My Advice (Five Steps to Change)

Last week I had the privilege of joining over 5000 of my independent school colleagues at the FISA Conference. I found it to be an uplifting two days, but there was also an underlying call to action to all of the teachers in attendance. (I will get to that later)

On my way home I was on the Skytrain and couldn’t help but overhear three younger teachers talking about how they enjoyed the conference, but that they all still had a sense of being overwhelmed with all of the things that teaching entails and feelings of guilt that they just can’t do enough to feel like they are being successful both as teachers and as people. What I really wanted to do at that point was to interrupt them and add my two cents to their conversation. I don’t profess to be any sort of expert, but I have worked at four schools and have learned from many excellent teachers and principals over the seventeen years that I have been a teacher. I think I have picked up a few tidbits over the years that might be common sense, but that I think some people might need to hear.

So, in place of interrupting random strangers on the Skytrain, I thought I would offer my advice here. First, an affirmation:

  • Teachers, you are doing good things for kids. I have been in a lot of different teacher’s classrooms and what I can say is that, without exception, the teachers I know are influencing kids in a positive way. What that means is that you can let go of the guilt that comes with not being able to get to everything on your to-do list. As teachers, we could work twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and would still find things to do. It is okay to let some things go. You are doing good for kids.

With that said, my one big takeaway from the FISA Conference was this: The world is changing. We are preparing our kids for a world that is changing rapidly and we have a moral imperative to change. I think many teachers find this overwhelming, so I would like to offer just a little bit of advice that I hope someone might find helpful.

  1. Pick one thing and try it. Positive change is a series of small wins, so choose just one thing and go for it. Whether that one thing is Genius Hour, Makerspaces, blogging, or anything else, try something new. If it doesn’t go well, try something else. I bet though, once you have tried it, you will see the value in continuing.
  2. Go to a Saturday Pro-D. I know, Saturdays are tough. Trust me, I know. What I have discovered, however, about events like Ted-X, or Edcamps, or Ignite Nights is that the people that attend these events are the people who you want to be around. They are excited about education and their attitude and energy will inspire and motivate you. There is no one sitting in the back of the room saying, “This is stupid. Why do we have to do this.” like there are at all other pro-d events.
  3. Read a book. What I really mean, when I advise you to read, is to pick up a book that will help you grow as a teacher. I would recommend “Drive” by Daniel Pink, “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, or “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess. I am in the middle of “Creative Schools” by Ken Robinson and am excited to read “Hacking Assessment” by Starr Sackstein. All of these books will challenge and inspire you to improve.
  4. Try out Twitter. I know, many people are skeptical of Twitter because they think it is just a series of celebrities sharing pictures of the sandwich they ate for lunch. There definitely is that out there, but if you are selective of who you follow, there is also a great deal of sharing and learning going on that you are missing out on. I can honestly say that the people I follow on Twitter have made me a better, more effective teacher.
  5. Seek out support. If any of this stuff seems overwhelming or difficult, don’t worry. There are many people out there that would be happy to help you out. If you can’t think of anyone, ask me. I will try to help you. If I can’t help you, I will connect you with Rose. She knows everyone! Seriously, our schools are full of smart, competent, helpful people, but we need to get out of the four walls of our classroom to find them.

Teachers are doing great things for kids, but we have a responsibility to change. We need to take the things that we know work, and combine those things with new, creative ideas that empower and prepare kids for a future that doesn’t exist and will be much different than our present. Start small. Let go of guilt. Seek small wins. Change.

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Sawdust

It has been a long time since I have written. I think my last post happened to be in the Spring of last year. I am not sure why that is really. I think it boiled down to me not really feeling like I had anything to write about. I could not find anything that motivated me to want to share my ideas or to put them down in print.

Guess what motivated me…sawdust. It seems odd, I know, but allow me to explain. I started reading the book, “Pure Genius” by Don Wettrick some time this summer and, while I was enjoying it, I got busy with being back at school, put it down and didn’t come back to it. Until today. The section I was reading today was talking about a young man who made the analogy of finding inspiration in sawdust. As he told it, for years and years, sawdust was something that nobody wanted. It was something that you had to pay someone to take away. Until, of course, someone looked at it in a way that would create something of value out of something that no one else saw value in. Things like pressboard, mulch and charcoal briquettes.

Reading this caused me to think about the things in my life that I could create value from. When I say value, I am not talking about money. I am still waiting for someone to offer to fund my human hamster wheel project that will make me my first million. I mean that I need to do a better job of looking at the things around me and putting those things to work for me and for others.

What will this look like? I am not sure. I am still thinking about it. Maybe it just means me sharing my ideas here more often and hoping that something I say can help or amuse someone. Maybe it is in better using my time so that I am a more effective father, husband, teacher, and administrator.

Time will tell. All I know is that it was sawdust that got me thinking about it.

Learning For The Sake of Learning

Anyone who has read my blog (all six of you) has probably noticed that I haven’t written a whole lot lately. Other than the fact that I was feeling a little bit saturated and lacked the umph to write, the reason that I have’ been writing very often lately is that I have been doing other things on my afternoon transit commutes. 

Lately I have been on a podcast kick. I have listened to twenty or so episodes of a podcast called The Emperors of Rome and probably about 50 episodes of a podcast called Revolutions that has talked about the history of the English Civil War, American War of Independance and the French Revolution. 

Why, beyond my obvious nerdiness would I spend so much time listening to all these podcast? Simply put, because I wanted to learn something new. I have no desire to become a historian, change careers, or get a new job. I was learning for the sake of learning. 

I think that teachers have a moral imperative to also be learners. We spend our days trying to convince our students that learning is a good idea. I think kids have a very good sense of when we are not walking the walk. 

I think that learning to improve my practice is important. I have found many great books and articles that have stretched my understanding of education and of learning. I have also found Twitter to be an endlessly useful source of professional connection and growth. 

Sometimes, however, I think we need to balance our professional learning with our personal learning. We need to learn something for the sake of learning. We need to give ourselves mental stretch marks. 

So, what am I going to do next? I am not too sure. I have always wanted to try my hand at painting. Maybe I will make my wife happy and try to learn how to do some of those home repairs that I do not have the foggiest idea of how to tackle. One way or another, I know I will find something. 

Courage- Student Singalong Edition

My students and colleagues never cease to surprise and teach me. Today was one of those times, so I thought I would share a little bit about it. Up until about 2:30, today had been a fairly blah sort of day. Everyone seemed to be on edge and no one really seemed to be getting along with one another. Not that this was a big deal. Some days are like that, even in Australia. When 2:30 rolled around, that blah sort of day went out the door.

I guess I should give you a little preamble. We have been studying poetry. It is a unit I love, but can definitely be challenging for some kids. What I asked the kids to do over the last couple of days is to create a rap or song and be ready to share it in a small group. Any topic, any tune. As you can imagine, the kids kinda struggled with this. I was okay with that because I think that a lot of learning can come out of struggling through something like that. They then shared their songs in small groups in the class. Again, we were still in that blah sort of place. That was until I asked the kids if any of them wanted to share their song with the whole class. To my utter shock, one of the girls volunteered right off the bat. She sang her song about bacon entitled, “I’m So Greasy” to the tune of “I’m So Fancy”. It was awesome. A number of other students volunteered to get up in front of the class, on their own, completely voluntarily, to sing the songs that they had composed. They were great. Even our fabulous SEA Katie got into the act with a song recorded on Garage Band. (I am working on convincing her that we need to post it for the world to hear)

The students amazed me with their willingness to do something that, for many of them, was completely out of their comfort zone. They showed courage and investment in their learning. I am proud of them. Just wanted to share.

Throw It Against The Wall and See What Sticks

One of the things that I love about teaching is the never-ending opportunity to try new things and to work towards finding better ways to help the students that we work with. For those of you that know me, you know that integrating technology with my practice in the classroom is something that I am excited about. I wanted to take a little bit of time tonight to talk about those online tools that I have tried in the last while. Some of the things that I will mention are definitely keepers. Othersare things that I have not tried much yet, but am excited about trying. Click the title for a link to the website for each.

Google Apps for Education

My class gets a lot of use out of Google Apps. I kind of consider it our home base. It is my fallback for anything related to word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. I have used Google Forms a little bit and am excited by the possibility for easily creating surveys and collecting feedback from students, but it is not something I have a lot of experience yet. My fifth grade students were really quick to catch on to how to log on and use the apps and really need very little in the way of technical support from me to be independent. I find it so far relatively east to administer and, like pretty much everything on this list, it is free. (Yay for free!)

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is another useful (and free) service from my friends at Google. It allows me to create a document and easily distribute a copy of that document to each student in my class. They can then work on the document on their own and submit it to me. I would use it even more if each of my students had access to a computer in the classroom all the time. Unfortunately this is not the case, but I use Google Classroom to distribute templates that I want my students to work on or frames for writing or note taking that I would like them to have access to.

Freshgrade

I have talked about Freshgrade a little bit in previous posts, but it is another service that gets a lot of use in my classroom. It allows me to create an online portfolio and gradebook for each student that is instantly shared with their parents. I, or the students can upload files, pictures, comments or video. The site can create reports, and while I know some teachers have used this feature, I have not tried it yet. If there was one new tool I recommend someone learning more about, this would be it.

Nearpod

Nearpod is one that definitely falls into the category of things I have not tried yet, but I am excited to try. It allows you to create presentations that are cast to students when they open an app on a phone or a tablet. It allows students to follow along, but also incorporates interactive elements such as poll questions, videos or a cool feature where students can draw to provide feedback. It allows teachers to see student responses immediately and would be an awesome way for a teacher to get quick, formative feedback from students. I am looking forward to giving this a try once all of my students have an iPad in their hand at the same time.

Kidblog

Kidblog is a site that I have talked about before, but I will go through again. It is a site that allows you to provide all of your students with a blog, which then feeds into a class blog. I am able to moderate both the posts and the comments that students make to one another. I have set the blog so that only other members of our class can see it, but still we have almost 25000 hits over the last two years. I have seen an improvement in the writing of many of the students as they feel they have an audience.

Symbaloo

I have always found it difficult to share web addresses that I want students to access. I find that either it takes them a long time for them to type it in or they make some kind of typo that takes away from their time on the site. Symbaloo is a way for someone to share bookmarks to websites that you want your students to see and it looks really easy. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think I will be looking into it soon.

Scratch

Scratch is a visual programming language designed for kids by the good people at MIT. It is an easy way for kids to get into coding and the kids can make some pretty cool things. I have had students make their own versions of Pong and Pacman and have tried their hand at creating a side scroller kind of like Mario. The site has some excellent tutorials that you can see side by side with the area where you can do your coding. I think it really does help students to develop logical thinking, as they try to figure out how to get their program to do what they want it to do.

Conclusion

As I have written this post I have realized just how many web based tools that I have tried with my students over the last couple of years. I find it exciting. Let me know if there is anything out there that I really have to try that you are having success with. Also, if you want to try any of these tools and need some support, let me know and I will see if I can help you out.

Looking Back

It was my goal a little more than a month ago to contribute daily to my blog for fourty days straight. I missed a couple of days, but in general I posted at least a little something every day. I wanted to take some time today looking back on what I have learned and how I can apply what I have learned to my professional practice. 

Reflection Is Important 

The main thing that I took away from this exercise is the importance of reflection on the learning process. By forcing myself to write, even on days that I didn’t really feel like it, it allowed me to solidify and take a closer look at how I really feel about either what I am doing in my teaching or how I really feel about certain issues in education. In particular, in making my writing public, I really had to make sure I had thought something through before I posted it for the world (or the few of you who read my blog) to see. 

My take-away for my students is that I need to be more purposeful in allowing them time and opportunity to reflect on their learning. It is not enough to just go through an activity and hope that students learned something. It is important to make reflecting an ingrained part of the process. 

Connections Matter

One of the things I have enjoyed about writing this blog so far is the opportunity that it provides for me to connect with people in different ways. Every night I wait impatiently to see if anyone will take a few minutes to respond to what I have written so I can connect to and learn from them. I hope to continue to connect with more and more people as I continue to write. 

The take-away in this for my classroom is that I need to find opportunities for my students to connect with people outside my classroom. I would love to try a mystery Skype or find another class somewhere in the world to connect with. If any of you have any ideas of how I could make this happen, please let me know. 

Audience Matters

I have written about this before so I won’t spend a lot of time on this except to say that students need audiences beyond their teachers and parents. Having their peers as audience is a start, but technology has opened up so many opportunities for students to gain an audience for their gifts that it would be foolhardy for teachers to not at least look at them and think about how they can motivate their students. 

I can’t say that I will be posting daily any more. I would like to post at least once a week and I have asked a number of my colleagues to write guest posts. I do plan to continue to learn and take risks and do things that make me slightly queezy when I do them and I look far ward to anyone out their sharing their learning with me. 

40 Days- By Joy DiNunzio

I joined Facebook in 2006 following the birth of my first baby. The timing was perfect, Facebook would serve as my connection to the outside world when physically being outside just wasn’t in the cards that day. A welcome addition to fill those tiny little windows between diaper changes, feedings, and countless walks around the inside of the house to soothe a fussy baby to sleep.

Nine years after joining, I decided to give up Facebook for Lent. I won’t speak about my knee twitch as a result, or the audits by my husband and kids to check on my commitment as they walked passed me sitting at the computer.

I will share what I first thought was a negative, which actually turned into an unexpected positive. It was on day five of no Facebook I realized I simply shifted the time I would have been on Facebook to other social media sites and this absolutely troubled me. I was questioning whether I should have just given up social media all together for Lent. That was until I started learning something completely new that interested me every day. I had know idea the ride I was in for and the learning experience it turned into. Please allow me to take you on my 40 day social media adventure.

Twitter

I’m putting myself out there letting you know I had a rather eclectic list of people I followed since ’09 on Twitter *cough…maybe a Kardashian sister, maybe Ashton Kutcher.* I decided to embrace Twitter differently after learning how it could be used for personal learning and did a little Spring cleaning. Within Twitter I’d only ever been an observer, never an active participant. After watching YouTube Twitter tutorials to get tips on Twitter mechanics I was on my way. Since my clean up I’ve spent time on the pages of and been inspired by people I admire professionally, started and continue to increase own PLN, created lists within Twitter to enhance my experience, participated in my first #bcedchat, and signed up for Hootsuite and TweetDeck to visually help me navigate.

Instagram

Re-activated. Noticed my first post was about 154 weeks ago and last post was 123 weeks ago. If I can remember that far back I stopped posting because I didn’t see the benefit of posting the same thing to two social networks with the exact same audience. Becoming active again has given me the unexpected pleasure of connecting with my family’s younger generation who embrace Instagram over Facebook. Being the ripe old age of 39 I’m careful not to like or comment too much on their pics, not looking to cramp their steez. Yup, I just said steez. I do very much enjoy the simplistic no frills format of Instagram, telling a story primarily through photo.

Pinterest

I have mixed emotions regarding Pinterest. Similar to the ocean tide coming and going, this would be me on Pinterest. I’ll visit and start pinning. Shortly after that I’ll become completely overwhelmed with ideas and leave as a result. I spent these last 40 days on and off Pinterest creating new boards, cleaning up current boards, and following new boards. I love that it’s just one more source to access for information or inspiration as needed. Pinterest is like that lifelong friend that you don’t talk to often, but pick-up where you left off whenever you connect.

Blogs

I’ve discovered some of the people I follow on Twitter also write a blog. If I visit a blog and enjoy reading it at first glance I’ll bookmark it and subscribe to be notified via email when a new entry is posted. It’s a pleasure to read other people’s thoughts within my PLN and beyond in an extended format. For me it’s great evening wind down reading. Not sure that I’ll ever dive into the world of regular blogging myself, but appreciate the opportunity to get my feet wet through Mike’s invitation to be a guest blogger on his. Thank you Mike!

YouTube

Exactly where have I been? Obviously under a rock since 2006 while the world of YouTube, YouTube channels and subscribing to channels has happened. Wow! Obviously I’ve visited YouTube before, but during Lent (ok, need to back this one up…since October ’14) I’ve discovered how I can make it work for me, both on a professional level and personally. I’ve found channels to subscribe to that I can weave into my workday and channels I’ve encouraged my kids to subscribe to as a safe online place to visit. I have a feeling I’ve only scraped the YouTube surface, the more I use it the more I’ll learn and I’m sure as my elementary kids grow they will teach me a thing or two, or three.

Resources in my own backyard

I don’t need Wi-Fi to connect with my #1 resource. I’ve known from the start that the people I’m blessed to work with and see every day are extremely talented and have the type of wisdom that only comes with years of experience behind them. As Mike mentioned in his March 12th blog entry, everyone brings “unique gifts and talents” and there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not inspired or learn by something or someone that surrounds me.

LinkedIn

Since I’m on a social media roll, lets throw LinkedIn into the mix. Apparently the third most popular social network, LinkedIn is primarily centered around careers. I really haven’t found any other use for it other then getting to peek into my friends corporate lives and keeping a connection with people I’ve worked with in the past. Perhaps I’m missing something, if this is the case would love to hear your thoughts.

Online safety

In the last 40 days one thing that shocked and terrified me was personally coming across many underage kids online that I knew and the amount that hadn’t activated any privacy settings. I pretty much spent my next full free day off setting up family sharing on all our family devices and adjusting accordingly all the child protection on any device my kids have access to. I understand activating child privacy settings doesn’t take the place of my own supervision of my children, but why not learn about and activate the tools that are provided that assist with cyber safety? It was a long morning of searching online to get myself up to speed on what I needed to do, even still I’m sure I missed things. Maybe even more importantly then the privacy settings is the continued dialogue that happens between my kids and I regarding online safety. Thanks to my at times overwhelming friend Pinterest, I have a coffee table charging station in the living room where all electronics are placed and plugged in nightly before bed. I’m thinking as my kids become teens the coffee table charging station will move beside my own bedroom nightstand for the eye at the back of my head.

Will I go back to Facebook? Absolutely. There are very important people in my life who live too far away to be able to see regularly. Our activity through Facebook makes it easy to connect. I will be adjusting my feed settings though, with a higher priority placed on the people who are my family and friends who I consider my family.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my recent journey. Wishing you a blessed and Happy Easter.