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Reflections of a Former Music Teacher

This is my first year not in the classroom, teaching music. And while I don't like calling myself a "former" music teacher (I still teach it in different ways), I do have some reflections (more personal than instructional) that have come out of not being immersed in it all day, every day this year!

1. I miss teaching, but I also just really miss MUSIC. I miss those magical moments where everyone hits the downbeat together or the whole section finally plays an F-natural (with no stray F-sharps in there) or where the crescendo builds and you can feel the energy and excitement travel throughout the group. And even that moment where a beginner figures out how to play "Hot Cross Buns" for the first time and they are beaming with pride, because they can play a song! There is something so special and unique about the music classroom.

2. Concert season makes me miss it even more. No matter how exhausting and stressful it is preparing for a concert, it's also exciting and fun! To see hundreds of students getting dressed up and sharing their gift with hundreds more in the audience, to know how big of a deal it is to them...that's a gratifying feeling. I have missed that nervous excitement and energy, especially as December has come around.

3. While I am not teaching in the classroom, I have actually been playing more myself this year. Whether it's playing piano at home or playing violin on worship team at church or sitting in with a blues band for our IT holiday party (blues fiddle?), I've enjoyed the challenge to stretch my own musicianship and get back into performing a bit. I never felt like I had the energy to do this when I was teaching, but now, I am craving it!

Music teachers: You have an amazing job. 

I know it's exhausting, and I know the never-ending stream of equipment can get to you. Not to mention the feeling that some people, whether it's administrators, fellow teachers, or parents, don't take your class seriously because "it's just music". Let me tell's not "just" music, it's magic. It's special. Enjoy it!

[And know that I'm cheering you on as you finish up the last of these concerts!]

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Simple Question

Honesty time. This is not a blog post about education or teaching's a post about relationships and LIFE! But isn't good teaching about good relationships?

 Emotionally, I feel like I was hit by a train last week. You know those weeks (we all have them!) where nothing seems to be going right, everything feels hard, and little molehills feel like giant mountains? Yep, that was me last week. It's not fun. But that's not what this blog is about.

 In the midst of my struggles, one of the things that made the biggest difference was a friend pulling me aside and checking up on me. Honestly, I didn't want to talk about it, and that was okay. What spoke even more strongly to me was the fact that she asked. She noticed. She cared. It had nothing to do with what was stressing me out, but it still made a difference.

 I think that asking someone if something is going on actually takes courage - I mean, if someone is acting like something is wrong, and you ask them about it, you are willingly entering into a place of struggle or frustration or sadness or [fill in the blank]. How many of us like to be there? Not many. Going there willingly shows that the relationship is more valuable than the discomfort of being there.
Thank you, friend, for being willing to be in that place with me, even though I couldn't articulate what I was feeling.

 It is also an act of vulnerability and putting yourself out there - what if the person says they are fine? What if they are offended? What if they get mad? There is the risk of you looking silly or even regretting that you asked. Is it even worth it to try?
Thank you, friend, for showing through your actions that our friendship is worth more than these risks.

 Sometimes, it's the little things that matter the most.

 As I've reflected on how much I appreciated this moment, my thoughts turn to the kids in our classrooms. Do all of them have someone who notices when they are down? Does somebody take the time to ask about it, to check in, and to really listen to their answer? Sadly, I think the answer sometimes is no. I challenge you to change that.

 I challenge you to ask, "How are you?" and really mean it.
I challenge you to stop and truly listen to their answer.
I challenge you to be willing to enter an uncomfortable space, because it shows that you care.

 Obviously, we cannot take the time to be this intentional with every single person every day. But if you see something that makes you wonder what's going on...I challenge you to ask. Circumstances may not change, but your simple question may turn someone's day, week, month, or year around!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Embedding a Digital Platform BreakoutEDU Game on a Google Site

Since the release of the BreakoutEDU platform, I have been in several conversations about how to use the digital game creation tool. The locks look slick, and the mechanism for entering combinations is great! However, one of the downsides I have heard is that the platform design can take out the challenge of figuring out which clue goes to which lock.

My solution to that? Continue to build my games on a Google Site, and embed the locks page onto there! That way, the clues can still be hidden all around, and the platform just takes the place of a Google Form as the lock box.

I've gotten some requests to post a follow-up to my original screencast (Creating Digital Games on the BreakoutEDU Platform) about how to embed them. Your wish is my command! This screencast shows the steps to embed an already-created digital platform game into a new Google Site.

It is also possible to embed videos into the classic Google Sites, but it's a bit less intuitive. Feel free to reach out if you are needing help in that area!

Have you created a digital game? Feel free to share in the comments - let's learn & play together!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saying NO to Work

Coming off of Thanksgiving break has me wondering:

How often do we, as educators, truly take a break?

You see, even when there's no school/work, here's the dialogue that is usually going on in my brain:
"I need to reply to those emails. It would be nice to get ahead on that lesson planning! Oh yeah, and that new tool I wanted to try, this break would be a great time to do that. I can also work on my Google Certification and catch up on grading. And then there's that blog post I told [name] I would write, and that letter of recommendation for [name], and I want to decorate my classroom for the holiday season. And I haven't even gotten to my grad school papers & reading that need to be done, it would be nice to do those when I'm not focusing on school/work."

Honestly, even though I have been working on my work/life balance, I don't think I've taken a real break since last spring. I was busy teaching music, then I dove right into my summer school principal position, and halfway through that, started my new job as an ed tech specialist and jumped to full-time as soon as summer school was over. This Thanksgiving, I was really feeling the need to step away, yet guilt still threatened. It definitely took some discipline to just say NO!

"I need to reply to those emails. NO, they can wait till next week! It would be nice to get ahead on that lesson planning! NO! It would be nice, but it doesn't have to happen. Oh yeah, and that new tool I wanted to try, this break would be a great time to do that. NO! That can happen later. I can also work on my Google Certification and catch up on grading. NO! I don't need to cram all of it right now, and who is really checking grades over break anyway? Even if they are, it is perfectly legitimate to say that I was on break. And then there's that blog post I told [name] I would write, and that letter of recommendation for [name], and I want to decorate my classroom for the holiday season. NO! These can all happen when I go back to work. And I haven't even gotten to my grad school papers & reading that need to be done, it would be nice to do those when I'm not focusing on school/work. NO! You will have time to do that over the weekend, which is when you usually do grad school stuff, you don't need to do it now."

Here's the end of the story - after taking three days completely off, I am back to work today, mostly with grad school. I may not be particularly looking forward to it, but I'm feeling so refreshed! I might even dive into some of my other work today. In a perfect world, I wouldn't work at all over weekends, but I have plenty to do. Taking the time to really get away, though, has me in a much better place than I was previously, and I'm going to guess that my work will go more quickly and be of better quality than it would have if I had forced it over break!

Maybe there is something to learn from a two-year-old whose favorite word is NO! :-)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Going Digital with the BreakoutEDU Platform

BreakoutEDU has a new platform: 👍
You can now create digital games on their site: 👏

...but wait, how do you do that?

I'm not an expert, but I made a quick screencast to show what the new digital game creation tool looks like. You do need platform access to create games, but digital games are always free to play. 

Warning: The "game" I am creating is about the most boring game known to mankind. I think there is a lot of potential to be super creative with these games - play around and enjoy! And please share, I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Colorado Summit 2017: Takeaways

Nearly a week later, and I am finally getting the chance to sit down and blog about the Ed Tech Team Colorado Summit! I had an amazing time (complete with very little sleep!) - here are the three main themes that describe my weekend.


#sunchatbloggers buddies - @brianrozinsky & @historicalipad
More than anything else, this conference was about connecting with others for me! I had the pleasure of meeting several people that I have interacted with online, and it was so much fun to finally meet in real life. Being only the second ed tech conference I've ever attended, this is the first time I have really seen the breadth of my #PLN. I met so many friends of friends and it seemed like there were common connections everywhere! Last year, when attending this conference, I was just getting started on Twitter. This year, I met so many #eduheroes and realized the impact of being a globally connected educator!


From the keynote speakers (@amyburvall@jheil65) to the sessions (including sketchnoting by @sylviaduckworth), the innate creativity in all of us and the need for it in education was at the forefront of my takeaways from this conference. Even the winning demo slam was @sylviaduckworth rapping with Incredibox! As a music teacher, this fed my soul! It is always so affirming to hear the more creative subjects celebrated. But beyond that, I loved the way we talked about tying it all together - it is not about creating in isolation, but infusing that into everything we do as educators!


I can't talk about this event without looking back to my #oneword2017, LEAD. Over the past year, I have slowly come to view myself as a leader in different ways. Starting with being the leader of my classroom, moving to leading a building in my summer admin job, and now being in a leadership position with educational technology in my district, I have been challenged to step up and grow. At the conference, I had a couple of interactions that challenged me to continue to think wider about my influence, as a leader in the greater educational technology community. I still feel like just one small voice in a chorus, but it's humbling to realize that some people may see me as a leader. I feel a sense of responsibility to be a positive voice, to be someone who is unafraid to push for change but who will do so in a way that always communicates love and respect for others. And I feel a renewed sense of purpose in being REAL (both online & in person), in being ME, and in sharing my story.

Thank you, everyone who helped make the weekend a success! What were your biggest takeaways from the Colorado Summit?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

One Year Ago

One year ago, I went to my first ever educational technology conference.
One year ago, a friend asked me if I was presenting there.
One year ago, what my mind was screaming was, "NO WAY, there's no way I have enough expertise or anything to share at an ed tech conference like this!"
One year ago, what I said was, "No - I might present at a music conference sometime about how to incorporate technology into a music classroom; that's more where I see myself sharing."

This year, I am going to my second educational technology conference.
This year, I am presenting/co-presenting four sessions.
This year, I'm a bit nervous, but excited to share and learn with everyone who comes to my sessions.
This year, I am recruiting others to share & present too!

What's changed? I haven't become an expert in the past year. Sure, I've learned some things and grown, but it's not like "what I know" is drastically different.
What's changed? I see myself not just as a music teacher who is interested in tech, but as an ed tech leader.
What's changed? More than anything, it's my mindset and my willingness to share in this community of learners.
What's changed? I am growing in confidence as my #oneword of LEAD is really playing out in my life this year.

Here's to a great 2017 Colorado #edtechteam Summit!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Gratitude: How #Edtechteam Summits & #BreakoutEDU Changed My Life!

As we prepare for the #edtechteam summit this weekend, I've found myself reflecting on the path that has brought me to my position as an ed tech specialist. In many ways, my journey started two years ago with a summit that I didn't attend.

Wait, what?

Two years ago, my brother, who is a math/computer science teacher, attended a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) Summit hosted by my district. Here I was, barely even aware that it was happening, yet my brother drove an hour and a half to attend. We met up for breakfast one day because he was in the area, but that was about the extent of that.

A few weeks later, we were both home for Thanksgiving break, and he set up this cool thing that he had heard about at the summit: a BreakoutEDU box. My sister, dad, & I all played Time Warp, and we had a blast! I liked the idea of using it in the classroom, but didn't really see it as realistic for music...or for the number of students I had in each class. It became a fun idea, tucked away in the back of my mind, that maybe I could pull out if I ever found myself in a situation that would fit.

Fast forward two years. 

My mind continued to stew on the idea of BreakoutEDU, and that summer, seeing the digital versions really drew me in. Creating my own games led me to get on Twitter, to develop a PLN, to begin this blog, and to dive into the ed tech world. From there, I started gamifying my classes, implementing genius hour projects, experiencing a pseudo-1:1 environment by hogging regularly checking out a Chromebook cart, getting more involved in my district's ed tech initiatives through applying for a cohort, and eventually landing in my current job as an ed tech specialist.

As I reflect, I can't help but feel grateful to so many people who influenced my journey without even knowing it. I'm thankful for the Ed Tech Team & the people in my district who brought the summit to Boulder, CO. I'm thankful to the BreakoutEDU folks for creating an engaging opportunity that was my first glimpse of why I should attend conferences like this. I'm thankful to my brother for sharing his learning! I'm thankful to the people who started BreakoutEDU Digital, which was my gateway drug to the world of PLNs & connecting with a global community. And I'm thankful for all of those who encouraged me along the way and let me step out, explore, and grow, even when that included some wins and some failures.

"Big things often have small beginnings."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

BreakoutEDU: An Update

Have you heard? BreakoutEDU now has an updated game platform & new digital game creation tool! When it all came out this week, I had to be really disciplined to focus on work because I just wanted to play with it!

Let me start by saying that, yes, this new platform does cost money ($60/year, although there is a discount going right now). The subscription comes with many things, but the part I am going to focus on today is the part that made me want to play: the new BreakoutEDU Digital Game Creation tool! I've written several digital games and housed them on Google Sites. It works well, but there can be some downsides to using a Google Form as the lockbox. This new tool solves a lot of those issues and looks awesome!

I don't want to give away too much, but it is very user-friendly and walks through the major steps needed to create a game! The five lock types (number, letter, directional, color, & shape) give an expanded array of options for clues & codes. The layout is simple & sleek, and the "share" feature makes it easy to copy a link or embed your "digital lockbox" on any site.

One of the things I struggled with when first looking at this tool was the fact that it is not as customizable as a Google Site in terms of layout, formatting, etc. Often, I use those features to hide clues in my game. The embed feature solved my problem, though - I could still create a site with all of my clues & formatting, and then just embed the digital lockbox straight onto the website!

Here's another honest moment: I love the new tool, but it doesn't do everything want it to...YET! The BreakoutEDU team has always had amazing customer service, and this week is no exception. I know they are looking at the feedback, responding, and continuing to improve their product because I've seen their responses through email (I've sent a couple of questions their way) and the Facebook group. I can't wait to see how they continue to build and refine this tool in the future.

Want to experience it for yourself? Check out a Thanksgiving-themed game I moved over to the new platform and have fun playing!