Monday, August 17, 2015

It's the Start of Something New

"What is the most important thing one learns in school? 
Self-esteem, support, and friendship." 
- Terry Tempest Williams

My new classroom set up
Originally, I was searching for an opening quote for this blogpost related to new starts and fresh beginnings. However, I happened upon this quote and decided it worked perfectly. This shall be my mantra for this year. I will not be focusing on the tests. I will not be focusing on data. I will be focusing on creating lifelong learners and strong relationships with my students.

Today was the first day of school. While I am exhausted, I am inspired and exhilarated. I read many wonderful books this summer, including Learn Like A Pirate, Teach Like a Pirate, He's the Weird Teacher, and Move Your Bus. I'm going to dedicate an entire post to the lessons learned from these four books in the future, but they made me look at my classroom differently*.

Inspiration from Learn Like a Pirate
First and foremost, I hit the ground running. I sent out a welcome video and information to parents a week before school started. The video introduced me (and my cat and superhero obsessions) and gave some insight into the coming year. I also called all of my students and spoke to them or left voicemail. This laid the groundwork for building strong relationships.

I also rearranged my classroom. I threw out all desks (including my own) and replaced them all with tables. This opened up and created a new look for my room. Time will tell how this works out.

Other changes include the environment and instruction. On the environment side of thing, I am going to give more responsibility to the students. This is largely due in part to the lessons in Learn Like a Pirate. We will also be flipping math class. Today, we discussed the concept of flipping, why we're doing it ("we can learn at home and work in school" - their summary,) and practiced taking notes from a video I recorded. I am excited for this new endeavor and will wrote a more extensive post later on this*. In addition to this, I just raised enough funds on DonorsChoose to get 12 more Chromebooks for my classroom. I am looking forward to being almost fully 1:1 and the possibilities it brings!

So there is a lot that is changing in my room, but a lot will stay the same. Relationships first has always been my goal. I focus on growth, both academic and individual. My standardized test scores may not be outstanding (nor are they terrible) but that doesn't matter to me. I will continually strive to make sure all 24 of my new students feel that they are a valued and critical part of this classroom. I said to them that we would become a family, and I intend to keep true to my word. 

*After proofing this post, I realized I alluded to
numerous future posts. Sorry! 
I will also continue to support the families of my students. I recently completed my Masters of Science in Curriculum and Instruction, and my research was all based on parental involvement. I investigated a first-hand look into the parent perspective of involvement. I am not a parent of humans (only a cat) and this helped me to understand their needs. I will use this to help meet their needs, through my continued HSCNs and providing the Flipped Videos. I also revamped my classroom website to maximize its efficiency and "user-friendly-ness" and created a Facebook (first time since 2011) to help meet the parents where they currently are. This support for parent will begin right away, with me holding a "Back-to-School Night" all about what to expect in fourth grade on Thursday. 

Positivity is my goal for this year. I want to make sure my students, the parents, my co-workers, and I am happy. Fly High Fridays are something I'll write about more later*, but essentially they are meetings to celebrate successes in our school. I'll be doing the Friday Five where I call five parents to share something great their child did. Too much of education is about data and tests and negativity and fixing run-on sentences (maybe I need a refresher.) 

I want this year to be different; hold me to it. 

What are your goals for the year? How will you celebrate success and build relationships?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Teaching the Big People

"Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle."
- James Surowiecki
Presenting on green screens in the classroom at LFCC
This will be the only picture today, sorry!

The above quote illustrates how I perceive some teachers view technology. While technology can simplify and improve one's life, it can also be very overwhelming. Without the proper guidance and support, one can become frustrated and shut down. I don't think that any good teacher wakes up in the morning and says, "I am going to refuse to learn this new tech tool because I don't want to." I think it has more to do with the fact that change can be hard if it is just thrown at someone without any real sort of support.

I consider myself a teacher in all facets of life. I don't limit my teaching to only students. I also made a conscious effort to help empower teachers in their effective technology integration. I do this in a number of ways, including informal support and holding professional development/presenting at conferences.

I've found that often teachers will have a great idea that they want to do, but aren't completely sure of what to do. Rather than just directing them to a place where they can find answers, I actually create the materials with them and assist in implementation in their classrooms. For example, another teacher wanted help setting up assessments in Google Classroom. After school, we worked on templates and then I came into her room to help her and her students with the Chromebooks and getting set up. Admittedly, this isn't the easiest thing to do while also having my own class to watch, but I felt that I was reaching the largest amount of students this way. I made it work, and now that teacher is more empowered to help her class.

Additionally, I have also presented at local technology conferences, including Googlepalooza, Google Mini, Lord Fairfax Community College Google Consortium, and others. Another way I have presented is through after-school professional development. Either way, I try to make it to be hands-on and interactive for the teachers who are attending. I want the time to be meaningful and helpful to them. I know when I attend conferences, I completely tune out to an hour of lecture. I don't want to do the same to my teacher-students.

I presented at Google Mini 2015 yesterday on using Google Draw for assessments. The night before, I was on TechEducator's 100th episode. Josh Gauthier and Jeff Bradbury had been discussing that at CUE Rockstar conferences, the lecturer cannot lecture for more than 15% of the total time they are allotted. I decided to try that for myself at Google Mini. I talked for 10 minutes of the hour I was given and gave the rest of the time for the teachers to work on the Draw templates. When I polled them at the end, I found that they enjoyed this format:
"I also appreciated that you treated us like we were adults and did not read every slide to us. You used your time well and were able to explain what to do as well as give us the opportunity to work with the information."
The oft repeated quote is that "teachers make the worst students." Is this truly the case? Or are teachers the worst teachers for other teachers? Think about your own classroom. Are you doing a lot of lecturing or are they actively working? Are your students they talking to each other, seemingly unfocused, or are they engaged in their work? Now apply this to technology conferences (or really any conference for that matter.) How many times are conferences just people talking rather than having their audience being active members of a conversation? We don't force our students to sit and listen for hours on end, why should we do this to adults?

That's not to say I am a perfect technology integration guru at all. I am formally trained in elementary education; technology integration is something I have taught myself. This past year, I volunteered for making parent feedback surveys on Google Forms rather than just doing them on paper how it had always been done. I told my principal I would design them and get all the teachers set up on this. I had committed, but didn't really think how I would do this. I decided on using my lunch and planning times to work with the 6 grade levels. Some grade levels were awesome. They worked with me on it and asked quality questions. They clearly saw the value and appreciated my efforts.

Other grade levels... not so much. One grade level was against the idea from the start, simply because they wouldn't see the value in doing it this way. Another grade level talked amongst themselves the entire time I was helping them get set up, and then bombarded me with questions afterwards. After that experience, I was very frustrated and decided to reflect upon the shortcomings.

One thing I immediately realized was that I may have been asking too much in too short of a time. My lunch is 25 minutes and sometimes I would try to fit 2 grade levels in there. However, since I am a classroom teacher and not a tech coach, that was the time I had to work with. Additionally, some teachers just have a very fixed mindset and won't try anything new. I can do all I can to assist them, but at the end of the day, change comes from within and I cannot force that.

What I could have changed was how I presented the information. I should have led with why we were doing this and how it would save time in the end. I had presented that "why" to the team leaders, but neglected to do it to each team. I also could have slowed down a little. I talk a mile a minute (my Voxer friends and listeners of the EduRoadTrip podcast can attest to this) and it only speeds up when I am excited about something. I also have a tendency to just do it for people rather than show them when I get frustrated. After becoming aware of the shortcomings, I worked to adjust future trainings. Slowing down may take more time but is more effective in the long run.

Looking forward, I applied to become a Google Certified Trainer. I have the new Google Certified Educator: Level 1 and 2 certificates, so this was the next logical step. I have also submitted a proposal for using green screens in the classroom for VSTE this year. I used to have aspirations of being a technology coach, but now I am not so sure. I know I would miss working with kids a whole heck of a lot. I would love to continue as an informal tech coach and maybe build to an actual title. No matter if I do it officially or unofficially, I will always keep the focus on providing individualized, hands-on instruction in my sessions.

I left a lot of reflection questions in an earlier paragraph, so I have just one for you at the end: What do you look for as you attend/present at technology professional development/conferences?