EduHeroes

I was lucky enough to attend the Scholastic Reading Summit in Raleigh this week. It was magical. Magical.

First this happened…

Then this happened…

And then this…

I was starstruck. Over and over again.

It was a day full of meeting my #EduHeroes and #EduIdols, and I learned something important.

They’re just like us mortals.

They are regular people. Awesome regular people, but regular people.

They talked with me and helped me learn. They treated me like I was awesome too. (Which I am, but they didn’t know that.)

I was both humbled and encouraged by the knowledge and kindness that was poured into me.

Find your tribe. Love them hard.

I’ve heard that so often in the past year.  And I truly understand it now. Not just this week, but in every situation when I’ve truly put myself out into the world. NCDLCN. NCTIES. EdCamp. Reading Summit. We are all connected by our love of making the world better for students.

If you put your heart and mind out there, you’ll find us.

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Making Schools Better

So… I’m starting something big-ish this week.

I’m becoming a student again. I’m starting the School Administration Add-On Licensure program at UNCW. Eek.

Why?

Great question. I really wanted to have a solid answer for it before I started the coursework. I wanted to have it written down somewhere so that I can look at how my views, purpose, and/or expectations may change after actually swimming in the pond for a while. I wanted to always have my pie in the sky vision there for when I became bogged down in the depths of the job.

But then I didn’t write it down. I’ve thought about it a lot and I have a pretty good idea of my why, but it didn’t completely crystallize into something I could write down until yesterday.

I was listening to a Kids Deserve It podcast while running. I was listening to Joe Dombrowski talk about his educational leadership philosophy, and I really started to think about mine.

I want to make school better.

For students. For teachers. For parents. For the community.

But what does that mean?

To be  honest… I don’t exactly know. I have a few of my own ideas of what I think will make classrooms and schools better, but it isn’t all about me. It’s about all those other guys.

Because what is better to a student is totally different depending on the student you talk to. Some may want school to be more fun. Some may want school to be more challenging. Some may want school to be safer.

Because what is better to a teacher is totally different depending on the teacher you talk to. Some may want more collaboration. Some may want more autonomy. Some may want more flexibility in seating or assessment or schedule. Some may want more responsibility.

I think better means creating spaces and classrooms that make students and teachers excited to get to school every day. To see what amazing thing will happen today. To share something amazing that happened after they left yesterday. To find out the answers to burning questions.

Better means something different to everyone. That’s why it isn’t about me. I want to lead schools to what the better is for everyone on that team. I won’t know what that means until I know who I’m serving.

And regardless of how much better you make school, you can always make it even better. Always. Better is not an end game. It’s a constant state.

So… That’s my why.

How would you replace the word better? What would make school better for you?

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Capturing (and Releasing) the Future…Now

Y’all. You must watch this.

I listened to this while I was running this week, and I am stymied. For several reasons…

I consider myself a reasonably intelligent member of this planet who is generally aware of what is going on around me. And I am not aware of any of these things.

This man is easily the most intelligent person I’ve ever heard speak.

The amazing things that this man is speaking of are happening or in the works NOW. Not in the future. NOW.

I am currently attempting to prepare children for a future that is unfathomable, and here I am not able to fathom things that are happening TODAY.

I am trying to envision Elon Musk in elementary school. I am flabbergasted at what it looks like.

And then I think about a couple of things that happened this week.

I *finally* put my Observe Me sign up outside my door. I actually wrote it with my students. I wanted them to see what I was working on and enlist their help in reaching my goals. I am working on tighter classroom management and making learning experiences meaningful and engaging.

(This one is not mine, but it is the one from @LauraGteachesNC and what inspired mine. I forgot to take a photo of mine.)

After I wrote my Observe Me card, my students did a bit of reflecting themselves and filled out their own Observe Me card. We posted them on their cubbies so that their goals will stare them in the face every day and so that others can help hold us accountable.

It was lovely. Except…

At one point, one of my high-achieving students came to me with her goal. It was basically that she wanted to get better at focusing instead of daydreaming when I was talking about something that she already knew.

I was bummed. I told her that I didn’t think that was a good use of her time. I’d rather her time be used learning NEW things that challenged her, instead of having to force herself to listen to something that was boring.

She (and a few others) are my Elon Musk. How do I keep her (and them) challenged so that she (and they) can focus on moving forward instead of on attending to something that she has already mastered? How do we encourage students to think beyond our classroom walls so that they can truly be ready to face whatever it is out there?

I know… Genius Hour. PBL.

I know all those things, but I struggle with putting them into context in my fourth grade classroom meaningfully. I can do Genius Hour every week (or part of every day), but how can I challenge the students meaningfully in a standards-based way? (I know that Genius Hour can meet many standards, but I’m thinking of how to hit my content area standards beyond the language arts ones that you can hit with just about anything.)

I’ve been trying to pare down the things I ask of my students to those that are most meaningful. How do I meaningfully integrate all aspects of our curriculum into the most relevant and engaging bits? While giving them the time to build and create things that are inspiring in their world?

I’m not doing the best job…clearly.

I’ve tried handing the standards over to the students and had them create the project/product/process to meet them. It went pretty well. Perhaps I’m not doing that enough.

I’m truly interested in ideas here. Who feels like they are managing this successfully (for themselves and their students)? How are you doing it? What steps should I try?

Help!

EdCamp Beach 2017

EdCamp Beach 2017 was on Saturday. I’ll be honest… I was a little afraid.

Last year’s event was my very first EdCamp. And it was amazing.

The people. The ideas. The energy. It was magical.

Then I went to EdCamp Wake and EdCamp Myrtle this past fall.

I really liked EdCamp Wake because there are so many amazing people in Wake County and the school buildings where it was held were inspiring. EdCamp Myrtle was pretty small and seemed to be a pretty tight knit group of teachers who sort of chatted about what was going on with each other, and then us outliers who were just sort of there. EdCamp Beach was still my favorite.

I worried that last year’s event couldn’t be topped. I worried that it wouldn’t be as awesome. I worried that maybe I just thought it was so awesome because I’d never experienced anything like it before.

I needn’t have worried. It was EVEN BETTER than last year.

The people. The ideas. The energy. It was even more magical than last year.

Part of it was me. I tend to hide behind the notes in each session and be way more of a listener than a talker. This time, I was more present in the conversations.

Part of it was being connected already. I’ve connected with many of the fabulous folks on Twitter and some of them at EdCamp Wake. It was like hanging out with friends…really smart, fun, inspiring friends.

If you’ve never been to an EdCamp, then you must. I’d love to tell you all about it so that you’ll understand, but I can’t. Describing it doesn’t do it justice. You have to be there.

Check out #EdCampBeach and/or @EdCampBeach on Twitter to check out what happened over the course of the day. Or you can visit the website to see the sessions and what it’s all about.

And then I’ll see you next year.

Nevertheless…

Although I didn’t blog about it, I did choose One Little Word at the beginning of 2017. My word was lighten.

I chose LIGHTEN for several reasons and for many of the different meanings of the word.

I wanted to lighten my loads… I tend to overthink and overdo things. I spend AGES searching for the right font and the exact right word. While I revel in these types of things, they don’t do much for my overall schedule. I spend way too much time planning and thinking, and not enough time doing. It was a goal to lighten my expectations on myself so that I could lighten my workload and hopefully, my outlook. You can read more about this from Matt Miller and Angela Watson, if you’d like.

I also wanted to be a light by bringing positive energy wherever I go and lighten the path for others who may need it.

So… LIGHTEN. That was my word.

But…

It didn’t seem to fit. I struggled to feel at one with the word. (To be honest, I struggled with my FOCUS last year, but it was a fruitful struggle, I feel. And I did make some progress on it.)

And, then there was this new word. I’d seen it when it became a hashtag, but that isn’t when it stuck. I had seen it when I ordered some stuff with the word on it, but that isn’t when it stuck. It was after thinking about my relationship to learning and how I feel driven to find information to back me up.

I realized that there will always be challenges and obstacles in my way. There will always be people who don’t believe it can be done, or don’t see that value in doing it differently. There will always be push back.

And that’s ok.

It isn’t ok that I allow those things to stop me. Should they cause me to communicate my vision and purpose more clearly? Yes. Should they cause me to think deeply about what I’m doing and my motivations? Absolutely. Should they cause me to rethink and reshape my actions to make them better? Always. Should they hold me back? Never.

I have to find the courage to keep moving forward. Yes, with evidence and research backing me up, but also with my own convictions. I’m a pretty smart lady…most days…and I know this. For some reason, however, I often doubt my own ability to be a credible source of intelligence. It’s time that stops.

I have a pretty good idea what’s best for the learners I teach. I have a pretty good idea what’s best for me. I have a pretty good idea of what could be possible in schools.

And so… NEVERTHELESS.

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There will be people who doubt me. Nevertheless, I will push on with what I think is right. There will be challenges and obstacles. Nevertheless, I will keep fighting for what’s in the best interests of kids.

This will be terribly hard for me… For a million reasons.

Nevertheless.

 

Facing my learning addiction…

I wrote about my relationship and addiction to learning. It was just in the last week or so that I figured out why I have this compulsion.

I spent a bit of time over my spring break visiting the math blocks of some teachers in my district. Math has been my focus this year. I’ve watched just about every available webinar, gone to every possible PD session, and participated in a book study. The names of these teachers were given to me by our county math specialist as teachers who were rocking the classroom AND the assessment pieces. I wanted to learn from their magic.

As stated before, I think I’ve mostly got the classroom piece down…growth mindset, deep challenges, lots of open-ended problem solving. Although, there’s always room to grow. My math scores don’t always align with where I’d like them to be. They’re ok, I guess. But I want to be knocking it out of the park.

I read and watch and attend all of this professional development because I want to do it right. I want to know what thing works and then do that thing.

And so I went and learned from some phenomenal ladies. It was great. I learned a lot and got tons of ideas. I was hoping to find “the thing” that they did that I wasn’t doing. They all did small groups. They all did really engaging and challenging activities. Other than that, they did things a bit differently based on their contexts and learners.

I was walking out of the second of the three classrooms when it hit me.

I do small groups. I do really engaging and challenging activities. I do a other things differently based on my context and learners.

There isn’t magic that I haven’t found. They’re all doing the same things I’m doing. We’re all doing what’s best for our kids.

And, at first I was disappointed. I was sad that there wasn’t one right way to do it that I could quickly employ and all would be perfect. But as I thought about it, I’d truly known that all along. I know that one thing doesn’t work for everyone or every context.

Duh.

And I realized that I knew what to do all along, I was just too afraid to stand up for myself and say it. I was looking for someone else who would prove unconditionally that what they were doing was the right way and if I did what s/he did, well then… I was in the right too.

Wrong.

Those teachers were doing what was right for them. Perfect? Probably not. Awesome? Definitely. Just as I am doing what’s right for me and for my kids. Doing what’s right for kids is right. Period.

The problem for me is that different people have different definitions of what is best. I’m often faced with teachers doing what’s right for them, but not necessarily for their kids. Because I tend to be more student-focused than others, I find myself on the defensive end at times. I’ve used the books, articles, webinars, and other people as a shield. If so-and-so says I should be doing it, then…

Of course, I want to have research and evidence to back me up. But it’s time that I stand up for myself because I think it’s right, not because someone else told me that it’s right. Right?

I worry too much about others around me are thinking. Should I take their opinions and perspectives and use them to tweak my own thinking? Sure, if it makes sense. Otherwise, I’ll use their opinions and perspectives to deepen my belief and articulate it better.

Will any of this stop me from being a compulsive learner? Nope. And I don’t want it to. But instead of combing every possible source for fodder, I’m going to think a little more deeply about what I’m learning and decide how it relates to my thinking. I’m going to give my thinking it’s own column and measure new learning against it to find out how they fit together. I’m going to trust myself and what I think too.

I think I’ve earned/learned enough.

 

Addicted to Learning

I read “How to Manage Your Time and Learn New Things Every Day” and part of it made me think.

This is exactly my kind of article. It’s about learning and managing time. Perfection. A few things gave me pause, however, and I realized that I must tackle my inner Podcast Mrs. Hebert.

Let me explain…

First, he says, “…the world keeps changing. Nonstop! We are supposed to keep up with all the geniuses, the trends, the news.”

Yes! It is! We are! There is so much out there to learn! There are so many things to read, and it’s so hard to keep up. As soon as I finish something, I feel driven to run to the next thing. I discussed that a bit here.

And then he says, “You have to learn. You have to grow. And in the meantime, you have to stay sane.”

Of course. I HAVE to learn. I HAVE to grow. But staying sane about it? I’m not so good at that.

He describes being “Podcast Todd” and binging on podcasts. That’s me!

I used to run…just about every day…although it has fallen by the wayside lately. During runs I would listen to various podcasts and I loved it. Since that time has gone away (for now), I miss the every day bits of learning and perspective gained. I feel a bit panicky at my list of podcasts piling up, but I make time to listen to the ones I’m really interested in and squeeze in other bits of listening whenever possible. I have to battle the feeling of being “behind.”

I have webinars piled up in my inbox that I watch while washing dishes. I read while folding laundry. I spend a little too much time on Twitter reading “just one more article.”

And then he says, “…he trades out his shift to Thoughtful Todd, the guy who talks to his steering wheel about what he learned from the podcast that morning.”

I’m not so good at this. I want to reflect. I really do. I do a fair job of it in stolen moments. Sitting down to reflect as a practice seems contrived, though. I feel like random grabs of enlightenment (most often in the shower…my best ideas come from that sacred space) are really my best thinking.

Although I do notice myself getting better at it when thinking about what to write in this space. I find my thinking on subjects becoming a little deeper as I think about how I would write them out. Which, I suppose, is the point, right? I’m so slow to catch on sometimes…

I am addicted to learning. I feel that if I’m not shoving something into my brain at all times that I am wasting precious time. (I’ve started reflecting on why this is, and I’ve come up with some interesting tidbits about myself that I’ll share in a coming post.)

It seems that the key here is to learn about the new thing and then take the time to apply the new thing. That doesn’t seem too unrealistic. Unless you’re me.

My approach seems to be to learn the new thing and then learn a few more new things and then squish them together and try to apply them. At that point my idea is usually a bit too big and unwieldy to really be handled completely and efficiently and I implement it most of the way, but then get a bit stalled and I’m not able to see it through. Perhaps getting started with the first idea and then slowly working in the next bits of learning as I go would work better.

As mentioned last week, I’m trying to do better with aligning my actual practice with my belief system and I think being a little more choosy with what I’m letting in through my learn/apply screen will help.

For example… I’m currently reading Who’s Doing the Work? and I love it. I’ve finished the section on read aloud and I’m almost finished with shared reading. I was going to try and finish reading it really fast so that I can really quick get all of my new learning and systems in place before I go back to school in about a week.

And then I realized, that isn’t necessary.

What if I focused on making my read aloud the best it could be? What if I spent some time thinking and implementing a cohesive shared reading routine? What if I didn’t jump right to the next thing without really thinking it over, reflecting on how to make it work best for our classroom context, and implementing it more thoughtfully?

I know that it seems totally logical to you, but I’m usually in hyperdrive when it comes to learning something new and bringing into my classroom space. I’d like to try something a bit different.

Here goes…

Hair Carpets: An #IMMOOC Reflection

carpetmakersI just finished an interesting novel. I’m not sure where I found it… I think it was on one of those lists of “Books you must read if…”

There is so much to this story, but much of it centers around hair carpets. Yep…hair carpets.

A hair carpet is a carpet that is hand-tied over the lifetime of the carpet maker and made of human hair (specifically the hair of the carpet makers wives and daughters). The entire society is formed around processes supporting this industry…the carpet makers and their sons (who will inherit the profit from the sale of the carpet and then repay the debt by doing the same for his own son), the carpet traders (who buy the carpets in the name of the Emperor), the guild (who police the carpet makers and traders), and the Emperor (who, according to local belief, uses them in his palace).

As the story moves along, visitors from another planet in the galaxy stumble upon this planet and this whole hair carpet thing confuses them greatly. The mystery of how this system came to be and why it continues becomes a focus for this group of visitors. Are these hair carpets things of beauty to be held as magnificent art, or something creepy that is perpetuated by an ancient system that no longer makes sense?

I’m not going to give away any more of the story or go further into detail because there is so much more to it. And I’d love for you to read it yourself…if you’re intrigued by the hair carpets. As you should be.

Finishing this book coincided with listening to the latest #IMMOOC podcast with Katie Martin, George, Shelley Burgess, and Beth Houf. Much of the discussion was around failure, and the notion that taking risks and failing is necessary if we’re going to innovate and get better. Failure isn’t the end point, however. You must FAIL FORWARD and learn from the process to get towards better. Trying a million things isn’t the goal. Trying things that are moving us toward our clear goals is what we’re after. Making sure that all of our actions align with moving us forward on path toward our goal is key.

This brought me back to the hair carpets. And I likened them to what we do in our classrooms.

(In my first year, a veteran teacher called it “making sausage.” She said that after you are told what to do by administration or whoever, you close your door and make sausage. No one really wants to know how the sausage is made, so… As long as it makes it to the plate, it’s all good. I will be switching this analogy to making hair carpets. For obvious reasons. I mean…hair carpets.)

We have these things that we’ve always done. We have these things that were handed down to us. We often continue the cycle of what we’re doing because it is simply what we do.

If a visitor (from another galaxy or otherwise) walks into my classroom, how will they interpret my professional hair carpet? Will it make sense to them because I’m doing what’s best for my learners? Or will it seem ridiculous and out of touch with the world?

Am I making this hair carpet because it is what I’ve always done? Or am I creating a masterpiece that fulfills my goals and dreams?

More important questions… What is my goal? Am I honoring what is important to me through the work we do in my classroom?

The answer is often NO. I have these wonderful ideas for how I want my students to grow and work together, and then I don’t give my students enough time to accomplish what is possible. I throw other things at them. Well meaning things. But they are things that get in the way of accomplishing the things that I think are most important.

I need to be sure that the design of my hair carpet matches the design of my ultimate goals. I want visitors to our learning space to know immediately what we value as a community of learners.

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned hair carpets enough times. Seriously. Hair carpets. I cannot get the image of these things out of my mind.

So…bottom line. What do I want my life’s work/hair carpet to be woven from?

I want my students to know that they are the sum of their strengths, and that (most often) the things that make them amazing and unique and irreplaceable are things that cannot be measured.

I want students to know that they are capable of doing great things and solving the problems that face them.

I want my students to know that their voice and choices matter…every day.

I want my students to know that reading will bring them joy, learning, and connections within and outside of a book’s pages.

I will work harder to make sure that these things are visible and evident to all who enter our learning space. I want those who look upon my hair carpet to immediately see a relevant, magical work of art and not a monstrous, irrelevant waste of time.

Until next time…hair carpets. Read the book. Crazy. And amazing.

 

Why is learning important?

Learning is magical.

I think that if you aren’t learning from the world around you, then you are missing the point. We can always get better and know more.

Learning is part of me. And I look for it everywhere I go. Because it is everywhere you look. If you choose to look for it.

I’ve chosen a profession/career that allows me to learn every single day. I learn from my colleagues and my students. Every. Single. Day. I learn from other educators on Twitter and Instagram. Every. Single. Day. I learn from published authors. Every. Single. Day.

As soon as I finish reading an article or a book or listening to a podcast or talking with a colleague, I start looking for my next learning opportunity. Who else can I talk to about this? What can I read next?

It’s almost a fault. I don’t always give the current idea I am pondering and learning about enough time to really take hold and transform me. But, all is not lost. When working on the next idea, I am constantly making  connections to previous learnings. So, although it seems like I’m moving too fast for it to stick, it’s in there…just connecting to new and better ideas.

Not long ago, I stopped learning. The mental space it took to have a baby and be the mother of an infant didn’t allow for anything extra. I stopped reading and looking for information. I was simply trying to survive one day until the next. And I did, but I didn’t thrive.

After being allowed to sleep more than an hour or two at a time, I was finally able to look around me and see all that I was missing. And a need to consume and learn more information was ignited. It hasn’t lessened.

It’s my goal to ignite this need for learning in everyone around me. I want to inspire my students to feel the magic and the spark of curiosity. I want my colleagues to feel like they’re missing out on all the good stuff. The more you learn, the more questions you have…and the more you want to learn.

When I’m not actively reading or learning, I feel like a fish must feel out of water. I am gasping and grasping for something…anything to occupy my thoughts. There are worlds and subjects out there I’m not even aware of, but they all connect to what I’m doing. I just need to reach out and find out how.

This post is a reflection based on a prompt. The prompt is “Why is learning important and how has it impacted my life?” I wrote this to be considered for a scholarship from Activia (https://www.activia.co.uk/)

A new start…

I’ve been wanting to make a switch to WordPress for some time now. And now I did.

I moved over *most* of what was over there. I’ll be honest… There were a few things that I wasn’t terribly proud of and taking the time to move them over seemed like a silly move. So… I left them there. If you’d like to look at the entire body of work, you’re welcome to. It isn’t going anywhere. You can find everything here.

So… Poke around. I hope you like it. If you have any suggestions (or issues), then please let me know.

I look forward to learning and growing in this new space.

More soon.