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?