Tag Archives: education

What leadership really means

dancing-156041_1280This week, I had the opportunity to share some things my district is doing to move its way into the realm of virtual and blended learning. We have made some strides, but we have a long way to go before the dream of truly personalized learning is a reality.

As part of my presentation, I shared the video some of you may be familiar with, “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy“. This video tied in well to the keynote speaker the day before, Steve Dembo, who had let us all know that the way to build new realities in school is to start off looking like a nut and hope that others will decide to join you so that you’ll look like less of a nut.

I have a respect for the video and the message it delivers, but it misses one vital point. In the video, nearly the entire crowd eventually joins in, either because it looks like fun or because everyone else is doing it and they don’t want to be ridiculed for not joining in. What I see in the video that is vitally important, however, is that the last folks who joined in the dance likely had no idea what the point of the dance was to begin with.

The movement caught on, but those who followed it didn’t necessarily know why it started in the first place.

In education, it is so important that we not only act as the lone dancing guy, or the first follower, but that we make sure that our message is so clear that it gets passed on through those that choose to follow.

If the dance itself becomes the focus, our vision is lost.

True leadership is often about laying the path and providing a venue for the “dancers” to take risks and for the “crowds” to follow. Laying that path takes strategic planning, future forecasting, and flexibility along with an acknowledgement that we are simply putting opportunities in place for others to grow.

Isn’t that, ultimately, what “school” is about?


Getting myself to move – Day 1 of #GTAATX

It was with mixed feelings that I traveled to Austin in the wee hours of the morning so that I could attend the Google Teacher Academy. Mind you, this is an opportunity only given to 52 educators out of hundreds of applications. It is an opportunity to sit in the collaborative, ideation tank that is Google for two days, immersed in networking and learning with some of Google’s brightest, and over 52 of the most creative leaders in education technology.

Still, I was tired, having spent the evening at a ladies event at my church and finally pulling into the hotel parking lot a little before 2 a.m. (after stopping three times because I was falling asleep at the wheel). Would I get enough out of these two days to make the trek worthwhile? Would I feel okay about missing two days of work and putting out fires in order to have this experience?

After Day 1, I have to say there is nowhere else I could have been today. Sitting in a small room with so many people who share the same vision and have the same out-of-the-box ideals and hopes was energizing. As I worked through the Google design process today, I remembered why it is that I am so passionate about the things I pursue in education. I could see that passion ignited in the others, who, as we had conversations at our tables, began to realize they were truly preaching to the choir – no longer speaking so passionately to deaf ears, their cries of reform and relevance were falling on ears just as enthusiastic as they were themselves.

This has been such an inspiring semester for me. The four-session series called the 4C Cadre (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking) at my district has reignited the creativity that had gone dormant in me. Miami Device in November put me with some of the greatest minds in EdTech so that I could realize the I, too, had something important to contribute.

  • Today, at the Google offices in Austin, I learned about the concept of moon shots and realized that, although my philosophy has always been about allowing baby steps from the teachers who I support, I needed to have a much bigger vision of where we are heading in order to make those baby steps mean something.
  • Today, I learned that there are a lot of people just like me out there – trying to change the world one teacher/student at t time.
  • Today, I learned, as Joe Marquez said, that “this is not MY classroom, it is OUR classroom” and we all share the same responsibility to teach and should be given the same opportunity to reach.

Blown away.

STM are in upper case, too

I recently attended the 2012 STEM Education Conference in Galveston, Texas. During lunch one day, there was a panel of individuals from the STEM industry, talking about the things they see as important issues facing STEM education today.

One of the speakers was an individual from National Instruments. When the panel was asked a question about their own children, she said something that really rang true with me.

“We need to quit making the E so big in STEM.”

Now, I might be upsetting some folks out there with this, but I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with her. There are four pieces to STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, yet every Academy that was represented at the conference puts a focus on their engineering pathways.

I do understand the value of teaching all students the engineering design algorithm and its applications. It is a valuable tool for them as they go through their problem-solving activities, setting and evaluating goals, and measuring their own progress. However, I do not see why every student should be encourage to BE an engineer. There are so many occupations out there that involve Science, Technology, and Mathematics – Engineering is only one of them, yet so much emphasis is put on that one focus.

Overall, the panel was pretty clear that they want educational institutions to stop placing all of their emphasis on college readiness. Students should not be made to feel like there is something wrong with them if they don’t go to college. Learning in STEM can be focused on the concepts while highlighting the many careers that individuals with and without degrees can hold by pursuing STEM studies in school.

Texting in class?

I’ve recently been training teachers on ways to change their “research and report” lessons into more meaningful assessment of mastery. One of the tools I’ve been sharing utilizes a communication venue our students are quite familiar with – texting.

Fake iPhone Text is a simple web-based tool that creates visual representations of text message conversations. It is easy to use and visually engaging for students. Just type in a conversation

Mom: When will you be home from school?
Kid: idk

Then click Create and you’ll quickly see an image that shows the text conversation as if it appeared on a smart phone.

Ideas of how to use it in a classroom include:

1. As a bell-ringer, have students determine who the text conversation is between. Note that the visual does not include the speakers you typed, so students will have to find clues that will tell them who the conversation is between. In my example above, a student might say “I think this is between a parent and a student because the parent used full sentence and proper grammar while the kid used a texting abbreviation”.

2. For a writing prompt – give students the incoming text and tell them to use the fake text creator to show the resulting conversation between two given individuals.

3. In groups, assign students a pair of individuals or a situation to create a text conversation about. After they are finished, share the resulting visuals with other groups to see if they can determine who or what the conversation is about.

4. As a character study, have students create a conversation between characters in a book or historical characters, or better yet, characters from different books or time periods, such as Edward from Twilight texting Romeo for dating advice or President Obama texting President Lincoln for advice on how to handle the budget.

5. This could work for anything that has a relationship, so think outside the box and have students create a text conversation between fluorine and lithium – would it be an explosive relationship or a peaceful one? In Geometry, there are many relationships – have text conversations between Geometry terms for a better understanding of their relationship.

What about your ideas? Give the website a try and comment here with any ideas you come up with – and share if you use it in your classroom!

An Open Letter to the Texas Legislature

I am a teacher. I am likely to lose my job. I have five children who are students. They need their teachers. Some of their teachers are about to lose their jobs.

Every voter in your district is either a teacher, a parent, a student, or a relative of one of the above. Thousands of households will be affected by the decisions that you are making regarding the budget for education and the technology allotment.

The Technology Allotment

Many years ago, Texas made the decision to be a pioneer in the world of educational technology. Through a commitment to funding the technology allotment and requiring teachers to integrate technology into their curriculum, Texas has succeeded in becoming an educational technology leader. Many school districts in the state became 1:1 districts, meaning that every student has a computer available to them. These technology initiatives require staffing for professional development, for technical assistance, and for maintenance and repair. Getting rid of the technology allotment is a giant step backward and would immediately cut the technology program from many districts. As an example, Austin ISD has already announced the end of their entire Educational Technology department.

Where Texas was once a leader in educational technology, now there will be nothing. Many households will experience drastic cuts in income as technology positions are cut and there are no openings for teachers because of the rest of the budget cuts.

The rest of the cuts

Last night, my husband told me about new football practice fields that are on a bond proposal in a neighboring school district. One of these two fields will be an indoor field. While many Texas high school football stadiums already rival those of semi-professional football, this activity center will begin to reflect the professional football world and will cost millions of dollars to complete. How many teachers could those millions fund? Football is king in Texas, which means that everyone has always been afraid to cut funding for these programs. However, football is king in Texas, which means that if funding were cut, the corporate world and the community would almost certainly step up to cover the difference. Yet, when teachers are losing their jobs, there is nobody stepping up to save their jobs.

I know that things like the practice fields are funded through bonds. Why can’t there be bonds to save teacher jobs?

It isn’t really about the jobs, though. What it is really about are the students. Many districts already have crowded classrooms. Cutting teacher positions will mean that high school science classrooms might have 40 or more students in them. How much quality education can take place in a science laboratory with 40 students and one teacher? As a science teacher, I can answer that question: NONE.

If you decide to cut education funding, the damage will be tragically focused on the very students who are the future of Texas. Teachers who are lucky enough to still have jobs will be forced to cut back on the rigor of lessons in favor of classroom management. Instead of lessons rich with real-life applications, exploration, and discovery, lessons will be designed with basic survival in mind. “How can I address this standard, still be sane, and have students who are safe?”

There are a few districts, including Irving ISD, who have been recognized as being some of the leanest districts in Texas. This means that every cut affects an essential position. If you must cut funding in education, it is unfair to make the cuts even across districts. Performance in staffing should be a consideration. Lean districts should experience less of a cut than districts that have a lot of room for change. If you make cuts the same across the board, the message you are sending is to keep staffing padded during good years so that when budgets get cut, there are positions that can easily be cut without affecting student success.

Please, please, think about the citizens of Texas, who will all be affected by education funding cuts.

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!

Presenting vs. Facilitating

When I was a full-time classroom teacher, I had several opportunities to present at various local conferences. As I’ve expanded my horizons in the education world, so have they expanded in the presentation world. I present for my work at Southern Methodist University and in my capacity as a Discovery Educator Network STAR, at various regional and national conferences.

I have a presentation coming up in South Padre, Texas (TSTEM Best Practices Conference) this month for work, and one in Austin, Texas (TCEA) in February for the DEN. My initial thought was that none of this was anything new and I wouldn’t really need to do all that much prep work for these presentations.

The reason I write this post is that the more I thought that way, the more I wondered why I really thought I could get away with doing the same old same old.

So I’m asking you to answer some questions from the perspective of an audience member, NOT as a presenter (as I’m sure many of you are):

1. What types of things make you want to stand up and walk out of a presentation?

For me, the dreaded “death by PowerPoint” is first on my list. Next is when someone is presenting a topic that was part of teacher training 101.

2. What opening activities or experiences excite you about the rest of the workshop?

As in my classes, I try to start workshops with some kind of a hook – sometimes it is a story that explains the reason we are all there, but more often, it is some kind of an activity or thought exercise.

3. Would you prefer to be presented to or to have a speaker facilitate discussion?

Personally, I prefer to have my audiences be a very active part of my session. I also prefer to be in sessions where I am allowed to share. We can all learn something from each other. Unfortunately, it seems that many audiences don’t really want to do that. What are your thoughts?

I appreciate your time in answering these questions, as I have decided to completely redo my presentations to try to encourage more audience participation so the sessions don’t turn into a 45 minute nap for everyone!