Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Who's Hungry?

As the holidays are fast approaching, family, friends, and food are likely on the minds of many.  Oven-roasted turkeys, savory side dishes, and delicious desserts will fill our tables and our bellies as we gather in the upcoming days and weeks.  The sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays heighten our sense and make us hungry.

In education, we see a different kind of hunger--the dedication and drive to do more for our students. Recently I served on an interview committee as our team worked to fill a teaching position in our school district.  While we had lots of qualified candidates, some stood out from the crowd.  You know the ones I'm talking about.  The educators that are so engaged in the conversation that the passion is just oozing out of them.  Their enthusiasm and eagerness is simply contagious.  They are filled with knowledge and ideas that they just can't contain.  They ready to teach--just show them to their classroom.  They're HUNGRY!

When it comes to decision-making time about the interview candidates, I conveyed my strong beliefs about the candidate who had risen above the rest. Motivated. Intelligent. Passionate. Energized. Creative.  Hungry.  

In my opinion, the hungry candidates wins out every time.  It is their insatiable hunger that continues to propel them forward, not just in the interview process but throughout their careers.  They go on to become teachers who are always striving to better themselves, improve their instruction, and provide a relevant learning experience for their students.  They are willing to take risks, push the boundaries, and think about the possibilities.  The hungry teachers keep current with technology while looking ahead to see what's coming.  They recognize the importance of collaboration and engage in a network with other hungry people.  They pursue opportunities to grow, both personally and professionally.  

In keeping with the food theme, here are some characteristics of hungry educators.  They show us that they want to FEAST:

F- Forward-thinking
E- Eager
A- Authentic
S- Smart
T- Tireless

While these may not encompass all of the attributes of hungry teachers, the list provides a starting point to describe the go-getters that we need in our schools.  So, as we head into Thanksgiving and into the holiday season, maintain your momentum and push yourself to seek out new learning for you and your students.  Surround yourself with other creative thinkers.  Start a new collaborative project. Do something to feed your desire to improve as an educator. Stay hungry!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

When Was the Last Time You Tried Something New?

I like to think of myself as an innovative person.  As an educator, I feel like it comes with the territory.  I love Twitter and read books often (Thank you #SixtyBooks challenge!)  but I can't really think of the last thing that I tried that was really brand new to me.

This reflection makes me feel like a bit of a hypocrite because in many of my roles, my responsibility is to get people to create, innovate, explore, and dive headfirst into the future.  As a mom, I am always pushing my young sons to try something new, take a risk.  "Here honey, try a pea." "Yes, you can dive in without your swimmies."  "I bet you can climb to the top of the rock wall. Go for it!"   But, when have I done the same?

As an assistant superintendent, I rally our principals to be forward-thinkers and lead with no limits. Collectively, we are working hard to move our district in the right direction.  I push them often to think through a different lens and get uncomfortable.  How often do I?

With our teachers, we are challenging them to "think outside the box". Scratch that.  We want them to jump out of the box, smash the box, and design a better one!  I always thought my attitude towards learning demonstrated that, but what have I done lately to prove it?

This week I decided to get involved in some innovative professional development of my own focused on the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.  I joined the #IMMOOC and am excited to participate in all that this journey has to offer.  I also joined a Voxer group (So, it may not sound risky to some, but it is brand new to me.)  Thanks to some encouragement from Twitter friends, I sent out my first Vox.  It is becoming my routine that I listen to all the other participants on my commute to work and from work each day.  It has been so interesting already (we are only a few days in) to hear from folks all over the country and beyond!

Trying something new will not only help me to learn and grow as a professional, but I believe it will put me in the right frame of mind to continue to try new things in both my personal and professional life.  I look forward to the opportunity to connect with other educators around the idea of innovation and who knows--maybe I'll even try Brussels sprouts!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

25 STEAM Makers Every Educator Should Follow on Twitter

As STEAM and Maker Education collide in our schools, classrooms, and libraries, connected educators are looking to find all the resources they can to design meaningful learning experiences for students.  There are so many awesome teachers, principals, librarians. technology gurus, and innovators on Twitter who are building a powerful network of STEAM Maker leaders.  Check out these 25 (in no particular order) that are making amazing contributions to advance STEAM Maker learning for young people.

1. Colleen Graves @gravescolleen A real mover and shaker in all things MakerEd, Colleen has a new book coming out focusing on maker projects.  A teacher and librarian, she also started the Maker Slow Chat.

2. Louise Morgan @MrsMorgansClass  Louise is an instructional technologist who regularly blogs about her adventures in makerspaces.  She also puts out the STEAM Makerspace Daily newsletter. Supportive in her re-tweets, Louise shares relevant articles around STEAM and Maker Education.

3. Kathi Kersznowski @kerszi I attended a session of Kathi's in 2015 at the inaugural Evolving Educators conference and I've been following her ever since.  She regularly posts pictures of the great things she is doing in her STEAM Maker club.  She is a forward-thinking and innovative educator!

4. Diana Rendina Want to learn from an inspiring librarian and makerspace maven?  Follow @DianaLRendina !  Her blog is a fabulous resource for new and experienced STEAM Makers.  She reviews relevant professional books and posts pictures of her library, providing great ideas for educators interested in bringing creativity back into our schools.

5. Meredith Martin  @geekyteach  is a vibrant STEM teacher who is passionate about educational technology and Maker Ed.  I've participated in a few of her hands-on workshops as she pushes tinkering and design thinking for teachers.  Meredith tweets about cutting edge ideas in STEAM Maker education.

6. Sylvia Libow Martinez @smartinez The author of Invent to Learn, a must-have book if you are into STEAM Maker learning.  She shares relevant research and practical posts about classroom innovation.

7.  Justin Aglio @JustinAglio This Director of Innovation, is a super hero when it comes to advancing STEAM Maker learning in his district.  Justin shares great information about flipped learning and virtual immersion technology.

8. Zeina Chalich @ZeinaChalich An educational disruptor, Zeina tweets about design thinking, coding, STEAM, and educational technology.  A Leader of Learning and Innovation K-6 (love that title, too!) her AussieEd chat is a great way connect with other STEAM Makers.

9. Susan Wells @wellssusan tweets about all things digital learning, from coding and robotics to new STEM tools.  Susan shares lots of pics from Tech Terra Camp, making you wish you were 7 years old  and at camp again!

10. Holly Gerlach @MrsHollyGerlach Holly is a STEM coordinator and classroom teacher.  Active in lots of Twitter chats, Holly shares great pictures of classroom happenings.  She is an encouraging and resourceful member of my PLN.

11. Margaret Powers @mpowers3 Director of STEAM Innovation (a great title), Margaret shares great content around design thinking and STEAM education, including lots of Vines to see STEAM Maker learning in action.

12. Dan Ryder @WickedDecent I met this high-energy educator at a design thinking workshop last summer.  What a motivational guy!  He tweets about educational technology, student voice, and building empathy, among other relevant educational topics.

13. Laura Fleming @LFlemingEDU Her book Worlds of Making is a great resource for those starting out in their STEAM Maker journey.  Laura's website includes a digital badging platform and great professional development tools.

14.  Eleni Kyritsis @misskyritsis This Aussie educator is up on educational technology and shares often about new tech tools.  Knowledgeable in Google and Microsoft, Eleni regularly shares tips for teachers engaged in technology.  She is also the creator of the Genius Hour Fair.

15.  Krissy Venosdale @krissyvenosdale Always love her tweets since they are filled with great visual images- photos, info graphics, and art work.  Reminds you about the importance of the A in STEAM!

16. Maker Mark @Maker_Mark is a STEAM and Maker Advocate.  Check out his TED Talk on ensuring access to all Makers.  He shares great information about research, policy, and professional development for STEAM Makers.

17.  Brandon Johnson @bjohnson_STEAM He is into project-based learning and Google Apps for Education. Brandon is a supportive retweeter of all things STEAM, Makered, and leadership.

18. Carrie Baughcum @HeckAwesome Her brightly colored profile page pulls you right in!  Carrie is an innovator and impressive sketch note creator.  Her tweets include topics like gaming, growth mindset, and making.

19. Aaron Vanderwerff @aVndrwrff  Aaron is Maker and innovator who posts videos and picture of student projects from his Creativity Lab.  If you want to see STEAM Maker learning in action, follow Aaron!

20. Chris Chappotin @Chris_Chappotin  Providing great updates from STEAM Middle School, Chris posts about educational technology tools and project-based learning resources.

21. Lindsey Own @LindseyOwn Lindsey posts great pics and videos from her makerspace.  If you are looking for information on Maker Ed and design thinking, you should follow Lindsey.

22. Brian Briggs @bribriggs Brian is a Director of Innovation and Technology sharing posts on creativity, genius hour, coding, and new educational technology tools. 

23.  Susan Riley @susanrileyphoto The CEO of Education Closet, Susan tweets about anything STEAM including relevant research, interesting articles, and online professional development.  

24.  Ginger Lewman @GingerLewman Self-professed "silo killer", integrating STEAM and Maker in meaningful ways.  She is the creator of STEAMmaker Camp and advocate for all things project-based learning.

25. Me!
Follow me @DrJacieMaslyk  As the author of a new book, STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom I share examples of STEAM and Making happening in my district as well as in my region.  I love connecting with other educators who are invested in forward-thinking and exploring the possibilities in schools.

There are many, many other great educators out there involved in STEAM Maker learning.  This list just represents a few who are moving education in the right direction.  If you have suggestions for other names to be added to the list, please share a comment!

Monday, August 15, 2016

You're off ALL summer ?!?!?!?

As educators, don't you just love it when someone says-- Oh, you're a teacher/principal/administrator . . . . What do you DO all summer?  ALL summer.  I know the impression is that we are off for 3 whole months, but I can't remember a day that I sat in my office with my feet up eating bon-bons, that's for sure.

In the last 53 days, I've been busy. I've spent more than half of those days working with teacher teams, writing curriculum and planing new learning for our students.  I've met with teachers to discuss innovative projects and start a grant writing team.  We've planned school-wide design challenges and for a little inspiration we visited innovative places in and around our city.  We've collaborated with other school districts and built relationships with those in our community.  We've spent time with our leadership team, setting goals, planning professional development, and building excitement for a year of new beginnings.

I've done some things so that I can grow as a professional, as well.  I spent several days at a national conference and presented on STEAM and Maker Education. A few more days were spent at local workshops, too. I've attended county-wide meetings and a regional summit on STEM education.  In my free time, I published a blog or two and an article that will run in a national magazine.  I wrote four grants and two conference proposals for this coming year.  In an effort to meet my 60 books in 2016 challenge, I've read 20 books, including some great educational books.  (Kids Deserve it, Innovator's Mindset, and Launch have all been really inspiring!) It's been a busy summer-busy with activity, reflection, and growth.

SO, if you're not in education, please talk to teachers and principals.  Find out about all of the things that happen over the summer to prepare for a new year.  (I didn't even mention completing state and federal reports, ordering new books and materials, interviewing and welcoming new faculty and staff, coordinating services for students, overseeing renovation projects, meeting with parents, orienting new students to the district, reviewing files, responding to emails, attending board meetings, and on and on.)  We are doing so much over the summer, professionally and personally, so that the first day of school is a success.  We devote our time to preparing for students so that they come to school energized and ready to learn.  August is an exciting time of year.  While I'd love to sit poolside and finish my bon-bons, there's more work to do!

Best wishes for a wonderful school year :-)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Growing as Leaders and Learners

With the summer now half over, I am already thinking and planning for the new school year, reading and actively looking for inspiration for 2016-2017.  While I always find Twitter to be a great resource for personal, professional development, this week I was fortunate to get my inspiration from some Twitter celebs face to face.  As an attendee and presenter at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) conference in National Harbor, Maryland,  I had the opportunity to hear from amazing educators across the country.  Now, their books will make up my summer  MUST READ list.  I recommend these books to other educators based on the fact that my personal interactions with these gentlemen were so motivating that I have no doubts that their books will help me to make an impact in my school district.

Dr. Brad Gustafson
Brad Gustafson @GustafsonBrad was a friendly face at EdCamp as he engaged educators in discussions about coding, digital citizenship, and community involvement.  He also led a conference session on building school culture, speaking about the amazing ways he connects with kids and families, creating a school atmosphere that everyone would want to be a part of.  Brad's book Renegade Leadership is coming out in October from Corwin Press and will certainly be on my wish list.

Brad's co-presenter on school culture was Todd Nesloney @TechNinjaTodd .  Todd was a high-energy speaker, quickly sharing dozens of ways he has created a culture on his campus that emphasizes breaking down the walls and connecting with the school community.  Todd spoke passionately about his students and the families that he is working with in his Texas school.  Todd's book Kids Deserve It! with co-author Adam Welcome is also a book I plan to share with my administrative team. 

The Power of BrandingAnother dynamic duo that I could listen to all day were Tony Sinanis @TonySinanis and Joe Sanfelippo @joesanfelippofc .  These two friends are inspiring speakers.  After just a few minutes, I found myself wanting to go get a job in Fall Creek, Wisconsin and work under Joe's leadership. The presentation included a lot of simple tips of building your school culture, as well as a lot of information from their book The Power of Branding.  Although, I've already read this one, I'm planning to share it with the principals in my district as we prepare to open for a new school year.  Their new book Hack Leadership will also be added to my list.

As I head home from the conference, I'm filled with new ideas and inspiration to start the new school year. I am grateful for connecting with so many awesome educators and look forward to continuing that connection on Twitter.  Now, I can't wait to get home and add all of these books to my bookshelf!


Monday, May 2, 2016

Appreciation for one of the BEST

As schools across the country celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, they pause to recognize the amazing educators in their buildings; caring adults who connect with their students, design effective instruction, and engage young people in meaningful learning.  I'm sure many schools have really good teachers that continually go above and beyond, come in early and stay late, sponsor school activities, and attend student events.  In some schools, there's likely that ONE teacher who does all of that and then looks for MORE ways to get involved and help children.  It is rare though, when one teacher is named over and over again as the reason why former students come back to visit, one that is referenced by the high school valedictorian as the ONE teacher who made the biggest impact on her education, one that is highly respected by fellow teachers, parents, community members, students, and administrators.  I had the privilege of working with a teacher like this for 10 years.  

Truly humble, this teacher does not even realize the role model he has been for so many, for so long.  The extra effort that he puts toward everything--it's just the way he is.  He is positive, thoughtful, dedicated, and genuine.  Committed to his calling as a teacher, he has mentored student teachers from local universities as well as teachers new to the profession, always providing guidance and nurturing their professional growth.  He is a leader among his fellow teachers, a remarkable educator of 34 years, and was even recognized as a finalist for the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year last year.

In the classroom, he is a natural.  Dynamic and personable, he interjects personal stories and uses humor, ensuring student engagement.  Always a team player, he leads collaboration among his team mates, coordinating interdisciplinary activities, and school events. He is the first to jump “on board” to any initiative that he believes will improve the education of students, even if it takes him out of his comfort zone.  

This teacher's involvement in the school community is unparalleled.  His ongoing sponsorship of after school programs allows him to model community service for young people in the community.   He coordinated school fundraisers and taught students to give back-- donating to worthy local and national charities.  He organizes the annual spelling bee, coordinates gift baskets for Breakfast with Santa, and volunteers at the annual students vs. faculty basketball game. (In his "free time", he also volunteers at his church and other community organizations.)

Each year he has reflected on his practice and developed goals for himself, always striving to be a better teacher--even up until this last year.  He demonstrates what it means to be an excellent educator in every way.  

As he prepares to retire this year, I want him to know what a tremendous impact he has had on me and on so many others.  His dedication to teaching and learning is inspiring.  I know that retiring will not mean that he will leave education.  He has already discussed supervising student teachers, volunteering at a local university science center, and consulting for his school district.  Even in retirement, I know he will continue to share his passions with others as an educator and mentor.  I wouldn't expect anything less!

Congratulations on your retirement, Jim.  You are truly the BEST! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Professional Growth in the Making

When I think about professional growth, I think of stretching beyond my comfort zone.  This stretch means reaching for new knowledge, trying new strategies, and considering new possibilities.  As an educator, I'm always looking for ways to learn and grow: staying current with relevant research, reading a lot, and connecting with other educators in the field.

With this being my 19th year in education, I've attended a lot of training sessions, workshops, and in-service sessions.  I've gone to local, state, and national conferences. While some opportunities for professional development are better than others, I always try to find at least one little nugget to take away and apply to my work.  I've engaged in a number of "on the job" growth experiences, as well. As a classroom teacher, I was lucky enough to receive training in instructional coaching at the Annenberg Institute.  I piloted reading programs with coaching support from the top educators in reading research from the University of Pittsburgh. My traditional schooling also allowed me to learn and grow.  I experienced tremendous growth in technology skills through my Master's Program at Robert Morris University and benefited from the cohort setting during my doctoral studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

All of these experiences have helped me to grow as a professional, but the BEST professional learning opportunity I've ever experienced has been at the MAKESHOP at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

The MAKESHOP is a permanent space in the museum where children and families can tinker with tools and make just about anything.  The space includes knowledgeable Teaching Artists who can guide visitors as they mess with sewing, woodworking, circuitry, digital animation, etc.  Every August, they offer a week-long MAKER Boot Camp for educators.  A few summers ago, I invited some teachers to go and stretch beyond their comfort zones with me.

I remember walking into the wood shop, and after a brief safety talk, the Teaching Artist said--OK, go make something.  Really? That's it? Where are the directions?  I had no idea where to start or what tools to choose.  The open-ended nature of the task was daunting and uncomfortable.  Soon, the other educators in the room started talking about what they were doing and sharing strategies--collaborating.  We cautiously tried some tools and messed with some materials.  Some designs worked well, others failed miserably.  We persevered and continued on with our creations.  In the end, many walked away with an innovative end product, but I walked away with a renewed sense of what it meant to be a learner.

At the time, our school was in our second year of housing a STEAM Studio in the building, a dedicated space for hands-on learning.  This professional development experience was so valuable, as the teachers and I were able to return to school with a new understanding of what it felt like to be a student in a Making environment.  We felt invigorated about infusing creativity into our work and were better equipped to support our students in this new learning pathway.

As teachers and school leaders, do we readily step outside our comfort zones and try new things?  Or do we remain in the safety of what is known?  Do we try things and open ourselves up to potential failure?  What does this say about our professional growth?

Monday, March 28, 2016


I'm sure we are all guilty of it, in some form or another.  Not being present.  Not being mindful or in the moment.  Whatever you want to call it, it often means that we aren't focused on what is right in front of us (In this digital age, it also means spending way too much time attending to our devices. Checking one more email in class when your students need your attention.  Looking at your phone instead of into the eyes of the person you are with.  Watching the TV instead of focusing on a conversation with your spouse.  Looking at your Twitter feed instead of playing with your children.  Sound familiar?)  As hard as we try not to, we do this.  I do this.

I recently read The Happiness Project, a book by Gretchen Rubin.  She devoted a year of her life to figuring out how to bring more positivity and happiness into her world.  She identified several things that she focused on each month to increase her happiness: getting organized, capturing memories, starting a collection, and creating a blog, among a number of other things.  So much of what the author suggested resonated with me, but the one that stood out the most was mindfulness.  Like Rubin, I don't want to take up meditation or learn yoga.  I just want to make a conscience choice to focus on the people I'm with and not take that time for granted.

I'm an educator, an author, a wife, a mom.  I struggle to balance these in my life and often allow myself to get distracted much more than I should.  (I hope that it doesn't show, although I'm sure that it does.)  When I'm at work, I think about the plans I want to make for an upcoming party for my sons.  When I'm writing, I think about the favor my husband asked me to do, which I forgot.  When I'm at home, I think about the meeting I need to schedule with a colleague.  My mind is always in a dozen different places--and often not in the place where it's supposed to be. 

So after reading Rubin's book, I thought more about the time and energy she dedicated to increasing what happiness meant for her.  If she can commit to 12 months and over 40 different tasks that she accomplished, I could at least try to focus on one, right?

So, I figured that the best way to commit to something is to put it in writing.  I'm going to take the next 30 days and among all of the balls that I try to juggle, I am going to make a concerted effort to be more mindful.  There are 3 things within my personal resolution that I'm going to do:

1.  Ditch the devices at home. 
As a first step, I'm going to put my personal electronic devices aside, including my old-fashioned paper planner and my notebook. I'm going to push away all potential distractions and focus my attention on my family.  Our time in the evenings and on weekends is precious and I need to appreciate it.

2.  Engage with people.
I'm going to check in more with friends and show thoughtful support.  I'm going to have more face-to-face conversations at work instead of emails. I'm going to devote more time to my husband (who is a saint) who stays at home with our boys and give him the adult conversations he misses during the day.  I'm going to engage with my kids-- play and laugh, run and chase, draw and sing, even when I'm tired and have work to do. 

3.  Reflect
Every night, I'm going to write down one positive step that I've made and another thing that I still need to work on. These quick notes will help me stay on track and be accountable.

So, should I have been doing all of these things all along?  Yes . . . and I do try, but some days I'm better at doing it than others.  Some days I get pulled into work drama that carries over into home time and I miss out on doing a puzzle with my son.  Or I'm so tired at night that I fall asleep before taking time and talking with my husband.  I've found it easy to let those things slip, which is why I am making this commitment to be more mindful. As Rubin reminded me, I don't want to set a goal that I accomplish once and disregard. This is my resolution moving forward to changing my practice. 

  • What habits have you developed to become more mindful? 
  • What tips can you share for those who want to be more present with their families?

Monday, March 14, 2016

March 14, 2016

Writing and I have had a love-hate relationship for a long time.  We've spent long, lazy afternoons together dreaming about our future.  We've fought and spent months apart trying to figure out how to reconnect. We've had ups and downs, just like any partnership.  While our bond is strong now, our relationship had a rocky start.

As an elementary student, I'm pretty sure writing hated me---and I hated it right back.  I wrote because I had to.  I reluctantly completed class assignments and awaited the painful feedback.  My grades were primarily good, but not in English class.  Writing and I just couldn't work well together but we struggled though this rough patch.

In middle school, writing and I got back together when I started writing in a diary.  This became an outlet for me, writing of the drama of the day, venting about friends, school, and my parents.  Reflecting at the end of a day was my relaxation and my counseling.  While most middle school relationships don't last long, writing and I were actually getting along!

In high school, the challenging course work put a strain on writing and I.  Honors English was almost the demise of our entire relationship.  Analyzing Shakespeare's sonnets, learning MLA format, discussing political satire, developing character traits, and writing multiple drafts with specific narrative elements. Writing and I were growing up and improving, or so I thought.

Off to college thinking that writing and I were in a good place, but my professors disagreed.  I soon lost touch with writing (and my grades suffered).  Writing seemed like a moving target.  I was never sure how to make it happy or what to do to improve our relationship, so I gave up.  I wrote as little as I possibly could to get by and washed my hands of the whole relationship.

Years passed, and as many couples reunite, writing and I met again.  I committed to a doctoral program, where writing and I would inevitably have to co-exist.  With a dissertation looming, writing and I started from scratch, learning to get along and communicate again. With help from a passionate and demanding professor, writing and I finally felt supported.  Ongoing feedback about our relationship helped writing and I to grow stronger.  After two years of research, revision, and more revision, we completed the dissertation.  The hard work was rewarding and invigorating.  So much so, that writing and I continued to try new things--publishing several articles and writing proposals for conferences.

Commitment in relationships can be a scary, daunting phase, but writing and I were sure that we were going to stay together.  We took the ultimate step--a book.  Over the course of a year and half, writing and I took everything we've learned throughout out relationship and put it to the test.  The book STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom will be out next week!

So after some 30 years together, how will writing and I continue to keep our relationship going strong?  How will we keep things vibrant and engaging?  What goals would we work towards next? When I heard about the Compelled Tribe on Twitter (the greatest personal professional development tool ever!) it was perfect timing for writing and I get involved in a new phase of our relationship. So along with others in the Tribe, writing and I will share our work every month on this blog.  We hope that it brings us closer together as we continue to share ideas and learn from others.

As with any, this relationship with writing hasn't been easy.  It has taken hard work and commitment. Some days its fueled by creativity; other days it requires loads of patience.  In the end, it is a relationship that I value and promise to develop for better or worse, in sickness and in health til death do us part.

What is your relationship with writing?  What tips can you share about keeping the relationship strong?