Saturday, January 31, 2015

Are You Relevant and Connected?

A recent blog post I read ("What Does a Relevant and Connected Educator Look Like, Part I) on the blog"Blogging About the Web 2.0 Connected Classroom" examined characteristics of a relevant, connected educator. Interest piqued, I surveyed the list and found myself agreeing with what I read. The first characteristic is that the educator practices lifelong learning. I thought of that in relation to my colleagues and could separate those who do thirst for new information and take classes or attend seminars whether they “need” the credits for license renewal or not from those who participate in workshops only to gain needed credits.  Taking in opportunities for learning is great, but how do we as teachers “model” that to students? Do we talk to our students and let them know about all the seminars, workshops, or classes we’ve attended recently? It's something to consider and try to deliberately talk about to our students--our own quest for learning.
I do believe in lifelong learning. How can I as a teacher stay up on the latest educational tool or teaching method if I’m not willing to invest time in the learning process? Without engaging in outside learning of some kind, even reading books on teaching, I believe my methods will grow stale and lead to a lack of student engagement.
The next characteristic was a belief in sharing and collaboration. I see the benefit of this in my own life. I learn and produce stronger, more creative ideas when working in a group than I do solo. I’ve seen this happen in my class as well. Usually it involves a crescendo of excitement in students as they begin to discuss the issue or lesson and grow more animated and passionate about their ideas or position.
Photo courtesy of my niece Maryn Feyereisen
Another characteristic put forth by these bloggers is that educators who are relevant and connected are connected with other educators and explore, question, elaborate and advance ideas with them. In other words, they meet with colleagues and bounce ideas back and forth, discussing what works and doesn’t work and coming up with new ideas of what to try in the classroom. Honestly, these are some of my favorite times as a teacher. There are a select number of teachers I regularly turn to for ideas or as sounding boards. These are colleagues whose opinion I trust and whom I know will be honest with me. I encourage you to find coworkers who will do the same for you. They are invaluable.
The last characteristic listed is that engaged teachers view failure  as part of the learning process. If that’s the case, I really am an engaged learner! Seriously, I never want to get to the point where I do things just because I’ve always done things. I don’t want to become the neighbor in Frost’s “Mending Wall” who repeats his father’s mantra “Good fences make good neighbors.”
In other words, I don’t want to be married to tradition and do something just because that’s the way I’ve always done it. How would I like a classroom to look, feel, and be if I were the student? I ask myself that a lot.
There’s a lot to think about in terms of being a relevant and connected educator. I know I have miles to go before I sleep. How ‘bout you? Are you as connected and relevant as you want to be? Think about the ideas given and see how you can work at becoming connected to learning in your own life. I try and it has made all the difference.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

You Can Make It!


 "If you can take it, you can make it." Pete Zamperini, Unbroken

        Recently, thanks to a grant, students and staff at my school took in the movie Unbroken and did activities on resiliency.
        One activity in particular was quite revealing. Students were to write letters to a middle school stud ent relaying to the younger teen the importance of not quitting on school but staying true to the end. The high school students imparted the wisdom they had gathered on their life journey and in a much more transparent manner than expected, imparted their advice to their middle school counterparts. My students repeated advice given to Louie from his brother, words that stayed with him. “If you can take it, you can make it.”
        Some of the letters amazed me what my students faced regularly.  Facts I hadn’t known about them were revealed in these letters, helping me to understand my students better. My heart twisted reading some of the stories. No young person should have to go through what some of these have endured. Yet these teens persisted. They refused to quit, even though some people told these resilient souls they’d never make it.
        The next step in this Unbroken activity will be for some of our students to talk to eighth graders and share a little bit about themselves.  This is a win-win for both groups of students. The middle school students will hear a message of resiliency from an age group they look up to and respect and the students from my school will gain strength from sharing their story and the realities they’ve learned along the way.
        I’m proud of my students. Life isn’t fair, I tell my students, but how they deal with the unfair situations shows their character. Character is formed through making choices, and the choices they make reveal their resiliency.
        Honestly? This collection of young people who make up my classes don’t always show good judgment in what they choose. But in the end,  they don’t quit on themselves or on school.
        They know if they can take it, they can make it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


     Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a growing movement within school districts. My district is currently considering adopting this policy. Instead of moving ahead with wild abandon, the tech director for the district is getting input from all stakeholders to make sure the policy can be maintained when implemented. I appreciate the cautionary approach and see this adoption as a win-win for all involved.
     Students already surreptitiously engage in using their own devices during the school day. True, some of the uses may be inappropriate such as texting questionable content or intimidating posts. However, I believe that to be the exception rather than the rule.
    To prepare students for the world around them, educators need to teach and model the proper use of mobile devices. What better way to do this instruction than when using a student's own personal device? This is one benefit to easing the BYOD restrictions. 
     Some teachers in my district have unofficially allowed students to operate their own devices in the classroom. What's the benefit? Students are connected anytime to the internet and its vast resources. No longer dependent on a tablet or laptop, students can access the internet and use the information they find there accordingly.
     Districts across the nation are beginning to adopt BYOD policies; some have had these types of programs implemented with few problems associated with this practice.
     Although our district has not adopted said policy yet, technology staff continue to study and evaluate both the benefits and downfalls to such a program. I am impressed and  grateful for the approach our tech director is taking with this and other technology-related issues.
     A soft and steady pace is best utilized when adopting new policies. Students who don't have access to a wireless device is one area of concern. However, those are a small percentage whose need can be covered by the classroom teacher in the form of a tablet or laptop.
     Opponents to BOYD state that students may wander into sites they would do better to avoid. That's true. But where better to teach digital citizenship and accountability than in the classroom? Having a BYOD policy would encourage that discussion between teachers and students and offer teachable moments for teacher's to take advantage of.
     My district continues to study the issue with the hope of making a recommendation sooner rather than later. Some teachers may need to adjust their attitudes about this new practice, but in my opinion, this policy just makes sense. It reduces the financial burden on districts technologically, and it offers students more freedom to access the internet anytime/anywhere.
     I am encouraged by the steps taken and the care involved in making this decision. We may not be the first batter in the box, but by adopting this initiative, I believe my district is hitting a grand slam.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Education At Risk

     Education always seems to be a hot topic. What's good, what's bad, what needs reforming, what needs to improve--the list is endless. Teachers are usually the ones on the front lines, hearing complaints from every direction. They don't prepare students enough for college or career. They don't pay attention to standardized testing. They need to spend more time on math and literacy. They need to incorporate technology more because these kids are digital natives. They need to rely less on technology and revert back to the basics without all the "fluff" that comes with technology. Teachers aren't rigorous enough and they don't expect enough. Teachers expect too much. Really, it seems educators can't win.
     For a variety of reasons, many listed above, there's an exodus of young, quality teachers from the field. I hate to see this as these are the ones who could bring about real reform in the future at the local level. One such teacher, Josh Waldron, a Viriginia Teacher of the Year, states here why he decided to resign from teaching. Read it. It's honest and accurate.
     There are Joshes in every state. Young educators who see the reality of teaching and the direction it's headed and become disillusioned. Lack of pay, increased workload, and long hours typify a teacher's life. And those new to the career are beginning to refuse to continue working in a field that is long on expectations and short on appreciation.
     If something isn't done to address this issue of the out migration
of young teachers, education will be in  a more perilous condition than it is now. And that's saying a lot.

Monday, January 5, 2015

All We Need is Love

Sometimes it's a form of love just to talk to somebody that you have nothing in common with and still be fascinated by their presence. ~David Byrne

A loving heart is the truest wisdom. ~Charles Dickens

                     A colleague Facebooked that she had chosen her “word” for the year. Intrigued, I investigated more. The concept of “one word” that defines how you will approach the New Year comes from the book entitled One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton & Jimmy Page. The authors encourage readers to set aside time to seek inwardly what the one word should be for that year.  Some of the posts I read from those who commented on my colleagues status were words like “passion,” “discover,” and  “discipline.” What a great idea, I thought. Instead of making a multitude of goals that I’ll fall short in, I’ll pick a word in which I’ll have a better shot of hitting the mark.

                After some soul searching, I came away with a word that I know will help me. Actually, it already has. I made a Wordle of it, reminding myself of areas I needed to grow in relation to that word. It applies to all areas of my life—spiritual, physical, emotional—and truly is something I don’t always consider.
                How about you? What one word would define goals for your year? What one word would you want ever present in your mind, guiding your actions and thoughts, and helping you to become a better person, a happier person, a more engaged person this year?
                I have my word. What’s yours?