Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Juxtaposition of Pirates and Myths

  At the beginning of the summer, I re-read my copy of Dave Burgess' Teach Like a Pirate. I had lent it to a colleague and her excited debrief when she returned the book prompted me to start my summer reading with a refresh of this inspiring text. My participation in #TLAP and #BookCampPD Twitter chats led me to another book, Aaron Hogan's Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. Last night on the eve of a nearby educational technology conference, Burgess and Hogan chatted on Twitter about vulnerability with a number of other invested educators from around the globe. (If baring your weaknesses openly to strangers isn't vulnerable, I don't know what is.) Today, Dave Burgess engaged the crowd with his invigorating message during the keynote for the conference, and Aaron Hogan presented standing-room-only sessions on blogging and on the myths of a perfect teacher.
     As I tangled with the hour-long traffic on the way home, I reflected on the highlights of the day and thought about how Burgess and Hogan deliver similar messages but in very different packages. The juxtaposition of seeing both men present today for the first time, after reading their books and chatting with them on Twitter, made me think about how people can come to the same universal truth, despite their different perspectives and paths. Burgess' and Hogan's messages complemented a day of inspiring student-centered learning, but their differences tugged at me to compare them. (I resisted drawing a Venn diagram.)

Burgess is an experienced, charismatic, showman of a teacher.
Hogan is a young, soft-spoken, thoughtful role model of an administrator.
Burgess embraces his pirate costume- bandana, earring and all.
Hogan sports his "everyman" plaid shirt, khakis, and glasses.
Burgess encourages all educators to find their passions and capitalize on them in the classroom.
Hogan emphasizes empathy with students and colleagues alike.

     As I listened to both of these men talk from their hearts today about their visions for transforming education to better reach all students, their very different packaging and delivery made me think of how students respond differently to different teachers. With both of them on the schedule today, they had a pretty good chance of conveying their message to all of the educators in attendance because between them they have two different presentation styles and perspectives, centered around very connected messages.
     What also stood out when I was comparing them was their shared leadership. Burgess and Hogan, through different experiences, came to the same truth: educators must change what they are doing because students need them to change. Neither of them spend time pointing fingers or blaming the system, and they both positively offer up relevant and do-able solutions through their books, presentations, and blogs. Their voices as leaders both seem grounded in a belief that they have a duty to do their best for all students.
      So, if Burgess didn't have you on the edge of your seat, laughing and looking up his book on Amazon on your phone, then in all likelihood, Hogan reached you with his palpable sincerity and straightforward suggestions for improvements that impact students. My final thought was to compare myself as an educator to these two leaders, and I smiled when the realization hit. I connect to both of them because when I was in the classroom, I was the over-the-top, infectious enthusiasm, passionate teacher (costumes were involved), and when I left the classroom two years ago, I transitioned to a coaching position where I have been striving to become more like Hogan as an encouraging support for teachers. Rarely do learning experiences provide their own closure activities without strategic intentional design on the part of the teacher, but today's in-person experiences with both of these author leaders tied a tidy bow on my summer reading of these two books. Thanks, Dave and Aaron.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Reading, Connecting, & Learning...on Twitter

     Summer has always been a reading binge time for me: that stack of latest YA books that made it onto state and national book lists, that stack of professional books that need a deeper perusal, and that stack of best-sellers and award winners that the English major inevitably piles up from all gift-giving holidays. Not sure why I do this, but I keep the three stacks separated in my house, and summer is the time when I rotate through my stacks and allow myself the luxury of reading time without feeling guilty. So far this summer, I have made significant dents in my YA pile, reading the Novice series and the latest Cinda Chima Williams series at the request of my fantasy-loving teenage son. I then read Allende's Japanese Lover just for fun. Tackling my professional pile kept getting put off partly because that's the only type of reading I allow myself during the school year. I needed a push and a direction for my summer professional learning reading. Thankfully I found exactly the nudge I needed in a book club without the usual book club restraints (or wine): #BookCampPD.
     This hashtag connected me with educators and authors of books that I own and love as well as new books. I quickly ordered the ones I didn't already own (I love Amazon Prime), and I read the first title in a few days before having the opportunity to chat directly with the author and other readers around the country. Having a designated time and a few open-ended questions was precisely what I needed to make the reading instantly relevant and relatable. As a teacher and reader, I will freely admit that I am a social learner, but I don't often have the opportunity to "get social" with my professional reading. Preparing my novice version of "booksnaps" on my phone before the chat made me hone-in on the nuggets of learning that I gleaned from the text and helped me express what resonated with me in single images.
     I went into the first chat wanting to connect with other educators around a mutually interesting book, and I definitely enjoyed connecting. What I didn't expect was the amount of learning that would happen for me. (I thought it would be fun, but I underestimated how much I would actually gain from the experience.) The author's responses to my questions and challenges gave me concrete and actionable ideas that I can apply in my work with teachers in the fall. Her generosity and willingness to share her experiences to better the experiences of others took the idea of book club to a new level for me, and I'm hooked. Tonight I have two back-to-back bookchats discussing two of my favorite and most useful books from my past year's work coaching blended learning teachers. I've set alarms in my phone to remind me to jump on Twitter at the correct times, and I have looked over questions and websites to prepare for the chats. The flexibility and immediacy of discussing books with other interested readers around the globe is just one more reason to tap into the connectivity possibilities of Twitter. Even though multitasking gets a bad rap, I love being able to interact for thirty minutes on Twitter from the sidelines of my son's soccer practice or from a bench outside my daughter's latest show. I highly encourage all educators to explore #BookCampPD and other online bookchats this summer. Read, learn, chat...wherever you are.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Personalized Professional Learning: Consequence of a Growth Mindset

                   As I have worked with teachers implementing the Raising Blended Learners grant this school year, personalized learning and its myriad benefits have consumed my thoughts. A panel about personalized PD at TCEA in February pushed this idea higher on my personal "learn-more-about" list. From books to Twitter chats to workshops to webinars to huge conferences to campus-based teacher-led sessions, professional learning opportunities abound for educators who desire to grow and improve their practice.
            When I was still in my classroom, my personal professional development largely came from district and campus trainings. My own children were young, and my nights, weekends, and summers were crammed full of kid activities and transporting the kids to those activities. I attended small local conferences when I could, and I participated in our district Twitter chat, but I did not really tap into personalized professional development then like I have in the last two years.
             Some of that is because in my position I help teachers connect with the most relevant professional development for them which has pushed me to become a flexible, personalized PD curator. As I have worked to find different options for different teachers, I have enlarged my definition of professional learning to include every little connection and learning opportunity no matter how small or whether or not it comes with state-recognized credit. Sometimes just connecting with another educator in a different district who teaches the same subject can provide a teacher with instructional ideas and validation that can transform learning in her classroom without a huge time commitment.
           Expanding teachers' perceptions and access to the multitude of professional learning available actually has become the most important part of my job because I can't possibly support every need of every teacher that I am assigned to support, and that is ultimately what I want to do. Helping all of them locate, evaluate, and participate in truly personalized professional learning is more valuable to them than me delivering one-on-one trainings to the select few who make time to meet with me during their conference periods. Jason Bretzmann's work on flipping professional development is summarized in the graphic above and is anchored in the core concept of "choice" for teachers as an essential component of personalized learning. Considering how I can best communicate the ways I can help teachers tap into the best personalized professional learning makes me think about the learner profiles that are used with students in personalized learning. Designing detailed and insightful learner profiles that aren't too long or cumbersome for teachers will be the first step for me as I focus on connecting teachers to the best "just-in-time" learning opportunities that also fit with the elements of "CHOICE".

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Tale of Two Conferences


     After my whirlwind week at the TCEA conference in Austin, I headed south to San Antonio for three days to attend the Abydos International Writing Conference (fka NJWPT). The contrast between the two large gatherings of educators was made more striking because they were back-to-back for me and because I presented at both. While TCEA popped with innovative sessions and emerging education technology, Abydos reassured with interactive sessions about research-based best practices. Newest and greatest vs. tried and true. Free wifi at one, no wifi at the other. Massive vendor hall at one, small book sellers at the other. Educators and leaders looking for the "next big thing" at one, educators looking to learn from experienced teachers at the other.
      Because my world has become quite blended, in more ways than one, I presented about blended models at both conferences, one as a digital learning specialist and one as an Abydos writing trainer and certified English teacher. The sessions had very different audiences, and I had very different goals for the participants. At TCEA, I co-presented with our Raising Blended Learners Project Manager about how our district launched blended learning in 9th grade classrooms this year. At Abydos, I modeled a 9th grade English lesson using blended learning models to personalize and invited the participants to engage as students within the models. Both sessions yielded discussions and contact from participants via email and Twitter the week after, which confirms my belief that many educators, not just English teachers, are looking for better ways to address the current challenges of teaching the diverse needs of students. Both conferences reinforced the literal blending of my former position as a secondary English teacher and trainer with my current position as a digital learning specialist supporting blended learning implementation in English classrooms.           Though at times it seemed like two worlds were colliding, I was struck by how the two concepts intersected to create a common ground based on the purpose of both: to successfully meet the specific needs of each learner. Blended learning models can do this through efficient data tracking and student agency while Abydos strategies can do this through rich and authentic language instruction in a workshop classroom. Helping teachers design learning environments that maximize the benefits of both models will be the bulk of my future work as we scale our Raising Blended Learners grant implementation over the next two years, and I look forward to this next level of blending. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Day 3: Flexibility & the Best Laid Plans

        After an early morning shower and a couple of cups of strong Hampton Inn coffee, I revisited my TCEA schedule and reviewed my highlighted sessions for my personalized plan for learning. Since I wasn't presenting anything today, the whole day was just for me to learn new things- for myself, my team, and my teachers. I put on jeans and packed my snack lunch to give myself the full day of time slots with no need to stop for a lunch. I checked in with my team on my way to the convention center to see what everyone was planning to see and do today. The sunrise on the downtown Austin buildings and the beautiful weather reinforced my good mood as I walked the short block to start my day of learning and connecting. 
      My first session of the day was a panel about personalized PD with a handful of my favorite Twitter follows discussing their philosophies and examples of personalized PD for teachers (and themselves.) This was my first panel to attend, and I really appreciated the insights and discussions that I got to observe and interact with through a Today's Meet back channel. It was very "big picture" and inspirational, which was a nice change from the other more practical sessions I have been attending so far. The discussions were so good that I stayed until the end, and then I couldn't find a session that wasn't full.
     I tried four rooms (getting my steps in), and then I decided that the time slot was "a wash" and that I had time to go spend some quality time in the exhibit hall. Though I don't usually schedule a chunk of time for this, I found that an hour talking with the reps and vendors of the products that my district uses (and that I as a digital learning specialist support) was actually an excellent use of my time. Meeting my Canvas guy face-to-face was good, and it scored me a fun Rubik's cube for the 14-year-old son back home. I also got to talk with a few other reps who were willing to discuss possible pilots in the near future. These discussions also led to invites to happy hours around the area, which is still an unexpected perk for me. 
       I met up with my team at the YOUniverse watching Alice Keeler, and I spotted a principal from my district and went over to check in with him. The afternoon was filled with a couple of other sessions, both of them second choices due to full sessions. On my way to my next session, I had an impromptu conference debrief with TCEA's Miguel Guhlin. As I waited in the hall in line for a session, I checked in with my teen daughter and got a quick tutorial via text on how to apply the TCEA Snapchat filter. (She works publicity for her high school Theatre department and she recently helped get a filter designed and approved for the week run of the big musical.) My TCEA day wrapped with a tool-centered (but awesomely useful) Google Add-ons session before I headed back to the hotel to put finishing touches on my presentation for tomorrow and to catch the Hampton happy hour with my team. 
       So, though my day didn't go exactly as I had carefully planned ahead of time, I had a rewarding day of learning and networking. I have new tools, new ideas, and new energy to take back to my district, and that is what I love about attending TCEA.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day 2: TCEA2017!


       As much as I tried to fight my OCD, I woke up having to add in another slide to the presentation I am sharing this afternoon. I am resolved to leave the presentation alone today, so that I can focus on personal learning in the menu of choices I have highlighted in my program. I am in between sessions right now, waiting for my second session of the morning to begin. My first session was FABULOUS! Two teachers from Alamo Heights ISD shared a plethora of resources to encourage authentic assessment options. Some of their resources were familiar, but a handful were new to me and I am always grateful to get new ideas to take back to the teachers in my district. This team also shared class applications of familiar tools but used in innovative ways. (This is one of my favorite aspects of conferences...learning of new ways to implement common tools.)
     Yesterday, my game plan consisted of me committing myself to a few long sessions. Today, my strategy involves attending as many short sessions as I can before my late afternoon presentation. I know that I can access resources and handouts from other sessions at the website, but I still like to see things in action and meet new people face-to-face to connect with on Twitter. So, as I await my second session, I am thrilled with the takeaways that I have already gathered, and I'm excited about getting some new perspectives from the other presenter teams I will learn from today.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Super Bowl of Tech Conferences

You know you are at an ed tech conference when...

  • you pass hordes of folks in sensible shoes carrying the same conference backpack,
  • the talk while watching the Super Bowl in the hotel lobby centers around the synchronized drone light show,
  • you make friends while camping out in line for that session you just can't miss,
  • you run into no less than four people you follow on Twitter while getting registered, 
  • Peggy Reimers is walking around genuinely greeting everyone in the hall like an old friend,
  • power strips are as prevalent as Elmo lanyards.
As I wait for my first session of TCEA17 to begin, I know that this week will be filled with new information, new connections, new people, and new tools. I am grateful that my district understands and values sending our team to TCEA yearly to learn from thought leaders and practitioners from around Texas and the country. Let the learning begin!