Saturday, February 6, 2016

TCEA Connections!

I traveled to Austin this past week with my team to attend the amazing TCEA convention. The week was filled with great sessions presented by edtech greats from Texas and beyond. This was my first visit to this convention, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the learning. While I was down there, I submitted blog posts to TCEA describing the convention experience from my "newbie" perspective and these three were published.

And, my last post is below.

Networking at TCEA: Connected Educators Connecting Face-to-Face

As a new digital learning specialist coming straight out of the classroom, I have had to adjust my perspective to a more global view from my previous teacher tunnel vision. Focusing on my students and their success was my job, but my new job necessitates me thinking about all classrooms and all students. To change my thinking to serve all students, I had to learn a lot and I had to learn it fast. The only way to do this was to get "connected." Thankfully, there are countless amazing edtech leaders in our state who generously share with newcomers like myself.

This year's TCEA convention has a "Connected" theme, and I have made an effort to make face-to-face connections with the tech leaders who have been supporting and encouraging me through Twitter and blogs as I have been learning how to best serve my district as a digital learning specialist. 
A summary of my TCEA convention "connections" so far:
  • I met and chatted with Tracy Clark before her session in the ESL Academy. She discussed universal design and asked me how I use it in my district. (She also agreed to take a selfie with me so that I could "prove" the encounter to my team later.)
  • I spotted Kasey Bell giving directions to an attendee. I also got a picture of her giving a presentation on the bottom floor that I tweeted out to my group since my group loves her bottomless Google resources.
  • I even got brave enough to submit blog posts to TCEA to share my experiences with others and connect with my new peers. (I created my first blog this summer in response to a Kasey Bell teacher-blog challenge when she graciously re-tweeted my post and encouraged me, on Twitter, to keep posting.)
  • Yesterday, I attended a Diane Benner session to re-connect with an experienced TCEA presenter that I met for the first time at the TCEA Campus Technology Specialist Academy in November.
  • In an attempt to foster "connected" educators, I helped facilitate a "connected" educator Twitter chat that my team and other attendees participated in face-to-face in the Hyatt lobby with a guest host from another district. My teachers back home, on Twitter, were able to connect with us and other edtech lovers and truly exemplify "connected educators." 
  • And, this morning, I enjoyed the CAMP Sig breakfast where campus technology specialists from around the state got together, chatted, shared, and connected. I was able to meet other technology specialists from other districts and talk about mutual concerns over coffee.
 Making this type of effort to reach out to others in the field is just not something that I made time for as much as I should have when I was still in the classroom. I would not be able to do my job as effectively without the connections I have made with other connected educators and technology specialists. So, aside from the learning in the sessions here at the TCEA convention, I am also gaining so much from the connections I am making with edtech leaders and specialists from Texas and beyond. 
For me as a newcomer to the wonderful world of edtech, the theme of this convention resonates on many levels. I am now even more dedicated to going back to my district (campuses and teachers) and promoting these connections to the larger educational community to ultimately serve our students better as we leverage the experience and knowledge of others around the state. Only then can we start making the changes to education and how schools are instructing future-ready students.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Power of Spotlights

A little recognition goes a long way. The power of recognizing the efforts of others creates a culture of acceptance and celebration that can make growth and change possible. I was reminded of this when my seventh grade son, normally not very chatty about his school day, excitedly told us about the highlight of his day: a coach asked him what his name was. (Remember 7th grade? Boys start school athletics, and coaches, especially in Texas, carry a lot of weight in the minds of the impressionable, identity-searching teens they work with.) Max is a straight A student in all accelerated classes. He participated in the school Spelling Bee last week, and the school Geography Bee this week. He would not discuss those events with us, but the experience of being spoken to by a coach was re-told at least three times in my hearing this week.

Why was this simple act so memorable and significant to my son?

The middle-school teacher in me appreciates the importance of male-role models and how much influence they have on teen boys, but I really think the basis of his excitement was actually something much simpler. He has been in small private schools up until now, and he was well-liked and known by all the teachers and students. In his new school, a very large public middle school in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Max has been learning to navigate a much-less personalized learning model. It is not in his nature to call attention to himself, but when the track coach noticed Max's fast time on a 200 running drill and then asked him what his name was, Max (thankfully) played it cool and just answered, "Max," but in his re-telling of the event, he giggled and repeated over and over, "he asked me what my name was!"
It makes sense that he would be excited to be noticed in a sea of hundreds of other boys. It was the first time he has felt "noticed" at this school, and this simple recognition has made a normally stoic kid almost giddy.

In my new role as a digital learning specialist, I consider it one of the key parts of my job to spotlight and recognize teachers whenever I can. In the hectic atmosphere of high-stakes testing and increased accountability, administrators don't have the time to spotlight the many deserving teachers on their campuses, so I make it a priority. Finding something positive to mention, to write about on our district spotlight blog, to tweet out, or to include in my campus newsletter is making a difference on the campuses I work at. Teachers are finding me in the halls and asking me to come by their rooms to "check out this thing we are doing." Academic coaches are emailing me to brag about what they are seeing in rooms. And, principals are asking me to send along the photos I am getting in rooms of all the great learning opportunities that teachers are designing. Spotlighting and recognizing the efforts of every one I can does take time, but I believe that the effects of these simple positive recognitions is contributing to a changing district culture that embraces innovation, collaboration, and celebration.

With the new semester, our department debuted a new spotlight Twitter slow-chat on Fridays. Teachers and staff all over the district are encouraged to share out the amazing things that are happening with the hashtag, #BISDShines. The last few weeks, I have enjoyed wrapping up my work-week with a search of this hashtag before I go to bed on Friday nights. The feed is filled with many of my teachers spotlighting each other, themselves, and their students with this hashtag. Simple recognition is increasing the communication and positive sharing among teachers, and I love this.