05/27/15

Help Wanted: Change

I have put considerable thought into this post.  I’ve avoided it for weeks.  I was reminded recently of what Dr Brad Gustafson said about blogging in his interview with EdTech magazine:

BradGustafsonBlogging

From: http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2015/05/qa-principal-speaks-out-power-youtube-can-have-schools

I don’t want this post to be negative, though it may sound that way to some.  I hope it ultimately makes a difference.  That’s why I do the things I continue to do; to make a difference.

I have been a connected educator for almost three years now and the evidence can be seen by observing my practice, reading my blogs, and viewing my digital footprint on Twitter.  I’ve also endured a rather trying year, professionally.  This post will hopefully reflect the frustrations I have about being a reflective connected educator stuck in a school and evaluation system that does little to empower educators to become better.  Sadly, it feels like there’s no room for an educator who has a passion for learning.

During this school year I’ve engaged in the following learning opportunities:

  • moderated and designed questions and topics for #wvedchat
  • visited Beaver Local Schools to participate in their day-long CE session with Dave Burgess: Teach Like A Pirate
  • completed the following webinars with Alliance for Excellent Education
  • My wife and I hosted the 2nd annual state-wide Edcamp event in Parkersburg, WV.
  • I read the book Teach Like A  Pirate and began incorporating the questions into my lesson plans.  I also made the TLAP philosophy a part of my classroom IMAG7209 (1)CYMERA_20150427_171802
  • I read the book by Eric Sheninger titled Digital Leadership: A Changing Paradigm for Changing Times
  • Eric supported me in developing a week-long graduate course I taught over the summer for RESA V
  • My wife and I attended Edcamp Columbus for the second year in a row
  • I participated in Connected Educators Month by participating in a Google Hangout sharing my story of how I became connected and what it has done for my practice
  • In an effort to start having conversations about instructional practice with educators inside my school building I attempted to start a weekly morning meeting.  The attempt was not embraced by enough staff members to keep it going.  Thank you to those who came.  As Todd Whitaker says, “nothing happens at random in great schools”.

I also continued to document my progress in refining my assessment practices to better communicate student learning.  Throughout this process, I began to move my classroom towards becoming paperless.  I incorporated more digital tools to provide me more formative feedback about my students (Kahoot, Nearpod).  Most importantly, I did something about that feedback.  I have participated in countless Twitter chats on topics including leadership, blended learning, professional development, family-community engagement, and building relationships, just to name a few.

I’ve written before about how isolation is now a choice educators make.  Every day I choose to connect with other educators, whether it be through Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, or Google+.  Yet, I still feel tremendously isolated because there are so few educators in my area engaged in the conversations of growth and development that I choose to be a part of so often.  Note: my wife, Julie, is also a connected educator engaging in her own opportunities for growth and development.  We often share a lot of these opportunities through conversations at home.  The isolation, though, was exacerbated during my end-of-the-year evaluation with my administrators.  Not a single thing in this post was discussed during my evaluation.  None of the efforts I’ve made to improve my practice were acknowledged during the course of my evaluation.  I want to confess that I don’t engage in those efforts listed above for higher pay, awards, or notoriety.  My investment in growth and development is done simply because I want to be the best educator that I can be.  I want to provide my students the highest quality experiences during their year with me.  However, it was very defeating leaving my evaluation questioning why anyone else would want to engage in similar opportunities.  Telling my story and sharing the tremendous value in these learning opportunities with others has provided little benefit in the eyes of my bosses.  I have a tremendous PLN and certainly don’t take them for granted, but it’s extremely lonely being in a school with little growth and development every year.  I was disappointed that my efforts to grow and improve my practice went unrecognized by my administrators and the evaluation system.  Aside from my self-evaluation where I filled boxes with typed narratives attempting to provide “evidence” of my own evaluation, I feel like I made zero progress in the eyes of those ahead of me.  My students low standardized test scores were acknowledged during my evaluation, perhaps indicating that I’m wasting my time investing in the opportunities for growth listed above.

What reason do other educators in my area have to engage in opportunities for growth, reflection, and learning?  There aren’t any administrators sharing their story of how the investment is changing their practice.  The evaluation system provides little to no recognition of your efforts to improve.  The only standard of measurement, that one data point measured by standardized tests, may be the only story ever heard by those above you.

I work in a school building that has almost zero conversations about improving instructional practice.  As a result, I appreciate the amount of opportunities I get to engage in those conversations online.  I apologize for the negativity in this post and do not intend to offend anyone.  I hope this post results in much needed change.  A change that empowers others to begin adopting a growth mindset.  I hope the change allows others to be recognized for their attitude and actions towards growth and development.  I hope my own fire is not extinguished but until my family can afford to move, I’m struggling to justify the burn.  For those that are offended, consider these questions:

  • What opportunities did you leverage to improve your practice?
  • What are you doing to empower others to learn, reflect, and grow?
  • Who do you have in your professional learning network that is better than you?
  • How do you engage in professional conversations with other educators?
  • What evidence of continuous improvement can you point to this school year?

 

05/12/15

The Value of a PLN

A professional/personal/powerful learning network, as many call it, is of tremendous value to all educators, especially administrators.  Today’s schools are begging for a lead learner to step up and navigate the rapid changing waters of education.  Yesterday evening from my couch at home I tweeted four administrators that have provided me priceless wisdom, resources, encouragement, support, feedback, and scrutiny over the last couple years.  Eric Sheninger, Dwight Carter, Craig Vroom, Bobby Dodd were the ones I chose to include in my tweet.  I’ve personally met two of these administrators, Craig and Bobby, at Edcamp events in the Columbus, OH area.  I have not met Dwight or Eric face to face but have connected with both of them numerous times through Twitter.

Below you’ll see a screenshot of the conversation that emerged in a matter of minutes via Twitter.  Within 15 minutes I was provided quality resources by leveraging my PLN for resources.  You’ll also see that I included Remind in my original tweet and they also came to my rescue and provided me with quality links, one being authored by Eric Sheninger.

RemindTweets

Working in isolation is now a choice all educators make.  It’s a choice to neglect the power of a PLN and refuse to make it’s presence part of your practice.  Working in isolation is the enemy of innovation.  Why not leverage the power of so many influential voices?  If you’re leading a school, you can’t afford not to.  Chances are your thoughts and your solutions are not unique and someone has already tried them.

I want to separate the resources provided to me yesterday to make them accessible to other readers interested in the same topic.  If you haven’t caught on yet, my intention yesterday was to gather resources about how administrators are using text message-based communication with their staffs.  I’ve been a long time user of Remind and Celly in my own classroom, but I was curious about how those tools are used to increase communication from administration to staff.  Remind has just released a beta version of their chat which offers users the ability to establish office hours to allow 2-way communication via text message.  I won’t go into further details as I’d prefer you check them out for yourself!RemindOfficeHours

http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2015/03/remind-adds-chat-to-their-mobile.html#.VVH6Z_lViko

Resources

04/27/15

Update: Measuring Student Learning

Perhaps the largest impact that this blog has had on my practice can be seen through my journey of improving my efforts to measure student learning.  I officially entered the waters of standards-based grading 2 years ago.  If you’ve made it to this blog it’s possible you’re wondering “what’s so wrong with Mr Oldfield’s practices of grading, assessment, and measuring student learning that he needed to begin a journey.”  Or you may simply be curious about what standards-based grading means.  Regardless of the reason, I’ve taken the opportunity to record, quite often, about my progress towards refining my grading practices.  I hesitate to say grading practices because it’s much more than grading.

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First, it’s necessary to understand that grades are nothing more than communication.  Even with poor grading practices, they are still nothing more than communication.  Some practices result in better communication than others, but grades are still nothing more than communication.  I personally believe grades without consistent, descriptive feedback do a pretty poor job of communicating learning.  More on that later.

This post is intended to be about my journey so I’ll try to refrain from pointing out flaws in others’ practices, but you may refer to my own admissions in this post written in Oct of 2013.  Since then, a student that follows me on Twitter humorously responded to one of my conversations with other educators about the topic of assessing learning.  blendedjourneyIn reflection, I’ve cleaned up several bad practices since then.  I want to update readers on my current progress and goals moving forward.  To remind readers, I teach 8th grade math at a 6-8 middle school in Parkersburg, WV.  My wife is a secondary ELA teacher and she often reminds me that in her opinion standards-based learning is more easily adopted in the math classroom because of the skill-building nature of the content.  Nonetheless, cultivating learners is something for every classroom.  I’ve developed a system where most students practice, with great persistence, to demonstrate proficiency in the targeted skill before they attempt a short assessment.  I really don’t incorporate homework, which is more reflective of the blended classroom than my opinion towards homework.  I offer them a barrage of data that allows my students to self-assess how ready they are before they sit down to perform on an assessment.  I’ll refer you to this old post that includes a piece about how I incorporate data into my classroom, but I’ve added measurement tools since and those tools aren’t reflected in that post.  At the time of my previous blog post on grading, I was struggling with the management of student retakes and pacing.  That means when students would complete an assessment, but the results indicated they needed more practice in specific areas, I had difficulty managing which assessment that student(s) had completed (version 1, 2, or 3?).  I also felt the pressure of maintaining pace (and overall classroom management) once half of my class had completed the assessment with proficiency and the other half was still in the process of improvement.  Admittedly, those two or three items were obstacles in the journey.  I’ve maintained my practice of providing short, tiered assessments.  This means that my assessments are often 4-8 problems.  Given the specific content and skill, I try to tier those assessments beginning with the most basic idea I intend to measure (aligned to content standards) and ending with the problem that requires higher ordered tasks such as justifying, analyzing, or application.  Designing assessments this way makes me pay special attention to the verbs.  I still fight myself to avoid restricting my measurement to verbs like compute and evaluate.  In math, these verbs result in items that are easy to measure, but often distort the amount of learning that is communicated.  For example, a student may demonstrate proficiency at a high level in evaluating the slope of a line.  But if the measurement stops there, neither the teacher or the student will know if he/she can explain the slope/rate of change and y-intercept in the context of a real world situation.  See: InterpretingGraphs1

To improve my management of retakes and pacing I transitioned to paperless tests.  I began to offer all my assessments on Google Forms.  This means that students are provided a URL in order to access my assessments through a web-enabled device.  Students input their name at the beginning of each assessment and those results are sent to me immediately in a spreadsheet.  I quickly complete the assessment myself under the name Answer Key.  This allows me to keep a line in the spreadsheet as the solutions, allowing quick and easy checking of answers once a student completes the assessment.  See a screenshot below with the red cells indicating incorrect answers.  The yellow line indicates the answer key.  Student names have been blurred.  Notice the different dates in the timestamp.  YearinReview2bResultsYou can see that there are more cells that didn’t show up in the screenshot.  These particular results indicate to me areas that my students could use more support and practice.  Remember that I try to tier the problems, so the problems at the end of the test require a higher level of thinking in order to complete, which is likely the reason why students got the first couple problems correct.  Those problems required the lowest level of understanding, mostly procedural.  I conference 1:1 immediately after students complete these assessments.  We look at their results next to a blank test and together we work out their mistakes.  I have incorporated a practice of requiring students to assign a grade to their test before I even look at their results.  Before I went paperless I was using the red/green/yellow stickers you typically see on yard sale items.  Students were using the stickers to indicate their own self-evaluation of their results before they submitted the test.  On the digital assessments, the last item is always a self-evaluation rubric on which students assign themselves an A-F letter.  I believe the feedback provided during the conference, the self-evaluation piece, and the efforts to correct mistakes have made a tremendous impact on the culture of learning in my classroom.  The idea I try to align with 100% of the time is where am I now, where am I headed, how do I get there?  I make sure students leave the post-assessment conference with an idea of what needs to be done before attempting a retake.  The spreadsheet does all the organization that I was previously doing quite poorly.  The spreadsheet also offers insight on what questions students are missing the most.  I heard someone say once why assess if you aren’t going to do anything with the results?

IMG_20150427_152335Observation of my classroom would likely look chaotic and unorganized to some.  Acknowledging that when the student learns isn’t as important as if that student learns means that I take full advantage of peer to peer interactions to maximize opportunities for students to learn from one another.  In a blended classroom like mine, the teacher operates as much more of a facilitator constantly monitoring and managing learning opportunities.  This means that I allow data to determine seating arrangements, small group instruction, and peer tutoring arrangements.  I believe that the allowance of different paces has benefited all students, particularly those students who would not benefit from strict deadlines on learning.

IMG_20150427_151726The only scores that I input in our online gradebook are the results of my assessments.  These opportunities make up only a small portion of the learning opportunities in class.  Many believe that unless class assignments are graded, scored, and recorded, students won’t do them.  I make a genuine attempt to provide my students well rounded meals with an emphasis on presentation, rigor, and real-world application.  I believe if you provide students an uncommon learning experience they’ll reward you with uncommon effort and attitudes (Dave Burgess).  CYMERA_20150427_171802I honestly can’t judge or begin to justify what would work in other classrooms, but I believe many of my efforts included in this post and others support the culture of learning that needs to be developed in all classrooms.  My students will complete an anonymous survey at the end of the year that will help to provide me feedback about their experience in my classroom.  I take those results each year and look at them objectively.  They often help determine areas that I need to communicate better to them and their parents.  IMG_20150427_152228Moving forward, I hope to expand on the variety and quality of opportunities for students to demonstrate learning.  I know that my students would benefit from having a variety of ways to demonstrate learning.  I have attempted and failed to get my students blogging this year.  I have multi-seat desktops in my room.  Each multi-seat runs up to 6 other multi-seat units on only 2gb of ram.  Despite this, I am grateful for the possibilities this lab provides.  It has completely transformed my practice.  However, I feel I am limited on the variety of ways my students can demonstrate learning by creating.  I would love to incorporate video or audio more often but the technical aspect has eluded me so far.  Despite the improved culture in my classroom, my students are still forgetting more than they retain.  The blogs were intended to serve as a record of learning, but I found quickly my students didn’t enjoy the writing.  I could probably have set that standard a bit higher and cultivated a more enjoyable experience, rather than extra work.  There’s got to be a way to incorporate images and typed responses in a manner that would support retention and record learning.  Of course, I’m open to suggestions!

Thank you for reading this far.  I appreciate the opportunity to learn from others and I encourage you to leave a comment if you have any questions or want to provide some input, criticism, or encouragement.

Derek Oldfield

01/31/15

My response… Differentiated Instruction

I was intrigued when I read James R. Delisle’s commentary from Edweek, “Differentiation Doesn’t Work.”  As some of you may know, world renowned advocate for differentiation Carol Ann Tomlinson responded recently in her commentary “Differentiation Does, In Fact, Work.”  I’m in no position to argue either one of these commentaries but I do want to comment on some positions Ms Tomlinson takes in her response.

I’m an 8th grade math teacher in a middle school setting.  I was fortunate enough to have the backing of a previous administration that allowed the counselor and I to experiment with flexible grouping of students.  Our intention was to begin the school year with classes (45 min periods) of students grouped by similar strengths and weaknesses as determined by a number of considerations.  These groups weren’t meant to be static “tracks” but would allow the teacher to systematically design instruction that would target those weaknesses.  Once a student demonstrated he/she could perform at a level demonstrated at the sequential level, he/she was to be moved to the next class.  The grouping was to be very fluid.  Ms Tomlinson first stated that tracked or grouped classes, particularly the lower groups tend to be taught by newer or less experienced teachers using a curriculum that is far less robust than that used in upper tracks.  She states that the intellectual climate is dampened because students placed in lower groups consider themselves less able.  Ms Tomlinson points out some other frightening considerations of grouping students by ability, but I’ll allow you to read the article yourself.

My immediate response was that if Ms Tomlinson is accurately describing the environment in which grouping has traditionally taken place, shame on those leaders who allowed that to occur!  I can’t imagine that a shred of research would support a situation like that.  Flexible grouping, from my experience, is far different than what Ms Tomlinson described.  Particularly in a middle school setting, it’s much easier to allow the same teacher to instruct all the groups of students, rather than a new less experienced teacher instructing the low groups.  A tremendous amount of communication is required to keep the grouping flexible in nature and to ensure planning is accurately diagnosing and addressing student weaknesses.  I can’t imagine that being the case if different teachers are instructing different groups of students in an attempt to keep student schedules flexible.  Grouping or no grouping, it’s important that the classroom provide a robust and engaging curriculum.  No one would argue that.  In reference to the intellectual climate, I made a concerted effort to build a climate where the lower groups of students (you know, the ones who hated math, sat in the back to never utter a word, care less about turning in work on time or passing tests) knew immediately that Mr Oldfield was not going race through the curriculum with entire disregard to whether they were learning or not.  I communicated effectively that there would be no time limits on learning.  I appeared in my class one day as a “guest speaker”, Mr Brain Researcher, to share with my students the knowledge that all students are geniuses in one talent or another.  I most certainly kept my word that students would move up to a different class once they demonstrated they were ready.  The students in my lower classes still contact me occasionally and tell me that my math class was the only one where they actually learned something.  The students dropped all fear and inhibition at the door when they came to class.  I still exposed them to as much of the rich, authentic, technology-enhanced instruction as I did with other classes, I just made an attempt to identify where they were, communicate where they needed to go, and determine how we could all get there.

Don’t get me wrong, the system I attempted to implement was far from perfect.  Learning is chaotic.

chaoticlearningThe levels at which all students perform throughout the year needs to be monitored constantly.  Benchmarks for students to accomplish in order to move up need to be communicated often.  What I can say with full certainty is that my system looked nothing like the ones communicated by Ms Tomlinson and other commentaries blasting tracking students.  I believe it can be done in a manner that puts students first, eliminates any negative perceptions, and fills in the swiss-cheese gaps created by traditional k-12 math progression.

Having experienced both flexible grouping and very heterogenous groups of students in each period, I can’t go to the extreme that Mr Delisle takes on his position against differentiation.  I will say, for me and my position, it was easier to differentiate pace, planning, instruction, activities, and support for my students when they weren’t heterogeneously grouped within the same class period.  In fact, I feel myself failing more often than not in filling those swiss-cheese gaps this year because each class period presents such a wide variety of skill levels.  The struggle to differentiate is a constant fight for me, mostly in terms of time.  The time required of me to genuinely structure 5 different class periods each day in a way that maximizes engagement and support, and provides content-rich activities for each student is a real commitment.  This commitment is one that often makes me question where to focus my time: my family or my job.  I will continue to take Ms Tomlinson’s advice and incorporate low prep strategies as much as possible, while continuing to make progress in those areas she considers high prep.  I applaud Ms Tomlinson for her work and do consider her an irreplaceable resource for me and my class.

 

01/27/15

Are you in or out?

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In my corner of public education it’s very much the norm to remain inside your comfort zone.  In order to utter anything related to best practices or school improvement, you must have the right title in front of your name.  comfort zone

Being vulnerable enough to share what’s going on inside your classroom, your grading practices, your instructional techniques, and your engagement strategies is often seen as bragging or gloating.  This attitude that educators must not challenge themselves and certainly not challenge each other doesn’t seem to align with what we’re asking our students to do.  What teacher wouldn’t want a classroom full of students who are vulnerable and eagerly seeking to strengthen their weaknesses, persevere, and learn something new?

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I hope this post challenges educators to consider whether or not they are in our out.

  • Administrators, what opportunities do you provide your staff to be vulnerable?  What opportunities do you provide those who talk easily in front of others?  What about those educators who are uncomfortable sharing in front of others?  How are you modeling being outside of your comfort zone?  How are you modeling vulnerability?  What challenges do you provide your teachers?  Can you name 3-5 administrators who challenge you and push you to do better for your school?
  • Teachers, can you name 3-5 educators who challenge you and push you to do better for your students?  What have you shared with others lately in an attempt to be more vulnerable and step outside your comfort zone?  If your school provides few opportunities to grow, how do you leverage digital connections to learn, share, communicate, and grow?

sharing is not bragging

01/6/15

The Power of Personalized Professional Learning

I’ve been a full time teacher since 2009.  Though that may not be long in comparison to many, it’s been long enough to realize the impact of what professional learning has looked like for many years.  The top-down, one size fits all approach where educators are often hoarded to an auditorium or library in large groups and subjected to sit-and-get passive forms of learning have long left school districts frustrated at the impact of this methodology.  In fact, I wonder if this type of learning has been so prevalent for so long that many district leaders are conditioned to accept these measures as adequate forms of learning.  In contrast, talk to any educator and you’ll find they’re often left frustrated at the lack of voice and choice, feedback, and follow up administered during this process called professional learning.  In defense of typical professional learning, each event is the product of a 20th century student from a 20th century upbringing.  I want to include this quote from Eric Sheninger straight from his most popular blog post written June 8, 2014:

For so long schools have resembled a hamster running on a wheel doing the same things over and over to improve sets of numbers.  We were no different and had succumbed to a fixed mindset. Every excuse in the book was at our disposal not to change and continue down the same path year after year. Heck, our education system has become so good at maintaining the status quo and enforcing compliance throughout that we and many others have been brainwashed into thinking any other course of action would be foolish.  If education is good for one thing it is making excuses not to move forward. There is still an innate desire to sustain a school structure and function that has remained relatively unchanged for well over a hundred years. This is a problem. It was a huge problem for us. We were in a rut and didn’t even know it. Luckily change came in the form of a little blue bird that gave me the kick in the butt that I desperately needed back in 2009.
Though Eric wrote this in context of his former high school of which he was principal, it is certainly descriptive of professional learning.  When will professional learning change?  How can school and district leaders begin to initiate sustainable change?

Social media has opened up a world of opportunities for educators to connect globally and take charge of their own learning.  For many, the decision to step into this journey was a personal decision taken on their own accord.  Perhaps they attended a conference and saw others connecting from inside and outside the conference via social media.  Perhaps others came to personalized learning by wading into it slowly through the connection of a colleague or friend.  No matter the avenue, personalized professional learning has the potential to transform educators by increasing relevance, connectedness, and effectiveness.  The rapid change that technology has imposed on education and it’s stakeholders means that districts can’t possibly provide enough learning opportunities, even if they were of high quality, to keep educators in touch with the most effective and relevant learning experiences for today’s students.  This translates to classrooms out of touch and unprepared to design student centered learning experiences that tap into students’ passions and interests.  If I were painting a picture, it would be a sore sight indeed.  That’s the current state of professional learning in too many schools and districts and it’s being modeled by far too many school leaders, principals, professional development coordinators, and superintendents.  

Kristen Swanson writes: “While we spend significant amounts of time and energy measuring the learning provided to students, we spend much less time measuring the learning provided to our teachers.”  If teachers and principals aren’t learning and growing, then how likely is it that they are adapting to the changes technology imposes on learning?  How likely is it that they are augmenting their instructional practices to meet the needs of today’s learners?

It has been said over and over by leading educational speakers that teachers today can’t possibly prepare students for what lie ahead because teachers can’t possibly predict what tools and skills will be necessary once our students reach their careers.  The best we can hope to do is arm our students with the power and passion to learn.  The applicant who demonstrates an ability to learn something new will be the ones gaining position in a competitive market.  The culture of learning as an educator should be the same.  The quality of professional learning experiences answers this one question: Does it help a teacher learn how to learn?

Where does social media and the ability to connect, learn, reflect, grow, receive support, communication, data, and strategies 24/7 fit into quality professional learning experiences?  With greater access to more free-flowing information than has ever been available, I can’t understand why professional learning has not flooded into the world of social media in an effort to connect more with leaders and colleagues who are on the front lines fighting the same fight each and every day.  The exchange of ideas locally and from outside should be woven into professional learning all year long.

Tom Whitby says these shifts in professional learning come at a price.  It requires more innovation by school leaders to carve out time for collaboration and conversation.  It requires a practice of reflection.  Not just reflection that is talked about, but one that is modeled and put into practice by being vulnerable enough to expose ourselves to better practices that may be occurring elsewhere.  It will require a digital literacy to use technology.  Most of all it requires a shift in the concept of a teacher from content expert to that of a lead learner and mentor.    It will not require more time, but smarter use of time.

01/4/15

New Year, New Goal: 2015

Number 1: Re-enroll and complete my Ed Leadership certificate.  In fact, I need to set a goal of calling and speaking with an advisor this week!

2014 brought a ton of professional accomplishments my way.  My wife, Julie, and I hosted West Virginia’s first Edcamp in April.  We attended our second Edcamp in the Columbus, Ohio area and extended our friendships with some incredible educators in the area.  In December, we accepted an invite to see Dave Burgess and his day-long presentation on Teach Like a Pirate.  Those three learning experiences were incredible and they all happened in 2014!  The year also saw the hiatus of #wvedchat, the weekly statewide edchat for West Virginia.  I don’t see it as a defeat though.

Social media has become the catalyst for change for thousands if not millions of educators all over the globe.  It has provided tremendous opportunities for growth, reflection, and learning for me.  Though my own classroom presents me with plenty of opportunities to improve, search for higher quality learning experiences, and refine a more valuable system for communicating learning to my students and parents; I can’t squelch my desire to be in a position that yields more influence.  I know I could present a school and a district with servant leadership that is timely, relevant, and effective.  I believe God has blessed me not only with a desire, but also the tools to drive sustainable changes, perhaps yet unseen, in the place that He would have me to be.

Without my Savior and my family at the focal point of my efforts, success is out of reach.  I needed the reminder and the message has been received lately.

01/4/15

2015: 3 Word GPS

The new year always presents a good opportunity to write and though I enjoy writing, I’ve been lacking in relevant opportunities lately.  Dave Burgess has probably made the biggest impact on my career in the last year.  I had the opportunity to see him twice and read through his Teach Like A Pirate book.  In reflecting on the last year and looking ahead to my professional goals in 2015, I can’t think of a better way to begin than to write about my own version of Dave’s GPS challenge.

The GPS challenge is a must watch!  Five minutes into seeing Dave live in person I was thinking “this is awesome, I can do this!”  I had never seen so much passion, energy, and intensity come from an educator, not to mention a professional development speaker!  In 2015, I want to set my GPS to these three words:

  • Energetic
  • Caring
  • Extraordinary

I’m making a commitment to bringing more energy into my classroom.  I’ll be the first to admit, seeing Dave in person exposed some of my own shortcomings, especially when it comes to energy.  I intend to begin the new year by giving my students 100% of my attention during school and it will require more energy.  Listening is something I’ll always have to improve on and I want to take each and every opportunity to listen because my students need it.  I don’t want to serve raw steak!  It takes energy to preheat the grill, baste the meat, prepare a nice dessert, and serve an experience that is alluring to the senses.

I’ve always taken measures that seem beyond the norm to build relationships with my students.  You have to reach their hearts before you can reach their minds.  I’ve learned that my students remember the mark I make on their character, on their emotions, and on their hearts long before they’ll remember any mark I make on their intelligence.  I’m committed to making my mark in 2015.

One of the biggest impressions Dave has made on me in the past year is he’s helped arm me with a creative mindset that has unleashed extraordinary experiences in my classroom.  As I commit to asking myself more questions on a regular basis, I want to continue providing my students extraordinary experiences in the classroom.  This doesn’t come easy!  I have a long ways to go before I write my own book of #TLAP math lessons.  If I can continue to work in extraordinary learning experiences for my students now and then, I’ll make my goal.  As I continue to leverage the power of other pirates sailing these same waters, I know I can forge ahead transforming my classroom experience for my students.  Ultimately, I’d like them to say my class was EXTRA ORDINARY!

12/17/14

When All Else Fails…

work_of_the_heart

I’ve recently went through a stretch where being an educator has become a real struggle.  I’ve been a connected educator engaged in blogging and on-demand anytime learning for almost two years.  My classroom has been an area of frustration recently and I’ve been carrying the feelings of inadequacy for long enough.  My eighth grade students recently took a field trip to the county tech center for a tour.  We also took part in a career fair held at a different location during the same trip.  Included in the round trip was a 20 minute bus ride.  As if you can’t already tell, a day like this was much appreciated by this struggling teacher.  It was an opportunity for me to relax and connect with my students.  We had an awesome time!  I always try to capture experiences like this on camera, so I took several pictures of the students during the career fair.  I posted some of those pictures on Twitter in an attempt to share some of the great experiences students had that day.  A couple days later I received a tweet from a parent saying “I love that you love our kids!”  It provided an immediate reminder that I desperately needed.  When all else seems to be failing, just love your kids.  Talk to them, show them, express it in your actions, and weave it into the very fabric of your classroom, your communication, your discipline, and your management.  If need be, put everything else on hold a day or two and just show your students that you love them.

In addition to my experiences above, I want to remind myself and all educators that Christmas time isn’t a season of joy for all students.  For some students, it’s a week away from a guaranteed meal, the safety of the school building, validation and respect from a teacher, and a listening ear.  I am encouraged by the commitment of my teammates to look more closely at the lives our students lead outside of the school walls.  Practicing more tolerance and awareness may rarely result in a solution for those students but it radiates life changing love.  I hope this post finds another educator in need of restoration.  I hope your parents can say “I love that you love our kids!”

Picture from: http://jwalkinguphill.blogspot.com/2012/04/love-see-teach.html 

10/24/14

Exposure Stomps Status-Quo

As connected educators month is nearing it’s last week, the theme for me this year has been exposure.  Yesterday evening I sat for about 15 minutes and listened to Jimmy Casas, Tom Murray, Lisa Dabbs, and Kyle Pace chat about the impact that connecting has had on their practice.  About 3 weeks earlier, I had the opportunity to join Sarah Thomas @sarahdateeechur and Tammy Neil @mathneil in a Google Hangout on the same topic.  Tomorrow I’ve taken the opportunity to present to educators at a curriculum expo at West Virginia University at Parkersburg about developing a professional learning network.  I can’t seem to escape the impact that connecting has had on myself as an educator and on my students.  I won’t escape it!

I’ve helped run #WVedchat, the statewide edchat for West Virginia educators, for the last year now.  In one recent chat this month there were seven educators from my district, including six from my school, present during one chat.  It was extremely encouraging seeing that the message of exposure had seeped its way into the lives of other local educators.  I have admitted many times that I have an unusual passion for education and improving school for students.  I certainly don’t have any dreams that all educators share the same passion.  I do, however, believe strongly in the impact that connecting and receiving exposure can have on the status-quo.  Jimmy Casas asked the audience last night to name an educator in their network that was better than they were.  That statement struck me.  If educators can’t name someone in their network of whom they receive consistent give and take of communication, feedback, resources, data, strategies, and support, then what force is pushing against status-quo?  That’s a message needed by all in education.

I could never provide a list of all the educators that have pushed me to grow and continue to help expose flaws in my own practice, but here are just a few:

  • Eric Sheninger
  • Jimmy Casas
  • Tony Sinanis
  • Kyle Pearce
  • Rik Rowe
  • Garnet Hillman
  • Craig Vroom
  • Dave Burgess
  • Todd Whitaker
  • Tom Murray