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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Top 10 Things I Learned in 2013

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1. Friends are essential to survival – I was once told that if you don’t get at least three hugs a day you are weird.  I’ve always loved that one because I’m a hugger.  What I have learned this year is that I have to rely on my friends, both at work and not, to help me through things that I can’t do alone.  My true friends have never let me down when I need that support and encouragement.

2. I can only control what I can control – This is a hard one for me.  My [amazing] superintendent kindly reminds me of this mantra often.  And I’m thankful, because I often need reminded.  I live and work in a small town, and love it (mostly).  One attribute that has never been my favorite, however, is the lack of privacy.  I’ve learned that one thing I can’t control is what other people might say.  However, I can control how I live with integrity and dignity.  I can control how I treat others.  I can control how I invest in my children’s lives.  I can control what I put into my career.  And those are the things I choose on which to focus.

3. Coffee is not a bad thing. – I love coffee.  That love affair began a few years ago (previously I hated the stuff) when a friend brought me a french vanilla cappuccino from a gas station.  If you have ever had one of those, you would know that it’s mostly sugar with a splash of coffee.  Mmmmmm – how I loved my “candy coffee”.  I have progressed, however, to liking strong coffee with just a splash of flavored creamer.  No sweetener.  I always avoided drinking it on a regular basis because I thought it would be a hindrance to become dependent upon that morning dose of caffeine.  In 2013, I decided, Who Cares? if I need that small delicious vice to begin my day.  I love it, and embrace my addiction.

4. I cannot achieve happiness through other people.  I’m choosing not to elaborate on this one.  It’s pretty self-explanatory.

5. Technology integration is married to curriculum. – With the implementation of 1:1 iPads in grades 5-12, and as the co-chair of said steering committee, I strongly believe in the fact that technology is not separate from curriculum, it does not drive the curriculum, it supports the curriculum.  Technology integration should be seamlessly woven into daily classroom instruction.  I enjoy being someone who gets to help make that happen.

6. Teachers and administrators are playing for the same team.  Don’t worry – I’m not going off on a sports analogy tangent (shocker for those who know me well).  I was a teacher for thirteen years.  This is my third year as the district curriculum director.  I’m amazed at the “them” vs. “us” mentality that some people have.  Don’t we all want what is best for our students?  Aren’t we all trying to accomplish the same goals?  We are in this together.

7. Relationships are key to effective leadership.  We’ve all heard the saying, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  It’s almost become cliché, and yet it is so true.  Investing in forming relationships with your colleagues takes such little time and effort, and yet is so appreciated (when it is sincere).

8. Caring doesn’t have to be reciprocated.  This may seem strange, and sort of piggybacks on #7.  I have discovered this year that I tend to care more for some people than they care about me.  More importantly, I’ve discovered that I can’t, and won’t change this.  And, I guess it goes back to #2.  I can’t control how much people care about me, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t continue to care about them.

9. It takes all people with all gifts and talents to have a successful school district. I love that I know which teachers to go to regarding edtech questions, elementary literacy, secondary literacy, etc.  I know who I can depend on to read my articles, respond to emails, or welcome me into their classroom.  I know which teachers are better at relating to high school kids on a personal level, and who I can go to regarding personal issues.

10. I am blessed. Okay, so this isn’t something I just discovered, but sit here feeling so fortunate when I look back over this past year.  I have a job that I love, which makes it less of a “job”.  I work with people I can consider friends, as well as colleagues.  I’m constantly learning new things about the world of education (which I genuinely love).  I get to work in the district where my own children attend school.  The list goes on…

I began this post feeling obligated to look back and summarize my year.  I could come up with the first few pretty quickly, but had to come back to the post several times and really spend time reflecting to finish it.  This struggle through finishing the post is the real benefit to writing it.  I wrote it for me.  I’m sure if I spent the next few days reflecting I could make my list longer or more thorough, but with 2013 coming to an end in just a few hours, I feel compelled to complete it now.  Because tomorrow is a new day, a new month, a new year…and I’m anxiously awaiting to see how it unfolds.

Learning Together (through relationship building)

I subscribe to the blog, Connected Principals.  There are many contributors.  One happens to be an elementary principal named, Sam LeDeaux.  His post today was titled 3,000.  Please take a minute and read his [short] post.  It piggy-backs on the one I wrote yesterday about the importance relationships between teachers and students play in learning.

I love my teacher

It’s all about the relationship…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships.  As adults, we have all kinds of relationships.  Google Circles would designate them as Family, Friends, Acquaintances, Colleagues, and Following.  Of course, you can always “Create a new circle,” maybe Teachers, Students, or Cyberstalking to name a few.  The point is that we can’t sum up our relationships in a nice little list.  I have friends, and then I have my “Go To Girls”.  I have my family, and then I have my immediate family.  I have my colleagues who range from my boss across the hall to educators across the country (via social media!!).  I know who to go to with a professional question, and who to go to for personal advice.

I mentioned “students” earlier.  What are our relationships with our students?  I’m no longer in the classroom, so my relationship is more indirect at this point.  I still enjoy talking to former students, but I’m not creating many new student relationships.  My own children are in first and fifth grade and I count on their teachers to get to know them, to discover their interests and abilities, and to challenge their thinking.  In order to get to know our students, we have to talk to them.  We have to listen.  We have to let them know we care about them.  All people work harder for people they like.  This is true at any age.  If teachers work on creating authentic relationships with their students, those children will enjoy school more, work harder on their assignments, and perform better on those amazing standardized tests (*tongue-in-cheek*, but let’s face it, we all have to play that game, too).  This takes effort.  It takes caring about the child and not the content.  It takes genuineness.  But I will wager that the student will not end up being the only person who benefits from that relationship.

 

“Sometimes a simple, almost insignificant gesture on the part of a teacher can have a profound formative effect on the life of a student.”

~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom

What are you reading now?

Monday is supposed to be my digital learning blog post day (That’s a mouthful, and I’m sure there should be some hyphens in there, but I’m equally sure you were able to comprehend the meaning behind the phrase anyway.), but today I’m going to write about one of my favorite things: Reading.  I love to read, always have, and have passed that love onto my ten-year-old (notice my great hyphen usage) daughter.  We could both curl up on the couch, side-by-side, with our respective books and happily read the day away.  I’ll even go so far to say that we’d read through a meal if left alone.  But, that is not what this post is about.  (However, if you want to recommend good reads, feel free to comment.  I prefer novels.  Historical fiction, a good romance, mystery…not real picky.)

After looking over ISTEP scores from last spring, and Acuity trends from this fall, I noticed something that confirmed some of my wonderings over the past couple of years.  Our reading scores consistently start off strong and steadily decrease as the students get older.  I have spoken with educators from other districts and discovered that our system is not unique in this.  I have several theories on the “why” behind this decline.  Elementary teachers have students all day.  They know the home life, personal interests, and educational background of each student.  They have time to read aloud to the classes, and offer independent reading time each day.  They can easily integrate strategies they are teaching during reading into social studies, math, and science.  Writing and reading aren’t separated, but united because, really, they are intertwined.  Our elementary teachers use a Reading Workshop framework which also allows them the opportunity to teach each student at their instructional reading levels in small groups, and confer one-on-one with each student on a regular basis.  Top that all off with the fact that elementary students largely still enjoy school and work to please their teachers.

As the students get older, teachers have less face time with them.  Often they move from teaching the child, to teaching the content.  This isn’t always what they want, but feel so constrained by standardized testing requirements and 50-minute periods.  At the same time, kids become more involved with activities outside of school giving them less time to read for pleasure at home.  Reading in school becomes less personalized and differentiated, and more about covering standards.  Case in point: My daughter says to me the other day, “Mom, reading used to be my favorite subject in school, but I hate it now.”  Alarmed, I asked her why.  Her response, “All we do is take tests.”  Ugh – knife to the heart of this educator and book lover.  I know she doesn’t just take test after test in class, but that is how it feels to this student.  Reading for enjoyment at school is gone.

Enter the MCS Reading Initiative.  I’m teaming up with our district’s media specialist to try to stop this trend.  Our initiative is district-wide (actually moving into an entire community event tapping into resources at the public library, Manchester University, local businesses, and area retirement homes).  Our big focus, though, will be in grades 7-12 since this is when we really see the interest in reading take a nosedive.  The initiative is multi-faceted, and in the beginning stages, but I’m excited by the possibilities.  I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, start reading something if you’re not already.  Anything.  It all counts.  What are you reading now?

Lifelong Squires, Lifelong Readers

Lifelong Squires, Lifelong Readers

Professional development has never been easier (…or cheaper!)

Professional development for educators used to involve writing sub plans, paying hefty conference fees, and usually (especially for those of us in small towns) driving a fair distance to attend these events.  The alternative was having in-service days where all teachers listen to a speaker brought in for the corporation-wide professional development day.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good conference.  I love the learning that happens face-to-face, the networking with fellow educators, and the change it provides from the dailiness of my regular job.  However, my hope is to come away with, at least, three new things to implement.  I know that I will probably select sessions that don’t end up meeting my needs.  I know that I’m going to have to catch up on work I missed while I was gone.  I know that I’m going to be spending time away from my family.  Well, the face of professional development has changed with the Digital Age.

“Why isn’t the way we learn evolving with the rest of the world?”  This poignant question comes from a high school sophomore during a TEDx talk she gave a year ago.  Her talk addresses the need for students to direct their learning….for teachers to allow students to choose what they learn about.  The video is fantastic, and worth the eight minutes it takes to watch it.  While she is discussing student learning, the same can be said for adults.  Why spend time and money to go somewhere to learn?  Why spend time and money to sit through sessions that don’t end up teaching what you want to learn?  My favorite way to learn right now is from other educators via online resources.  I can read or watch when I have time.  Here are a few of the best.  Take time to check them out, subscribe to the blogs (or others that you find), and see what can be relevant to your learning and your teaching.

Twitter: Twitter is my pd go-to site.  I only follow educators and most of those I follow are bent towards edtech and/or leadership.  People link their blog posts into tweets giving me an always-changing, always-relevant list of pd resources at my fingertips.  I can choose which posts I want to read, and easily close that tab if it’s not what I’m looking for.  The other fantastic way I use Twitter is to tap into an incredible Professional Learning Network.  I can ask for resources, pose a question, or explore a specific hashtag to get real-time help from educators from around the world.  

Google+: Admittedly, I am just beginning to dabble in my Google+.  I didn’t link this one, because you will need to set up a Google account (or Gmail account) to access it.  Google+ offers similar benefits to Twitter, but can also replace Skype and FaceTime through Google Hangouts.  I’m a huge fan of GAFE, in general.  If you don’t have a Google account yet, get one.  🙂

TED Talks: I already linked a TEDx Talk above.  That video was a great way to start my day.  If you haven’t clicked on the link and watched Noa Gutow-Ellis, yet, stop reading, scroll back up and watch it.  You won’t be sorry that you did.  You can search TED talk lists and find just about anything you want to learn about.  You will find videos that motivate and inspire you, and those that teach you about content, as well.  These are great for your own development, but are also good to use with your students to introduce, review, or learn about a topic.

These last three are blogs that I subscribe to.  I learn something new every single time I read a new post.

Dangerously IrrelevantScott McLeod is the author of Dangerously Irrelevant.  (It was one of his recent posts that exposed me to Noa’s TEDx talk – see how this all interrelates?)  He is Director of Innovation for an education agency in Iowa.  I’ve heard through the grapevine that he will be coming to Warsaw, Indiana in April.  I’m hoping to go see him in person.  Remember, I still love the actual in-person pd, too.

The Principal of Change: This blog is written by George Couros.  An educator/speaker/consultant from Canada.  The joke amongst our admin team here is that if I send out a link that I want others to read, it’s most likely from George.  I’m never disappointed by one of his posts.  I read a lot of blogs, but I only subscribe to a key few – those that I know I will learn from each and every time.  This one is at the top of the list.  Don’t be fooled by the term “principal” in the title.  His posts apply to every person in the field of education.  He may also be close to us next summer.  I’ll keep you posted as that unfolds.  

Fluency 21: “This resource is the collaborative effort of a group of experienced educators and entrepreneurs who have united to share their experience and ideas, and create a project geared toward making learning relevant to life in our new digital age.”  I had to copy and paste this directly from the home page at Fluency 21.  I couldn’t say it better myself.  The Committed Sardine blog from this project always links several articles from a variety of educators.  I usually want to read just about all of them.  

That’s my short list, but like I said, I’m always looking for new ways (and places) to learn.  Leave me a comment sharing your favorite online sites for professional developement.  This is about learning from one another.  I can’t wait to see what’s ahead!