Sunday, November 6, 2016

Relationships.. The Power Within

I’m always amazed by the wisdom and writings of my professional learning network. I can only assume that they are:
  • Better organized in their brain, and/or
  • Better writers, and/or
  • Better able to focus than I.

Or, they are that committed to the transparency of their learning to encourage and empower others...

That said, I’m back here today to practice what we’re asking of our Vanguard Fellows - to share their learning journeys with others. Sharing not only invites others to learn from you, but it also forces you to reflect... way deeper than the last few moments of the day, in the dark when you’re trying to fall asleep, or on Friday night/Saturday morning when you’re struggling to justify to yourself that you did indeed accomplish something during the week. So, here goes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately.

A few weeks ago (October 9th) on the Channel 2 Newsmaker show on Sunday morning, Khambrel Marshall interviewed Bertie Simmons. She came out of retirement to become Furr HS principal where the campus has redefined itself into one that now hold a $10 million grant to redesign hre campus. She credits the successful turnaround on the campus to the relationships she built with the students, particularly the 12 gangs that were present when she started. Here's a related video from CBS This Morning...

Obviously she didn’t stop there. I was amazed by her strength and clearly the patience that it must have taken to develop the community of learners that is now Furr High School. Field trip! Thinking she has so much to offer to us!

Today, I read Chris Wejr’s post Find the Fireflies - Help Students to Shine on the Connected Principals blog. In it he challenges us to begin with ONE learner who needs you to take the time to to truly get to know his/her strengths so that you can provide opportunities that truly empower that learner. Take that first step rather than be overwhelmed with “Where do I start?” He shares Rachel Macy Stafford’s analogy. She encourages you to build relationships with and uncover the strengths of the "Firefly" learners, the learners that shine from within, the learners that may go unnoticed because they only shine under the right conditions. Pick the one who isn’t a "Butterfly".. Pick the ONE...I think back to Bertie and how she must have started one by one and it didn’t sound like she started with butterflies.

I spend a lot of time pondering the Vanguard Fellows, their strengths and their struggles and our need to build stronger relationships. They are on the front lines in a system that is beginning a journey down a path that is barely visible. We’re learning together how our paths may take shape and the tools that will help us get there. It is not easy work, but I have hope that together we can create an powerful practice that will help share the future of our district and encourage others. This first cohort of Vanguard Fellows are thoughtful practitioners, strong in reflective thinking yet hesitant to create artifacts of their learning. My wonder is: is it a factor of our relationships - that they aren’t strong enough for them to truly value the the time/effort we ask then to spend in creating these artifacts. I used to think it was time - just not enough - but my current wonder leads me to believe we don’t have enough of a relationship for them to trust.

There are so many ways to get to the heart of student ownership of learning - which is the promise of personalized learning. I’m going to trust the system and our Vanguard Fellows. Sharing your thinking doesn't’ come without cost. In the extremely busy world of a teacher the time to sit and reflect doesn’t come without a huge price. But, it also comes with huge gains....

Come up for some air! There's power in "we!"

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Wanted to share my Friday as the more I reflect on my learning, the more excited I get...the more appropriate the above tweet. Thanks @weissEDU!


As I’ve shared, we have been given the opportunity to work with some amazing educators through the Vanguard Fellowship. I had the great fortune to visit one our Vanguard teachers Friday morning. She had invited two of her teammates into her classroom to learn about the work she was doing to move her classroom to one that was more personalized for her learners.


We spent about 40 minutes watching her students as they engaged in workstations, workstations that may not look that different from workstations of the past. However, several involved technology that was intentionally integrated to provide data - evidence of where each student is in his learning.


The best part came when the teacher sat down with us to share her thinking about each station, her challenges she was facing and to respond to our questions. What struck me as sat there (and afterward as I reflected further on my morning) was how open she was with us. She truly saw herself as a learner and her classroom as a work in progress. She discussed how she was working to get the data to her students so they would know where they are from one piece of software that didn't share data with students, how to allow more time for reflection, how to have more accountability in stations, and how modeling for her young learners might lead to better independence in the PBL activities. There was no expert in the room - myself included - as we sat and brainstormed possible ways she might tweak each station to provide more insight into the thinking/learning of each learner. It was magical for me.


Then, she put on her coaching hat and probed her “partners in crime” asking them to reflect on their practice and to pick one piece they might like to work on. It has been a while since I have been in such a collaborative session with teachers. We had set up this morning as a way to grow her practice on her campus as part of the Raise Your Hand Texas grant work we are doing. Wondering now about trying to help create this opportunity for our Vanguard as I saw the power with intentional conversation around our work!


One outcome for me was, I wanted to focus on these two questions with teachers thinking they could drive our conversations:
  • How do you know they have learned?
  • How do they know they have learned?


Then, this morning I found George @gcouros in my inbox again with his post How Our Conversations in Education Should Begin #LeadMoment. He discusses how our conversations should start in his first episode. Here’s his thinking… (and start following him if you don't)


So, I'm reflecting again… Yes, and (Thanks, @sewilkie!) :-) Thanks to everyone who is shaping my thinking!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Out of the whirlwind and back in the saddle!

Can hardly believe that my blog has been dormant for well over a year. In fact, it is rather an embarrassment for me as I spend a great deal of my time encouraging teachers to share their learning journeys with peers as well as encourage them to get their students into a blog space where they, too, are sharing their learning journeys. I am active on Twitter, and while that serves a purpose for sharing some of the learning that has come my way, it doesn't allow you into my journey like a blog would. And, for those of you who know me know, I can be a little "all over the place" so you might have to be a mind reader to figure out what I'm focusing on.

This past year has been a whirlwind of a journey for me and the Educational Technology department in general. With our new superintendent, Dr. Muri leading our district on the journey towards creating a personalized learning landscape for #EveryChild. we were operating on two cylinders. Thank
goodness we are now a fully staffed department of 3. Innovation is happening and EdTech is supporting many initiatives.

Our department has been busy with the selection and development of Cohort One of the Vanguard Fellowship, a group of amazing PreK - 12th grade teachers who are innovators everyday in their classrooms. We are learning so much with and from them. Cohort Two is coming later this year. It is through our work with them today that brings me back here. We ask they keep a collective blog, Vanflections, where they journal and allow the world to peek into their greatest successes and challenges on their learner's journey.

Today, we're sharing some strategies with them as they dive in and create an action research project - complete with measurable outcomes (that aren't the STAAR test) so, as a system, we can learn, grow and potentially provide guidance for other teachers in their journeys. Working to bring together resources from so many amazing people I've come to know (at least virtually) and learn from has been a real challenge for me. Deciding which bits and pieces to "lite" on for an hour or so... trying to find the nugget that will resonate with them... Trying to make their journey a little easier (although I learned from Sara Wilkie a long time ago that I can't live their journeys for them).My best shot is to pick some of the nuggets that have resonated with me and hope for the best.

So as we share the idea of each of their classrooms as a space where they're prototyping everyday, I was so fired up by George Couros's post on the Connected Principal's post today! I've included a link in our work today and will be using his words to encourage our Vanguard Fellows to continue on their learners' journeys. His book The Innovator's Mindset has been an amazing read (which I have tweeted about a lot, held a summer principal's book study over, and hand out copies of often) for me. I'm out of time for today. I'll have to leave with...

"This is what I have created with what I know (and had the time to share) today..." Thank you George!



Monday, July 6, 2015

Connecting to Build Literacy

More from ISTE 2015! With our district focus on literacy, I was excited to find a number of online opportunities in the poster sessions for our students to connect and be a part of global community of learners. I plan to offer this information at the Elementary Literacy Conference in August as well.

100 Word Challenge
Creative Writing for Children under 16
Created by Julia Skinner, retired Head Teacher

Each week, a writing prompt is posted. It may be a picture or a series of words. Students can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. **The piece is posted to a class or student blog and then linked to the 100 Word Challenge blog. Each challenge is typically posted on Sunday and stays open until the following Saturday.

Currently you do need a class or student blog, but it appears that this requirement is changing in September. Waiting for more information from Julia, but I think it would be best to have your own.
The 100 Word Challenge has a "team" of adults from across the world who have volunteered to comment each week on a given set of entries. To ensure capacity, each school participating must provide at least one commentator.

**Beginning September, you will no long need your own class or student blogs but will be posting (copy/paste from your own if you want both) to NightZookeeper site.

5 Sentence Challenge
Creative Writing for Younger Writers (and Struggling Writers)

Aimed at assisting younger students or those who might struggle with 100 words, the prompts are thematic and the link is up for 2 weeks giving students more time for posting and discussion. the 5 sentences can be a list or a piece of prose.

Blogging Is Writing
Susan Davis @suludavis

Susan and her teammates have jumped into student blogging. Each ones has tweaked the format/process. All their resources can be found on their blog. Susan's goal was to have students see writing and blogging as one and the same. She alternates traditional assignments with free posts. Assignments included an :About Me" post, a persuasive piece, an infographic/book trailer, and a review (selections for "Bloggy Awards").

TwitterTale
https://twitter.com/6_avenuetech
Shannon Wentworth

I didn't get a change to actually meet Shannon, but I picked up her card at a poster session. Looking
at her resources, she uses her Twitter account to post challenges. Students can reply to the post and/or there are hashtags. Cool idea, but still working through how to manage in your classroom of little ones... maybe a classroom account?

Interactive E-Literature: via Digital annotation and Multimedia Storytelling
Alli Gubanich @alligub
Ali uploads plain text versions of novels they are reading (when available) in class to a Google Docs shared folder. Each night, students complete mandatory annotation activities within the appropriate folders. She feels these activities help her students make connections between the text they are reading and the outside world, collaborate with one another, and develop their communication skills. Visit her website to see examples and video tutorials.

Need help developing or "tweaking" any of these ideas to implement in your classroom? Contact me and comment below! Would love to hear your ideas!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Experience the World in your Classroom with Google!

I had the great fortune to visit the Google for Education booth at ISTE 2015 on Tuesday in time to experience Rich Kiker's presentation. In case you don't know, he is a Google Master! While he didn't share everything here, his website complete with Symbaloo is full of Google related resources.

Inspired by the tools he shared, I have created this Symbaloo that spotlights the tools he did share but not all (so you don't get lost).



Beginning in the upper left are links related to location and mapping:

  • Google Maps - a no-brainer but just in case....
  • Google Maps for EDU - Click on the resources tab to find a collection of video tutorials for Google Maps and Google Earth
  • Street View - Stunning photography will transport you and your students to places far and wide! Explore world landmarks and discover natural wonders through 360-degree images! Street View is going away in August. Here's the info on where it's going!
  • Tour Builder - You can create your own story using Tour Builder! Think about... a personal narrative, plotting movement in a novel or historical event! This could be a really great project for your students as well as for you. It allows you to create Google Earth type projects using your web browser. Here's a YouTube tutorial. Only bummer - You must use a different browser than Chrome as Chrome no longer supports the Google Earth plug-in. Hopefully, that will change in the future!
  • Google Maps - Smarty Pins - This fun and interactive game tests players' trivia AND geography knowledge! Could be a fun and easy starter or end of class activity! 
  • GeoGuesser - Click Single Player mode and you're off! You'll be in street View somewhere in the world. Look around. Use any information available and figure out where you are. Click on the map and place the marker where you think you are. Click the Make a Guess button!
In the middle:
  • TREKS - Join the Google team as they trek the wonders of the world! Each trek is unique with videos, 360 degree panoramas and more! Meet chimpanzees in Gombe National Park. Hike the Grand Canyon. How might you set your students loose here?
  • Connected Classrooms - Bringing field trips into classrooms via Google+. You need to join the Connected Classrooms Community on Google+ to learn about the opportunities.
  • Expeditions - Google's latest EDU project. Click the Learn More button to request an expedition for your classroom. Scroll down and learn about Google Cardboard, More to come!
  • Google Cultural Institute - Discover exhibits and collections from museums around the world. You can even create your own collections and share them. Think of how you might use this to share specific pieces/works with your students! Below are links to the specific categories of works:
    • Art Project - Explore works of art and exhibitions. Virtual tours available as well.
    • Historic Moments - View exhibitions of the stories behind historic moments in our history.
    • World Wonders - Experience the wonders of the modern and ancient world.

Lower left corner:

  • Constitute - Explore the world's constitutions to read, search and compare. Talk about primary sources!
  • Google New Archive - Search for web news content until the year 2003. 
  • Google Lit Trips - Tracing the movement of characters from literature, Google Lit Trips are designed to encourage higher level thinking skills and  make real-world connections. They work with Google Earth. Be sure to look at the information on the right sidebar.
  • Google Books - Search here for free books and books for purchase.
  • Music Timeline - See how artists and genres have gained and dropped in popularity over the decades and more!

Super Bonus! Build with Chrome - As a mom who loved Legos as a kid and invested in lots with my own children (and looking forward to my granddaughter and I building together in the future), here's a digital platform! what's not to like!. Click Start Building and go! Or, select Build Academy to be challenged! Enter the World of Build to see what others have built. You can too!

How might these tools be used for learning in K-12? Share your thinking! Please comment and share! Together we can grow and learn!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Summer reading for inspiration!

Wait! Summer is already half over! I can't believe I haven't already shared some books I'm really diggin' these days. If you're looking for some inspiration to motivate you and prompt you try some new strategies in your schools/classrooms, then give one or all of these a shot!

My most favorite read of the Spring (probably of the past few years) was #EdJourney by Grant Lichtman. (I need help enunciating his last name as I was corrected by a friend of his at ISTE, but anyone who knows me knows it was unintentional.) I'm REALLY into his work and so inspired by the book!

Grant drove across/around the country visiting schools and interviewed more than 600 teachers, admins, students and parents asking them questions like:

  • What does innovation mean to you?
  • How has your school changed to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world?
  • What do we really need to teach and learn in schools, and how are you doing that?
He unfolds their responses and his learnings into three parts: Roadblocks, Blazing the Trail and the Road Ahead. Each chapter begins with a journal entry, his ponderings and experiences on the road which were fun to read. I thought here, wow, he is a great storyteller. I really enjoyed his voice.

The story of our challenges (and I say "our" because even though he didn't visit SBISD, we are along on the same journey) provide you a lens into how others are making paths around and through challenges. For me, Grant's stories confirmed the importance of being a community of learners and the key role of leadership (at the campus level), You'll read about many different approaches schools are taking which might give you some jumping off points to get started.

In the last few chapters, Grant challenges us to think differently through a variety of models and strategies for the future of learning and how we need to think forward (probably not actually grasping everything through those words).

When I started thinking about the "What ifs" in my world, what if we approached technology at the district level in a way that provides a level of resources yet allows for each school to create their own plan (for learning). Still trying to figure out how we can support innovative practices in meaningful ways.

This is definitely a book that I will reread and return to often over the coming year. It challenges my thinking!

The book I'm currently reading (about halfway through my first read) is Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchhart.

To me, this book will give you the tools to effectively innovate and create a community of learners! We're actually blogging about the book here.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

ISTE 2015 - Reflecting and actions!

As I flew home from ISTE 2015, I began to wonder how I could possibly share everything I had heard and experienced over the three days I was there.

  • I saw many exciting examples of ways teachers are developing literacy skills, personalizing learning, encouraging coding and robotics, and more in their classrooms.
  • I saw new and "re-experienced" several Google tools that can really help you take your kids places and experience them as never before.
  • I heard some strategies for helping us question and challenge our practices to help push our students' thinking.
  • I listened as really thoughtful educators shared their thinking and findings on schooling and factors they have found that impact implementation and ultimately student learning.

The list could go on and on.... I started thinking my head would explode as it filled with ideas of ways to share everything with you... bubbling up like the clouds as we zeroed in on Houston.

So, stay tuned for posts... coming soon!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Where did the year go?

It's hard to believe that I last posted on this blog back in October. A lot has happened since then. Here are some brief highlights of my journey:

To begin, I did follow a student at one of our high schools for an entire day in November. See previous post. It reminded me a great deal of my high school experience back in the 70s. From Algebra, to Study Hall, Economics, Science, English and History, the experience was much the same. We all sat in our desks (in rows), teacher presented a lesson or activity, we were allowed to work in pairs/groups at some point during the class (possibly even physically move when the class was big enough to allow for it), The biggest change from the 70s was the use of an ActivBoard or a projector
by a few of his teachers. But, it was used mainly as an overhead or movie projector would have been back in the day. The technology that was used by the students during the course of the day:
  • a graphing calculator in Algebra, and
  • their phones in Economics to look up their stock prices which were then relayed to the teachers to put into a spreadsheet, and
  • Kahoot was displayed on the ActivBoard in History to review for a quiz given during the period. (I took the quiz and made an A having never been in the class before that day. I didn't major in history, trust me!)
Conclusion: For the most part, we all have a similar experience. AND, what we know is, what we know. As Grant Lichtman points out in #EDJourney
"In order to change our schools, we have to "paint the picture" of what a learning ecosystem looks like. This means exposing our educators in person and virtually to the many, many brushfires of classroom and organizational innovation that are burning in this country... Then we need to provide the resources - most critically, time - for them to retool their professional skill set and gain comfort with the learning ecosystem as opposed to the learning assembly line."

In the fall, we also began exploring the potential for a 1:1 in our district. It is time to refresh the classroom devices, and it was determined the had the money to purchase a Chromebook for every 3rd - 12th grader. We spent he fall and winter researching district implementations far and wide and made several determinations:
  • consider purchasing a Learning Management System beforehand or at the time as others who didn't were doing so now,
  • expectation (and it appears true) that there is more ownership/responsibility for the device when each student is responsible for own,
  • a keyboard is crucial for production,
  • need for campus technical support,
  • need for extensive teaching & learning support (see Grant Lichtman quote above),
  • deploy by grade levels, to have the opportunity to really change the day, not just a 45-55 minute segment of it,
  • campus leadership is the driving force of a successful transformation.
The more we learned, the greater the focus because on our goals for teaching & learning and less about the device. We know that we want to change what happens in our classrooms - see above. We need to make schools more relevant and more reflective of what is happening outside of them. We see it is an "all-in" proposition in order to succeed.

Knowing where we are as a district, we decided to create an application process for those campuses who are interested in making such a shift. We have plans to select between 3-5 campuses (supporting any more than that isn't currently feasible), and 10 campuses applied. However, with a shift in leadership at the district (our new superintendent was named last week), the project is currently "under further discussion,"

As of this post, we are going to RFP for a learning management system.

Stay tuned!