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Purposeful Collaboration

I collaborate virtually on something with someone every single day. Some recent examples include:

  • sharing a grocery list with my husband through Google Keep
  • planning an anniversary party for our parents with my siblings via group text messages
  • Scheduling school visits with teachers and administrators through a shared Google Sheet
  • Working on a writing project with a colleague using shared Google Docs
  • Collaborating with other eLearning peers in a Slack community
  • Reviewing a Policy and Procedure guide I wrote with my team via Join.Me
  • Working on a procedural table with colleagues through OneDrive
  • Having a virtual meeting to discuss a current project with district leaders in another state using Google Hangouts
  • Attending a board meeting with people in Lima, Peru from my house in Indiana via Skype.
  • Email (obviously, too many examples to discuss)
  • Messaging with my PLN via LinkedIn and Twitter to grow professionally together.

 

We live in an age of mass collaboration, and the tools provided make it easier than ever. I don’t have a favorite platform, as you can probably tell I choose the one that best meets the needs of the task. What are some of your favorite ways to collaborate?

What does it mean to be a nerd?

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I entered a G/T class in fourth grade and quickly understood what it meant to be a nerd.  Unfortunately, I was one.  I bucked that image as soon as I started junior high and didn’t look back.

Today, however, my teenage daughter would definitely call me a nerd and I embrace that label. I get excited about perfect-looking avocados when I cut them open, fun new Chrome extensions, and writing blog posts on airplanes.  

I can sit and talk with someone about teaching, leadership, educational technology, writing or books for as long as we have time (if they are interesting, that is).  I get excited when that person has a similar passion for life and wants to share it with me.  I was practically bouncing up and down when a friend asked me to explain the Chromebooks that her children will be getting through school next year.  I may get a bit emblazoned when discussing some local leadership practices that go directly against what is best for students and teachers.  Do those things make me a nerd?

How about these?

  • I make up silly songs to make my son laugh.  
  • I use words like “rad” to make my daughter roll her eyes.
  • I take pictures of perfectly-ripened avocados.
  • I read picture books to kids using silly voices because it’s more fun for me.
  • I read.  A lot.  And not always thought-provoking nonfiction. (or hardly ever actually)
  • I love to play board games. And card games (especially Euchre and Cribbage).
  • I like math (well only Algebra-type math. Trig is not fun math, and no one can convince me otherwise)
  • I wear a helmet when I ride my bike.
  • I have living room dance parties to hip hop from the 90s.
  • I say things like, “Look at the sky. Isn’t it beautiful today?” to my kids who are so wonderful that they always look and agree.

I could go on, and probably get even nerdier if that is even the correct term. I’m not so sure. It seemed right when I started the post, but now other words are resonating more with me, like

  • Passionate
  • Intelligent
  • Fun
  • Goofy
  • Aware

Disparaging labels are flung too freely these days – often we are the ones using them about ourselves. And while I’ll still jokingly call myself a nerd when the occasion calls for it (because I own that, people), I need to also embrace my awesomeness. If not for myself, then to be a good model for my children who are always watching and listening.  But really, for myself, too.

 

My Five Favorite Characteristics of Exceptional Teachers

  1. They love their students…even those who are most unlovable.
  2. They spend time getting to know their students on a daily basis.  They know that relationships are the foundation for all real learning.
  3. They say “yes” more than they say “no”.  
  4. They are willing to take risks and encourage their students to, as well.
  5. They are constantly learning new things.  They don’t have to know how to do everything but are open to learning.

To One of the Greats – a tribute to one of my favorite teachers

great dancers

The first week of May is always a bit insane in my little town.  For being so small, our town has a booming dance studio, and dance takes over this week as our kids, ages 3-18, get ready for the annual recital.  I took my own daughter to dress rehearsal tonight.  It’s hard to believe that it’s her tenth recital week.  Here is one of my favorite parts…she takes lessons from the same teacher who taught me when I was growing up.  She performs on the same stage I danced on for fourteen years.  So now, I get to be one of those dance moms who saves new videos on how to put my daughter’s hair into a different kind of bun, carefully applies her stage make-up, and sits with a huge, adoring smile on her face as she watches her baby shine.  As I sat there tonight, in this strange mix of nostalgia and motherly pride, my mind went to all of the great things I learned through my years taking dance lessons.  And it only seems fitting to honor my dance teacher, who happens to be my daughter’s dance teacher, during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Let me interject here before I lose some of the anti-dance crowd – what I am going to write about pertains to all extracurricular activities.  I believe in the benefits of sports, academic teams, choir/band, 4-H, and dance, to name a few…

I was terribly shy when I was young.  I’m not sure if that’s why my mother enrolled me in dance when I was three (guess I could ask her, but it’s late, and I’m tired, so I’ll just write random run-on parenthesised thoughts, instead).  Our teacher, Miss Terri, was a teenager when she opened her studio in our town.  Her mother taught in a neighboring town, so dancing and teaching were part of her genes (obviously she also has heaps of patience, determination, and love, as well).  We danced in a few different locations before she purchased the studio where she still teaches today.  I can’t explain the bit of excitement that I get each year when it’s time to enroll my daughter in another season of lessons in that same studio.  I love that Sydney and I have dance in common.  One day, I hope she’ll look back on these years and think about all she learned from her time with Miss Terri and on the stage.

Here is what I remember:

  • a patient dance instructor who loved what she taught, and taught us to love it, too
  • a beautiful teacher who made me feel beautiful even through the awkward years
  • friends to dance with – some of these girls went to different schools, even, but we danced together for years and laughed through more lessons than Miss Terri probably appreciated
  • a teacher who pushed us to work harder, practice, and push ourselves to our potential
  • a confidence that can only come from hard work, encouragement, and being in the spotlight proving yourself to your peers and community
  • learning that smiling through mistakes really does make a huge difference in perception (both my own and  for others)
  • that I don’t have to be the star to be part of something pretty amazing

Today my stage is my living room and occasionally my kitchen.  My audience consists of my husband and two kids. Dancing for them is all the dancing I need these days.  But what I learned, and the characteristics I developed from my years in Miss Terri’s studio go with me in the way I interact with my family, the way I run my business and the way I live my life.  Thank you, Terri, for continuing to give your heart to the kids of our community, and raising another generation of dancers.

Dance teachers

Why 40 is better than 20

If you are under the age of 40, I know what you are thinking about my title…that’s only something that old people say.  If you are around 40 or older, though, I bet you are nodding and agreeing with me.  I never thought I’d be one of those people who was bothered by the number, but as 40 crept closer and closer over the past couple of years, I’d find myself cringing at the thought.  Even as of last week I wasn’t really looking forward to it.  But I can honestly say today, that 40 is better than 20.

When I was twenty, I was in the middle of college.  I thought I knew what I was doing with my life.  I studied hard, had a job, and joined a couple of extracurricular clubs so I could get a good teaching position when I graduated.  I had always pretty much been a rule-follower, and I continued that into my university years.  I was sure that I was going to marry my high school sweetheart, move back to North Manchester, have a family and retire from teaching when I was older.

When I was twenty, I compared myself to others and found myself wanting.  I frowned about my Freshman 15, and worked hard to get rid of it.  I was still testing out my independence.  I was somewhat introverted at the time, and not great at the whole friend thing.

Fast forward twenty years (yikes, ok, so that makes me feel old), and so much has changed.  Over those years I have lived out many of my twenty-year-old plans.  I did marry my high school sweetheart, but life wasn’t always marital bliss.  We are stronger for the struggles.  We have two amazing children who are bigger blessings than I could have ever imagined.  We did move back to our home town, and I’m incredibly thankful to be so close to family.

I did become an elementary teacher and followed that calling for fourteen years.  But, I took a risk and left the classroom to become a curriculum director.  That move was scary, but it reignited a passion in me for education that had been flickering at best.  I took another risk a few years later and started my own educational consulting company, and found a niche that I wouldn’t have dreamed of in college.  

I have found incredible friends who make my life richer every single day.  I rediscovered my inner extrovert (that may be an oxymoron, but it’s true), and thrive on deep and/or fun conversations with others.

And, I no longer compare my physical qualities with others.  I love myself the way I am.  I wish I could go back and tell my twenty-year-old self to love that body, to stand tall, and smile often.  I’d also tell her to take more risks….live a little more loudly.  But the beauty of it is, that I can do all of that now.  And I am.

Forty brings freedom.  It brings empowerment.  It brings wisdom and experience.  I can’t wait to see what is to come.

 

Girls' Group

McL Family

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Equipping Leaders in the Age of Literacy

children reading

I taught in the primary grades for fifteen years. In general, primary grade teachers are all literacy leaders.  Teaching students to read and write are top priorities every day in their classrooms.  That importance doesn’t go away, however, just because kids get older.  Most students are successful as independent readers and writers by the time they get to middle school, but do they know how to read and write in each content area?  Are they still allowed to choose books/magazines/articles that appeal to them?  Are they encouraged to read text at their instructional level? Are they given time to read for pleasure during the school day?  These are not relegated to elementary schools.  They need to be carried on as students progress through middle and high school if we want to create people who are not only successful readers and writers but people who enjoy reading and writing.

Fortunately for me, I have always loved to read, and a bonus is that I really enjoy teaching writing.  I took my elementary teacher mindset with me when I became a district curriculum director.  I was disheartened when I was told by multiple secondary teachers that teaching students how to read was not their job.  How can that even be a thought?  If your student can’t read and comprehend the materials you are using in your instruction, then how is that not your job to teach them those skills as well?  And so, I became a champion for teaching reading skills in the content areas for secondary students.

There are certain things that educators need, however, to be literacy leaders.

  • They need a vision of why teaching literacy strategies to their students is vitally important (regardless of the age or subject that they teach).
    • This vision should be embraced at the highest level of educators in the district.  Expectations surrounding the vision need to be clearly, and continuously communicated with all teachers.
  • They need ongoing training on how to best teach these strategies.
    • In defense of my secondary-teaching friends, the majority of them have never been taught how to teach reading.  We can’t expect them to be literacy leaders if we don’t equip them with the knowledge and tools to succeed.  Districts with a vision for literacy leadership must be willing to invest time and money in providing top-notch professional development for teachers of all subjects and grade levels.
  • They and their students need access to varied reading materials.
    • Books, magazines, newspapers – digital, hard copy – it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that students have access to all genres, at all reading levels.
  • They need to encourage student choice in what they read and write about.
    • I’ve had students tell me that their “pleasure” books had to be approved by their English teacher.  That same student loved reading graphic novels, but they didn’t meet the “requirements” in this teacher’s mind of what quality reading material looked like.  Guess what impact that had?  Negative impact.  I don’t have anyone approving of my book choices for pleasure reading, so why do we feel the need to dictate what students read in their “choice” time?  If a student wants to read Field and Stream magazine, then by all means, let them.  We are encouraging reading for enjoyment.  And the hidden bonus is that these kids are increasing their reading and comprehension skills at the same time.  Give students some freedom and see what happens.

So the responsibility of being literacy leaders falls on every educator.  Administrators need to provide the vision, resources, and training for teachers.  Teachers need to provide high-quality, intentional instruction and encouragement.  Together they can help students feel confident in their reading and writing abilities, and leave high school on the road to being literacy leaders themselves.

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Student Engagement: More than just jargon

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How many students get excited about writing essays or reports?  How many students can’t wait to crack open those textbooks each day (or log onto digital textbooks because it’s basically the same thing)? How many students look forward to entering your class each day?  I’m hoping that last question is indicative of the first two.   So how do teachers ensure student engagement?

The quick answer is student-directed learning.  Engaged students feel like they are important members of the class community.  They take ownership of their own learning when they get to direct their own learning.  Are they allowed some choice in the topics they study?  Are they encouraged to pursue their own learning style for new knowledge and skill attainment?  Are students able to access materials at their level for better comprehension and synthesis?  Do they get to choose their preferred mode of demonstrating learning to the teacher?

These are not pipe dreams.  I’ve done them and watched other teachers facilitate classes that are student-directed. Unfortunately, they are still the exception in most places.

By “student-directed” I don’t mean a free-for-all.  There are structures in place, expectations are communicated, and goals created and met.  It can be scary for the teacher to give up that control that comes from teacher-centered instruction.  The rewards, however, are more than worth the risk.  Most students aren’t accustomed to this type of classroom instruction, either, so usually a gradual release process is the best implementation plan.

Some ways to move into student-directed learning that is differentiated and personalized:

I am very passionate about personalized learning and love to talk about/teach/train about all of the above and more. Please reach out if you want to discuss how to implement a student-directed environment in your own classroom, school, or district.  You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and email.

This can (and should) be attained at any grade level, K-higher ed.  If you’re already teaching in this type of classroom, I’d love to hear your success stories.  Freedom and empowerment lead to student engagement, which leads to true learning.