Thursday, July 17, 2014

Goals, Support, Encouragement, & Accountability

     The importance of setting goals- big, audacious goals- is crucial in education.  My personal journey up to this point has shown me that not only is goal setting important, but developing a road map, with a clear plan of action has to accompany those goals.  In education, we have to know what action steps we are going to take to get us to our goals.  We have to align our actions with our philosophies.  My journey has shown that there are going to be times that we will fail- times we will not achieve what we thought we would achieve.  However, what we learn along the way is invaluable to our school systems, our stakeholders, and especially ourselves.  My personal journey has also shown me the importance of focus and determination.  In education, having all stakeholders involved with the vision or mission of your school is paramount!  Not everyone will jump on your bandwagon, and there will be plenty of nay-sayers who will try to derail your efforts.  But the important lesson, is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move forward.   Those that are with you are watching how you respond to these challenges.  As a leader, they need to see that you will not be deterred.  That the goal/vision/mission is important.

     The most important piece to my journey has been the support & encouragement of others.  Without others' guidance, encouragement, support, & accountability, it would have been easy for me to give up.  In education, we need each other.  We need guidance- even as leaders.  It would be great if we had all the answers, but we don't- at least not by ourselves.  It's the collective wisdom of others that will allow each of us to become better at the work we do.  If you are in a position to mentor or offer guidance to another, do it!!

     Encouragement as educators is needed now more than ever!  This encouragement has to come from all members of our educational systems.  Superintendents, your principals need to be encouraged!  Principals, your teachers & staff need to be encouraged!  Teachers, your students need to be encouraged!  Families, your superintendents need to be encouraged!  If we all just worked a little bit harder at supporting and encouraging one another, schools would be a more positive experience for everyone!

     Support can take many forms in education.  We all need someone we can call upon when the going gets tough or the road gets a little rocky!  I'm eternally grateful that I have been blessed with awesome parents, an amazing son, and terrific friends.  But there are times that they "just don't get it" because they are not in education.  Offer your support to someone in your school or another district or even another state.  We all need it, but most of us are too proud or stubborn to ask for it.  Accessing resources, connecting with other educators, reflecting on practices, and discussing failures with the intent to learn from them are different and often needed types of support we should be engaging in on a daily basis.  In education, we have access to more resources now more than ever and the majority of those are FREE!!  Using social media resources- Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Voxer, and Instagram- allows us to share free content/resources with one another.  These also give us a great platform in which to connect with others in education.  When I first started teaching, connecting to other educators meant talking to someone else in your building and occasionally someone else in my district.  It was RARE to connect with another teacher in a neighboring district.  Now fast forward 18 years (yes, gasp! I've been in education 18 years), and I am so excited to learn from educators AROUND THE WORLD!!!  This still sometimes blows my mind!!!  Having access to conferences where I have had the pleasure this summer to meet some of those educators in person has made a world of difference for me as an educator.

     Finally, there's accountability.  Yes, good ol' accountability.  Accountability has taken a bad wrap because as educators, we often equate this with testing.  Well, accountability doesn't need to be measured in a state or nationally mandated assessment.  Accountability occurs in school districts at ALL levels.  EVERY member of a school system is accountable to one another.  Educators- regardless of your title or role in the school system, you ARE a role model!  Everyone in your community is watching and listening to YOU!  What message are you sending about your school?  Think that your opinions don't impact the community?  Think again.  Is your district struggling to pass levies?  Take a moment to see if you've contributed in some way to this.  But accountability is more than that.  Accountability is about measuring our progress toward our goals.  Engaging in self-reflection and self-assessment is an integral part of the accountability process.  Sharing those reflections and assessments with one another and our community is vital.  Celebrating your milestones is an important part of accountability.  When we fall short of our goals, rather than playing the blame game or pointing fingers, let's look at what we have been afforded the opportunity to learn.  You see, accountability is more than a final score on a district report card or a measure of success that's been arbitrarily assigned to a teacher or school.  Accountability is saying, "Hey, this is where we are.  This is where we are headed.  We are working together to improve.  This is how we are going to do it.  We need your help & support to get us there!"

  I'm still reflecting and will be adding to my list.  What pieces would you add?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Circle of Influence- Part II

Circle of Influence- Part II

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post called "Circle of Influence- Part I."  In this blog post, I began detailing my first ISTE experience, specifically focused on the people I was able to meet in person.  There were simply too many educators who made a significant impact on me during my first ISTE conference to write about in one post.  So, here I am a few days later adding to the list of people who influenced me at ISTE.

I would be negligent, if I didn't mention the excitement I felt meeting Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) in person!  I have followed his blog for over a year now and often will "lurk" on the #iaedchat (And Jimmy, if you're reading this, I promise I will do more than lurk in the future).  Jimmy has been a principal for 20 years and as such, is someone whose experiences and expertise I often turn to as a beginning principal.  Jimmy has challenged many educators to "Be the Change" and has emphasized the importance of relationship building and being positive.  His philosophy is something I embrace whole-heartedly, but I will admit that I often struggle in my role as building principal.  There are times I get so "bogged down" in the issues or problems of others, it is hard for me to take a step back and remember my purpose.  Those are the times, I turn to principals like Jimmy; whose energy, passion, and perspectives inspire me.  I am forever thankful to have had the opportunity to tell Jimmy about his impact on me in person.  I know I will continue to be inspired by Jimmy and I only hope that as I grow as a leader, I will be of inspiration to someone else.

There are some educators that I am close friends with who do not quite "get" Twitter.  I continue to share with them the things I see and try to show them its value.  If ever there was an example of the power of Twitter during ISTE for me, it was in a simple tweet by Matt Miller (@MentorSuper).  Matt is the superintendent of Mentor Public Schools in Ohio and I have followed him for quite some time.  Matt's tweet led me to ask if he, too, was present at ISTE.  I was delighted to find out that he was and we made plans to meet up the following day.  During my first venture into the EXPO, I gravitated toward the bus, where educators were writing what they thought education would be like in 20 years.  As I was reading, I noticed the #onceacard.  This hashtag is the hashtag that Matt uses for his district.  Why is this significant?  Well, as I explained to Matt when I finally had the chance to meet him, by using this hashtag, he has connected current educators within his district, as well as current & former students.  This simple hashtag has instilled a sense of pride for their district, uniting them.  But more than that, the #onceacard is uniting the community!  How incredibly powerful!  Again, it's this sense of belonging/ relationship building between the school and the community that we continue to strive for, discuss, and emphasize as leaders.  Matt and I had the opportunity to talk about a variety of things, including Mentor's initiatives as recipients of the Straight A grant in Ohio and the challenges of transitioning to the superintendency from an elementary perspective.  As I consider this as a future endeavor, being able to speak with someone with a similar background in education is important to me.  So, from a simple tweet, I was able to gain a wealth of knowledge and more importantly make a connection to someone I respect and admire.  Thanks, Matt, for taking the time to meet with me and I look forward to collaborating with you and your elementary schools in the upcoming year!

The final source of inspiration comes from Sean Junkins (@sjunkins) and his team from Horry County.  While I didn't have the opportunity to meet Sean in person (as he was working with another educator at the time), the information I gained from his team will be of great value to the principal of our district's middle school.  Sean and his team did a Poster Session on Innovating with iPads in Middle School.  While my district will not utilize iPads, being able to discuss the pros and cons of devices in a middle school setting was invaluable.  Tips given for how to troubleshoot issues for misuse or loss of a device; discipline policies; recommendations for professional development for teachers and changes to be made for future endeavors were shared.  All of these helpful hints will be shared with my team and because Sean and his team were so willing to share with me/us, we can learn from and with them during our 1:1 initiative in the district.

ISTE was a very positive experience for me.  As a newbie, I am grateful for the warm reception I received from all the participants and presenters.  I learned so much and am excited to share my learning and experiences with others.  However, it was the personal connections I made with educators like Jimmy Casas and Matt Miller that made ISTE a powerful conference.  Thanks to everyone whom I had the pleasure to meet, as I am forever impacted in a positive way by our interactions.  Next time, I will be sharing my personal reflection on a single conversation that had the most impact and allowed me to have such a great experience at ISTE.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Circle of Influence

Circle of influence- Part I

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend my very first ISTE Conference.  I remember following the hashtag last year and all the great resources that were shared and I knew I just had to check it out in person. My passion for learning fuels me not only as an educator but also as a person, so I was so excited to kick off my summer break with a conference!  

Over the past year, I have connected virtually with many educators through Twitter.  I constantly read blog posts, tweets, articles, and professional books.  I have attended conferences I never would have known existed had I not been connected.  I have been afforded the opportunity to meet extraordinary educators as well on this journey.  I have learned so much in just the past year and I am so grateful for this gift I have been given.  On a daily basis, I continue to be inspired and motivated by so many.  So imagine my delight when #ISTE14 finally began!

My first day at the convention center, I took my time getting the "lay of the land," so I could navigate the sessions I had put into my ISTE  app.  I will admit, I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the conference.  During this process, I began playing the Networking Game.  This was a great ice-breaker activity for me, as I can tend to be shy in settings where I do not personally know a single soul!  During this time, I connected with Dennis Grice @dgrice who was kind enough to share with me not only about himself and his school but also about what learning looked like in one of his 3rd grade classrooms.  I was so excited to see in person how students at his school integrated nonfiction reading, research, and report writing into video segments.  This idea and process is something I can't wait to share with teachers in my building!  I immediately began following him on Twitter.  This way, if I have questions or need additional information, I know how to contact him.

I have to say, as an ISTE newbie, I had no idea that you needed to get a space in line for the IGNITE session, so imagine my sheer disappointment to have missed it.  And, add to that all the Tweets I followed during and after the IGNITE session that proclaimed how awesome it was.  Having felt a little deflated, I opted to finally check-in to my hotel room.

Imagine my surprise & delight when I had the opportunity to meet up with the Remind101 Team (@RemindHQ) in my hotel lobby!  I was excited to share how we will be using this tool in the district for the upcoming year as well as to learn about the new features that have been added.  It was great to share the use of the tool from the view of a building principal as well as features that would also benefit all users.  What a dynamic team! Their energy and excitement was palpable for their product.  But most importantly, they asked users questions and sought feedback.  They shared ideas and were open to others' ideas.  Because of this, I was even more impressed with the team and am planning to promote the use of their app to teachers and administrators in my "neck of the woods."  (Plus, I received an awesome new T-shirt to wear & other goodies to share)!

Back at the convention center, I made my way to the Bloggers' Cafe.  Not only did I get to meet more people, but I had the great fortune to connect in person with @RafranzDavis  Rafranz was one of the first people I followed on Twitter and over the past year, she and I have connected virtually on parenting, the TV show Scandal, shopping in Texas, and of course, Tweetchats.  Meeting her in person was a true delight!  We immediately hugged one another and "caught up" in person.  Whether she realizes it or not, our conversation had a huge impact on me.  So much so, I have started a future blog post about it!  However, I wasn't the only one inspired to write.  Check out Rafranz's blog post

As if my day couldn't get any better, I FINALLY got to hear @gcouros in person!  George was also one of the people I followed on Twitter early.  He has helped shaped my perspective on using Twitter to share both professionally and personally.  He has influenced my thoughts on technology in the classroom and inspired me to blog.  And while, I don't yet define myself as a blogger, I know because of his influence, I am finding my voice.  George's session on "Conquering the Myths of Technology" challenged me to re-think my own preconceived notions about technology, specifically "We Shouldn't Talk to Strangers" and "New Technology Will Replace Face-to-Face Interactions."  The points he made under these topics resonated with me, giving me new perspectives.  His session also moved me to tears- more than once.  My copious notes from his session will be shared with my staff as well as my district's new middle school principal, who is rolling out 1:1 in her building this year.  In addition to meeting George, before and after his session, I was able to meet & connect with Ginny Britt (@techladytn) and George Champlin (@GChamplinAP).  I'm excited to learn with these two educators!  As if that wasn't enough, George's fiancee @PaigeBrimacombe was also present.  While I had never "officially" followed her on Twitter, since she is a grade 4 teacher, I would often check out what she was doing & sharing in her classroom as well as her edublog page.  As a former grade 3 & grade 4 teacher, I always feel some sort of innate connection with teachers of these age levels.  I so enjoyed listening to each of their journeys and passions.  These four personal connections made this one of my favorite sessions at #ISTE14 this year!

In my next post, I will share about others I met at the #ISTE14 Conference that had an impact on me as a person and as an educator.  I want to thank Dennis, Brett Kopf and his team, Ginny Britt, George Champlin, George Couros, Paige Brimacombe, and Rafranz Davis for making the connection and for expanding their circle of influence.