Monday, February 1, 2016

What Connected Educators Do Differently: Chapter Four

Give and Take...and Give Some More

"'Good teachers borrow from each other -- great teachers steal'...Our colleague who somewhat facetiously advocates for 'stealing' over 'borrowing' is suggesting that the first thing we need to focus on is exchanging ideas, not just things.  More importantly, she is suggesting that we cannot truly get better just by 'borrowing'...Instead, we need to 'steal' that idea and make it our own.  We have been given a gift from that colleague...We honor this person not by taking what she has to share and using it exactly as designed, but by taking it, using it, strengthening it, and sharing it anew with others.  We do not simply borrow; we own it for ourselves and add to it before giving it back again" (52-53). 

This idea makes my creative mind burst with energy.  I love finding great things and making them my own, and Twitter and Pinterest are such powerful platforms for doing that.  I am encouraged to contribute my things to this great network of collaborators.  Now, as in every part of my life, is where the big "D" word comes into play.  Discipline.  This is my word for the year.  I am reminded often of the value of discipline and look forward (oh how I look forward) to the fruits that will come as a result. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What Connected Educators Do Differently: Chapter Three

Embrace the Three C's: Communication, Collaboration, and Community

After reading this chapter and stumbling over what I might write about, I finally just had to let it go for the night and know that I would come back to it today.  Although the chapter was inspiring, I didn't know where to go with it.  

Then as I was brushing my teeth I remembered how I watched the show The Middle this week.  The dad in the show has a business and doesn't have any form of social media and is clearly seen as an alien almost among his potential customers.  His son has to teach him about using Twitter.  His son who is still in college looking for an internship.  This caused me to think about the fact that learning about social media isn't an option for kids.  Knowing how to use the tools effectively will set students apart in many job markets.  We have the opportunity to model for students how to use social media properly.  

The other thing I thought about is how it's so easy now to belong to communities.  I see the signature "@" sign all over in the goofiest can belong to a community of people who also get their coffee from Starbucks, play Play Station, shop at Whole Foods, and eat at McDonald's.  Ha, then let's think about how many celebrities you can follow...

If kids (and adults) feel so compelled to belong to community, then let's give them a community to really BELONG to.  And while we're at it, wouldn't it be awesome if we started seeing our students be thoughtful about the people and organizations they follow?  Are they passionate about community service?  Help them find other students out there who are as well and organizations that are about community service.  

I know this isn't a novel idea, but after reading this chapter and thinking about the real-life applications, I started to see Twitter and other social media not as a "fluff," but as a powerful force in our society.  Kids will naturally be drawn to it, but will not naturally know how to use it effectively or even responsibly.  By embracing it ourselves and letting kids see the passion behind our efforts (and the payoff in the end) we have the opportunity to be powerful models. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

What Connected Educators Do Differently: Chapter Two

Learn What They Want, When They Want, How They Want

This chapter has me thinking about how I like to learn and grow. 

First of all, I have to recognize that I love learning and growing.  I can see evidence of how I've learned and grown so much in my personal life.  Why?  Because I sought it out.  It kind of comes naturally to me (to want to be growing as opposed to becoming stagnant).  Because I love the development of relationships along the way.  I love learning from people who have gone before me. 

Do I love learning and growing professionally?  I do, but I don't see as much evidence of it.  Why?  I don't feel like I measure up.  If I grow, so does the measuring stick, so even if I am growing, I never feel it.  I don't have as purposeful of relationships with professionals.  That's it!  That's where the hole is.

I am a relationship driven person, but I don't have a lot of friends.  I have a small handful of women I consider close friends and that is all I need.  I get overwhelmed having too many friends.  I think that's why Twitter feels a bit daunting to me.  I would rather have my core group of five or so educators that I chat with on a regular basis than have hundreds of follows and followers.  That doesn't feel personal to me.  I find it extremely hard to engage in that.  I want to embrace all of the potential that is out there on Twitter, though.  To limit myself to the ideas and opinions of five people when there are millions out there is not such a great idea.

I wonder if I could have the perfect blend here.  I could have my Twitter friends and learn from them throughout the weeks and then sit down over coffee with my face-to-face friend and together we could talk about what we learned. 

That, for me, would be what I want, when I want, and how I want.  Now I just need a friend!

What Connected Educators Do Differently: Chapter One

Invest in a Personal and Professional Learning Network

"The best minute I spend is the one I invest in people" Kenneth Blanchard, quoted on page 1.

"[Teachers] spend 90% of their day every day with students, deprived of any significant adult interaction.  Over time, this lack of  connectivity with other professionals like themselves leads to low efficacy, less risk-taking, low performance, burnout, and high turnover.  Sadly, we begin to question whether we can even make a difference" (1-2). 

I like how they use the word invest in this chapter.  I invest a good deal of time and energy in the things that are important to me.  Being a great teacher is very important to me and is something I often feel overwhelmed about.  No matter how much I do, I feel like there is always more I could be doing.  I think when I start feeling this way, I just turn up the speed on the treadmill.  I'm working harder and going faster, but still not feeling like I'm getting anywhere.  Maybe I need to step down and spend time connecting.  It's so hard to do this, though.  It feels like a waste of time because there isn't necessarily any tangible forward momentum. 

I'm re-reading Chapter 1 with my new honesty lens (referred to in a previous post) and I can't believe that I don't recall reading the section titled Making, Not Marking Time.  "From a professional standpoint, our days and evenings can be spent on lesson preparation, searching online resources, collecting materials, responding to emails, interacting with students, providing feedback on homework assignments, or completing the multitude of other daily tasks our work requires us to do...the notion of expanding our networks...can be an overwhelming process...after all, we can barely manage the work we have now; we certainly do not have time to keep up with the constant changes in technology and the information overflow that comes with tools such as Twitter..." (8-9).  I could have authored all of those sentences.  I was anticipating a cushion...something about how being a connected educator relieves a little of this busy-ness.  There is no cushion, though; rather, a springboard.  "If we want to prepare our students for the rest of this century and beyond, then we must quit living in the last half century and recognize the value of becoming not only a connected educator, but also a connected, lifelong learner" (11). 

Haha page 12...a treadmill analogy.  Maybe I subconsciously plagiarized. 

"'Some days it feels like I am all alone running on a treadmill and I don't feel like I am going anywhere.'  This person is not alone in feeling this way, she must realize that perhaps it is time to change the equation.  Rather than run alone on the treadmill, this individual could benefit from joining a Sunday morning running group.  If you have ever joined a running group then you know what it feels like to join a group of passionate individuals with similar interests who share a common goal, right?  Simply put it jacks you up!" (12).

I was feeling worried after my paragraph above about my struggle on the treadmill because I didn't see a way out of the madness, but this bit from page 12 allows me to take a deep breath and visualize for myself what being a connected educator could look like.  It doesn't feel stressful when I see it this feels like the relief I've needed all along.  I grew up in a small town and I remember in the mornings some older people would get together at Hardees or the local donut shop for coffee.  I suppose they would talk about the weather, how the crops are doing, what was in the newspaper that morning...That's how I'm starting to see connecting.  Something relaxing...not harried as I saw it before.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What Connected Educators Do Differently: Coming Clean

I have a confession.  I am not sold out on Twitter.  I have an account and I post things occasionally.  I have found wonderful people to follow and have certainly been inspired.  But my use ebbs and flows.

"Fine," you say, "don't use Twitter."  The thing is my position in the district challenges me to not only be a connected educator, but to lead other teachers to be connected educators.  My homework is to read the book What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas and to reflect on my reading and follow through with the challenges at the end of each chapter.  So far my participation has been spotty, at best, and I feel a tremendous amount of guilt.

Instead of pretending my way through this, I am going to start by reflecting on my resistance to being a connected educator.  As I read the book, I will find places where it addresses my areas of resistance and those are the things I will talk about in my blog.  I am willing to put in this effort because I know it makes me better and because I trust the people who are asking me to do this.

Here are my main areas of resistance that I can think of right now:
Time -- when I have a chunk of time, I feel there are more important things to do than look at Twitter.
Mindset -- I start to compare myself to the people I follow and feel overwhelmed by their apparent super-hero abilities to be so awesome.   I could never be as great as they are or do the kinds of things they are doing. 
Habits -- I'm not in a habit in general of being influenced by social media.  I don't feel compelled to share many parts of my life (personal or professional) online or to spend very much time looking at what other people share. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

On Busy-ness

A couple weeks ago a good friend texted me.  “Kari, are you doing okay? I haven’t heard from you in awhile.” 

“I am doing great,” I said, “just have been insanely busy.”

She said something next that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

“When are you not insanely busy?” 

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this mindset that right now I’m busy, but it’s just a matter of time before I’m not so busy.  Whether it’s a busy week, month, quarter, semester, or year…I feel like that monster fish in Finding Nemo that has the appendage hanging in front of his head that lights up.  I am always chasing that light but I can never seem to catch hold of it. 

I decided at first that I need a different word for my life now.  It isn’t busy in the way that it has been.  I’m not staying up all night writing research papers for my Master’s degree anymore.  I’m not working two full time jobs just to make enough money to scrape by (that only lasted for about a month).  My life is not busy.  It is active.  And when I stop feeling stressed out by all of the things on my calendar, I realize that I am really enjoying my life.  Busy doesn’t sound like enjoyment.  Active is such a better word. 

Swapping out words gives me a better outlook and attitude, but deep down I wonder if my life is always going to be like this:  challenging, causing me to stretch and grow in new ways, pushing me to the end of myself.  As a new teacher I thought that once I hit the three-year mark, teaching would become a breeze.  I always had that end in mind...that time when life would slow down.  And I suppose it could if I wasn’t willing to continue to challenge myself to be better day after day.  If I didn’t take on responsibilities that continue to grow and stretch me personally and professionally.  If I didn't take risks.  If I stopped looking at Pinterest. 

There is an element of balance that is important, of course.  That is the exciting part in my journey right now:  learning how to take good care of myself in the midst of my activity.  In a very real sense, that starts right now with me choosing to end this post even though it isn’t polished to perfection as I would like for it to be. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Risk Innovation

I attended an EdCamp session yesterday in Kansas City about Innovation in Education.  The presenters of the session started off by telling us that Apple will spend more on research and innovation in one quarter than President Obama is planning to spend on research and innovation in education for the entire 2015 fiscal year -- and what do we think about that?  At that moment I regretted sitting where I did.  Right next to the presenters...too close, I felt, to "vote with my feet" and leave.  I didn't sign up for a political bantering session.  I was so proud of the educators in my group, though.  Our conversation took an amazing turn and people talked (and I tweeted) about the challenges and successes of being innovative educators. 

People talked about being fearful.  They didn't feel they could risk being innovative when there is so much at stake like adhering to the Common Core, achieving AYP, and "passing" teacher evaluations.  They were afraid of failing.  Of not meeting standards.  That strand in the conversation transitioned to talking about growth mindset versus fixed mindset.  As educators we are talking about instilling in children the growth mindset, but are we realizing our own need for it?  Are we giving ourselves permission to fail at something and still feel okay about ourselves?  How can we tell our students that it's okay to try new things and fail when we are not convinced of that for our own selves?  Maybe it's only okay to fail privately?  When nothing is at stake? 

One person talked about how being innovative as an educator doesn't have to be something exclusive...we need to blend innovation into our instruction like we blend technology.  We can innovatively teach the curriculum and then over time the outcomes (test scores, evaluations, etc.) take care of themselves.

Sometimes innovation is overwhelming because of the amount of tools at our disposal.  How can we educators ever keep up with the ever growing market of apps, etc.?  We don't need to, says an EdCamper.  When we teach students to drive in Driver's Ed, we aren't teaching them to drive a Chevy, we are teaching them skills they need to know to drive any car.

It was startling to hear the comparison between how much Apple will spend versus how much the government will spend on research and innovation in education.  I couldn't help but feel, though, that the amount of money spent is not the most important thing.  The most important thing is feeling empowered to believe in ourselves that we are the researchers and innovators.  Who do we get our best ideas and inspiration from?  Is it from book we've read by "official experts?"  Conferences we spend hundreds of dollars to go we can sit and listen?  Our curriculum guides?  Or is it Twitter, Pinterest, a Blog, etc.?

One EdCamper said that the three most important words teachers can hear from their administrators are I Trust You.  I know my administrators trust me, and that, I can see (especially after hearing stories from others this weekend), is a gift.  I don't want to keep that gift wrapped and hidden safely under my desk.  That gift is my permission to risk being risk some F's to achieve A+'s.