“Why do I need to reinvent my PLN?”

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Participants discuss digital learning communities in our #educon session.

At Educon this weekend, my friend and colleague Andrew Marcinek and I wanted to talk PLNs. Personal learning networks. Professional learning networks. In conversations together over the past year or so, it had become apparent to us that it was time for a change. Anyone who has participated in learning networks for a significant period of time has likely noticed the “echo chamber” effect or have perhaps found the seemingly identical streams of tweets and links shared on a daily basis relentlessly ungratifying. We felt compelled to discuss how to critically examine, deconstruct, and reinvent your PLN in order to become and remain contributing members of meaningful learning networks.

I was inspired to develop a conversation around this topic by many posts regarding the demise of Twitter, specifically this work shared by Bonnie Stewart about all that is “rotten” in the state of Twitter and one of my favorite posts in recent years from George Siemens who declared his PLN “the most awesomest thing ever!“, asking us to truly think about the ways in which we engage in learning in digital spaces.

The session was live-streamed, so our attentive SLA student assistant, Miriam, kept us posted about the backchannel conversations emerging in the streamed space. One of the earliest questions was from Lisa Durff, who quite frankly inquired at the start of our session:

“Why do I need to reinvent my PLN?”

Andy summarized the highlights of our session in his reflective post here, so I will spare you that account from my perspective, however I’d like to share some of my own reflections and struggles with PLNs and the strategies I will use to be a more engaged participant in my networks. This, perhaps, will help answer the “why” posed above.

I need to think critically about who I follow, and why.

One of our participants asked me how I keep up with the stream of information since I follow 3,000 or so Twitter users. Simple: I don’t keep up with it. Early in my connected experience I was told, you will never read every tweet that comes through your stream, so don’t even bother trying. While I’m not at the point where I will reset my account to “Following Zero” as I know others have done, I will take some time to weed through my following list and unfollow accounts that aren’t adding anything to my learning. Because, as Scott McLeod reflects after Tony Baldasaro’s choice to unfollow folks:

Tony’s post reminds us that social networks are like gardens (thank you, David Warlick). They require some nurturing and, yes, some pruning now and then. Sometimes they may even be like prairies, requiring a full burn to nurture new, positive growth.

Twitter, Google+, Facebook… who I add to my circles, who I connect with, how and with whom I engage in conversations… these are the decisions that will have great impact on my learning. There are people who, when I first followed, seemed to share a lot of information relevant to my work. I now see them as posting mostly self-promotional material and/or pie-in-the-sky quotes and things that honestly make me cringe. I seek to engage with a more diverse network, with a group of people that question and challenge my assumptions, and who inspire me on a daily basis.

I need to consider which platform will help meet both my needs and those of the engaged audience. 

Do I tweet a request for help? RT someone’s shared link? Start a new post in Google+? Use a service like IFTT to cross-post to all of my spaces? Since delving into our comprehensive Google+ tech coaches community for questions, answers, and to share ideas and resources, I can honestly say I’d recommend new users make a relevant Google+ community a major component of their PLN. In fact, during our Educon session, while social media services were not an intended focus, many of the participants wanted to learn more about workflow options, tools like Tweetdeck to make organization of the info a bit easier, and the benefits of using Google+. We somewhat veered from our planned discussion topics at that point, but it’s what the learners wanted to learn.

I need to acknowledge that there are educators brand new to “connecting,” and that my advice to blow up your PLN may not be applicable to newbs. 

I hear that. But, I would be doing those new users a disservice if I wasn’t frank about the time commitment involved in developing a strong PLN, or the truth that inevitably, they will need to reinvent the ways in which they engage. It is important not to sugarcoat this experience because someone just sent out their first tweet. I don’t want new users to be deluded into thinking their PLN will a) grow quickly and effectively and require little effort to get started b) last forever exactly as is and c) offer the same quality of resources and support day in and day out. It’s not going to happen. If your engagement with your PLN is exactly the same as it was three years ago- if your relationships with those in your network haven’t evolved or the platforms you use haven’t caused you to reconsider how you contribute and when – then kudos to you, you don’t need to reinvent your PLN. I don’t think many of us can claim that’s true. So while I will continue to support and hopefully inspire those new to the experience, I will also be honest about what lies ahead, the good and the bad.

How about you? What challenges do you face as a connected educator, learning in networked spaces? The more we discuss the dilemmas surrounding quality participation in learning networks, the more meaningful our contributions can be for one another. Thanks for learning with me.

Live with intent.

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In 2013 I wrote about Beginnings. Last year, I shared my desire to Embrace the everything in my world.

One Little Word.

The past few weeks have been quite contemplative for me, both professionally and personally. I don’t know what 2015 holds, although I hope it will involve a lot of growing and change. I’m eager for new adventures and challenges. Decisions will be made and futures shaped. There will be smiles, love, frustrations, fear, and exhaustion. I’ll travel and collaborate and meet new people and help current relationships thrive. I want to make more, be more, write more, feel more, give more.

All of that is possible if I feel and act with intent. 

In 2015, I will be intentional with my words and actions.

It’s easy to get in a rut. To go through the motions. To be a creature of habit. To say things you don’t mean. It’s much more difficult to act intentionally in order to bring more positivity and excitement and challenge and joy to life.

Intent.

Wishing you all a magical 2015!

 

It changes us.

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I remember the moment in time when I learned how to copy and paste.

My parents bought our family an Apple IIGS when I was in junior high school. It was our first personal computer. It was the device on which I learned to word process.

As early I can remember, I wrote stories. I filled journals and spiral-bound notebooks. But access to this device changed me. It changed my writing. I developed skills formerly unknown to me. I needed those skills to adjust to the medium. I wrote more fluently. I mastered keyboarding. (Shockingly without the use of a formal typing program, I was just motivated to learn to type fluently so I could write and create, go figure.)

When I hear, “It’s not about the technology, it’s about what we do with it,” I agree and disagree. It’s not about the tool specifically. But it is. It’s about how it changes us. How it changes the process. The product. The questions. The answers. How we find information. How we learn to understand what is relevant and real and what is crap. These shifts are because of the technology. Because of the tools with which we choose to interact.

It’s about what it can help us become. More fluent writers. Risk-takers. Creators. Sharers. Activists. Educators. Learners.

It’s about how it can help us help others. How it gives voice to the voiceless. How it brings people together in times of adversity and in times of celebration.

To deny our students of discovering who they could become… how they could invent… how they could make an idea or thing come to life… that isn’t okay, especially not if it’s just because we’re too busy with test prep or traditional models of classroom instruction or doing things as we’ve always done because that’s how we do it. That doesn’t allow for the kind of autonomy and questioning and discussion and reinventing that our kids deserve.

It’s about the choices we make with technologies. About how we choose to use them to communicate. To publish. To interact with others. Our kids deserve the chance to make those choices. To understand those choices. To have guidance with those choices.

It changes our present, it changes our futures.

Being a connected educator has changed me. It has caused me to understand things I never before understood. It provides a glimpse into the perspectives of people and groups of people that in my unconnected life I did not previously know.

But after years of connecting, it’s caused me to become jaded, too. I’m not likely to become easily excited about a new tool. I cringe when I hear the words “personalized learning” used in conjunction with technology and schools and children. Children. 

So, it is about the tools. It’s about how they change us. It’s about how we are vulnerable when learning about the roles they can and should play in our lives. In our kids’ lives. So we should help them learn and take command of the tools. To create, not just consume. To interact significantly and meaningfully and respectfully. And we should act on their behalf when systems or companies or organizations or people try to impose uninspired, one-size-fits-all uses for technology.

Ramblings of a sometimes blogger.

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When you blog, you eventually self-impose schedules and deadlines for posting, and having a nearly-two month lull in posts can really make you wonder, What’s the point? Why am I writing, anyway?

Because I’m a blogger, and a writer, and it’s what I do, albeit inconsistently. We blog to reflect, to share, to celebrate, to question, to converse about things that are important to us.

We just wrapped up a somewhat frantic and frazzled start to the school year. I’m sure many of you experienced the same.

The sweet:

  • After our initial surveys with BrightBytes, findings show our district is moving in the right direction in terms of using technology to support learning. Our teacher beliefs about the positive impacts of educational technology are high, access is good, and we are working towards better implementation of programs and practices to ensure our students and teachers are creators, not just consumers, of digital information.
  • I’ve been able to work with many classes this fall getting students started with their new Edublogs accounts. (Teachers, too). We’re still working through the organization of it all (our kids share teachers so in some ways it can get tricky organizing the Edublogs “Classes”), but I think we’re making progress. This has helped me reflect on blogging as an educational practice, which I’ve done many times before. As much as I want every student and teacher to see the value in blogging, it’s not going to happen immediately. And some kids are just never going to click with the medium. I’ve come to realize, that’s okay. But then, I spend time with a third grader, one who’s struggled with literacy since I first met him in kindergarten, and to see him be so entranced with his own writing space that he spends an hour writing a post about each season of the year, then asks me to spell the months of the year on his whiteboard so he has them handy later to write about all of the months of the year- that was kind of magical. His eyes sparkled and he was so excited to share his learning in this way. That’s why I continue sharing different methods for exploring and sharing learning. If I can impact one teacher, one student — then it’s an #eduwin. What are your favorite resources for supporting blogging in the classroom?
  • I found some fun new things to use. Like Workflowy. And Paper. And Write About. I trashed some accounts, like Foursquare and Jolicloud. #digitalcleanup What are your favorite recent finds for productivity and creation?

The sour:

  • New, new, new. New content providers. New rotational learning “model” and frameworks and coaches and consultants. New devices with a steep learning curve. New teachers and teams. New students. New frustrations and findings and forehead-smacking.
  • I’m still noticing a huge disconnect between the business of “tech” and the business of teaching and learning. Communication lines are frazzled, crossed, or nonexistent. They need to be repaired. That starts with leadership. Students-come-first-leadership-soaked-in-humility.

Celebrations:

  • The Hour of Code is quickly approaching, and I’m excited that we’re involving students Gr. 1-8 in programming activities through Code.org as well as Tynker. Last year was our students’ first introduction to programming activities in school through HOC, and sparks were definitely ignited.
  • Learning Forward’s third edition of Powerful Designs for Professional Learning will be published in the coming weeks, and I contributed a chapter featuring the use of social media and networks for learning. I’ll be in Nashville at Learning Forward’s annual conference sharing the key ideas from my chapter at a pre-conference workshop. If you’re coming to the conference, join us!
  • We are wrapping up our last week of the educational leadership in the digital age ecourse through Powerful Learning Practice. I’m so glad to connect with dedicated educators like Rhonda, Nicole, Tony, and Rachel, who’ve contributed so much to my learning over the past five weeks.

Despite my blogging hiatus, I think of this space in many passing moments. It’s a place I feel comfortable reflecting, even if in recent years it’s become a place where I post less frequently. I also post to our elem tech blog regularly, so when I feel like I’m slacking off here, I think, Hey, at least I posted in that space!

How do you stay motivated to write and share throughout the busy school year? Are there any blogging challenges coming up that could help encourage you to post regularly? I’m kind of intrigued by this Blogging from A-Z challenge and might give it a try.

Happy learning.
Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

First steps at protecting students’ privacy.

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I admit that at one point in time I was one of those educators who allowed students to sign into a site using a teacher’s credentials in order to gain access, for example, some of our intermediate students used Prezi for project work and signed in under the same generic Gmail account maintained by the teacher.

Nope:

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Over the past two years, however, thanks to the work of Audrey Watters, Bill Fitzgerald, and many others, maintaining the privacy and protecting my students online has become one of my main priorities as elementary technology coach. Prompted by a statewide communication last year from the education solicitors, our district set to work on making sure that parents were informed and involved in the decisions to allow their children to have accounts established at various educational websites and productivity services.

My scope is elementary, so I read a lot of Terms of Service/Terms of Use and privacy policies to make sure that our kids are even permitted to click on the website let alone establish accounts there. For example, we had been using Today’s Meet to organize classroom conversations in some of our intermediate classes. “No accounts are required, great!” was my initial reaction, and it worked well. I used it with staff in meetings, and I loved the ease and simplicity of use. Dig deeper, read its Terms of Use, and you’ll see that students under the age of 13 are not permitted to use Today’s Meet. Thus, I advise teachers to no longer use this service with elementary students, and it’s not on our approved list of educational websites for students <13 years old.

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Let me please say that following are our initial steps in helping parents and teachers become more informed and involved in matters of student privacy and data use as it relates to educational service/website use. In no way is our procedure perfect. We need to continually work at improving this system to help ensure parents and students can be advocates for the way children’s privacy is maintained throughout their school careers (and lives). We also use  resources shared by Common Sense Media about privacy and protection to help students understand their rights as digital consumers and creators.

Due to COPPA language, we target our request for permissions to students under 13 years of age, which covers all of our elementary students as well as  a good number of seventh graders in our middle school. (However we really need to consider how we are informing all parents and community members, K-12 and beyond.) In opening week paperwork, parents receive this informational letter (modeled after the letter drafted for us by our solicitors), a consent form requiring parent signature, and the list of district-approved educational websites and productivity services where the child may have an account established. Not all teachers utilize all services on the list nor are they available to all students K-7, but we decided to compile them all on one list for ease of distribution. Parents receive a hard copy of the list in the fall, and we maintain this living list on this district site. If the district approves a new website for use, I update the living sheet and we send home an additional parent permission form to those students who will use the site. Homeroom teachers collect the forms and note any students who have not returned the consent form and forms are compiled/logged in the main office of each building. In the future we hope to integrate the logging of these forms electronically via our SIS and/or allow parents to consent via the parent information portal, but we’re not there yet. Parents are encouraged to contact building principals if they choose to opt out and/or if they have questions involving the educational use of any of the websites. They can choose to opt out of one or more services if they so desire. Learning accommodations are made for students who cannot interact with a digital service.

It’s a start. We still need to provide more parent and teacher education on the specifics of student data and privacy to help them protect their children in all elements of online and mobile interactions, not just their educational website use, which is supervised by caring teachers and school personnel.

I think it’s time we need to reign in our overzealous enthusiasm about the latest and greatest ed tech products and services. I get it. Shiny new things are cool and so are interactive websites and gee, the kids really are going to love it so I’m just going to set them up with usernames and passwords and let’s give it a try! I know, I know. We’re telling you to integrate and be all up in 21st century skills and now we’re warning you about doing so. Shame on us.

Just be smart. Read terms of use and privacy policies. Ask for help if the terms are so full of jargon and nonsense you can’t make heads or tails of the meaning. Be the adult. Inform and involve parents in decisions. Get your administrators informed, because sad to say, they’re likely not the most informed bunch when it comes to student data and privacy.

Protecting students’ data and privacy is becoming increasingly difficult every day, but that’s no excuse for not taking steps to do so.

It starts with you!

Whats and whys and whos and hows.

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The first two weeks of school have been a whirlwind. I think typically that is the case, no matter what role you play in education. But I also think the beginning of the school year is the time when you and your students, your faculties and administrators, deserve to exist in a calm enough state of mind that you can start to build key relationships with one another in order to create the strongest possible start to the school year.

In the world of educational technology, when things are implemented without thorough planning, with inconsistent procedures, and with little thought to how things will impact actual classroom practices and the lives of teachers and students, you run the risk of raining on the parade of the eager teachers and students who are bustling with excitement and giddy energies the first few weeks of school, not to mention completely stressing everyone out.

I’m not interested in rehashing the specifics of the types of hiccups we’re encountering as we embark on several new adventures in adding new content providers, changing the way we manage rosters and accounts in certain systems, and attempt to provide professional development to teachers. Every school system in the midst of changes and new implementations is going to hit some rough patches. But there are definitely some essential elements of the planning and implementation process that, if neglected, can lead to major frustrations for all educators and students involved. These are the things I’ve been reflecting on this week.

This post is not going to contain a textbook-style list here’s-what-to-do-when-you’re-a-school-leader-in-charge-of-planning-stuff.

Rather it contains a common-sense-just-stop-and-think-about-what-you’re-doing-for-one-second kind of a list.

Questions to ask yourself when you decide to implement a new instructional technology initiative (or any initiative, really) in your district, school, classroom, or school community:

What do you plan to accomplish?

Have a clear goal. Have a purpose. It should be actionable.

Why?

Make sure that purpose is connected to an actual need in the world of teaching and learning. Not just in your mind- in reality, according to established needs of your district, schools, classrooms. You should probably consult with people who are in the “trenches” to find out what those needs truly are. There should probably be some kind of established system for doing so.

Who is going to be involved?

Think beyond yourself, your department. Who is going to be impacted by this implementation? ON EVERY LEVEL? Who’s going to have to deal with the fall out if things don’t go smoothly? Whose learning lives are going to be impacted? Whose voices should be included in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages? Who will be encouraged to speak freely if things are not going well? Who will be celebrated when things do go well?

How?

How will the goal be accomplished? What steps will be taken to ensure ts are crossed and is are dotted? What’s the timeline, and is it realistic? Or are things going to be sprung on teachers/students/admin at the last minute? How are problems going to be addressed in a streamlined, timely manner? How are all of your stakeholders going to know that they will be supported throughout the change and implementation process? How are ideas and implementations going to be communicated? How is the effectiveness of the initiative going to be evaluated?

Yes, take risks. Yes, try new and exciting things every single day, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. But think carefully about the whats, whys, whos, and hows, and how every decision we make ultimately impacts one, two, five, twenty, hundreds, and potentially thousands of other educators, students, and school community members.

 

Photo Credit: appropos via Compfight cc

Blink and it’s over.

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As a parent, I’m learning so much. Every day is a new adventure, and each day brings a new series of understandings and mistakes and opportunities and regrets. All of these experiences help me grow as a mother.

Today I looked around our living room and did a mental inventory of the cars, trucks, Legos, puzzles, stuffed animals, and books strewn about the room. I noticed my son was playing with a puzzle that I bought for him when he was only 8 or 9 months old, and now, at 21 months, he seems to really enjoy.

“Why did I buy that for him so long ago?” I wondered. “Why did I think he needed to rush into completing puzzles at such a young age?”

I thought next about the riding toys, wiffle ball bats, plastic bowling set and other outdoor play things outside on the porch. I remember when he received one of the riding toys how excited I was to watch him ride around on it. That was months ago, and he still isn’t that interested in riding around like I thought he might be.

Sometimes I think, “I can’t wait until he is older so he can do this or ride on the rides at the amusement park or hold a conversation with me.” And sure, those moments will be thrilling, but why am I wishing away the present? Too often, I am looking ahead, excited about the possibilities of his future, thereby neglecting to appreciate the now.

We do this in schools with our students, too. We’re constantly focused on what’s next instead of appreciating and acknowledging what’s going on right now, in front of us. 

When kindergartners arrive, we focus on what they need to learn and be able to do so that they’re prepared for first grade. We don’t spend enough time cherishing them as 5 and 6-year old children, who bring a wealth of experiences with them, who desire to learn in new ways, ways that are appropriate for their right now, not for their next year.

When students move into the later elementary grades, we focus on preparing them for middle school. We need to ability group/switch for content/make them use a binder/complete projects this way/organize everything the way middle school would in order to prepare them for their futures. The same happens in middle school, high school, and even the collegiate level.

Am I saying we shouldn’t prepare kids to be successful in the next phases of their lives or not to challenge them? Of course not. But in doing so, in stressing what’s next, in allowing ourselves to succumb to the pressures of needing our kids to be more than what they are, we neglect to honor the needs of those children who sit in front of us presently.

As the school year begins, I challenge you to truly see who sits in front of you. To get to know and love each of your students, find out what they need presently, serve them graciously, and reap the rewards from the time you have to spend together.

I’m going to keep snuggling my baby as long as he’ll allow me to. When I’m exhausted, and my back hurts, and when I don’t want to carry him up the stairs, I’ll remember that at the moment, he needs me to hold him, and that one day, I won’t have that luxury.

 

Blogging for learning.

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This year, we are using Edublogs K-12 in our district. We’ve had only a few short weeks to introduce teachers to the platform officially (and some teachers may not lay eyes on it until after school officially opens), but many are up and running with their own sites. These teacher sites will be used to communicate with families and the rest of the school community, as well as facilitate blogging practices within the classroom. Our next step is to add student blogs to the My Class feature and get busy blogging!

When I think about blogging in schools, I envision communities where kids fluently use their spaces to reflect on learning, share with one another, post project work, ask questions, think critically, engage in conversation around one another’s ideas, and connect globally with peers. This isn’t always the reality, though. We might embark on the blogging adventure, gung-ho and full of enthusiasm about the possibilities, only to become easily drained by the day in and day out must-dos that zap our creative energies and cause us to fall back on what’s comfortable, what’s mundane. How can we keep the passion for documenting our learning alive and make the most of this powerful platform we’re given?

Last fall, I shared this bit about blogging while I was thinking through our blogging goals for the year. Some of our classes enjoyed many successes with blogging last year. Others dabbled, and still others didn’t include any type of blogging activities in the classroom. As the tech integrator, what are my next steps to help teachers feel comfortable with, and see the value in, this practice? Here’s what I’m thinking:

1. Show teachers what blogs can do to support learning. Provide a variety of examples of classroom and student blogs and blogfolios in action. Help teachers appreciate that the blog is a highly versatile platform through which students can document FOR learning, as described and illustrated by Silvia Tolisano here:

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Image from Silvia Tolisano @langwitches

2. Get the leaders on board. And hands-on. As far as I am aware, none of our district administrators actively blog, either as a form of home-school communication or as professional practice. The impact of a digital age leader on his teachers, students, and school community cannot be underestimated. When leaders model, practice, and share these methods, it sets the example for the rest of the school community that this type of sharing, learning, and communication is valued.

3. Make sure teachers are comfortable with the technical ins and outs of the platform early on, so their energies and efforts can be focused on planning for learning.  Edublogs and WordPress dashboards can be pretty mind-numbing to someone who is new to the platform. Once familiarized with the themes, menus, and settings, however, it’s a breeze to publish new posts and keep pages updated. I’ll front-load support in this area to help teachers conquer any techno-fears they have that might prevent them from digging deeper and planning to include blogging activities on a regular basis.

4. Help students own it. We must relinquish control to the learner whenever possible. Over blog themes, page heading, posting topics,widgets and styles, integrated blogging activities, with whom and how they connect to comment and engage in conversation, and how they document and share what they’ve learned. Give kids choice, promote their voices, and empower them as autonomous, responsible readers and writers. If I had someone constantly looking over my shoulder telling me I could or couldn’t post something on my blog, or that an idea wasn’t good enough to share publicly, or I needed to address every misspelling or grammatical error in my post to the point where it interfered with my creative flow, I’d probably grow weary of blogging, too.

5. Get classrooms connected. Try as I might, I don’t have enough time in the day to comment on every elementary classroom’s blogs. I wish I did! Helping teachers connect their students with others through Quadblogging, The Global Read Aloud, and #comments4kids will help amplify our students’ voices and forge lasting relationships with other students, teachers, and learning communities.

6. Support and inspire. After the initial honeymoon is over, teachers will likely be looking for ways for students to use their blogs more creatively, to make thinking visible. I’d love to see our kids develop their spaces into digital portfolios which can then be shared at student-led conferences. I will be sharing many resources from Silvia Tolisano, whose work on blogging I consider to be among the best, and from Sue Waters and the Edublogger community.

I’d love for you to share in the comments your advice for how I can best support teachers with blogging this year, as well as any go-to resources you have to inspire students and staff! 

Photo Credit: Search Engine People Blog via Compfight cc

Look back, look ahead.

Image via I Can Read

Image via I Can Read

I hope everyone is enjoying a beautiful summer! I’ve been relishing time with my family and friends and having more opportunities to read (lots of fiction!), work on passion projects, and reflect on my learning here. And, full disclosure: watch plenty of reality TV.  In my last post I shared some reflections from my first year in an instructional tech integrator’s role. Using these End of Year Reflection Questions from Elena Aguilar, here are some of my thoughts about work to be done this summer and my hopes for next school year.

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Relationships and Communication

Last year I think I did an adequate job of establishing relationships with teachers with whom I had not previously collaborated, but my efforts could be much improved in this area. By asking teachers to share their visions for how technology can support their classroom activities, by encouraging them to be open about their strengths and needs, and just by being present, I hope to strengthen relationships with classroom teachers.

Quite honestly, another relationship that needs to be improved is that between the instructional technology team and the district technology team. Last year, the secondary tech integrator, assistant superintendent and I met regularly to discuss instructional tech topics and what we needed to happen to support teaching and learning in our realm. While I am not the biggest fan of meetings, I will say that these meetings were productive and powerful. Why? For a few reasons. The agendas were built by the participants, using Google docs. We documented notes, celebrations, to dos, and our needs. Also, the meetings were very focused and Tim and I felt like we could speak our minds and were 100% supported by our amazing assistant superintendent. The purpose of these collaborative sessions was to ensure that the learning drives our decisions with technology – not that the tech drives what we do in our classrooms. On occasion, the technology director attended these meetings if we had to discuss the technical side of things or software/hardware specifics. He also held weekly tech team meetings with his department (the technicians) and the tech integrators had an open invitation. Because these meetings were held at a time where the elementary students were still in session, I often was booked to teach lessons or be with teachers during that time. For that reason, I barely attended any of those tech meetings. My secondary tech integrator colleague kept me up to date with what was discussed and shared any questions I had with the team if I couldn’t be present. I am very thankful that Tim was willing to attend these meetings and keep me in the loop. So, we continue to need to establish an open and honest forum where both departments are willing to listen and acknowledge the needs of the other, yet ultimately decisions need to be made based on what is best for teaching and learning, with teacher, administrator, and integrator input; not based on what is convenient or preferred by the technology department.

As I quickly realized when I was a principal, effective communication is truly one of the essential ingredients of powerful leadership. Communication needs to be timely, two-way, respectful, and address the needs of everyone involved in the conversations.

I will continue teaching digital citizenship lessons to students district-wide next year, so I need to embrace the enormous task of building relationships with kids whom I only will work with a small handful of times/year. I need to try to get to know something about each and every one of them. This is difficult! When you’re not localized to a building, and you work with hundreds of kids, this is an overwhelming task! But not an impossible one.

In August I’ll have the chance to meet with new teachers during our Induction sessions. This will be a great opportunity for me to introduce myself, my role, and share with new teachers how I can support their work and their students.

Next School Year

Shifts

I will spend more time in classrooms. I will spend less time in the office.

I will spend more time teaching in team meetings. I will spend less time emailing ideas to teachers.

Our grades 1 and 6 are shifting to a hybrid instructional model next year. This will be a huge adjustment for many teachers, particularly in grade 1. These classes will be working in a 1:1 environment with either tablet devices or laptops. I will definitely be spending a lot of time in these two grade levels helping teachers and students learn how to fluidly use the devices to support learning throughout the day, whether in direct instruction rotations or during independent learning time. While students are in their collaborative rotations, I want to help teachers design opportunities that promote true collaboration and not simply partner-work. And I want to promote the importance of giving students the chance to create and build and produce and present and reflect on the ideas they’re learning.

We’re using Edublogs K-12 this year for teacher and student blogging. I really, truly want teachers to embrace blogging as an integral platform for sharing learning and reflecting in their classrooms. I have high hopes we can make this happen with time and demonstration and application of the use of blogs. Please share with me your best ideas for blogging in the classroom, and for teachers to use for home-school communication!

There was talk of establishing an elementary makerspace at one of our schools this year. I’d love to see that come to fruition! Would love to hear any ideas/resources/must-dos you have to share!

My Professional Learning

I’m going to need to learn more about the tablets being used in Grade 1. I’m still not sure what device they’ll be using, but I know it won’t be iPads, so I have some quick learning to do so I can adequately support teachers and students.

I’d like to continue working through the Google for Education training programs and perhaps if time allows, try for a future GTA.

I have lots of prep and learning to do for upcoming conferences and sessions I’ll be facilitating. The focus of many of those sessions is on professional development.

Who do I want to be next year? What personal commitments will I make?

For those in my school, I want to known as an available, knowledgeable, fun, and trusted resource. At home, I want to be present. Unless absolutely necessary, I won’t pull out the laptop during the evening hours for work-related tasks. It’s important to me to dedicate time at home to my son and family. I want to hone skills and form habits that will help me be a better wife and mother. I want to find time for me, working out, long walks, whatever I need to be a happy and healthy me. And I want to stay crafty and keep working on family memory keeping, Project Life albums, and second birthday party planning :)

I have high hopes that this coming school year will be a rewarding one. Wishing you the same!

The first year.

Image via icanread

Image via icanread

This year marked the fifteenth (gak!) in my career in education, so it’s nice that I still have the opportunity to reflect upon firsts. As time passes, many of us transition into new and exciting roles, and the 13-14 school year was one of those for me.

I accepted the position of elementary instructional technology integrator for our district after my son was born last school year. I had no desire to attempt to balance the demands of new motherhood with the likely-more-insane-and-less-fun demands of being an elementary principal, so I resigned at the end of my maternity leave. (People often ask me if I miss administration. That is a terribly phrased question. I do not miss administration. Do I miss being the principal? Every now and then. I miss kid time and -some- decision-making authority.)

My current role is to support the teachers and students of three elementary schools in our district. I have a “base” in each of the three schools, and spend my work days each week traveling to the three buildings. I commute a decent distance so I will say one of the lows of this position is all of the driving that is involved. I dislike commuting immensely, so I need to devise a plan to make that time more worthwhile. Perhaps a Voxer podcast? :) I also end up schlepping around my belongings from place to place, thus my cart and I have become intimately acquainted this year. (And for the record, I really need one of these. Cords are pesky.)

To guide my reflections on this year, I’m using some questions shared by Elena Aguilar in her collection of coaching tools  (also check out her post, Reflecting on a Year of Learning for more great tips on the reflection process). I uploaded her Questions for reflecting on a year of learning document here in Google Drive for you to access. It’s available in Word in her post.

My reflections go a little something like this.

This Year

This year I crafted the role of the elementary tech integrator kind of from scratch, as it did not previously exist in our district, although my job description mirrored that of our secondary tech integrator. I spent time getting to know the teachers and students at each building. I made sure certain online accounts were up and running, such as those for Kidblog and Qwertytown. I devoted a good deal of time to curating and sharing resources. I used Google Forms for record keeping purposes, to easily track the grade levels, teachers, students and teams I worked with, as well as the different topics and tools that I coached/provided tutorials and/or direct instruction. My summary of responses indicated that I spent a lot of time working with grades 3-6 and less time in the primary grades. Reflecting on that, our Grades 4-6 students learn in a 1:1 setting and therefore have more opportunities for fluent tech use on a daily basis, where the primary classes typically share devices and/or utilize the computer labs for project work. Google Apps for Ed accounts begin in grade 3, and I completed numerous lessons and push-in support for students and teachers on GAFE topics this year. I worked 1:1 with a number of teachers, supporting their classroom endeavors, and also with specific grade levels supporting needs as requested. I had the opportunity to push into a grade five classroom during their Genius Hour project work time for a handful of hours, and the students really inspired me with their questions, thinking, and project work! Also this year I finalized the K-6 technology integration framework that is built on ISTE Standards for Students, and I worked with the secondary tech integrator, the mighty Tim, to write Spartan Digital Competencies for Teachers based on ISTE Standards for Teachers. This will be used in conjunction with our teacher evaluation system to provide teachers with the opportunity to set goals and make plans to integrate technology meaningfully into their practice and classroom activities. I worked through the Common Sense Media scope and sequence and instructed students in grades 3-6 on various lessons from that framework, and also met with our computer lab personnel to help them roll out these lessons in their settings as well. Throughout the year I developed and presented sessions during our elementary in-service days. We learned more about blogging with students, incorporating Google Drive into classroom activities, digital storytelling projects, and formative assessment with digital tools. Tim and I co-planned the end of year “Tech Day” for all K-12 staff, which was held on the last day of school. We received some really positive feedback about the structure of the day and the sessions offered! I also ended up assuming the role of overseeing some of the district’s social media channels.

I’d like to think I made a positive impact this first year. I noticed an increase in use of many of the digital tools our district offers, and I received some complimentary feedback on a personal level from a number of teachers. That being said, I didn’t reach as many people as I could have. I didn’t “push” enough and perhaps didn’t make myself as available as possible. My hope is that now that my position is well established, folks will think of me sooner than later next year, and eagerly ask for my input and help when needed. What I learned about adult learners is that they want relevant, timely resources. They want to be coached in a way that does not belittle them or make them feel as though the skills they already have are not important. Teachers will not plan to use technology/devices/tools that are unreliable. There is nothing more defeating than getting psyched up to take a risk and try something new in your classroom, and then have a huge fail: device fail, network fail, battery fail, whatever. What I learned about students is that they want to talk about their digital interactions and their lives using technology. Even our youngest learners are using technology in ways that can be powerful, yet many are subscribed to services and using apps and platforms that are collecting their data and using their personally identifiable information, and they’re doing so without a parent’s permission or without some adult in their life looking over their activities. That makes me nervous and further solidifies to me that we, as educators, need to model for our students what it means to be a critical, wise, healthy, and kind consumer and creator in the digital age.

As I spent a lot of time locating, curating, and sharing resources for my teachers and school community, I can share evidence such as my Elementary Tech Integrator blog, Tech Tidbits issues made on Smore, and family newsletters. I also created instructional materials to accompany the Common Sense Media digital citizenship lessons we taught in grades 3-6 and became a Common Sense Media Certified Educator this year. I presented with some of our district support staff at a Title 1 parent conference at our IU to share family-focused digital citizenship resources.

In the connected edusphere, I had the opportunity to write a chapter for an upcoming Learning Forward publication, presented at FETC, PETE & C, and several webinars for Simple K-12. I facilitated another successful Educational Leadership in the Digital Age course for PLP (hoping to run another section in the fall, if you’re interested!) and next year I am slated to attend and present at Edscape, the Learning Forward conference, and integratED PDX.

This Summer

Truthbomb: this summer I am going to spend a lot of time with my ridiculously handsome and personable toddler and family and a lot of time at the beach! My position is a teacher contracted position and thus I am no longer a 12-month employee. I am scheduled to work a handful of days in the summer months, which will include

  • Attending IU13’s e-Learning Revolution conference next week, presenting on digital age professional development on day 2 and the Bucks-Lehigh Edusummit in August to share about elem. tech integration
  • Providing a day of training for staff with our new district blogs through Edublogs/Campuspress!
  • Continuing to update the Elem Tech Integrator blog and sharing resources with staff
  • Working with our grades 1 and 6 teams who are transitioning to a hybrid instructional model next year
  • Reading Invent to Learn and putting some ideas together for an elementary makerspace
  • Continuing to moderate the Instructional Technology Integrators and Coaches Google+ community
  • Capturing family moments in thousands of photos and videos, using Day One to journal our special time together, and working on my Project Life 2014 album

No matter what your role this year, take some time to reflect. You’ll be surprised at how this process allows you to see how much you’ve learned, the ways in which you contributed to your learning community, and the things you need to do to improve and grow professionally to make an even more lasting impact in years to come. This post is certainly worthy of a TLDR tag, and I know I didn’t articulate all of the ways in which I served my district this year, but this reflective process is truly a powerful one.

In my next post, I’ll tackle the final two sections of Aguilar’s reflection guide: what I hope to accomplish come August/Fall and Next School Year. Stay tuned!