Four Emerging Trends in Education

I have often heard the adage, “In education, what’s old is new again.” While this is true of some initiatives, I’ve been in education long enough to know these strategies are improved upon as they come around each time. I also know that there are definite emerging trends that are completely new to the world of education for the current generation of students. I’m going to discuss four of the hottest right now, though they definitely have areas of overlap.

  1. Blended Learning: The ongoing increase in technology integration continues to push learning towards blended platforms, allowing students a more personalized learning experience. I think we will see more virtual offerings where students don’t need to be in a brick and mortar environment to pursue their learning interests. Blended learning takes on many different meanings depending on who you are speaking with. It has been defined by The Christensen Institute as, “The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns:
  • at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;
  • at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;
  • and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.”

Blended learning strategies allow for maximizing personalized learning opportunities. Pflugerville ISD, Texas, had several students at one high school that wanted to take Arabic, but their school didn’t offer that as a foreign language choice. Another school in the district, however, has it as a course offering. So, they put these eight students into a classroom with a German teacher during his planning period, and the students video conference into the Arabic class at the other school each day. Another example includes an alternative school in Crowley ISD. A middle school math teacher utilizes OneNote and Khan Academy to allow his ever-changing student enrollment to work independently since they come to him at all different places in the curriculum. This frees him up to work individually with each student as the need arises. These are only two examples of how blended learning strategies open possibilities for all students’ learning. Formative assessments taken digitally can provide immediate feedback to both the student and the teacher allowing them to be constantly adjusting instruction to best meet individual needs.

Virtual Learning: Virtual Learning Environments can be defined as “a set of teaching and learning tools designed to enhance a student’s learning experience by including computers and the Internet in the learning process.” This actually means much of what was discussed in the blended learning section, but we are going to focus on the increase of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) experiences in the classroom. Google Cardboard created one of the first opportunities for students and teachers to take advantage of virtual field trips via virtual reality platforms. Real field trips are not always logistically or financially possible (especially if we are talking about visiting landmarks on the other side of the world.) Herein lies the beauty of virtual field trips. Students can “visit” the White House, The Louvre, a desert in Africa, and so on. These opportunities expose our children to places and events they would otherwise never experience. There are many different companies and websites that provide VR lessons, and many are starting to come out with augmented reality options, as well. Google Expeditions is even providing free AR opportunities through their AR Pioneers program. Nearpod has developed a similar product for headsets and lessons taking you virtually around the world. Some other blogs have written extensively about other free options for virtual field trips. Check these out for more ideas and share the wealth:

  1. 5 Virtual Field Trips for Kids of All Ages
  2. Digital and Virtual Field Trips
  3. 250 Virtual Field Trips…. most of them are free!

The benefits of tapping into these resources are exponential!

Authentic Learning Experiences: Now many of you might say this isn’t an “emerging trend” but has been an area of best practice for years. I won’t argue with that. The widespread implementation of Project Based Learning and Genius Hour, however, is still catching on in many areas. Anytime we can tap into a student’s personal interests, we up the authenticity of instruction. In addition to Genius Hour, Writer’s and Reader’s Workshop also allows for student choice, as well, as personalized instruction during conferences to drive student learning when and where they need it most.

We hear a lot about real-world problems. Here are two snapshots (one from high school, and one from kindergarten) that are fantastic examples of addressing real issues.

Ms. Cox, Spartanburg 5 in South Carolina, is a kindergarten teacher. She noticed during a zoo field trip last year that the students just kind of ran around all day. While she knows the zoo is a valuable experience for the kindergartners, she just didn’t see much learning being done. She decided to do something different for this school year’s trip. This year, prior to the trip, the students will select an animal to study. They will learn about it’s living needs (food, adequate enclosure space, etc). Partnering with an engineering class at the high school, the kindergartners will then work on designing a model of a proper zoo enclosure for their animal, creating it on a 3-D printer. They will also use measurements and build a life-sized model of their animal, choosing from a variety of mediums. Ms. Cox is then working on having people from the zoo come in to hear the final presentations from the students to give them an authentic audience.

Mr. Patterson is an engineering teacher at a CTE high school in  Crowley, TX. He had a real problem that needed solved. His wife has a hard top Jeep and it usually takes four adults to remove the top. He tasked his students to work with partners to design a lift to remove the top. First, they drew designs in CAD.Then, they chose from five different types of materials to build a prototype of the design. After that, they presented their ideas to the class, and as a whole, they voted on the one to actually build. The teacher provided all of the materials for the actual lift since this was something his wife would be using. It was a huge success and took his students through every phase of the design process, while also giving them the satisfaction from building the lift.

4. Learning Space Design: This is in the early stages of really taking center stage. The easiest way to consider changing your learning space design is through flexible seating. I see this done all the time in elementary classes. Teachers will have spaces around the room where students can sit on pillows, or at tables, or at desks. They even have various items to sit on (exercise balls, crates, stools, chairs, even five-gallon buckets!). Elementary teachers have embraced the benefits of collaborative seating arrangements for years, as well. Sadly, these ideas are often missing in many secondary classrooms. Desks in rows with no other options for seating is still the norm for the majority of middle and high schools. I have had the pleasure of seeing some newly built and/or newly renovated high schools, however, that are working hard towards embracing the science behind learning space design. In these buildings, we see comfortable seating with charging stations, commons spaces throughout the school for students to work with each other, small conference rooms for group projects, and more modular seating options within the classrooms, as well. I recently read The Space: A Guide for Educators by Robert Dillon and Rebecca Louise Hare. It’s a fantastic read that is about so much more than just learning space design. I often recommend it to educators I’m working with because of the inherent pedagogy that weaves throughout the discussions on design. I’m won’t give away the details of the book, but one big takeaway I had was in the need for quiet space in today’s classrooms. By that, I don’t just mean audibly quiet, but space that is left uncluttered for the mind to quiet itself. These spaces are often missing in many elementary classrooms. There is a lot of validity to hanging anchor charts in the classroom, but I’m struck by how every blank wall space, cabinet space, bulletin board space, door space (you get the point) is covered in anchor charts, student work, motivational posters, or cute decorations. Trust me, I had one of those classrooms. I wanted to create “our” space with my students. While that is great, there still needs to be a corner somewhere that’s left free of clutter for students who would benefit from a designated location to settle their brains in order to forge new learning.

We can call these trends, but they really are just part of an ongoing conversation around best practices in teaching and learning. This is an exciting time to be part of the educational landscape, shaping the experiences are students get to have each day. Let’s make these experiences engaging and the effects long-lasting.


Posted in Education, Leadership, Professional Experiences, Technology | Tagged , , ,

Tackling Top Leadership Practices

I have had the pleasure of working in over thirty different school districts in two different countries over the past nineteen years. Those experiences, coupled with my passion for student-driven educational environments and strong leadership practices are what fuel my work today. One chief aspect of my work is to work one-on-one with leaders coaching them on how to leverage technology to produce more engaging and effective instruction while tapping into readily-available data to guide decision-making for classrooms, schools, and entire districts.

Recently I was asked what I do when I get pushback from teachers or administrators with whom I’m working. That’s a very relevant question, because, of course, it does happen. What I have learned is that if I want people to buy in, I have to form a relationship with them first. To do that in these types of situations, I start by listening. I listen to the words they are saying and observe the nonverbal cues they are giving off. The main purpose of listening is to discover their fears. Usually, pushback is rooted in fear of some kind. It can be fear that they will be left behind – unable to learn whatever the new initiative entails. But it can also be a fear that this is just something else that will eat up their time. After listening, and asking questions, and spending time discovering, then I can start doing the work of alleviating those fears so that we can move forward.

Asking questions, and truly listening is a leadership best practice that is rooted in building relationships. The best leaders take time to get to know the people working with them. And I prefer saying working with them, as opposed to for them because that is the mentality that relational leaders have – one of collaboration. Time after time, organizations that have negative cultures or weak teams can trace the problem back to a leader who hasn’t taken time to build relationships and foster a culture of team-building.

Another important leadership practice is to have a well-thought-out plan in place before implementing any new initiative. This seems obvious, but I’ve seen too many school districts buy technology without a clearly defined reason behind the purchase, or a plan on how to effectively use it to benefit all stakeholders. Strong leaders spend time with other people determining the why first. They tap into the experience of others who have had similar implementations and learn from them. They seek input from people at all levels of impact to garner other perspectives. A plan is created collaboratively, and revisited often for reflection and planning the next steps of the initiative.

That segues nicely into the third practice I’d like to highlight: reflective practice. Leaders at every level, from teachers in the classroom to CEOs in the boardroom, need to make intentional time for reflection. This actually needs to be scheduled on the calendar. Of course, informal “reflection-on-the-fly” can occur randomly, but intentional time needs to be scheduled on a regular basis. Some people can process this time individually. My regular reflections happen through writing. It works for me. I process while I write, and do this even during the times I don’t feel like writing. The bonus for me is that I don’t have to count on someone else being available for that time. Other people, however, need that accountability partner. They need someone to make them talk through their work and process verbally. It doesn’t matter how it happens, it just matters that it does happen. Most learning and growth occurs through reflection on the practice. Having specific questions to think through each time can help serve as a guide. They can be as simple as: What’s working? What’s not? What do I need to change? Whose input do I need? What’s a next step I need to take? Not all of these questions will need to be answered each time. Additionally, others might naturally surface during your time of reflection. It doesn’t need to be rigid, just regular.

A colleague recently asked me to be a thought partner with her. This will be a bit more structured and will be in addition to my own personal reflection. I’m eager to tap into her mind power on a regular basis to stretch my own thinking to reflect in a different way.

Finally, the last key best practice I’ll mention is the importance of continuous growth. Leaders must be the models of what they expect to see in their teammates. We are never done learning.

Find ways to learn something new, a way to challenge thinking, people who push you further, books that add value to your personally and professionally. I most frequently learn through reading (articles, books, tweets, blog posts), but I am most energized by learning from peers in person. I have colleagues who prefer learning via podcasts or webinars. There is no right way. Find what works best with your lifestyle, and what you enjoy most.

To build a positive culture that results in a strong organization, leaders need to take time to build relationships, plan strategically, incorporate reflective practice, and maintain an attitude of continuous learning.

My favorite way of sharing best practices in leadership is face-to-face, (coaching, keynoting, presenting at conferences or in-house) but virtually, I do this by writing about leadership regularly on my blog, sharing tips and relevant articles on Twitter and LinkedIn, hosting virtual learning sessions with people who want to go deeper with a group of other leaders in a more personal environment, and leading virtual one-on-one coaching sessions with leaders from the comfort of our own offices. If you love to learn with other people, let’s connect, and share other best leadership practices.


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The Leadership Evolution

I have been spending some time recently talking with leaders, picking their brains a bit. Because I’m a firm believer that good leadership is good leadership regardless of industry, I haven’t limited these conversations to educational leaders only. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking with Mark Ackley, Executive Vice President of Nueterra Capital. We were discussing the ways leadership has changed throughout our careers.

Mark had this to say, “I was born in 1961. When I entered the workforce, this was the leadership style: Leaders wore suits, commanded respect, sat at the head of the table, loyalty was never challenged. This has evolved to where leaders are more integrated with their teams and become more teammates than what we call the traditional leader. [Strong leaders] have really changed from “command and control” to a more humble, team-oriented outlook. There is no way you can manage millennials in the same way you managed Baby Boomers. You have to change to meet their needs or you are doing the whole organization an injustice. Unfortunately, there are many people who don’t understand that leadership styles must evolve. They still think they are kings/queens as opposed to leading an organization. The starting point is recognizing that there is no RIGHT way. There’s just a way. There is an objective to meet.”

His passion for relational leadership echoes my own, so I couldn’t help but spend time pondering his thoughts as they related to my own experiences. My professional experiences all take place in the education arena. I have worked with both types of leaders. The “traditional” boss wanted people to feel like they had input, but we really had very little. He very much wanted to be the “smartest guy in the room”. This led to a disjointed team, that he ran through fear rather than a collaborative spirit. High turnover in that administrative team comes with no surprise.

Other leaders I’ve worked with are more evolved in their leadership styles. They seek ways to build their teams, show their employees that they are valued and an important part of the organization. These are the leaders I want to learn from. They are the ones I want to work with.

Michael Jaber, Coordinator of Instructional Technology at Sheboygan Area School District had similar points. He said, “I believe that there is more of a collaborative approach to leadership now. Many “old school” leaders use a top-down approach to leadership and that style is not as successful as it once was. The leader of today needs to be an equal and empower the staff that works for them.”

How do you empower your team? I’d love to hear your leadership stories.


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The New Normal

I’m not a big fan of the term “21st Century Skills”. I mean, we are nearly two decades into the 21st century. Shouldn’t those skills just be called learning? I also don’t love the phrase, “but that’s how we’ve always done it.” I don’t advocate change just for the sake of change, but I also don’t believe in regurgitating the same lessons year after year just because it “worked” the year before. A few years ago I was collaborating with a nearby district to bring our two seventh grade classes together for a joint PBL project. We were excited about this opportunity to broaden our students’ academic sphere with an authentic project. My superintendent was not as eager. His response, “We are an A school district. They are a C. What can we possibly learn from them?” His vision was so narrow. Somehow, I was able to maintain a professional composure while trying to show him the benefits to all students (and teachers!).

Currently, as a consultant, I get to work with some pretty amazing educators across our country. Every once in awhile, however, I come across someone who asks me something like this, “How can I handle the “normal” stuff in addition to all of the tech integration stuff you are wanting me to do?”

The answer, while simple, isn’t always easy. We have to change what we consider “normal”.

I have a fifteen-year-old daughter. She rarely calls her friends to talk. She rarely texts her friends through her phone messaging app. The clear majority of her communication is via social media, specifically Snapchat. Since my husband and I are parents who limit screen time, this has been an adaptation that’s hard for my husband to adjust to. I explained to him that when I was at that age, my parents limited my phone time to 30 minutes per conversation. I had five friends I talked to on the phone every night. That’s two and a half hours on the phone! I’ve had to help my husband change his mind on what “normal” teenage communication looks like. We’ve had to adjust screen time allocations for her when it comes to communicating with her friends.

I love to shop. But I do about fifty percent of my shopping online. It’s easier, faster, and often less expensive. My guess is that percentage will only increase in the days ahead. It’s the new normal.

Currently, my husband is completing all of the requirements for his Master’s degree online. My nephew is in his freshman year of college, and while he lives in the dorms and takes traditional classes, he also has two classes that are online. One of the high schools I work with in Texas is able to offer Arabic to some high school students via video conferencing at a nearby high school where it is offered live. I’m sitting on an airplane right now, writing this post on my way to Florida for work where I will meet with K-12 teachers to transition their teaching and learning into student-driven environments via effective and engaging technology integration. This really is the new normal.

I will not expect them to teach everything the way they’ve always taught it and add in projects that incorporate digital components. There is no point. Instead, I help them reimagine what learning could look like if the students were driving it. I help them explore strategies, resources, and ideas that blend learning to make it more authentic to the students they teach and this world where we live. I often hear people comment on how different kids are today than they were when we were growing up. That’s true (as it has been for every generation before), and that’s why classrooms, schools, instruction, and learning need to look different. I want kids to know they are loved. I want them to love learning. I want them to be prepared for life after high school. I want them to learn in ways that resonate with them as individuals. I want them to experience freedom in their learning and learn responsibility through owning that. All of this happens when educators change the way they see “normal”. So, what does normal look like to you?


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3 Ways Leaders can Flip Staff Meetings for more Authentic Growth

We’ve all sat in those meetings wondering why on earth we are still debating what color to paint the staff restroom. So maybe not that exact debate, but something equally inconsequential in the lives of students and staff. I remember going to monthly whole-staff meetings as a classroom teacher. They would usually begin with housekeeping items, then sometimes there would be an article to read and discuss. Other times there would be data to analyze. But at the end of the meeting, we never really did anything with that information. I don’t remember ever leaving a single one energized, or feeling like what I just did was worthwhile. And I taught for fourteen years. That’s a lot of time that could’ve been spent in better ways.

As a district administrator, the meetings were more frequent, and much longer in duration. The difference was that they were conducted around a conference table and we had the agenda about a week prior to the meeting in a Google doc so we could add to the agenda. Although there were still times that I felt disconnected, most of these meetings were more purposeful. Since each administrator had an equal voice at the table, we were more involved in the process.

Now, as a full-time consultant, my meetings look vastly different. The majority of my work occurs with educators from states all over the country. Our meetings are conducted by phone, video conference, and sometimes just a shared Google doc. These are the most streamlined and effective meetings I’ve ever been a part of.

So, how can you change your delivery to make staff meetings something people actually look forward to and benefit from? Let’s look at these three key points:

  1. The Power of the Written Word – Share any written information possible prior to the meeting.  Share articles to read, data to review, policies to peruse/refine, and upcoming events via email and shared drives. You can use a learning management system to post resources, links, videos, and other instructional material. Pose discussion questions which the teachers can respond to and/or assignments for specific tasks the teachers need to complete and submit. Social media forums are also great platforms to encourage discussion and share articles and videos. I even know principals who have conducted entire staff meetings through the use of hashtags on Twitter. It’s a great way to expose teachers to this forum.
  2. The Power of Video Conferencing – Not all meetings have to be face-to-face. Save time driving all over the district by holding the meetings via Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, Adobe Connect…you get the idea. These are especially nice for administrator meetings, committee meetings that are district-wide, initial interviews with potential employees, and of course, meeting with peers who are not local.
  3. The Power of Video Recording – Recording a message that isn’t intended to be interactive is a great way to disseminate announcements, directions on how to do something new, or go over handbook policies. I love using Screencastify for this. It’s easy to use and works on any computer. Step one: Plan your vision for the meeting. Step two: Create a Google Slides presentation with the information you would cover during a meeting. Step three: Use Screencastify to record your presentation. Step four: Easily upload to Google Drive or YouTube, or share directly on Google Classroom (or your compatible LMS). Step five: Share the video with your staff prior to (or in place of) a face-to-face meeting.

By flipping your staff meetings, the actual face-to-face time becomes a much more authentic use of that time together. I’m a big believer in modeling what we are expecting to see in the classroom. If we are working to personalize instruction for our students, then we need to personalize learning for the teachers, as well. Planning for more efficient use of that meeting time allows for this to take shape. Personalized professional learning will:

  • Connect educators with each other and to PLNs
  • Help teachers reflect on their own practice
  • Provide educators access to new strategies, techniques, and tools.
  • Be on-demand, 24/7
  • Organically differentiate for a range of levels of readiness and expertise
  • Curate content, so teachers can more easily find aligned content and ideas
  • Encourage teachers to create content-specific best practices

Meeting time can become Genius Hour for Teachers!

In order to foster this authentic use of meeting time, we need to empower teachers to drive their own learning. Show them how to build and tap into global networks of learning through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and blogs. These are valuable resources that can help them with that anytime/anywhere type of learning we want to nurture.

The leaders set the tone for a culture of innovation.  They need to model innovative thinking, learning, and practice in their everyday lives.  They need to be effective communicators with their teachers, and a cheerleader for change. Why not start with rethinking staff meetings?


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Why do people do it?

Earlier this week I was getting some time with my girlfriends and they asked me where I was traveling to this week for work. I explained that I got to be fairly local and was attending the Hoosier Educational Computer Coordinators (HECC) conference in Indianapolis. I presented all day on Thursday to digital leaders on how to lead successful and sustainable change. I mentioned that I wasn’t getting paid for this gig. One friend responded with surprise. I explained to her that most presenters at educational conferences don’t get paid for their sessions. She said, “Why do people do it?” My reply was easy, “Because we care about what we are sharing with other professionals in the field.”

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being paid for my work. 🙂 And there are conferences that invite me to speak that do pay me. But this is one that I have presented at for several years and will continue to do so if they continue to ask. The reason is simple, I’m passionate about education. More specifically, I’m passionate about strong leadership practices in education and this is a platform to share that passion. Additionally, I get the pleasure of learning alongside those leaders who attend the session, while equipping them with tools and strategies to make their jobs easier and more enjoyable. It’s a win-win in my book.

When we focus more on the paycheck than the purpose, we lose the why behind what we do. John Maxwell once said, “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”


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Leading In and From the Classroom

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Kalexanderson.

The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel they’re valued.

~Sir Ken Robinson


I am a middle child and relished the role of “leading” my younger brother. He, however, wasn’t a very cooperative follower. 🙂 While I was somewhat shy as a child, I could organize my group of friends at recess like it was my job. I lived in the country without many neighbors, but the two younger neighbor girls that I played with always heeded my direction. Okay, so they didn’t have much choice, but it worked for me, nevertheless.

I had the mindset of a leader and my actions reflected that. 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, and now as a consultant.

I have always enjoyed spending time with young children, and have always enjoyed learning and growing. Those two passions led me to a career in education. That took leadership to a whole new level. I’m not of the notion that you are either born a leader, or not. No, while some people might have characteristics that make leading easier for them, we can all develop leadership capabilities.

Leadership is not about title or position, but about mindset.

Teachers, you are all leaders. You are the leaders in your classroom, in your hallway, and like it or not, in the community. The number of students you impact each year is mind blowing. Why did you become an educator? I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us became teachers because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students we’d be teaching. We had a desire to serve them in some way.

The best leaders have that servant’s heart for those they are leading.

Think back to a time when you were a student in your favorite teacher’s classroom. What made him/her your favorite? I bet it wasn’t because of the awesome lectures they gave, or the super fun worksheets you got to do for homework each night. I’m guessing it was more about how they related to you personally, or how engaging they made the learning process.

Exceptional teachers and exceptional leaders all seem to possess the same traits. They have a servant attitude. They work to build relationships with each of their students. They think and teach innovatively. And they each have a desire to continue growing.

In the classroom

Building relationships has to be what happens first before true learning and change can occur.

As a teacher, you enter the classroom every day with the absolute assurance that you are going to influence every student’s life that day. It’s true. You will make an impact of some kind every single day you see that child. The question is, what type of impact will you have?

  • Connect with them
  • Start each day with the goal to serve your students better than you did yesterday
  • Allow students to hold the reins of their own learning
  • Teach leadership skills (true leaders produce more leaders)

Before PokemonGo was even a thing, I had a young boy who would only write about Pokemon during writer’s workshop. Every. Single. Day. I tried to “encourage” him to investigate new topics…to no avail. In order to grow his writing skills I had to find a way to connect with him. So, I let him teach me all about the world of Pokemon through his writing. He’s twenty-three now. I’m pretty sure he grew out of the Pokemon phase, but still has writing strategies to help him be successful in everyday life. I could’ve played the teacher card and “made” him write about something else, but he wouldn’t have enjoyed that or produced his best writing. He was willing to learn what I was teaching because I met him at his place of interest. We have to allow students to hold the reins of their own learning.

Exceptional teachers ARE exceptional leaders.

In the hallway (and beyond)

Teachers are not only leaders in the classroom and to their students. You lead in the hallway. You lead in your school building. And you lead in the district. You probably all have a grade level or department chair. Most likely, that person is seen as the leader of your team. While that is true, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other leaders on the team, and multiple ways to serve as leaders.

  • Share what you are doing in the classroom
  • Be vulnerable with one another
  • Reflect on experiences and discuss best practices
  • Use your gifts (organization, etc.)
  • Open your classroom up for visitors to observe

Have you heard of the #ObserveMe movement? If you are open to having other teachers or administrators observe you during their free time, then you simply hang a sign outside your door with the hashtag #ObserveMe. Some teachers include pieces of paper, like this teacher, to inform the observer what she wants you to look for in her instruction. Others just have a dry erase board that they change when their goals change. It’s a brilliant way to increase your learning, while being vulnerable with your colleagues. Some amazing learning occurs for both the observers and the teacher being observed. And it costs you nothing but time and some brain power.

In the community

I once heard a principal say that they’d never live in the town where they worked. While I understand the need for privacy, I think that is a sad statement. You miss out on learning about your students’ lives and connecting with their families on a personal level if you aren’t a part of the community.

  • Interact with parents and students in the community
  • Go to community events
  • Attend sporting and fine arts events (shows you support your students)
  • Be real, but maintain integrity

What leadership characteristics most resonate with you? Having a servant’s heart? Building relationships? Being innovative in thinking and teaching? A strong desire to grow? In which areas do you need to try a little harder? Why do you stay in education? I stay because I believe in the power of innovative education. I believe in the foundation of servant leadership. It’s not a job. It’s not a position. And it’s more than a philosophy or style of leadership. It’s part of who we are. We are educators. AND, we are leaders.


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EdTech Comfort Zones – From G Suite to Office 365

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, developer_steve.

What is your preferred platform for regular digital work? What makes it your favorite?

I learned how to use Microsoft Word and Appleworks (yes, I’m old) in high school. I continued to use those tools for basic word processing tasks through my first few years of teaching. At some point, Appleworks went away. Not a big deal. As a second-grade teacher with just a few old iMacs in my classroom for kids to play games on, I didn’t need very robust technology tools. Or so I thought.

I migrated from Microsoft to Google Drive in 2011 when I became the curriculum director for the district. It was still mostly unheard of to my colleagues, and I began evangelizing the benefits over Word. As soon as people worked on their first shared document, they were sold for new creation. I didn’t have to do much promoting other than giving them experience using it. A couple of years later, the district decided to not purchase Microsoft products for the students or renew it on the teachers’ devices, hoping to push them to make that final conversion into Google Drive.

‘Word is a teacher-comfort, not a student-necessity’ – EdTech Comfort ZonesCLICK TO TWEET

This was more of a process for “seasoned” teachers who still housed large amounts of instructional materials in a local server. They complained about the time it would take to transfer their files over to Drive. I also remember arguments claiming that we weren’t adequately preparing our students for college if they didn’t know how to use Word. To me (then and now), it makes the most sense to teach them word processing skills, spreadsheet functions, and presentation design regardless of the platform in which they choose to work. There are no guarantees that their professors and/or workplaces will only use Microsoft. A colleague said, “Word is a teacher-comfort, not a student-necessity.

I’ve worked entirely in Google Drive for the last six or so years. Recently, I have had to use Office 365 for a couple of the school districts I’m working with. So I can be better versed in it, I’m trying to use it more when my muscle memory really wants to open Google Drive. And I find myself lamenting over this change just as my former colleagues did when I asked them to totally convert to Google. It’s taking me three times as long to do anything in O365 simply because I am not used to it. Microsoft has done an outstanding job revamping their platform to compete with Google, but some of the functionalities are different. And those differences are pushing me to the verge of tantrum throwing.

‘Very little learning occurs within a comfort zone’ – EdTech Comfort ZonesCLICK TO TWEET

Most recently, I was working on a PowerPoint while sitting in the airport. I knew I had a two+ hour flight ahead of me and was happy to get some more concentrated work time in on this project. Now I have done this multiple times in the Google Slides platform with no issues. In PowerPoint, however, I opened my Chromebook (my favorite device for traveling) and discovered that I don’t have offline capabilities from OneDrive. It’s a good thing I have some traveling etiquette established, otherwise, I might have taken this discovery with a bit less decorum.

Could there be offline capabilities that I”m not aware of? Definitely. Will my work in O365 get easier as I become more accustomed to its nuances? Of course. Do I relate more with my former colleagues as I march through this change? Absolutely. Is one platform better than the other? While I want to answer “Google”, I know that’s just my comfort zone talking. And very little learning occurs within a comfort zone.

So I will keep plugging away, but maybe with a bit more sensitivity in the future when expecting others to make a change that takes them out of that zone.

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Feeding the Fire: Finding The Key To PD and Your Passion

What sets your soul on fire?

What are you so passionate about that people can tell by the look on your face and the sound of your voice when you are talking about it?

Professionally, my short answer is education. Of course, there are many layers within that topic, and areas that excite me more than others. Overall, I believe in the power of relationships within the educational realm and the impact transformative instructional practices make on the world. My flames get fanned in multiple ways.

I was created for building relationships. That has played out in my role as a teacher and a leader. I’ve worked with teachers and administrators in ten different states and two countries (so far!). My main role is to lead change in instructional practices toward student-driven learning. My favorite part of this work is the relationships I build with those I coach through the ongoing professional development. I even love the debrief meetings with administrators at the end of a contract. These are times of reflection, celebration, and visioning for next steps. None of this work would be as impactful or sustainable if I didn’t first work to build authentic relationships.

There is power in connections. I am most energized after conversations with like-minded educators. These discussions typically happen spontaneously. They might take place online (Twitter and LinkedIn are my favorite ways to connect globally), in classrooms while I’m coaching teachers, in hallways of districts where I work, over drinks with colleagues after hours. I like talking with people who challenge my thinking or introduce me to a new idea or way of doing something.

I recently had dinner with a colleague I met almost a year ago. She was teaching in a 1:1 classroom long before it was a thing. Her innovative teaching practices and her depth of knowledge on teaching with technology have continued to grow and expand over the past decade or so. I think I’m pretty well-versed on the subject, but she always shows me something new. The best part is that a personal friendship has developed from what began as a professional partnership. She’s someone I trust to shoot straight with me. We both leave our conversations with feelings of growth and inspiration.

I am also fed by good learning. This will sound cliche, but I am a lifelong learner. I love to learn in various ways, but I especially love to share my learning with others (kinda why I became a teacher). One of the conferences I’ve had the privilege of presenting at is the HECC conference in Indianapolis. My half-day sessions were on leading change. I got to work with over fifty educational leaders from around the state on strategic planning and driving sustainable change initiatives. The actual presentation didn’t provide half as much energy as the side conversations I got to have with the leaders in the room. The collaboration that happened just because we had just the right learners together was phenomenal to experience.

Whether it’s strategic coaching, professional conversations, or personal learning, my soul is set on fire through relationships with other people. My hope is that I fan their flames as much as they fan mine. What sets your soul on fire?

Posted in Leadership, Professional Experiences, Relationships | Tagged , , , ,

The Marriage between Technology and Curriculum

I am a former curriculum director who loves technology. It’s a fairly new love affair. We’ve been a serious item for almost six years now. Here’s the backstory: I began teaching in 1998 when my students would get to go to the computer lab once a week for a lesson planned by the librarian. I was pretty much on crowd-control during these lessons. I add that to say that I’m a self-taught tech integrator who was definitely not born a digital native. As my teaching progressed, so did my time leading lessons in the computer lab. But technology available to my students in the classroom was minimal, at best. My last year in the classroom (2010-11), I had my teacher computer and three old iMacs for my students to use. They could basically only use them to play games and take Accelerated Reader quizzes. I was a pro at making copies on transparency sheets to use on my overhead projector. My weekly computer lab trips were usually reserved for publishing writing pieces, typing practice, or math fact drills. We are, obviously, not talking about any innovative technology infusion.

After I became the curriculum director for our district in the fall of 2011, I quickly realized that we needed to catch up with some forward-thinking districts when it came to tech integration. Our elementary schools were just getting equipped with SMART boards that year. Our math teachers at the high school had Promethean boards and doc cameras. The other middle and high school teachers had LCD projectors. That was as tech-rich as our district got. In that year, I started a blog, joined Twitter and LinkedIn, and began immersing myself in learning about edtech solutions for transforming instruction. I followed edtech leaders, subscribed to blogs, read articles, and attended conferences on the subject. At one point, our Director of Technology visited my office and candidly said, “You know, when I heard you were named our new Curriculum Director, I was a bit worried.” I just laughed, because I knew he was referring to the lack of technology integration I previously had in my classroom. He went on, however, to assure me that he had changed his mind and knew they’d made the right decision when they hired me. That only happened because I was motivated to further my own learning and stretch my thinking when it came to teaching and learning.

The second year in that role brought about even more growth. Our district was wanting to move to a 1:1 environment for our 5th-12th grades for the following school year. That led to me being appointed as the 1:1 steering committee chair to conduct research, explore options, and learn as a team in order to make the right decisions for our students. During another office visit from our DoT, he joked that he’d just read an article about how tech directors and curriculum directors should be married. We laughed about this, but the point was, and still is, completely valid. Technology and instruction are no longer separate entities in schools. These two facets of a student’s education must work seamlessly together. I was fortunate to work with a DoT that understood and respected that fact. I was the one who got to attend instructional technology trainings and workshops. I was the one who led that integration into our classrooms. And being a former classroom teacher, the current teachers were more open to the idea of change coming from me. But it took both departments working together to provide devices and ongoing professional development in order to sustain lasting change.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I am still working within the technology-curriculum marriage. As a consultant, I often get to work with districts who purchase Dell laptops and/or Chromebooks for their teachers and students. I get to go in and provide training for teachers and administrators, and then work one-on-one in job-embedded professional development with them multiple times throughout the school year. I like to say that Dell is the foot in the door, but the true work lies in transforming instructional practice. I show teachers how to use technology to leverage rich resources and learning opportunities to provide their students with personalized learning experiences in student-driven environments. I don’t just give them a list of good websites. I don’t just teach them on a specific student-centered learning strategy. I marry the two together, and beautiful learning is born through this union.


Posted in Education, Leadership, Professional Experiences, Technology | Tagged , , ,