Category Archives: Off Topic?

My school

I don’t think I ever really talk a lot about the school in which I work. Part of this is because I have found that I live in a bubble – a bubble of high technology use, of 21st century classrooms, and of truly great teachers. I find that it is difficult to explain my school to others – it is far easier to show them.

In that spirit, I’m sharing a video that was made at our school on Friday before Winter Break. It shows our school spirit and a glimpse of what makes our school unique. It is a public school. Students are chosen randomly by lottery – there are no prerequisites for being selected. Yet our school outperforms many others, simply because of the atmosphere of high expectations we set and the relevance of the learning experience.


Ten friends on a camping trip

As an instructional technology specialist, part of my job is to conduct training for the teachers new to our campus. This week, we have had 20+ teachers at the school learning all kinds of things from campus culture to using technology in the classroom.

Much of that time has been spent together, sitting in a room and listening, sitting in a room and participating, sitting in separate rooms and backchanneling, etc.

My daughter and I watched a movie this week called All About Steve. Our favorite quote from the movie is this “I wear them because it makes my toes feel like ten friends on a camping trip.” This statement was made in reference to a bright pair of red boots worn by the lead character, played by Sandra Bullock.

Why did I just mention that? I was thinking this morning about that quote (my daughter posted it as her status on Facebook yesterday evening), and realized that I couldn’t let Cruel Shoes go without having that quote mentioned somewhere.

How does it relate to new teacher training? Part of the reason new teacher training is so vital is because of the bonding that begins during this week of summer, where 20 or so teachers – some of them beginning their very first year of teaching – are thrown together, like friends on a camping trip. They are building a shared experience that will continue throughout their employment at our school, and in some cases, throughout their lives.

Is it possible to create that same kind of environment in our classrooms? One in which every day seems to be an adventure and our students bond through shared experiences, even when those experiences are difficult?

Camp on!

Reflections: Blog Challenge

Lee Kolbert, who is a blogger, STAR Discovery Educator, a Discovery Educator Network Guru, co-host of Palm Breeze Cafe (an EdTech television show) and great teacher, wrote a guest blogger article for the blog, Teacher Tech, where she challenged bloggers to take a look at their last 15 articles to determine where their blog is headed. I read the article and decided to take the challenge.

When I first started Cruel Shoes, my intention was that it would be a blog for and about teachers who are in their first years of teaching. I wanted it to be a place where some of the truths about teaching could be revealed so that new teachers would go into their classrooms with their eyes open and not be disillusioned by what they found there – so that they might stay in the profession.

I enjoyed writing about these truths, but trying to come up with interesting philosophical articles about the first years of being a teacher turned out to me more difficult than I thought. My blog evolved into more of a blog about educational philosophy in general, as well as a showcase for tech tools and tips that I learn as I journey through my teaching experience.

When I did the review of my last 15 blog entries, I found that seven of them had to do with my current crusade – Going Paperless. Four had to do with something specific to new teachers, although most of those could have some information for all teachers. Two of the posts were nothing but commentary – my take on an educational issue. One specifically talked about technology tools.

My blog has taken on an eclectic nature, which is logical considering that it is being written by me. I can’t say that I’m disappointed that my blog has evolved – I’m excited about the possibilities, and unlike the title of my blog, I’m feeling quite comfortable with how it fits.

It’s That Time of Year . . .

This is the time of year when everyone has either signed a contract for the coming year or let their principal know they will not be coming back. This means the opportunities for moving into a teaching job that is a better fit for you are most abundant.

New teachers often find themselves “settling” for a job that hasn’t quite been what they had hoped for because they are afraid they won’t be able to find anything better. They sign their contract in April and think they are locked in for another year. The fact is, most districts have cut-off dates up to which you can still get out of that contract without penalties. If you are not feeling quite right about the teaching job you have, be aware of that date and do something about it!

The most important factor you should consider as you are thinking about your teaching gig is “does this job make me happy?” If there are things your school/district asks you to do that go against your fundamental beliefs, you may need to look elsewhere. If there are elements of the school experience that are missing and that you feel passionately should be there for your students, you may need to look elsewhere (and/or try to convince administration to facilitate the inclusion of those things). If the administration at your school or district doesn’t seem to back you up with regards to discipline, you may want to look elsewhere.

You will definitely want to look elsewhere if your administration is asking you to do something that you believe compromises teacher ethics. I have a teacher friend who had to leave his school for that specific reason. Don’t fall into that slippery slope. If the administration is asking you to do something that you believe is wrong, it’s time to move on.

The bottom line is, don’t settle. Young/new teachers often don’t realize that not all schools are created equal. If you have considered leaving teaching altogether, but haven’t given other learning environments a try, you are not only cheating yourself, you are cheating the students whose lives you would have impacted had you stayed in the profession.

Edutopia has a good article with tips for finding your dream teaching job. Another great resource is other teachers. Try to establish a good network of teachers from other schools. Talk to them about what they like or don’t like about their school or district. Look into teaching at an academy or magnet school, which are often more cutting-edge than traditional schools. Some teachers find their niche in private schools. Others may find that virtual teaching is the thing for them.

Give it a shot – you deserve to be happy.

I’m It! The 7 Things Meme

I watched the 7 things meme running about the eduverse and wondered if I would get tagged. I wondered if I wanted to get tagged. I wondered what I’d say if I were tagged. Well, thanks to Jen Dorman (cliotech), I’m it, so here goes. First, I’ll add the obligatory explanation for those of you who have never heard of the 7 things meme, then I’ll blurt as is often my practice, seven things about myself. Because I am writing this as fast as possible without thinking, I am likely to learn something about myself in the process.

Participants in the online community affectionately known as the “Eduverse” have begun “tagging” fellow members to invite them to post a list of “7 Little-Known Facts” about themselves to their blog. On sites such as Twitter and Plurk, members of the Eduverse PLN (professional learning network or personal learning network) are reaching out to each other to go deeper than the ordinary, professional issues to reveal more personal information.
Here are the rules for this game:
• Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
• Share seven facts about yourself in the post – some random, some weird.
• Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
• Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

Seven Things About Me:

1. I learned to read and do simple addition and subtraction before I started kindergarten. Back then, kindergarten was a half day of coloring and learning how to make X’s and stars. I was dreadfully bored but thankfully there was one other girl like me in the class and my teacher, although she must have been about a hundred years old, was forward-thinking enough to pair us together for some differentiated learning.

2. I was 42 years old before I ever saw an ocean. Some people in the eduverse already know this because they were on the trip with me. I always found it a little ironic when I was teaching Oceanography that I’d never been to the ocean. It was a little sad that I had to have my students tell me what it was like.

3. I was in a high school marching band that played at President Reagan’s first inaugural parade. No matter what your politics, getting to march down Pennsylvania Avenue is quite an experience. The people who get to do so in 2009 have a doubly special experience ahead of them, don’t they?

4.  I met my husband on the internet. Two people who are least likely to be hanging out in chat rooms were hanging out in a chat room one night and figured out they had something in common. Two years of driving 400 miles each way up and down I-35 followed. I moved to Texas in 2004, we got married, and it’s the best decision I ever made!

5. My youngest son is a cancer survivor. I was a single parent with three children when he was diagnosed shortly after his first birthday. The year that followed developed me into the person I am today. It was a life changing experience for all of us who were touched by Nathan’s fight. He’s 8 now, and officially labeled “cancer free.” Hallelujah!


6. I have never decided what I want to be when I grow up. I never stay happy at a job, even when it seems to be well suited to me. My passion is for teaching people, but I don’t like being in a classroom every day. Another passion is for writing, but I just can’t seem to finish any of the books I’ve started. Something in my genes makes me an unfinisher (I have the right to make up words, it’s my 7 things!). If I could do anything in the world for the rest of my life, it would be to take classes in whatever subjects amused me, travel whenever I felt like it, and write when inspired.

7. This one is probably going to be a shocker. I’m to be commissioned as a Stephen Minister on Sunday, January 18. It’s been a wonderful experience, going through the training. I have learned a lot about myself and about how I interact with others. I have become frightened at the prospect of my upcoming ministry and the responsibilities I’ll potentially have for someone else’s well-being. I guess it must be one of those “physician heal thyself” things. I’ve had lots of counseling in my life, now it’s my turn to pay it forward.

Tagging (I’ve had to get creative, as I’m supposed to tag people who haven’t already posted a 7 things article – or at least they haven’t added themselves to the wiki):

Clif Mims: Clif’s Notes

Steve Dembo: Teach42

Fred Delventhal: a/k/a Riptide Furse

Tom Turner: Seeking the Wisdom of the Ages

Howard Martin: Classroom Blogging

Anonymous: It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages

Justin Karkow

Off Topic? Emails and Professionalism

So this might turn out to be a rant because I’m a little fed up today. I’m fed up with people handing out their email addresses, as if they are planning on actually being able to be communicated with via said email address, and then blowing me off.

Case in point: I have an individual – okay there are several individuals – who work on the same campus as I do who routinely ignore emails. I’m actually thinking that Vegas might need to start running numbers on the likelihood of these people responding to emails, because it isn’t that they NEVER respond – they respond, but there is absolutely no pattern or reasoning that would enable me to figure out which of my emails will get a response.

I’ve tried setting certain ones as high priority. I’ve tried using catchy subject lines. I’ve tried using boring, but urgent subject lines. I’ve tried keeping the email to the bare minium issue so that a very quick yes or no response is all that is needed. I never know whether my emails are going to be read, let alone acted upon.

Now, I understand that not everyone has embraced the world of email communications (although I cannot imagine why). But my beef is with people who continually pretend to use email communications and then rudely disregard the bulk of what is sent them.

Isn’t there etiquette as it pertains to email? Surely we’ve all heard the DON’T WRITE IN ALL CAPS OR THEY’LL THINK YOU’RE YELLING AT THEM mantra (oops, sorry, didn’t mean to yell), but what about professionalism? What follows are my suggestions for professionalism in email communications. Add your own by commenting to this post:

1. Do not use text jargon in professional emails. I learn a lot about an individual as soon as I read a professional email with 2day, 4 u, or tamarrow (I never understood that one) in it.

2. Respond to emails promptly. I realize that everyone is busy. I’m busy, too. How many seconds does it take to hit “Reply” then type “I’m a little busy right now, but I’ll get a response to you as soon as possible.”? Try it – I bet you have the time. Last week, I called someone about an email I’d sent to them two weeks ago. I got her voicemail (which she answers less frequently than her email). When I stopped her in the hall later that week, she said “oh, I was in and out of meetings all day.” Okay, so why haven’t you responded to my email or voicemail? I’m in and out of meetings all day every day, yet I still maintain professionalism in my communications.

3. When you receive an email that has multiple recipients, PLEASE do not hit Reply to All and respond.

4. If someone else hits Reply to All and responds, PLEASE do not hit Reply to All and ask them not to hit Reply to All.

5. If someone hits Reply to All and asks people not to hit Reply to All, PLEASE . . . well, you get the picture.

6. Watch what you forward. Most defaults on email applications are set to include the entire text of what is being forwarded, including every email address that it has been previously forwarded to, any text that was sent by a previous forwarder, etc. If you don’t want your boss (or your students, or your children) to see this email someday, do not forward it, because you do not know who might have it forwarded to them on down the line.

7. Think of email as a telephone call or even a face-to-face encounter. If I were standing in front of you asking you a question, would you refuse to respond entirely? If I asked you again, would you just continue about your day without even looking at me? No, that would be rude. Not responding to email communications that include a question or require a response is simply rude.

8. Check your junk email folder often. Many businesses and school districts automatically send legitimate emails directly to junk mail. If you make it a practice to check your junk mail folder at least once a day, you won’t miss an opportunity to communicate with a parent or a client because of this automated system.

Add your rules! Let’s get a standard going!

NECC 2008 My Final Thoughts

I could go on and on about all the people I met, all the new ideas I got, and all the exhibitors I smiled at as they gave me their spiel, but I won’t. What I will do is write about the things that really got me thinking – those things that I will carry with me in the next days, months, or longer as I contemplate my lesson plans (yes, I’m re-entering the teaching world – as an online teacher).

There were a few different incidents that each provided me with one piece to the big picture of what is weighing on my mind after attending NECC.

My first real experience during NECC (and this was my first NECC, as well), was my Monday morning presentation. I presented a session with 5 co-presenters on “Creating a Personal Learning Network in Second Life”. This was quite an experience and I won’t go into details, but after the session, I had the opportunity to read David Warlick’s “live blog” which he had posted during the session and one of the comments he made really got me to thinking. During my portion of the presentation, I had mentioned that what convinced me of the relevance of Second Life(tm) as a part of my network was one evening when I had the opportunity to talk to a teacher from Brazil. David Warlick’s comments about that statement were that he wasn’t sure that was really enough.

I have to say I gave it a LOT of thought. It matters to me what people think of statements I’ve made, and I have always prided myself on being able to give myself an objective eye when I hear that someone doesn’t necessarily agree with me. So I reflected. What I’ve come up with is that David is absolutely correct. Having an opportunity to talk to a teacher from another country in and of itself is not sufficient evidence for using Second Life(tm) as a part of my network. It does enhance my cultural exposure, certainly, but is that relevant to my classroom? For me, it WAS enough, but only because I was a science teacher who happened to be trying to find teachers abroad who would be interested in collaborating on a weather data gathering project with my class. Information from a class in Brazil would have been massively valuable to my students in rural Texas. That said, I believe a teacher really should evaluate what is valuable to their classroom. Simply having access to a teacher from overseas isn’t enough. What you might be able to do with that access might be.

“Cool” experiences don’t make relevant experiences.

The next thing that struck me was when I attended a paper presentation being conducted by Abbie Brown. In his presentation, he put forth that, in order for us to use Second Life(tm) (and I add, or any other online technology), we have to have a reason why that technology is the only venue for that particular activity. For him, he discovered that office hours were something very beneficial in Second Life(tm). He proposed that the reason Second Life(tm) was better than using email to converse with his online students might be that in a virtual world, where we have an avatar standing with us, talking to us, reacting to us in much the same way as a real person would in “real life”, there is a stronger emotional commitment to the activity and thus, a better retention of what was said. As I head into the world of being an online educator, I will take this into consideration as I plan methods for my interactions with my students. They obviously won’t have access to Second Life(tm) – Abbie Brown’s students are all adults – but I may be able to find ways to make the interactions less virtual and more “real.”

There has to be a reason why a given venue/activity is the venue/activity you choose.

Next, I began to notice, as I met some of the people I had come to revere in the education world, that they aren’t all necessarily what I’d held them out to be. Some of them, like Wesley Fryer, Jeff Utecht, and others proved to be just as personable and sincerely passionate about education as I thought they would be. Others, who I will not name, gave me an eye-opener. First truth I realized . . .

The big dogs aren’t always what they seem.

To be a discerning young teacher, you have to take what they all say and examine it critically. Make sure that they are speaking with a focus on what is best for students, not what is best for their pocketbook.

What I brought out of all of these revelations this week is this – I demand from myself a responsibility to be more discerning. Whether I’m looking at opinions of respected education professionals, planning what technology to use in my lessons, or determining how to go about my own professional growth, I must establish for myself a protocol for discernment. I cannot use technology for the sake of technology, I cannot use technology for the “coolness” factor, and I absolutely cannot forget the reason I’m doing it all — for the impact on my students!

Rice is a nutritional food. It is sometimes considered filler, but it is actually full of sustaining nutrients. Technology should be the same, full of enriching content, memorable experiences, and sound educational results. So . . . as we always do in the education world, I’ve created an acronym for myself to remember: RICE. For me to use it, there must be Relevance – there has to be a reason behind it that is valid, Impact – the product of the activity must deliver a reasonable impact, Cost-effectiveness – in today’s world, I should be able to find an activity that is close to free, and Experience – the experience that lives in my student’s mind must be a positive one, one that they have an emotional bond with, so that they will remember it. If I am teach my students for the short term, I might as well pop a movie in the DVD player.