Friday, December 29, 2017

It's All About Relationships

As I reflect on 2017, I think about all of  the people who have I have connected with this year.  Whether meeting an "Edu Hero" or a long awaited face-to-face conversation with a Twitter friend, I am lifted up by the connections that I have with inspiring and supportive people.  Face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues or long-distance email exchanges, it really is all about the relationships.

This summer, I attended the International Literacy Association Annual Conference in Orlando.  What a jam-packed agenda!  The biggest names in reading were there--truly amazing to listen to so many experts (Fletcher, Richardson, Ripp).  What was even better was meeting some of my Twitter friends in person.  Sean Farnum @magicpantsjones and Jennifer Williams @JenWilliamsEDU were even more friendly and motivating than I could've imagined.  With a big hug from each, it reinforced the importance of a digital #PLN.

This fall I had the pleasure of being a part of a mentoring project with a fellow Compelled Tribe member, Jodie Pierpoint  Talk about a go-getter!  She has orchestrated a phenomenal match up of aspiring administrators and experienced school leaders.  With Twitter chats and webinars, she is facilitating some amazing work.  I am happy to serve as a mentor working with a talented up-and-coming school leader.

With mentoring in mind, I am thankful for the ongoing support I have received from from an accomplished author who reached out to me several years ago after I reviewed one of her books.  Since then, Cathie West and I have corresponded via email about the ups and downs of being a writer.  Though we have never met, her always positive outlook and encouraging words keep me pursuing my love of writing.

Earlier this month, I attended a state conference.  I love presenting at conferences, as I get the opportunity to talk with others about my passion for STEAM and Maker Education.  But with a conference theme of innovative practices, I was grateful to meet some truly remarkable innovators in our field.  Randy Ziegenfuss @ziegeran and Lynn Fuini-Hetten @lfuinihetten shared the awesome work in their school district.  After participating in their podcast earlier this year, it was great to meet in person.  A session on innovative PD with Rich Czyz @RACzyz was a must-see.  High energy and great ideas, meeting Rich was a a highlight of the conference.  I couldn't possibly forget the show-stopper of the conference George Couros @gcouros .  He was incredible!  Honest, inspiring, funny, and encouraging.  It was so great to meet him, after following his work for so many years.

At the conference, I was joined by a team from our district, as well as other educators in our county.  The time spent at the conference strengthened our relationships and allowed us to build new friendships.  Over the course of several days, we talked, learned, and laughed together, which is after all a foundation for a great relationship.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Your Best Self: The Power of a Learning Network

This week I had lunch with a group of teachers from 3 neighboring school districts.  The group is a part of a consortium of educators working in our county to support creativity and innovation in our classrooms.  We had just finished a classroom visit where an eclectic team of teachers planned a lesson together and one implemented it while the co-creators observed.  (Think “lesson study”, but a hacked version that better met the needs of our team.)

The team reflected on the lesson, highlighting the evidence of learning from the students who were engaged in a variety of tasks, all centered on the holidays.  The students collaborated, used technology to research, and discussed their learning.  They persevered through some challenges which resulted in the creation of a cool hands-on project.  Some students succeeded quickly, where others failed and tried again.  Some worked cooperatively, while other worked alone.  Students had voice and choice in where they sat and who they worked with.  It was a very positive visit for all involved, but it was the reflection from the teachers that made it all worth it.  

Over lunch, the team described the way that they worked together as educators.  (This hacked lesson study was a part of a 2 month project with multiple classroom visits.)  They shared how they had texted each other last night with a new twist on the lesson.  They talked about their plans for what they wanted to do next.  They wondered about the possibilities of a classroom swap.  Their enthusiasm was truly infectious!

Keep in mind, these aren’t teachers who knew each other well or were friends outside of this project.  These are teachers from three very different school districts, all teaching completely different subjects and grade levels—elementary, middle school social studies, high school English, and high school biology.  They were assigned to a group to participate in this professional learning endeavor through our consortium, but somehow have come together to become an innovative thinking powerhouse.

The team gushed about the energy they felt during the morning’s lesson.  They marveled over the skills and empowerment that the students demonstrated during the lesson.  They begged (pretty much) to continue working together because they loved the opportunity to visit each other’s classrooms and share insights on how to improve their instruction.  They confessed that they wouldn’t want to work on any other team—that their placement on this team felt so right.  They asked to take on a leadership role within our consortium and were overjoyed at the thought of being able to mentor new teachers coming into the project in the New Year.  They continued to brainstorm ideas and talk about things they wanted to pursue together.  Professional learning is their passion.

As their colleague and “coach”, I am amazed at their drive to become better educators.  I am ecstatic about the possibilities for these teachers to be leaders and learners, but I think one teacher summed it up best when she said:

“When I’m with this team, I’m my best self!”

And that my friends, is the power of a professional learning network.  As you reflect on 2017 and consider what you will accomplish in 2018, I hope that you surround yourself with a team that helps you to become your best self.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

3 Last Minute Gift Ideas for Every Maker

The countdown is on!  Holiday shoppers are beginning to panic!  What last minute gifts are still on your list?  Here are 3 easy, last minute gifts for every young maker.

1.  Create Your Own Maker Kit

Head to the local dollar store.  Spend less than $20 and create a maker kit that every maker with love.
  • craft sticks
  • pipe cleaners
  • balloons
  • plastic cups
  • straws
  • marshmallows
  • tape
  • glue sticks
  • rubber bands
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • playing cards
  • foam shapes/sheets
  • colored pencils
  • aluminum foil
  • play-doh
  • notebook
  • and basket or bin to hold all the stuff !

2.  Children's Books

There are so many great children's books that support creativity and the maker mindset. These are perfect for teachers, parents, and kids!  Check out my website for a full list of books that support STEAM Maker learning K-12, but here are a few amazing ones:

3.  Duct Tape!

Sometimes a cardboard box is better than the present inside.  The box is the gift--the gift of creativity.  So, buy some duct tape and grab some of those Amazon boxes you tossed into the garage.  Build a race car or a rocket ship or a secret hideout--the possibilities are endless!

Happy Making One and All!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Thanks for the PUSH !

As a part of the Compelled Tribe, I am not always the best at keeping up with our goal to blog every month.  OK, I'm pretty bad at that part, but I love reading the blogs of my colleagues from all over the US.  I appreciate our Voxer group and reflect on those conversations often.  It is the support from this group and others in my life for which I am grateful.  They provide the push I often need, even if they don't know it.

The push comes from  colleagues, friends, and family members, too.  It's the encouragement I often need to keep moving forward that think about my next step, personally and professionally which comes in the form of an encouraging word, an friendly text, or a call-out that holds me accountable.

Accountable towards our work, our vision as a school district, and my pursuit of innovation as an educator and learner.

Its even more interesting when push or a nudge comes from a stranger--well not really a stranger but someone who you've never really met.  If you've ever been lucky enough to hear George Couros speak, then you know he can challenge your thoughts and cause you re-imagine your practices.  He nudges people within his talks--well OK sometimes he downright shoves you!  But in a good way.  In a way that makes you momentarily second guess your stance on things and potentially question your practices.

At a recent conference he blatantly tells a group of school and district leaders--if you didn't bring a device to this session, you are making yourself irrelevant!  He goes on to push the audience further and explains that social media is an necessary tool in the world we live in.  Within a few minutes, a superintendent in the audience who vowed never to join Twitter did just that.  She was pushed out of her comfort zone to try something that she didn't consider doing before.  That was a risk for her but one that will surely pay off in the open communication that she will create in her district and within her personal learning network.

While this superintendent shared this news with the group she had a huge smile on her face, but you could see that she was still nervous about taking this leap.  The reality is, we need to use social media in education to connect with others, build relationships, and share our stories.  As school leaders, we need to model social media use for our teachers and students.  George shared insight from a student he worked with who said, "Social media is like water.  You can either let us drown or teach us to swim."

The superintendent in that session is now taking on this responsibility to teach the students and teachers in her district the power of leveraging social media.  It was the push from a stranger that propelled her forward.  It is that same push that often drives me to Persist Until Something Happens.