Saturday, October 13, 2018

An Open Admission

Hi, friends. I need to admit something to you.

I'm having a hard time with balance right now.


I just started a new job, and I love it! But there is so much to do, and so much to learn, and everything takes me longer than it should because I am learning as I go.

There are some things I am really proud of, like taking the time to get into the schools and not getting stuck in my office all day long! The downside is that I am struggling to keep up with my email and office work, and if there's one thing I've heard clearly, it's that people want communication. This past week, I've just ended up staying late to catch up on it all. Every day.

On top of that, I still have things planned from my old job, such as the weekend event I attended today! Even though I didn't have to go, I wanted to! So what happened? I worked late every night this week and then went to an all-day work event on Saturday. Hmmmm...it doesn't take a genius to know that something is a little bit off here.

I know I can't keep up this pace, or I will burn out. But I don't know how to manage my time yet to get a little more in alignment.

There's a part of me that wants to chalk this up to it just being a busy season. While I think that's true (transitions are always a whirlwind!), there's got to be more to the story as well. I need to find a way to not let work take over my life so much and still get enough done that I can (mostly) keep up.

On Friday, on a whim, I texted a friend and asked if I could hang out with her and her family for a bit. It was a great couple of hours and the perfect way for me to break OUT of work mentality after a long week (because, you know, just because you leave work doesn't mean you stop thinking about work). It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

I do not write this to complain. I'm writing to acknowledge a tension that many feel in education, and in society. The competing desires to do well in a profession and take care of ourselves as humans can feel so hard to balance! This week has been very heavily weighted one way, and I want to be open and honest about that. Next week, I'll shoot for more little victories to help bring things back into alignment.

How do you find balance? I could use any tips & tricks - please share your ideas below!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Messages We Send

Leadership can be about what we say, but it is also about the culture we create through our actions. Think about the people who are leaders in your school or work setting. What do they do (or not do) that cultivates the culture of your group?

In my new leadership role, I've been thinking a lot about the messages my actions send.


I might be working on Saturday morning at 6am, but do I expect others to?

I really got this tip from a principal - when employees receive emails from their boss all evening or weekend, it puts out a subtle message or expectation that they should be working at all times. That is certainly not what I want to communicate! One of my peers said that she often starts an email with, "We all have different work habits, and this is my best time to get work done, but I don't expect you to be working at this time..." My favorite solution is Boomerang - I can write the emails whenever I want, and schedule them to send at a more reasonable hour :-).

As the one with the "title", it's up to me to set others at ease.

I was having a conversation with a first-year teacher, and they asked, "Can I call you Aubrey?" It didn't even occur to me that my teachers - who are adults - would wonder if it is okay to be on a first-name basis, yet I remember having similar thoughts when I began my career! This made me realize that people are looking to take their cues from me - I can actually make interactions more comfortable by introducing myself first, asking them to sit at this table, and just setting the tone so others aren't worried about things like, "Does it matter which side of the table I sit on?"

When a weekend event ends, do I stay to help clean up or leave?

Cleaning up isn't in my job description, and it's not exactly an expectation. But what does it communicate if I let others do the dirty work while I go enjoy my weekend? This is servant leadership at its finest - and if I want to be a servant leader, I need to show it.

If I see a teacher doing something awesome, do I share it?

One of the great things about my role is that I have a bigger megaphone. I can amplify others' voices and work. But if I never share the great work that happens, it doesn't matter how big my megaphone is - it still won't get out there! I have been trying to take the time to pause my busy day and snap/tweet that picture or write that email to a principal or other district leaders (whoever makes sense) about the amazing things our teachers & students are doing! It's not always easy...this is never an urgent task, and it can often go to the back burner...but we don't do enough celebrating or positive sharing in education.

Email.

Okay, this is a sore subject for many people, because it is just so hard to keep up! I attended a session about team-building with many people from our district office (who work in operations), and the thing that I kept hearing about building trust & teams was that people wanted follow-up, and quickly. They mentioned how much more they trusted someone who responded to emails right away as opposed to someone who took a few days to get a response from. Now, I would never advocate for being on your email all of the time, but this was eye-opening to me and actually made me prioritize emails a little higher on my to-do list. If that's a big factor in my coworkers' feeling like they are on a strong team, how could I not prioritize it?


I'm sure there are a million more ways our actions speak louder than words, but these are a few situations I have encountered in my first two weeks! Do you have any tips about what you wish leaders would or wouldn't do? Leave them in the comments!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Adventures Abound: A New Job!

I'm excited that I can officially announce my new position - Interim Director of Fine & Performing Arts for my district! Basically, this means that I am overseeing music, art, & theatre programming for 57 schools. It's a big job, but it's an exciting one as well!

Week #1

In my first week, I have really fluctuated between complete Impostor Syndrome (what am I doing here?!?) and confidence that I can, in fact, get the job done. All part for the course in a transition, I think! I'm still in the time where doing a "simple" task takes 5x as long, because I have to learn how to do it first. Throw in the fact that this position has been vacant since the beginning of the school year (although the previous director has stayed engaged in a few things to tide us over), and there is quite a backlog of work to be done. Slowly but surely, I'm trying to tackle the mountain.

Focus on What's Important

While it's easy to be overwhelmed by the tasks that need to be done, I'm also very cognizant of the fact that there are some "important, non-urgent" things that I need to make time for:
  • Proactively communicating with stakeholders
  • Going to schools to see what is actually happening
  • Advertising & sharing the great things going on in the arts programs
  • Connecting with my team in Instructional Services & Equity
  • Making sure I refresh and have some semblance of work/life balance

Background

As I have started this week, I have been amazed at how different experiences have prepared me well for this job:
  • My years as a music teacher taught me what it is like to live day-to-day in the arts world! This gives me a huge amount of empathy for the teachers I am leading.
  • My time as a summer school leader, and summer camp director before that prepared me for being the one who leads, makes decisions, & sets the vision for a group of people, as well as dealing with the day-to-day realities of carrying out that vision.
  • My time as an ed tech specialist showed me how important it is to work things on a systems level, rather than solving each individual school or classroom on its own. This district perspective is extremely important!
Who knew, when I was doing all of those things, that they would lead me to where I am now?

What's Happening?

One of my first big goals was to send an anonymous survey out to teachers, asking the following questions:
  • What, in your opinion, are some of the greatest successes of your program?
  • What are some of the greatest challenges you are facing?
  • What kind of support do you hope for from the district level?
  • Anything else you want me to know?
This will help me determine what I need to focus on from my teachers' point of view. The responses so far have been incredibly helpful!

I also had the chance to get out and visit a few classes last week, which was so refreshing and fun! It helps me feel more connected to what is really happening in the district.

What's Next?

Thank you to everyone for continuing to follow my journey - it is an adventure, to be sure! I may be in a new role, but my passion and heart for kids & education is still the same, and I look forward to sharing new perspectives!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

#GoogleEI #DEN18 Application

Here we go again...

Earlier this year, I shared about taking a risk by applying to the Google for Education Certified Innovator program, and my reflections when I was not accepted. At that point, I said that I was pretty sure I would be applying again in the future...and here I am, doing just that!



Stepping Back

Before reapplying, I really needed to take a step back and just take time away from my application. I spent so much time on it at first, and was so invested, it was hard to think about what I needed to do differently. Giving myself some space helped me think through some fresh ideas without being boxed into what I had already done.




Talking it out!

If you know me IRL, you will know that I am an external processor. I learn the most when I can talk through ideas and bounce them off of others. This summer, I started chatting with friends about a new idea for my #GoogleEI project. I received a lot of great feedback, insight, and advice which helped me reignite and refine my ideas. If you are thinking about applying...this is something I would highly recommend! Talk about your idea with friends, both near and far, and really listen to their reactions & feedback. We are #bettertogether!



Completing the Application

In some ways, this was the hardest step. I made a new video, but I struggled with the short answer questions - should I keep what I had written last time, or completely change it up? It felt almost lazy to reuse answers, but if I really liked them, should I change just for the sake of it? In the end, I ended up writing new answers for several. I then asked a few trusted friends to look at both answers & help me choose which one was stronger. In every instance, they preferred my original answers, so I went with those (slightly tweaked). I did feel good, though, about exploring other options and not just copy/pasting what I had before!



Friends & Editors

As I mentioned above, I had an amazing group of friends who looked through my application and gave me feedback every step of the way. Some of these friends I know pretty well, but others are those who I met at a conference & wanted to reach out to. This is another thing I would highly recommend - sometimes, when you are so engrossed in a project, it is hard to take a step back and look at it from an outsider's point of view! They helped me see what I was communicating unintentionally and where some gaps where in my application. Be bold with asking for help!



#JustPushSubmit

And then...the moment of truth. Time to press submit. It can be terrifying, but the worst that can happen is that you don't get accepted...and, I can attest from my previous experience, life goes on ;-)! Truly, what have you got to lose?




The Waiting Game

Here I am again - back in this waiting period. I'm actually less nervous than last time - I really, REALLY am hoping to get accepted, but if I don't, I know I'll be okay. I have lots of friends applying in this round, too, and I hope for the best for all of us! Waiting isn't always fun, but I am sitting here with a sense of accomplishment for not only completing the application, but having the courage to not make it in and try again - #failingforward. What's next? Well, hopefully we'll know in early October!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

#EdCampLongmont Bites

What a great day at #EdCampLongmont! As with any conference (or unconference), there are so many takeaways, so I'm just including little bits here:
  • It takes a lot to put an event like this together. I showed up at 6:45am to help set up, and there were several others already there! That is impressive for a Saturday morning!
  • BreakoutEDU continues to be fun, and the conversation is shifting more to how we can use it as a creation tool for students!


  • I love helping people figure out how to use Twitter professionally - it's made such a difference in my life, I'm happy to pay it forward! I also loved some of the PD Bingo going on in #svvsd, and want to steal this idea in my own district!



  • I completed my first demo slam, and it wasn't quite as scary as I thought!



  • Connecting with friends can be just as valuable as attending a session. I felt so encouraged by some of the one-on-one conversations which helped me gain a deeper understanding of how different districts work!


  • My day ended with some awesome art teachers who were willing to share their wisdom with me! It struck me how important it is to just listen. Our teachers are amazing, and experts in their areas! We can learn so much from just listening to them. I'm so grateful for the expertise & ideas from my new friends!
  • Oh yeah...I also won a Google Home. Can't go wrong with free swag! Thank you to everyone who donated!
And there you go...another great #EdCampLongmont! I have to say, providing breakfast & lunch & FREE childcare is amazing - makes it so much easier for teachers to attend. I am walking away feeling energized & excited about the great work we all do in education - what better compliment is there than that?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Stepping Up: Moderating #HackLearning!



Last weekend, I had the pleasure of moderating my very first Twitter chat! I have enjoyed Sunday morning #hacklearning chats for quite awhile, so it was a great place to jump into my first experience leading one.


Here's the thing: I love engaging with people online, but I am not usually very quick at coming up with my responses. I like to think through things, and I was just hoping that I could keep up through these 30 minutes! Pro tip: Scheduling the questions & my answers with TweetDeck was a lifesaver!

I was inspired to chat about this topic after reflecting on several years of experience working with families of ELL students in my own community. When I work with them, I am not a teacher - I come to the schools as a friend of the family, and more in a "parent" position. This has given me so much insight into the assumptions that are often made and how we can break down barriers for better communication.

So how did it go? It was a blast! Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order...

  • Wow, everything goes fast. I used two columns on TweetDeck to keep up - one with all of the new stuff and one that was as much as I had gotten through.
  • I know that it can be tempting to like everybody's answers, but my goal is always to dig a little deeper - asking questions to push the conversation further. It takes more time, but results in better learning (in my opinion)! I did a mix of both during the chat.
  • It's amazing how many good thoughts people have - this is not a new realization, but it's awesome to be connected to a #PLN to constantly help you grow & refine your ideas!
If you get the chance to moderate a chat, I highly recommend it! It really helped me dive deeper on this topic & hear a variety of perspectives. At the same time, it helped me grow in confidence as I continue to share on social media. Thanks, @hackmylearning and the whole crew for the opportunity!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Something I have been thinking about lately, and trying to improve in, is telling our story. Many people have ideas about what school is like these days - some accurate, some not so much. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words...here are a few recent ones that help tell our story!






What story are you telling?



Saturday, August 25, 2018

Ed Tech Specialists in Schools

Several weeks ago, I shared a Google Form that I had made to gain insight on what teachers needed/wanted in ed tech specialist support at their schools. I received 15 responses (I was hoping for more, but I am incredibly grateful to the 15 of you). Here are some of the common themes...

What teachers are hoping for...

  • Co-planning & co-teaching
    This allows teachers to step out and do something a little more risky, knowing that someone will be there to help them!
  • Observation/feedback/coaching
    I love that people are willing to grow! An important distinction is that this is non-evaluative feedback.
  • Help in keeping up with tech trends, tools, & ideas; deciding what to purchase/implement
    With so much out there, it is hard for teachers to keep track of it all, but they are interested in recommendations & ideas about what will give the most "bang for their buck"!
  • Sample resources
  • Leading or co-leading PD in the building


What teachers do NOT want...

  • To be told what to do
    They know their curriculum, content, teaching style, & students best. Honor that!
  • To be taught about tech tools with no thought given to classroom integration
    Context is everything - it might be a cool tool, but how does it apply in my classroom?
  • To feel judged
    Not everybody is tech-savvy - and people need to know that it's okay!
  • Lack of communication or availability
  • Doing it for them, rather than teaching them something new


Timing/Scheduling

Forms response chart. Question title: When are you most likely to want to collaborate with an ed tech specialist?. Number of responses: 14 responses.
Not surprisingly, teachers want to collaborate during time already built into their day. We may feel like 1:1 help is not as efficient, but it may be the best way to really meet a teacher's needs and create bigger ripples of change!

Final Thoughts

If nothing else came through clearly, this did...RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS! Building positive relationships is a crucial foundation to any other work being done. But that shouldn't be a surprise, right? It's the same with students.

Thank you so much for your feedback - I am carrying these ideas & perspectives with me as I head into my year. Hopefully they can help other tech coaches out there, too - feel free to share!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Hamster Wheel

To be perfectly honest, I'm sitting down this morning to blog, feeling like this:


So much to do.
Always going.
Never stopping.
No end in sight.


Welcome to the beginning of the school year! I thought it would get easier if I wasn't a teacher. Somehow, it still seems just as crazy. It's draining! And exhausting!

As the pace quickens, my chances for reflection dwindle. I find myself struggling to keep up with it all, let alone take a minute to step back and think about if this is the best way to be tackling my work. Go. Go. Go. The beat drums ever on.

Unfortunately, I feel that exhaustion creeping up at me in all areas of life. I have been making more mistakes than usual at work. I come home with no energy to do even the simplest things, so housework is piling up. I'm mentally exhausted, and anything that requires thought feels like a big task (even when it isn't really).

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way, especially at this time of year! So what can be done? I'm sharing these things not because I am great at them, but as a challenge/reminder to myself.
  • Sleep makes a huge difference. When I want to stay up to get things done, I have to remember that I am so much more efficient in the morning after getting some rest - it's worth it!
  • Eating well is important too. It's easy to turn to junk food (don't ask how many pieces of chocolate I've had this week!), but it doesn't fuel you to be your best.
  • Exercise, for me, is a great chance to push my body while letting my mind wander. I don't typically listen to anything when I swim or run, I just let my thoughts run wild. I end up doing a lot of mental processing during these times, which allows me to "file" thoughts and organize my day better.
  • Mindless activities are okay at times. I generally don't like watching a lot of TV, but when I come home and can't bring myself to do anything, sometimes zoning out and watching a show for awhile gives me the chance to recover and regroup so I can do what needs to be done for the rest of the night.
  • Take a break! [Insert Hamilton music here] Do something just for the fun of it. That's all. We aren't made to work, sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat, repeat. It's okay to disconnect for awhile!
  • Remember the bigger picture. Something at work/school can feel huge to me, but there are really much more important things in life. Remembering that helps put things in perspective.


What do you do to keep your sanity during stressful times? Any/all advice is appreciated!

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!