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Monthly Archives: December 2015

15 Things of Which I am Grateful for in 2015 (and beyond)

(Not loving that title, but I’m going with it for the time being.)

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  1. Family – I have an amazing family.  They support, encourage, love, and tease me – all important things.  My children’s smiles brighten my day like nothing else.
  2. Friends – I’m so grateful for friends who laugh with me, and hold me up when I cry.  I am blessed with both a wide and deep support system.
  3. Faith – I’m thankful for the freedom to believe, learn, and worship in the ways I choose to.  And grateful for a God that shows mercy, grace, and love.
  4. Health – I love healthy foods, and enjoy exercise.  I’m grateful that those two things help make good health easier to achieve and maintain.
  5. Freedom – I mentioned this in #3, but it goes so much deeper.  I’m not scared to walk out my door, post whatever I want on social media, read my Bible in public, or desire an education.  I’m so thankful for the men and women who have fought so that I can enjoy these freedoms.
  6. Laughter – I love to laugh.  The end.
  7. Strength – I don’t mean physical strength, but I’m thankful for the mental and emotional strength I’ve been able to draw upon throughout 2015.  I feel even stronger going into 2016.
  8. Joy – This will sound overly simplistic, but life is just better when we focus on what brings us joy.  I’m so very grateful for having a life full of those joys.
  9. Hugs – They just feel good.  And hugs can communicate feelings better than any other physical touch.
  10. My Career – I started my own business in 2015, and it’s only getting busier for 2016 – which is a very good thing.  The best part is that I get to do something I love, that I am passionate about, and that I’m good at.
  11. New Connections – I’ve written about this before, but I’m energized by talking with like-minded people.  It’s fun to meet new people, share stories, and learn from one another.  I’ve made many new connections in 2015, and I’m grateful for each one.
  12. Dark Chocolate – It’s simply the best.  My kids bought be a Divine (fair-trade chocolate) dark chocolate caramel bar for my stocking.  Unbelievably delicious.
  13. Coffee – I just love coffee.  It’s yummy – especially with dark chocolate.
  14. Wine – A nice glass of Riesling pairs wonderfully with dark chocolate.  🙂
  15. Exercise – Grateful that I (mostly) enjoy exercise particularly because of my indulgence in #12-14.

I am pretty confident that I will be equally grateful for all of these in 2016, as well, but wanted to practice gratitude by writing a short list at the conclusion of this year.  I’ve also been sitting on my #oneword for 2016 for about a week now.  Stay tuned (and share yours with me!)  Happy New Year, Everyone!

Iron Sharpens Iron

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I love getting to meet new people.  Well, maybe I should rephrase that…I love getting to meet like-minded people – people who share the same vision that I have for leadership and education.  Last week I got to do that three different times in one day.  All through connections I’ve made on LinkedIn, I had two different phone meetings, and one coffee meeting in the same day, with educators all over the US.  They were all conversations regarding how we might work together, but each one left me energized and excited to be doing what I do.  I think it’s so important to surround yourself with people who challenge you, and help you grow.  Of course I have people in my life who do just that who have nothing to do with education, but I still leave their presence filled.  I love to read, but there is something about learning from just having a conversation with another human, real-time, that feeds my mind like no book or article ever can.  My hope is that I sharpen those I talk with, too.

Grit, Rigor, Stamina, and other cool ed terms

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Every industry loves its jargon, and education is no different.  There are “best practices” touted all over to ensure your students are future-ready and becoming 21st century citizens.  And then, educators discuss the rigor of instruction and assessment, student stamina, and the word “grit” is even thrown into educational conversations.  

I’ve been a professional educator since 1998 (I was a child prodigy, ahem).  My first job was teaching first-graders.  I can still remember many of those students by name and with their cute six-year-old faces in my mind.  Here’s the thing: I had high expectations for all of my students.  Even as a first-year teacher, I believed in each of them and their potential.  My curriculum and instruction was modified (differentiated, to throw another edjargon term at you), and I would say rigorous for all of my students.  As I increased my experience, my instruction got better.  My expectations remained high for my students, and I was never disappointed once when a student left my classroom at the end of the year.  Those kids had stamina and grit and I didn’t even have to teach them how.  Did my attitude, instructions, and expectations naturally nurture those qualities in my students?  Probably.  Guess what else?  They were all ready for the next school year.  They were future-ready. Wait for it – there’s more.  They are all (and have been for the past fifteen years) 21st century citizens.  So, while I agree with where education is headed (and I better since I make my career out of it!), I don’t think the basic premise is different.  Good educators want to teach their students to learn, and to enjoy it.  We can throw around jargon, but it doesn’t change the heart of education….to create lifelong learners.

You Can’t Take Me Anywhere – A story of grace and humor

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So this happened on the airplane of a recent work trip.  It gets better.  The fight attendant was squatted down right beside my feet getting drinks when I had my salad-lid malfunction.  I was embarrassed and very apologetic.  She said, “Oh, don’t worry about it.  The cabin crew will take care of it.”  I thanked her, after apologizing sixty-three more times, and tried to pretend that my feet weren’t surrounded by romaine for the next five hours of my flight.  

I like to use my flight times to read, work on projects, or write blog posts.  It was as I was sitting here writing a different post that I remembered a time back when I was in kindergarten (yes, I have a great memory, I know).  There was this boy in my class who constantly had “accidents”.  I’m not sure why he wet his pants so often, but what I remember is the horrible teacher embarrassing him, and making him clean up the urine on the floor each time.  Thinking of this story compared with my own, the differences are glaring – and should be the opposite.  I’m an adult who should be able to handle my food requirements.  He was a five-year-old, in school for the first time, possibly even with medical issues.  I was quickly reassured, he was quickly belittled.  My embarrassment lasted less than a minute because of the flight attendant’s attitude.  I have no idea what kind of lasting impact that teacher’s behavior had on the little boy in my class.  

A lady two rows up from me turned around to look back towards the bathroom.  I watched her face as she noticed my Caesar salad lying on the floor, and had to laugh.  Thankfully, she didn’t see me watching her (I don’t need “creepy airplane lady” added to my list).  She had this instant look of disdain.  I’m still laughing in memory and thinking that each person who walks past me is probably sharing her thoughts.  But, as someone who has had two children and all the messes and embarrassing moments that come with that would do, I just laugh and remind myself that most of the time I get through meals without dumping half of it on the floor.  These people just will never experience that normalcy.  

But back to the kindergarten memory…would that boy have been able to laugh if he saw his peers looking disdainfully at the puddle under his chair?  Certainly not.  And the teacher only made matters one hundred times worse by lacking compassion and grace.  

We hold so much power.  Be a positive influence in the life of others.  Pick up their book when they drop it.  Talk kindly to the cashier even if he’s less-than-friendly.  Smile at the lady who spills her salad at the floor and share a laugh.  Speak truth into the hearts of the children in your life.  And the truth is that they are amazing human beings who deserve to be encouraged, supported, and cared for by adults around them.

Organizational Leadership

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I’ve often written about leadership as it’s an area of interest for me, and something about which I’m passionate.  I’m even going to make the claim that I’ve always been a leader.  While I was somewhat shy as a child, I could organize my group of friends at recess like nobody’s business.  I lived in the country without many neighbors, but the two (younger, ahem) neighbor girls that I played with always heeded my direction.  Okay, so they didn’t have much choice, but it worked for me, nevertheless.  As I entered adolescence, and then young adulthood, those leadership skills were somewhat dormant as I battled  teenage angst and all that goes with it.  Later, they reemerged as a classroom teacher, and then continued to strengthen and grow when I became a curriculum director.  It was during this stint as an administrator, that I really began to study and analyze leadership styles.  I also began graduate work in school administration during this time, and the program I studied under was built around servant leadership.  Now, in my first year as an entrepreneur, I’m learning more about organizational leadership as a whole, and not just as it relates to school systems.

Every organization consists of stakeholders in various roles.  And every organization has a hierarchy of sorts.  I would argue a very simple point that the better the leadership, the better the organization as a whole.  I’ve had the pleasure of working for, and with, fantastic leaders.  Like most people, I have also worked for/with mediocre and poor leaders (though I wouldn’t use that term to define their roles).  An organization can appear to flourish even under poor management if the people under them are stellar individuals.  The breakdown occurs more quickly when the poor leader holds strings too tightly (micromanager, bullier, power-monger), or if they are left unchecked by the governing board.  I have actually talked to members of a school board who act as though the superintendent is their boss, rather than the other way around.  That mindset baffles me, but knowing the superintendent (who would fit any of the titles in the previous parentheses), I can understand how they are a bit blind to their position in the hierarchy.

There are definitely different leadership styles, and different groups benefit from different types of leadership.  I’ve written about top characteristics in any leadership style, so won’t break that down today.  I would define myself as a servant leader with characteristics from the Transformational and Innovative Leadership styles.  Feel free to Google those terms (a good reminder for anyone in a leadership position).  Good leaders are also continually growing in their roles and abilities.

This is what it boils down to: The key to an effective organization lies in effective leadership.  This is rooted in excellent communication, mutual support of a shared vision, and courage to make right choices all day long.

The Plight of the Learner

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Every teacher – even those in their first year of teaching – have had struggling learners in the classroom.  Actually, a great teacher would have times when every student was “struggling” – but that’s a different article.  “Struggles” can take on so many different forms: attention issues, learning challenges, home life, physical limitations…

I remember one particular year, a third of my students brought special struggles to the classroom each day.  I had to be strategic in my planning and my teaching to make sure they were engaged and learning.  It was something I had to constantly revisit.  Something that might work for one student, wouldn’t for another.  What worked for one student on Monday, might not work for them on Tuesday.  I’m sure you get what I’m saying.  The name of the game was flexibility and a calm presence.  If I got frustrated (which would be unfair to the students) then they would end up frustrated.  I had students who benefited most from close proximity to me.  I had one student who sat on the perimeter of the pods all year because he preferred to stand most of the day. I had students who couldn’t transfer writing on the board to their own papers, so I gave them their own copy.  I think the number one point to remember is that there is a child in that body who deserves to learn, who deserves to be cared about.

How can we make sure that we empathize with struggling learners?  Well, I would argue that the best teachers empathize with every learner. Here are some basic suggestions on how to best meet student learning needs:

  • Greet every student individually every time they enter your classroom. This is a daily reminder to them that you see them, that you care about them, and that you are glad they are in your classroom.
  • Use formative assessment to guide instruction.  Constantly take the pulse of your classroom through a variety of formative assessment tools.  This way you know which students are ready to move on, and which need more of your attention.  Your students (and their needs) should always guide the pacing and the methods for learning.
  • Communicate regularly with home.  Send home quick notes of praise for each student quarterly (at the least).  I even kept a checklist so I could see who I still needed to recognize.  Sometimes I would send a quick email, sometimes a phone call, sometimes a letter home with the child, and other times I would mail a postcard.  This establishes and nurtures open communication with parents.  It’s also important to send home, and/or digitally publish weekly newsletters to keep parents aware of what is happening in the classroom.
  • Make personalized learning the norm in your classroom. Learning based on each student’s ability, interest, and readiness level is the number one best way to meet the needs of every learner. This is a greater possibility than you may think at first.

How do you empathize with the plights of struggling learners?  What would you add to the list above?

Google Slides – More than a PowerPoint alternative

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A few years ago when I first started using Google Drive for my work needs I was less-than-impressed by Google Slides.  The templates offered on Drive were boring, and I just wasn’t that into PowerPoints to begin with, so why would I like Google’s version?  But, like a good convert, I used Slides whenever I had to design a report or give a presentation at a board meeting or professional development for my staff.  It has only been within the last year that I’ve expanded my thinking, and because of that, began to realize the full potential that Slides can offer.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to use Google Slides:

  • Class Blog – This is not my own idea.  I first saw the idea from Karly Moura on Matt Miller’s blog. I have since shared it with teachers from elementary school to advanced high school mathematics.  Basically, the teacher creates a Google Slides presentation (title page, direction page, then just copy/paste the next slide for as many students as you have), and shares it with the class.  Each student gets one slide to share thoughts, answers, images, reflections.  Then, students comment on their classmates’ slides, making it interactive and giving the feedback component of a blog.  I love this idea for introducing blogging, appropriate comments, etc. to a class.  Plus, it’s incredibly easy to set up and completely private to the class.  It’s also a great way to teach students about the power (and pitfalls) of collaborating on one presentation.  Invariably, someone will change the theme or delete a slide on accident.  It’s a great way to teach  how to use the undo button and Revision History.  Message me if you want some templates that have already been created.
  • Digital Portfolio – Google Slides is a great place for students to house evidence of their learning.  They can write brief project reflections, insert an image to show a finished product, or even embed a video demonstrating their learning in action.  The best part of it is that they can share the presentation with their parents and teachers so that the learning progression can be viewed as it happens.  The digital portfolio goes with the student from there on out since it’s housed in their Drive.  
  • Collaborative PresentationsThis one is pretty obvious.  However, I no longer think of them as boring.  Google’s default templates have gotten a bit better, but I love using the templates at www.slidescarnival.com.  The best part of any Google Drive apps is the availability to work on something with someone (or lots of someones) at the same time.  It’s a great way for a team to produce a culminating project.  Plus, Google makes it easy to search and add images and videos from within the Slides tab.  
  • Unit Review – For one 4th grade classroom, I created a Google Slides template with four concepts they had just finished studying in math.  Each slide had a different topic (i.e. adding and subtracting decimals). The students made their own copy (automatically done for them in Google Classroom), then created their own content to show what they had learned about that concept. Some added screenshots from their math notebooks, others searched for images within Slides, while others just wrote brief explanations.  All students shared their reviews with the teachers.
  • Formative Assessments This can be done in any number of ways, and can even be a combination of those I mentioned above.  The teacher can create a presentation, share it with the students, and they get one slide to show what they know so far. The teacher can create a “quiz” of sorts on a Slides presentation and the students have to answer the questions somewhere else.  Teachers can embed a Google Form into Slides they are using during instruction to take a quick temperature of the class.

What are other creative ways you use Google Slides?

 

Want more information on how I can work with your leaders, teachers, and staff?

Email me: info@innovativeeducationsolutions.net

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Connect with me on LinkedIn: Janelle McLaughlin, Innovative Education Solutions

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