Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What Will Be on YOUR Tombstone?

We often talk about "what will be written on our tombstones." Probably in a joking manner, but the subject does arise. I'm not even sure whether they're called that anymore, not whether people have saying placed on them. Anyway, the point is that we want to be known for good things, making a dent in the world, and being a good person. We want positive, uplifing things to be said about us at our funerals, right? Well, it's kind of a given as the word eulogy means "good writing" so it's "kind of the rule" that is has to be that way.

I was asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone this week. It is also "the rule" that letters like this are also to be positive and "good" but we all know that people can find a way of avoiding the issues and writing a bland letter. I am happy to say that the one I drafted was one of easiest things I've written in some time. It got me thinking, however. I know I've said many positive things about this person [to others]. If someone who knows me and and is familiar with my teaching would read the letter, they'd know exactly about whom I was writing. But have I said these fabulous things to her face? Have I complimented her? I think not; at least not often enough and not recently enough. *cue shameful music*

Don't wait until it's "too late." Make a point to encounter someone and say how you feel, telling him or her which qualities they possess that you find appealing. We encounter enough negativity, right +Tom Whitford? Let's turn that around. What about today? What about now? Why wait until someone is dead until we say good things about them? People cannot wait around to read their own tombstones or listen to their own eulogies, as then it's too late. Say it to the person's face. Leave a note on their car, right +Todd Nesloney?

Better yet, instead of living life for what you'll be remembered for when you're gone, live life for what people get to enjoy you for today and now. Think about this: What would someone easily write on YOUR letter of recommendation?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Don't Vote Me Off the Island

In many verbal chats and text chats recently, I've run across educators judging themselves harshly and usually judging themselves against others and their accomplishments. Buckle your seatbelt; I'm letting out a secret. Each time, it was a woman who was at the keyboard or mobile device. (Please don't vote me off the island, ladies.)

Do men do this as well? Why are women so hard on themselves with regard to success? I've decided that for me, because yes I do this too, I gather a huge group of people in my head, and name all of those peoples' great feats, and then compare and contrast those to just mine alone. wonder I feel inadequate at times!

We are individuals. We all have gifts for which to be thankful and reasons for which to be appreciated. We cannot always put ourselves last and others first and do not always put ourselves first and others last. We deserve time to unplug, skip a blog post, or even serve cold cereal for supper. Teachers help create miracles every day whether it's helping a child to love reading, or to brainstorm for the creation a science project or learn how to write his or her name. Give yourselves credit for goodness sakes.

I think that many times, we tend to forget many of the important things we do and it takes someone else to point them out to us. Or we feel like we're bragging if we say something. Why is that? Why do we find it easier to focus on the negative? Why do we feel we're lacking versus basking the awesomeness that we help create?

This is why, blogging to document feelings, occurrences and yes, even taking time "toot our own horns" noting our feats of greatness is a wonderful and most appropriate. On any given "rainy day" in our lives, we can go back and see the roller coaster of life we've experienced.

Pay it forward and "like" on someone's Facebook status, reply to a Tweet or comment on a blog post. You just never know whose day will turn awesome due to your comment or in whose life you'll help create a happy moment.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Round Three: Ding Ding Ding

Today was bittersweet, as I started back to school. This is already year three of being an online instructor. Yes, I wish my summer was longer like when I worked in brick and mortar, but I like how I have the month of August to get reconnected to my co-workers and students and finish planning for the year ahead. I still hold fast to the notion that I just get "good at being on vacation" when it's time for it to end.

As I checked my school email last night, to be sure to be prepared for today's schedule, I found out that my administrator left. As I was to be "settling in" for the night, my mind immediately went into high gear as I was creating and solving problems in my head. I thought this might lead to an awkward day today.

I was pleasantly surprised (why I was surprised, I do not know) of how organized today was. We had a staff meeting in which the three new instructional coaches stepped up to the plate, divided up the most pressing of the Academic Administrator's duties among themselves, and took them on in the interim. Not one of them is asking for extra pay and they have been "back to work" for probably two weeks already. I have such dedicated, caring and "want the best for everyone" co-workers! I am reminded of that often. When there is work to be done, we never have a problem with waiting for someone to volunteer to do it; it just happens. Often, people will decide on something that needs to be done on their own. They will do whatever that unnamed task is and then share their work with the rest, saving the rest of us the time and effort. Having the privilege to work with such kind, proactive people is refreshing.

Also inspiriting, is the attitude of newly hired staff. We got to "meet" them today in our virtual staff meeting. I shared with them a Google doc that I created last year of all of the things I was taught when I started two years ago, but also all of the things I wish I'd known sooner. I shared that with them and it was well-received as were the thanks I was sent in return.

As you start back to school educators, or as you come back from a vacation or maybe just the weekend to your job, I challenge you. Do you step up to the plate when needed? How will you help a newbie? Is your attitude considered refreshing?

I hope your brain is in "high gear."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Got Goosebumps?

I do some of my best thinking while curling my hair. Maybe that's why I keep doing it versus going with a "wash & go" hairstyle. :)

This morning, I realized how excited I am to be going back to work on Monday more connected than ever. I've considered myself a "connected educator" for quite some time, but as I hear my phone chirping to indicate a new vox (this was not a noun for me last year at this time), or chiming to indicate that my Twitter feed erupting, I know that instant PD or "do it myself learning" is right in my hands (or in my purse). As I've now added more professional contacts, my Facebook's notifications numbers ever increasing as well. Before I even got out of bed this morning, I'd connected with educators from all of the country and was added to another professional learning Voxer group.

It is SO empowering to be in charge of my learning! To be in the driver's seat to discover something that I want to learn in my own time and on my own terms about gives me goosebumps. What will be YOUR next "goosebumps moment?"

Friday, August 1, 2014

Don't Be a Patty

When I watch plays and musicals, I tend to look at the perimeter of the stage and watch the "extras" carefully. This comes from my 4N6 and One-Act play adjudicating, I'm sure. :)

Similarly, while watching a webinar about writing to meet Common Core Standards, I paid attention to the conversation happening in the chat box and was amazed. One woman stated that she does not let her students Google. I about fell over. Googling is reality. While I'm reading my books (on eReaders, course) I am always selecting the word to look it up if I'm not familiar with it. Many times, it will say "no definition available" but give me Google as an option. I'd be missing out on so much vocabulary building if it were not for Google. By the way, I am happy to say that a couple of people called her out on her statement. 

I also was floored that on woman ("Patty" featured in the screenshot, above) thought that since she has students who currently work on the family farm and have that as their "after graduation choice" that these standards are too high for them. Wow. I want ALL of my students to be able to write well and think well and be competitive. The whole point of CCSS is for students to be ready for the work force, whatever that may entail. Also, just because a student choose one career in middle or high school does not mean that he or she will be in that same career for the next 40 years. If someone had told me five years ago that I'd be quitting my current job and teaching middle schoolers online, I would have thought they were crazy. 

I liked how the presenter emphasized having an authentic audience for students' writing. Students do want to write something just for their teacher's desk. Grades do not motivate all students. Students will self-edit and care about their writing if they have an actual audience that cares. In a brick and mortar setting, I had my students participate in a Digital Citizenship project with +Jon Orech. They learned all aspects of this topic in various activities and discussions, but then were also mentored by high school students from the Chicago area. Jon oversaw those students, along with their classroom teacher. As soon as they knew that actual middle school students were going to be reading their blog posts, they asked for more time so they could go back and revise/edit their writing. It's all about the intrinsic motivation that gets students excited about their work and care to have it polished. During this webinar, only one teacher brought up the idea of blogging with students and not many, if any, responded to it. Hmmm. 

So, yes we need to raise the bar on our kids' writing. Yes we need to still let them "Google" and most definitely, we need to have them write for a larger audience than their teacher. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Not the "Same Old, Same Old"

My husband brought in the mail, like he does every day, and said that I'd gotten a letter from my school. I figured it was the usual - an agenda for the "back to school" plan as I start back to work this coming Monday. I opened the letter after supper and was ready for a check list of "to do" items or a "get ready for..."paragraph. I was pleasantly surprised that it was instead a thank you letter. I am not even kidding.

It's not that I was never thanked in my teaching career, but my current school takes the time to thank the staff and does it OFTEN. I am not used to this and it still takes me by surprise. I smiled and smiled and smiled more as I read the letter. I read the letter three times and then handed it to my husband so he could read it. He was even more excited than I. My son held his hand out, as he was curious what the obvious displays of happiness was all about, and wanted to read the letter as well.

It contained the "year-end metrics" that my school keeps track of throughout the year, but also reminded that the administration knows that we staff members made many more gains and made huge contributions that do not show up in these "metrics" and thanked me (and other staff members, as I'm sure they received it too) for the hard work and dedication to our school.

I always tell my children and my students, "One thing you can never over do is thanking someone." One thank you certainly goes a long way. It's SO nice to be appreciated; I can hardly put it into words.

Thank you. Really.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Count Your Blessings - Often

I am once again reminded that I am SO blessed! I just got done with dinner out with my girlfriends - girlfriends I've had since 3rd grade. I am so fortunate that we all live within an hour of one another and that we can make this happen. We call ourselves the "Fake Homemakers." There are actual "real" homemakers groups that meet monthly and discuss <insert something worthwhile and homemaker-ish>. We call ourselves "fake" since we are not sanctioned by the county (rebels), nor do we follow any rules. Our focus is simple: be together.

My circle of friends has gone through a time of many hardships. We've helped each other through job changes, divorces, deaths of parents, close family members and even children. These events lead us to the epiphany that things happen in life and that we never know how long we will have the gift of one another. We made a pact to get together on a monthly basis, but with no rules.

If we meet at someone's house, that is fine. We can eat off the best china, or paper plates. We can order in, or have a potluck. We can can cook a meal for the group or just have snacks. We'd like for it to be a "mommies' night out" but we'd rather you came with your kids versus staying home. In the past, we've had "field trips" and have gone places together. Some months, we bring optional "door prizes" which usually amounts to Christmas napkins in February or 4th of July decorations in August. (Tonight I got two cute pads of paper and a ring.)

All too often, life gets going in a whirlwind and we forget to just sit back, look around, and be thankful for the abundance that we have.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It’s All About Relationships

Being a teacher involves much more than teaching. It is not just the art of disseminating knowledge, but rather building relationships. Students learn best when positive relationships are formed between them and their teachers.

Being an online or “virtual” teacher makes those relationships all the more important. Tony Baldasaro, aka @tonybaldasaro, told me once that [three of] the most important things in virtual education are relationships, relationships, relationships. He is spot on. At the beginning of August, a month before school begins, I begin reaching out to my students and their families via phone and email. I want to make connections with my students as soon as possible, but I also want to strengthen and maintain those connections. Remind helps me do this, and do it well, if I may say so myself.

Meeting students and parents “where they are” makes communication seamless and authentic. Using Remind’s safe and convenient messaging service most definitely meets people where they are - which is most likely on their mobile devices. Students and parents may choose to receive text (SMS) messages or push notifications if using the Remind app. They may also choose to receive emails, if that suits them best. (I will tell you, however, that email is approaching the popularity of smoke signals. Yes really.) With my school’s internal email system, students and parents have to log in and GO TO IT, whereas a text or push notification COMES TO THEM. This might seem trivial to those of us who are uber connected, but it’s huge to those who are not.

I introduce Remind to my students and families during my first contact with them. Letting my students know that I wish to be in touch with them as often as possible lets them know I care about them and also about their success in school. Letting parents know that I want to be in touch with them as often as possible helps establish the vital partnership between school and home that is needed to make virtual schooling successful.

In August, I “schedule ahead” reminders for the entire year, which is also a bonus for me when I receive my own messages. I love this feature! As the year goes I send messages with class reminders, meeting reminders, due dates, and sometimes just some “happy thoughts” to let my kiddos know I’m thinking about them. Using the feature that allows one to send a message to just three people at minimum allows me to be more specific when I need to be, like for sending birthday wishes. (I still send snail mail cards, because we all love to get those) Another benefit is that students and parents can now create their own accounts and use the Remind app to keep track of their messages, especially when more than one of their teachers uses it. (No worries as Remind is COPPA-friendly for students under 13.)

I have been using Remind since the day it was available, and I’ve loved watching it evolve into what is has become today. It is by far one of the most important communication tools I use and my most favorite app. I’ve never been accused of “over communicating” with my families but rather have received words of thanks all year long as my students and their families feel very informed, but also very connected. And that’s what it’s all about - being connected.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Forgetting the Golden Rule = Clash of the Humans

I am more and more amazed at what people think, and then say or even post on social media. Some may be saying the same about me after reading this post, but whatever, because mine is a message of tolerance and acceptance not one of "My way is better than yours" or "I was here first."

My hometown has experienced a transition of population over the last twenty years or so. People from far away places, with alternate beliefs and ways of life have moved into the area. I think this is a good thing, but many disagree and loudly so. These people are called "Ridgers" or "Hippies" by their so-called haters. They call themselves "Progressives." Many came to Viroqua, WI seeking out the advantages of having access to a Waldorf education in a small town setting. Plus, I live in "the driftless area" meaning that the glaciers did not come through here, leaving the beautiful landscape of green rolling hills and coulees. Visitors often say how they'd love to live here.

My little town was going down the path to becoming a ghost town or at least with an abandoned Main Street. Can you guess whether or not we have a Wal-Mart? Of course we do. That's the first sign of a dying town. It's like when sitcoms will bring in a new child to the family to try reviving the series. It usually only lasts for a short while. People think that Wal-Mart will save the day since now we have access to cheap (in both senses of the word) food and clothing. Residents are then bewildered when the family-run businesses of our Main Street were closing their doors as they cannot compete with WalMart's pricing. I'm happy to say I have not shopped there since 2/11/11 as I try to support the locally run businesses, but I digress.

The newer residents of the area have influenced many changes for the good that people seem to overlook or forget about like a food co-op, several new businesses on the Main Street, a community theatre organization, and some new restaurants. If it were not for many of the newer residents bringing life back into our downtown, it would be a long line of empty buildings.

This lead me to think about the same thing in schools. What if your child were to be "the new kid" and he or she dressed differently, spoke differently, liked different foods, or had a different religious belief? Would you want your child to be treated like the outcast or to be welcomed into the group? Would you like your child's uniquenesses to be seen as assets or problems? Would you want your child labeled with a derogatory name? I think we know the answers to these obvious questions. We were all taught the Golden Rule when were were younger, but it often leaves the forefronts of our minds. We all need to be reminded of it; some of us more often than others. We need to ask ourselves, "Why do we treat others as we would never want to be treated?"

If we were all named Jenny, had blonde hair and blue eyes, measured 5'7" and agreed on everything, wouldn't the world be a boring place? I think so.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

How Well Do We Interact with Our Stakeholders?

Today, I helped conduct part of a market study at my local Food Co-op as one of my duties of being on the Board of Directors. We are working on our vision and deciding what steps to take in the future. We're seeking out opinions from the owner-members since it is THEIR food co-op and therefore, what they want matters. This got me thinking: How well do we do this in schools?

Parents, students, and community members are also "owner-members" for our schools. Do we ask what their vision is or the direction in which they'd like to see the school go? I am not familiar with many schools that do this. If there are schools in my area that do this, they're not telling the story. It should not just be the school board, or the administration or school employees who make these decisions for the school. Stakeholders should not have to come to a monthly school board meeting in order to share thoughts; their thoughts should be sought out on a regular basis throughout the school year. This means more often than the one open house at the beginning of the year or the two parent-teacher conferences during the year. The more engaged families and the community are in our schools, the more likely students are to succeed. Students need to see that people care and that they are watching.

Schools are not only missing out on opportunities for feedback, but also for compliments. My experience is that, for the most part, families seem pleased with the schools in this area. Is someone seeking input from stakeholders at sporting events or fine arts productions?  If more people were encouraged to share their thoughts, opinions and insight on a regular basis, many hands would make light work.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Biggest Secret as a Teacher

"Lean in closely," I'd say. My eyes would shift to my peripheral vision on each side to check for eavesdroppers and then I'd whisper, "I'm not a reader."

I hated that I didn't read. I could handle 86-page Judy Blume books, but nothing else could hold my attention. If it wasn't a magazine article, it was too long. I wanted to read the John Grisham novels, but I'd instead have my husband read them and then fill me in afterwards. I figured that I'd watch the movie, so I wasn't missing out on anything. I never understood it when people said that the book was MUCH better than the movie. How could that be? For a person in her 30s with a Master's degree, one would expect more.

When I assigned reading to my students, I'd only give them a few pages, as at their age that's all I could handle successfully. When I was a student, if my teacher assigned an entire chapter to my class, I'd totally skip it. Who knows how much of  U.S. history I still do not know; how embarrassing.

One of my beloved friends and former colleagues, Jennifer Malphy (@jmalphy), inspired me by piquing my curiosity about so many books. She is so gifted with regard to finding and keeping up-to-date on young adult novels and getting middle schoolers to start reading and keep reading. So goes the theory, "You are what you teach," I was essentially a middle school girl who wanted to read but wasn't an avid reader and didn't know what to choose or where to begin.  She, being as interested in technology as I am, explored Nooks with me. She for the school library, and I for personal use. I decided while being a self-proclaimed "gadget girl," purchasing an eReader might be the answer to my problem. Jen had been researching about the successful use of them in school libraries.

After I purchased a Nook for myself, I also bought them for my own children, who already liked to read. I implemented them into my Science and Social Studies classes instead of using textbooks. I brought my family's Nooks to school, as well as my iPad and iPod touch with the Nook app. I was also fortunate to have some to borrow from the library, as Jen had purchased eReaders by then. It was an amazing transformation I saw in my classroom. Students who were reluctant readers would read and even volunteer to read aloud. Students would put their heads together with ANY other student and happily share a device, as I didn't have enough to be 1:1. Everyone in my classroom was engaged in reading! I was so happy with the result and I've since shared this with other teachers, encouraging them to use eRaeders in their classrooms.

I am happy to say that I've now read more in the last five years than in all my years before that put together. I've burrowed in and lost hours of time with my nose "in a Nook." The first movie I saw after reading the book was "Eat, Pray, Love." And I finally get to say, "The book WAS better than the movie."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Being By Myself Doesn't Equate to Being Alone

I'm on day 2 of +Akevy Greenblatt 's 30 day blog challenge, and I'm still up for it. :)

I've been thinking about my drive to be connected and my every-growing love of solitude and how they should be at opposite ends of the gamut, but are they really?

I work essentially "alone" in my home office for eleven months of the year, and being a very social person, people often ask me, "Aren't you lonely being home alone all day long?" I usually answer with a laugh, because I actually have the freedom to be much more connected while working at home than I did while working in my former "brick and mortar" school. Besides talking with my students and their families via Blackboard and phone, I have several social media tools accessible to me.

I now have the ability to check my Twitter feed every so often and keep in touch with educators from all over the world. Twitter was blocked at my previous school. I'm a member of some group chats and can reach out to those fellow educators as well, but phones were deemed "off limits" from 7:30am to 3:30pm except for our "30 minute duty-free lunch." Over the summer, I've become a member of a few Voxer groups, and I've added professional contacts to my Facebook friends, which previously has only consisted of personal friends and relatives and I look forward to those connections continuing into the school year.

Since my current school is a charter school and all of the 2,200 students are there by choice, there is a different emphasis on reaching out to the world. We have a PR person on staff and coordinate special online and face-to-face events to get the word out of the great things that we do. In a day and age of school branding becoming ever popular in addition to Wisconsin's school choice option for families, I'd think that telling one's story would remove the blocking of social media, but that's just my opinion. I am just happy to say that I am connected.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Challenge Begins

I started a blog, because that's the thing to do - share ideas, get feelings and experiences "out there" or at least documented. Well, I've had lots of ideas and feelings and experiences, but not much documentation of them beyond the 140 character limit of Twitter.

For some reason, I psych myself out of blogging before I even begin. I have ideas in my head and think, "Who will care about that?" or "How will that be lengthy enough to bother with?" In my head, I know that blogging is for ME and that the topic or length do not matter, but when it comes to putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard rather, it has not happened much. I read others' blogs and think, "I have that same thought and could have written the same thing." or "Wow, that was short but good." I've heard +Josh Stumpenhorst aka @stumpteacher, relate it to his daily running routine he's established. If he can run for hundreds and hundreds of days in a row, then I can certainly blog a bit more often.

Enter +Akevy Greenblatt, aka @akevy613, with his 30 day blog post challenge. Just in the last two days, he's inspired me and pushed me to push myself to get back on the "blogging horse." We even might be guest bloggers on each other's blogs in the future for a change of pace and to help establish some camaraderie.

I love a challenge! Game on, Akevy and check you rear view mirror, Josh.