Thursday, September 25, 2014

Meeting Our Students Needs - A “Not-So” Passion

The 8th Grade Language Arts Department at Hilliard Weaver Middle School in Hilliard, OH is working with their students in the creation of blogs. The goal is to expose students to yet another platform to share their writing. Many students have embraced this opportunity. And some, like Emma, are truly finding that their talents go far beyond the stroke of keys on the computer. Furthermore, they have a stage to share their opinions, respectfully, to their teachers. Please enjoy this guest post:

Emma Fullen is a passionate writer in the eighth grade. She goes to school at Hilliard Weaver Middle School and enjoys every last bit of it from the exceptional teachers to the brand new best friends she has made. Outside of school, Emma acts, sings, and soaks up every bit of anything she can get her hands on. She aspires to be an actress/director, a teacher, a journalist, a photographer (and the list goes on…) when she grows up. Her full blog page can be found at:

Here is her most recent post:

A “Not-So” Passion

This blog post is based solely on my "not-so" passion. A "not-so" passion is what I like to call something that I want to do and when I get offered the chance to do such a thing,  I take it but, I hardly get those opportunities.
That "something" I'm referring to would be theatrical directing. I have all these ideas swimming around my head and (don't blame me, but) I really like telling people what to do... It's just a fact. I think it would be something that comes naturally to me. I'm generally a "leader type" (says, like, everybody) and thats a role to take up with directing. A problem with this, though, is you always see acting classes but you never ever see director classes, because you obviously need a director to direct you and tell you how to direct and you can't do that if you're learning to direct... right?
I've gotten opportunities to be assistant director but those plays are with professional theatres and I don't do much because I’m not trained in the area. But hey, there’s a first time for everything, so I’m told, even if that first time isn’t now, It’ll come soon, I’m pretty sure.
There may or may not be other people like me, and I am totally for where my school is heading, but they may be missing something. Instead of JUST writing about our passions, why don’t we write about what we want to do? Directing isn't (technically) a passion, but it’s something I’d like to set my heart to, something I want to be my passion. Ted-Ed club is fantastic, but is it just another Public Speaking class? And same goes with the Optimist Oratorical Competition. Both are (so I’ve heard) great, yet,  I’ve never done either because of the school play. Let’s mix it up!
Let’s make our “not-so” passions, something generations below us will look up to. In other words:
Let’s do stuff.
Until next time,

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

5 Ways to Grow Your Digital Presence

Do you wonder about the effectiveness of your digital presence? Tweeting has become second nature. Participating in chats has become routine. Blogging, even though originally taken on as a form or reflection, has become an expectation.

As one who appreciates feedback, there is a constant need to measure my own impact on the digital world. I became a teacher, and then administrator, one of many reasons. One of them being that I wanted to shape the minds of learners. Both students and teachers.
As I take to the waves of social media, I find myself having a voice that I could not have predicted 20 years ago. None of us could. And now that we have this platform we have to consider the words that make up our messages.

So, with that, here are 5 ways to ensure that your message (your tweets, blogs and comments) are not only being heard but also being shared and are working to grow who we are in the digital landscape. Like our reason to get into education to begin with, it wasn't that we wanted to impact just one mind, we were hoping to impact many.

1. Relevant - The information that you share has to make a connection to what it is you are trying to learn right now. Without that parallel the information you are attempting to share becomes irrelevant and the audience will begin to mute the messenger.  The beauty of twitter, blogging and other forms of social media is that both the the person sending the information and the person receiving can help determine relevance.

2. Timely - So much of what we are reading is "in the moment". Scroll through your feed, read the latest posts and pick up the teaching journals within the past few months.  Not only does the content have to be relevant but what we push out to the world has to be "now".  In fact, those that are truly understanding of social media can actually get ahead of being timely and therefore captivate the greatest audience. Look for those that are "ahead of the curve" in education.

3. Practical - Disclaimer - I am not the best writer. Second disclaimer - I don't always have the best idea, right thing to say or even the perfect direction with my thoughts.  What I do know is that the information I am receiving (and therefore sending) has to be applicable in my "real world". Wanting tools, resources and ideas that can be plugged into my working environment is crucial to my own professional growth. I search out tweets, blogs and people that help me be better at my work each day.

4. Connectedness - We are uses of each others information and therefore must build relationships to further deepen our understanding of our profession. Whether as a teacher or an administrator our degree of being connected can be the life-line to our wealth of knowledge. The greatest educators, regardless of their role, become such due to the conversations, collaborations and the creative efforts of being connected globally to their colleagues.

5. Value - We measure our success based on our students performance, our own delivery and reflection and the feedback we receive from the those that we work for and/or work with. Whether our tweets, blogs, our lessons or our conversations have merit will become the true understanding of our value as professionals. Make sure that your message has content that others can correlate to their own worlds.

In the end, these five areas will be the true measurement of whether or not our work, the written word or otherwise, has merit and is viewed as a contribution to the digital world in which we live. If you follow these, then your goal will be accomplished, minds will be reached and your digital presence will grow.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Taking Care of the Climate

Now that we have settled into the routines of the school year, it is too easy at times to forget about the little things in an educators life. The little things that we know, aren't so little. We don't do it intentionally. Of course not. The reality is that we get so focused on the next lesson, activity and task that we forget to catch our breaths. It is our nature to barrel down and forge ahead, and for that, it is not a fault just a reality.

With that in mind, and with the school year already a month in, here are some quick suggestions to keep that spirit up as we head into the shortened days of autumn knowing that winter is barreling down before we know it. Many of these you most likely already do day in and day out and for that, your teachers are fortunate. Therefore, just treat it as a gentle reminder, a nudge of sorts, to not forget the simple stuff in the days and weeks ahead.

Offer to cover a class.
Share resources that you recently discovered.
Send an email after hearing about a lesson students enjoyed.
Leave a hand-written note of gratitude on the teachers desk.
Purchase a great read, work or pleasure, and drop it in their mailbox.
Foot the bill for something simple, out of the ordinary.
Buy a coffee, or a soda. A treat.
Give the gift of time.

Make the most of September. There is only one of them this school year. Be ready for October and what you can do to support the work of your teachers. Remember, our teachers are amazing at what they do. Our task as instructional leaders is to continue to support them in their role as they impact the lives and the minds of children day in and day out. We are fortunate to be at their side.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Join The Chat

We all have something good to say.  Even when we feel we have nothing, something is bound to come out once the conversation starts. It happens every time.

Often, we over think what we are going to say, or write. Depending on the audience we create invisible filters that only the writer, or thinker, can imagine. As members of society we have been programmed to think before we speak.

I encourage that we follow that advice and would never want to udder words that could be hurtful or discouraging. In the same breathe, however, have we programmed ourselves to be silent because that is what we have been reminded over time? In the classroom, in the office and in interactions with others we spend so much time being mindful of what to say we rarely say anything at all.

The point of all of this? Say anything. If you observe a chat taking place, add to it. Scroll along for starters. "Lurk" as we call it on twitter. But in the end, join in. Say something. Add to the conversation. Grow from it. 

If you weren't interested, intrigued or inspired to improve the person you are, you wouldn't have tagged along to begin with.

Start sharing. You will be better for it. A better professional, a better person.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Don't Overlook the Obvious

Too often we go on a search for what "best practice" truly is. We read the latest books, filter through articles and scour the educational landscape of presenters to deliver that "silver bullet". We share the responsibility at times and forget the role that we have spent so much time working to define. Too often we forget that the Instructional Leader title is not intended to be for the administrator alone.

If you know me, and how I lead, you know that I firmly believe in all that is out there in the educational landscape. There are some amazing resources and nationally known educational leaders out there. I am a huge fan of Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and have created a focus for the year around passion for my entire building. In addition, both Rick Wormeli and Ken O'Conner have provided a wealth of information in regards to assessments and grading. We are transforming how we do both (assess and grade) each day. And of course, Todd Whitaker. We are "great" thanks to his sound advice for teachers and leaders. All of the above mentioned are out of this world. I would, and do, buy their books and pay to see them present.

So how can we have the best of both worlds? Many leaders in public education tend to go outside to gather professional development to bring to the inside. We gather up groups of people and herd them through PD sessions believing that this exercise alone will increase student engagement, student achievement and improve performance. If we are not going to the outside to bring in presenters it is the building administrator that stands in the front of the room and holds the keys to the knowledge. Sounds eerily similar to a classroom that we are all way to familiar with. A classroom many are moving away from.

Through the reading I had done, the presenters I had heard and the conversations over time, it become obvious. Through working with my teachers, I would help create an undetermined number of Instructional Leaders WITHIN the staff. This was not passing the responsibility, but shifting who owns it.

Yes, share the role and build leaders within. We have done this before through the use of Team Meetings and Data Teams but this was different. Today, like many of those other days, I was able to see instructional leaders in just a little different light. The obvious leaders were right in front of me. They had read the books, heard the wisdom and had done their homework. Simply, they taught each other. They used their resources, including each other, and accomplished more in a day than any PD session could have generated. The pictures in this post are from a day of Science PD just today. Teachers from three middle schools along with a district academic coach, work for hours creating, learning, planning, organizing and preparing instructional opportunities for kids. They worked tirelessly. They left exhausted.

And what was my role as the building Instructional Leader? It was simple - I gave them the time, the space and opportunity to grow. And, of course, some chocolate.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What's Your Tech Tool of Choice?

If put to the challenge of narrowing down your list of favorite tech tools to have at your disposal, could you pick just one? And, to add to the difficulty of the questions, let's keep everything "Google" in the mix. 

So what will it be? What is your "go to" tool? It may be Voxer, Remind, or an App that makes your teaching and your students learning that much more powerful. We live in an age where tools via technology are being created faster then we can learn how to use them. Personally, I still trying to get my arms around a few of them.

With that, here is a compilation of most used tech tools by educators in the world in which I work. And, most likely, in the world you work, too. These are in no particular order:

1. Google Apps - A must have for organizing your thoughts, sharing out ideas and compiling information in one spot. An added bonus, with understanding Google Hangout (GHO) you can add collaboration and communication and take that to an entire new level. Most of us, all of us, myself included, would be lost without it.

2. Twitter - A close second to the Google world. For educators that have not found the benefits of this resource, that is a pretty big rock you are under. Go ahead and peak out from beneath it. There are endless resources, amazing people and countless tools within the tool. Connecting through Twitter is one of the greatest forms of professional development possible.

3. Socrative - Like their website states, "signing up thousands of new users each day, we believe big changes in education are possible through small improvements. We are making teachers lives simpler." This app embraces the personalized side of instruction and assessments, gives authentic feedback for immediate instruction and can grow the community. It is worth the look.

4. Blogger and WordPress - More classrooms and their teachers are blogging more than ever before. Students are sharing independent of the request from their teachers and teachers are finding the process invaluable to the growth of their writers. Find a classroom that is blogging, and you will find students that are growing leaps and bounds beyond their peers.

5. Voxer - New to the list, Voxer is taking the world by storm. For educators, yet another way to connect. Sending and receiving messages, sharing of content and adding photos allows teachers to take the globe in which we live and shrink it. You better do your homework, if you don't get up to speed on this one, you will be left behind.

Listed above are some amazing resources for all sorts of professionals, not just educators. Moat likely you are using most of them. Growing the list out further, here are some other "must have's" for educators:

- You Tube
- Edmodo
- Remind
- Evernote
- Class Dojo
- Dropbox

So again I pose a simple question. In the end, which of these tools is your "go to"? Which ones do you not have as part of your daily arsenal of tools already?

The good news, we don't have to chose. We get to use all of these, and more. Continue to expand your knowledge of the tech tools that are out. There are more coming right around the corner.