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Five Friday Faves (Taking-Care-of-Me edition)

spruce-image

Last night I was sitting at the table with my family and said, “I need an idea for my Five Friday Faves post.”  My 9yo offered some suggestions that only a 9yo boy could think of.  I replied that I really wanted it to be education and/or leadership related.  My daughter then threw out some apps that she uses a lot at school that she likes.  I wasn’t really feeling it, but still didn’t have a good idea.

Then this morning I woke up at 5am (didn’t have to get up until 6:30-ugh), so after lying there a couple of minutes and realizing that there was no way I was getting back to sleep, I reached for my phone and pulled up the book I was currently reading.  At 6, my 9yo crept into my room, and seeing me away climbed into bed with me.  He’s a snuggler, and who knows how much longer that will last?  So, I basked in the cuddles, and then we got silly and laughed for the next half hour.  (Stick with me – these ramblings may have a point.)  Anyway – great start to the day, and happy drop-off for my two kids at school.  I drive home, still happy, and decide to read a bit more in the book while I enjoy my morning coffee (#2 on the list below).  I was reading Boyfriend Thief, which I realize sounds like a soon-to-be classic by that title.  I happen to enjoy YA novels, so don’t judge me by my book titles.  Great book, but soon I was crying.  Like, full-out sobbing at some points.  I have these moments.  I like to call them “down” days, but I know that the emotions are hormonal, but if any of you mentions to my husband that I admitted to that, I will delete this post and deny everything!  So, I read for an hour longer than I had originally allowed myself, crying through most of that, and then got this idea to write about the things that bring me small and big joys in life….totally education/leadership related, right?  But, that’s the benefit to writing the post.  I get to decide what I want to write about.  And today I want to write about happy stuff.  🙂

These five faves are things I do every day.

  1. Faith – I am a believer and follower of Christ.  I struggle with living the way He would want me to, and spending time with Him each day helps me stay focused.  Yes, I definitely still mess up.  Right now, I am using I daily Bible reading from IF:Equip to guide me.  It’s short which means I don’t have a good excuse for skipping it.
  2. Food – I like to eat.  But, dark chocolate and fresh coffee put a little smile on my face while I’m enjoying them each day.  I may, or may not, have already had both this morning already.  And I think that if you have cried for a long time, and you’re hormonal then chocolate is a perfectly acceptable mid-morning treat.  And when I eat fair trade chocolate, I feel even better about eating it.
  3. Fitness – I try to do some kind of workout every day.  I have an old Beach Body Turbo Sculpt DVD that I like for strength days and plan on doing that after I post this.  My favorite workouts this time of year, however, are either bike rides or walks outside.  They help me clear my mind and just appreciate the beauty of Indiana farmland (you might not understand that if you’ve never experienced it).
  4. Family – I am blessed with an amazing family.  My kids are hilarious and loving.  My 12yo daughter still wants/likes spending time with me!
  5. Friends – I’m also incredibly blessed by great friends.  Some I don’t get to talk to everyday, but I have my “go-to girls” that are there when I need them.

Oddly, I’m happy again.  Maybe it’s the chocolate (and not at all b/c I might be moody!!).  How do you take care of yourself?

 

P.S. I hope my English-teaching friends enjoyed my alliteration this morning.  I’m pretty proud of it.  🙂

Is it possible to love too much?

Love lights fires

I just finished the book, When Mockingbirds Sing, by Billy Coffey.  In it, the father of the main character, a psychologist, often puts his work before his wife and young daughter.  They excuse this by saying that it’s because he, “loves too much”.  As I was lying in bed this morning, having woken an hour and a half before my alarm was set to go off, I thought about this phrase.  Is it really possible to love too much?

Over the years I have been in education, there have been many children to make it into my heart.  There have been some that I’ve wanted to bring home with me to show them what a loving home was really like.  Some even weigh on me five years later, as is the case with a seventh grade boy that I had as a student when he was in second grade.  I know he had to go to an alternative school last year.  I will see him around the community and he just looks unhappy, and I want to go over and pull him into a hug.  I can’t, though, because he has had a wall of protection built around him for a very long time.  I have bought shoes, clothes, and baked birthday cakes for students-in-need over the years. I love big.  That’s just an “in-general” kind of comment, but boy does it spill over into a classroom.  Is it hard to watch these children going home to an unhealthy home each night?  Yes.  Is it a little awkward when a sixth-grade boy still wants to hug me when he sees me in the hall?  Yes.  Do I do it anyway? Yes – with a side-one-arm-around-the-shoulder modification. 🙂  Would I, could I love them less?  No, I couldn’t.

So, can a person love too much?  Maybe someone loving an abusive partner, or an addict loving their next high, or a sports-enthusiast loving the game so much that they over extend their wallets…but can you love a child too much? No way.

Before We Periscope From Our Schools, Let’s Think For a Moment

I fell in love with Periscope, the free live-streaming app created by Twitter, this summer while at ISTE.  Free, instant access to events happening around the world – finally!  The myriad of ways I could see implementing it in my classroom overwhelmed me in a good way.  Kids could periscope our class at any time to bring the world in.  Students could interact with other students around the world.  Students could have a real-time audience at any time we needed.  We could explore every day moments in cultures around the world.  On and on, the ideas went.

Yet, when I thought about it some more, I started to second-guess my love for it a little bit.  I didn’t fall out of love, but I did start to question my own ideas, as well as the professional responsibility that I carry not just as a teacher, but also as an…

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My five favorite features of Gmail (that you may or may not even know about)

Gmail

I am a Google fan, it’s true.  And this fandom all started back in 2006 when I converted my email over to Gmail. During those early years (cue background monologue music), I mostly used it as a tool for emailing.  Surprising, right? (cue sarcastic tone)  You know the saying, “I don’t know what I don’t know,”?  Well, that’s where I was when I first started using Gmail.  But, now, my friends, my daily life, both personal and professional is made easier by some pretty cool features, all accessible from my Gmail screen.  I have often shared these five with teachers as they can be such time savers in the classroom, but this week, I also shared them with a financial adviser.  These features are equal opportunity workflow solutions.

Here are my Five Friday Faves: Gmail edition:

 

1. Filters – For #1 and #2 on my list, go to your little gear icon in the upper right portion of your gmail screen.  Select “Settings” and you’ll see a window with these tabs:

Screenshot 2015-08-21 at 9.48.45 AM

Click on the “Filters” tab to create filters.  You will see a link at the bottom of this screen that looks like this: Screenshot 2015-08-21 at 9.49.41 AM

Simply click “Create a new filter”, then fill in only the boxes you want applied.  I use this for “From” and input email addresses.  For example, I have a filter for my husband’s email address.  So, when I created that filter, I typed in his address and simply clicked “Create filter with this search” in the lower right-hand corner.  Then, I named the filter “Ben” (super complicated formula to decide on the name – ha).  Now, any email he sends me automatically gets the label “Ben” applied to it (which will be explained in #2 of my list, so hang in there).  I have a filter set for my boss, and for another guy I do copy editing work for.  Now on to why these filters are handy…

2. Labels – Labels are an organizers dream.  I have, maybe, been accused of being a bit neurotic when it comes to folders (in Drive) and labels (in gmail), ahem.  But I pay those disorganized fools no mind.  You can manage your labels through the tab in settings, shown above, but creating them couldn’t be easier.  You can create them in this tab, but I always just create them from my gmail home screen (because who wants to open multiple boxes if you don’t have to, right?).  In the name of (almost) full-disclosure, here is a partial screenshot of some of my labels: Screenshot 2015-08-21 at 10.02.28 AMAnd that is just through the “b’s”, people.  Here is how it’s handy.  I bank online, and receive my bills online.  So, this morning I got my cell phone bill and a credit card bill.  I simply checked the boxes beside the messages, clicked on the label button at the top of my gmail screen  Screenshot 2015-08-21 at 10.04.28 AM and start typing “bills”.  That label comes up, I click it, which applies the label to the two messages, and then I hit the archive button to “file” them away for future reference. If I want to create a new label, I go through the same process, but when one already created doesn’t appear, it will give me the option to create a new one.  Done.  Simple.  And I can even nest labels under umbrella labels, and so on.

3. Boomerang Screenshot 2015-08-21 at 9.46.28 AM  Boomerang for Gmail, and Boomerang Calendar are both extensions that you can find on the Chrome Web Store.  Boomerang for Gmail lets you write emails, but schedule them to be sent at a later time.  It also lets you mark emails, and send them to a Boomerang folder (see my label above), and then tell it when to move it back into your inbox.  These features are awesome for keeping your priorities organized without forgetting to take care of something else.  Boomerang Calendar allows you to click some open time slots on your calendar, it sends a email to your recipients showing them the open times.  This makes scheduling appointments so much simpler without having to give calendar access to the individuals.  They do not have to have an account to use that feature, either.
4. Stars – The star feature in Gmail is also for organizational ease (noticing a trend here?).  Screenshot 2015-08-21 at 10.16.10 AM This article by Ian Paul easily explains how he uses the Star feature, and how to set it up.  Admittedly, this is the least used (by me) of my Five Friday Faves, as I prefer the filter/label system.  But if that seems like too much for you, check out Ian’s post.
5. Calendar – If you have a Gmail account, and don’t use your Google Calendar then…well, I want to help you with that.  🙂  I have six different calendars within my one calendar.  I have my personal, daily calendar, a calendar that is shared between my husband and I (this one has all of our kids’ activities, and those of our own which will require the other person to be responsible for the kids during that time), a work calendar, birthday calendars, and so on. They each have a different color so I can look at one page and see each different color-coded activity/reminder.  I can also click out of any I choose to not see at the moment to focus in on just one.  As a teacher, you could share a “period 1” calendar with the students in that class, and post assignments, embed links, etc. and it would go to just those students.  You can share a calendar with other teachers or administrators on your team to schedule meetings, and collaborate on projects.  These uses are only the tip of the iceberg, but useful in getting started with your calendar.

 

I’m hoping some or all of these features help your daily life go a bit smoother, making more time for you to sit, sip some coffee, and smile at the day ahead.  Happy Friday, Everyone!

What does it mean to be a Lead Learner?

Never stop learning

I remember a couple of years ago when I was in my first year as a curriculum director, and an active Twitter lurker. (Some might argue that label is an oxymoron, but it’s not.  I’ve sense moved out of the lurkosphere, but learned many valuable lessons while living there.) I was explaining to a group of teachers that I could jump on Twitter for fifteen minutes and find links to relevant articles for my own professional learning.  Here’s the part that still gets me today.  One of those teachers dryly replied, “You expect us to do this on our own time?”

The term, Lead Learner, is one of those en vogue phrases in education.  You will hear, both, administrators and teachers use it to describe themselves.  I’ve heard pleas to refer to students as “learners” now, as well.  So what does it mean to be Lead Learner?

One can’t just declare themselves a Lead Learner.  It is something modeled, shown, and only earned through action. There are so many ways to show you are learning.  If you are a district-level leader, are you learning before and with your building-level leaders?  Are you present in the school buildings and at community events?  Do you have a social media presence? (Even if you are only lurking on Twitter to find great blog posts…it’s perfectly acceptable).  Obviously the teacher I mentioned above did not relish the idea of finding her pd on Twitter.  That’s fine, but my wondering was “Where does she find it?”  Her attitude suggested that she wasn’t going to spend any time outside of her contracted day to search for topics meaningful and relevant to her as a teacher.  Not to mention, those kinds of comments are what give teachers a bad name.  The majority of educators put in exorbitant hours, well beyond their contracted hours/days.

Principal as a Lead Learner:  My nine-year-old son has a new principal this year.  Out of nowhere yesterday my son says, “Mr. R is awesome!  He hangs out with us at lunch, and laughs with kids in the hallway.  He plays jokes on kids.  He’s just great.  Our old principal was mean and boring.  He just wanted kids to respect him.”  My response was, “Who do you respect more?  Mr. M or Mr. R?”  “Mr. R, of course! He’s nice!”  In my opinion, Mr. R is demonstrating his role as Lead Learner of his elementary building.  He is learning his new students’ names and personalities by interacting with them on their turf.  In a week and a half, he has already won the respect of one third grader, and I’m sure it goes much further than my son.  Mr. R is showing his teachers that he values authentic relationships.  He’s learning and teaching by example.

District Administrator as a Lead Learner: I am friends with a Director of Technology and Media Services of a large school system.  Before going on a family vacation he asked me what professional book I’d recommend.  He wanted to get it on audio to listen to during the night time hours of driving while his family was sleeping.  He could have easily opted to listen to music or sports, but wanted to capitalize on his time while not taking away from his family time.  He also attends regional and national conferences, taking his team when possible, to be serve the stakeholders of his district.

Teacher as a Lead Learner: I have so many examples of wonderful teachers that I’ve taught with, worked beside, and trained throughout the years.  A few snapshots from my recent role as a consultant come from a school district in Waukegan, IL.  I was honored to spend three days working with some of their middle/high school teachers as they learned about Chromebooks, Digital Citizenship, and GAFE.  There were a few people who I connected with more deeply, and I’m going to talk about two: Sarah and Lillian.  Sarah is a health teacher who loves her job.  She is probably in her forties, and spends her own time developing quality units and lessons in order to engage and teach her students.  Her enthusiasm and hard work made my “job” so much fun.  She embraced the learning and you could see her desire for constant improvement in her attitude.  She showed me a letter a former student gave her, so I know just how blessed they are to have her as their lead learner.  Lillian was close to sixty years old (though you would never know it!), retired from the Army, and taught JROTC at the high school level.  The entire group of JROTC teachers were a blast, but Lillian and I formed a bit of a fast friendship.  I loved see the look of pride on her face as she set up classes in Google Classroom.  Here is a lady who truly is a lifelong learner (just look at her career history!), and is still excited to learn with and for her students each year.

Students as Lead Learners: Typically when you hear the Lead Learner term, it’s referring to adults, but students can, are, and should be Lead Learners, as well.  If a teacher is striving for student-led instruction, then the students are the lead learners.  This should be the norm, not the exception, and I look forward to the day that it is.

Everyone has the ability and responsibility to be their own Lead Learner.  If they happen to be leading someone else’s learning in the process, then all the better.  Myself? I love social media because it connects me to so many avenues of great learning.  This week I will talk to three different contacts made via LinkedIn.  I know that I will learn from those conversations, and be energized in the process.  Well, I’m off to post this to Twitter and LinkedIn, and then look for other people’s posts so that I can learn from them.  Being a Lead Learner is a reciprocal position.

Five Friday Faves: Newly Discovered Web Tools Edition

 tech tools

 

Some of these websites, webpages, and/or web tools may not be very new to you, but they are all resources that I have discovered within the last month.   Each of them makes my life easier, and my online time, more efficient.

  1. Spruce – This website allows you to type any message, select the right background image (which are automatically attributed), and download the custom image that is perfectly sized for Twitter.
  2. Pixabay – Pixabay has over 430,000 free photos, vectors and art illustrations.  You can use any Pixabay image without attribution in digital and printed form, even for commercial applications.  This cuts down on time it takes to research copyrights and photo credits
  3. Tweet Jukebox –
  4. Slides Carnival – I like anything that plays nicely with Google Drive.  Slides Carnival is full of free templates for Google Slides presentations.  Simply find the format that best fits your needs, select it, and it will go straight to your Drive to be used for your creation.
  5. Hapara – So I haven’t actually used Hapara.  It is an amazing product designed for schools (which is why I haven’t used it).  I was able to attend a web conference recently and learned all about Hapara.  It allows teachers to see every website their students have open, push out assignments or resources to whoever they want (allowing for personalization), receive finished assignments, collaborate with their students, etc. all from one website that syncs with Google Drive.  It is a GAFE teacher’s dream.  This is the only web tool listed that has a cost involved, but from what I’ve seen and heard from those who have purchased it – it’s well worth the cost.

I’m always looking for new ways to make my life easier.  Please feel free to share those you like the most.

Teachers as Learners

spruce-image

 

I have had the honor of providing a variety of professional development and trainings for teachers over the past few years.  I love that I get to combine two of my passions: education and leadership.  But I noticed something a bit frustrating the first time I delivered any kind of training to teachers….It’s much easier to teach children than adults.  I was an elementary teacher and I could usually maintain good classroom management just through engaging content and the good ‘ole “teacher look”.  My students respected my authority as their teacher, and generally enjoyed coming to school.

I’ve now moved into the world of consulting and all of my work is in training and/or coaching other educators.  Most of the teachers and administrators I’ve worked with have been great.  They weren’t all eager to give up summer time to come learn about technology integration, but most had decent attitudes about it.  But, there is always one (or a small group) of Negative Nellies (being named Janelle, I never loved this expression, but it fits…and I’m not usually too negative, so I will use it with abandon).  My strategy for dealing with those few involves big smiles and quiet affirmations that I am there to help them.  I feel like I win most people over as the day goes.  Most recently I was able to spend three days with a school district working with some of their high school teachers as they are moving 1:1 with Dell Chromebooks this school year.  I had so much fun with these teachers!  However, in a back corner of the room was a table of three women.  I could tell early on (like I hadn’t even introduced myself yet) that one was angry.  Anger is a secondary emotion (trying to sound very psychological here…), and typically stems from some sort of fear.  Since I have worked with many educators in the past, I understand that change often feeds fear in some people.  So, I don’t take that personally, and I made it my goal to smile big at her and try to find out what she was afraid of so I could dispel the anger before it contaminated those around her.  She exclaimed, “I thought technology was supposed to make things easier!”  Now any of my friends who have Chromebooks, use GAFE, or even those who just enjoy personal gmail accounts will probably agree that all tools can make things easier.  I said, “I know you don’t feel like it yet, but I am going to show you how much easier your workflow can be with these tools.”  She then complained about not being able to save documents to her desktop, and that she doesn’t need to be able to access these from any other device because she only uses one, and multiple tabs open make her angry (ummm…yeah, I’m picking up on that anger), etc.  Lots of complaining, not much listening.  As the day progressed, it was usually that table that would be talking while I was trying to model something important.  Or that group that wouldn’t come back to the group after some breakout work time.  I kept smiling (because I’m a Positive Nellie), but was wondering how this teacher would respond to students in her classroom that acted like that.  Would she cut them some slack, try to reengage them kindly, give them opportunities to vent their feelings?  I’m guessing not…

I guess my point to this is threefold:

  1. Teachers need to embrace learning.  That doesn’t mean you automatically buy into whatever someone is trying to teach you, but it means be open-minded to those whose purpose is to help you.
  2. Learners (in this case, teachers) need to be respectful to coaches/trainers in the way they expect from students in their own classrooms.
  3. Teachers need to pause and think about why a student might be acting out, withdrawing, or being negative in their own classes and try to rectify it in the name of learning.

Are you a lifelong learner?  We tout that phrase in education.  And learning can look differently for every person (ahem, plea for differentiation in the classroom here).  But, we need to seek out learning that we are personally passionate about, and realize that, at times, we will be forced to attend a training our district requires.  Go with a good attitude.  It will be more enjoyable and beneficial for all involved.  Be the learner you want your students to be.