Saturday, February 17, 2018


Well, hello Austin! Great to see you again - I love coming to conferences to learn new things and connect with others. The more you attend the more you start to know people from around the country who are passionate about education and the energy is abundant!

This week is TCEA and I am thrilled to attend again. Last Spring, my co-worker Suzanne Barker and I submitted some proposals to present as Instructional Technology Coaches. Well, over the summer we were both fortunate to move to new roles; however, we still have a deep love for all things technology and purposeful use of such tools for learning. We were happy to learn our session for Professional ePortfolios was accepted and we get to share about something we love.

One of the things I love about blogging is jotting my thoughts and reflecting on experiences to solidify my learning. Even if no one else reads this, I've retraced my steps, reviewed my notes, and intentionally selected some of my takeaways from TCEA.

Anytime we attend a conference, we (those I attend with) always share out notes (LOVE Google!) and bounce ideas off of each other. I learn just as much from others as from what I hear myself. It is great to connect and expand your opportunities for learning while attending a conference (or from home if you cannot attend).

Often at a conference, I hear things I already know but needed as a reminder. Our school is fortunate to be recieving new furniture for next school year. This furniture is not traditional and designed to promote flexible seating. I attended several sessions on flexible learning environments as a refresher. A few things I thought about were repurposing spaces on campus, providing recording booths, incorporating vertical writing spaces for students, adding makerspaces (Lego Wall), space for movement, and providing Student Voice in designing learning spaces on our campus.

In a new role, it took me a while to find direction at this conference. I wanted to focus on what I could learn to enhance my learning and opportunities to promote learning as a leader. This was definitely different than attending as a teacher or as an Instructional Coach with a focus on technology. Fortunately there were some sessions with this focus. I was able to gain ideas on how to use technology with purpose to flip PD or staff meetings, as well as communicate with parents and students. For example, using Screencastify to share a new procedure with parents and EdPuzzle to share content with staff while gaining feedback on completion and understanding of the content, plus it could be completed at a time that works best for them. This also reminded me that while it is great to model these ideas for staff, to go slow and model only a few things often (instead of something new all the time) to solidify comfort and learning of the technology tool. Plus, keep it relevant, interactive, and to content that can be sustained over time.

Not all learning takes place in a presentation at conferences. Often I learn or connect while waiting for a coffee or between sessions from others. A good friend and I met for lunch and she shared a site whe heard about at one of her sessions: This site is helpful to gain insight and empathy for all types of learners. I was specifically interested in the 'Attention Issues' simulation. My eldest son and my husband have ADHD and struggle with daily life skills (organization, completion of tasks, etc) as well as communicating their learning and I wanted to better understand. After a session, I went back to my hotel room and participated in the simulation. It was short and quick but eye-opening. I almost cried and wished I could hug my son right away. Gosh, I thought I was distractable but if this is his reality I am amazed he can get through most things. No wonder he needs to decompress at the end of the day! I tweeted it and shared it with others in my PLN right away.

In addition, I gained a few tricks (triple click highlights a paragraph - what?!) and tips (Screencastify - adjusting the microphone volume) and reminders (using the Read and Write extension) and something new (Suggestion Mode in Docs - LOVE!). Woohoo!

Leaving work to attend a conference is hard. Especially in Testing Season. (sigh) However, it is so beneficial for me to step away and refocus. It is so important for me to connect with others and enhance my learning, continuing to grow and build my PLN (back on Voxer connected with another leader to bounce ideas). For me, I missed my family. I missed my campus. Yet, I reconnected with other educators that make me who I am as a learner and a leader. Those connections are necessary for me to keep learning forward!

Let Them Be Little

I noticed a post by a friend and coworker yesterday on Twitter:

I retweeted it right away but it made me think.

I have the awesome opportunity to observe students working daily in the classroom. My door is always open (unless I'm on a phone call or in a meeting) and I'm able to listen to the buzz on campus. I hear so many things. It is when you are able to watch and listen that you realize so many things that may not occur to you when you are busy leading the learning.

Several years ago there was a shift in expectations for kindergardeners. I was not a kindergarden teacher so I did not directly experience it, but it made an impact on my students as they grew to my grade level. The shift led to the removal of play in the classroom, which was devestating to so many of us as educators. We KNOW that play is needed. Play is when children learn life skills - how to communicate, how to share, how to empathize with others, how to take turns, how to experience winning and losing - all are necessary in life.

A few years ago our librarian began a Game Club after school. To an outsider, it may have looked like they are 'just' playing games but it was a discovery we made that often children do not play board games at home and do not have the experiences of taking turns, strategy of a game, or winning and losing as a good sport. I thought it was genius! In this club, each game had an adult moderating to reinforce important skils. Again, learning these important life skills as they continue to grow and develop are such a foundation of social and emotional learning which are needed.

When I was still in the classroom, the removal of homework movement had begun. At first I questioned it then I began to really consider it. As a teacher, what purpose did homework hold as a learning tool for my students? Did it reinforce skills we practiced in class? Maybe for some. But... for ALL kids? No. Did homework promote good work habits at home? Maybe for some. But definitely not for all kids. When the homework returned to school, did I do anything with it? Sometimes. Then WHY were we doing homework?! Hattie's research shows there is not enough of a benefit to homework. Then I thought... (after seeing ideas on Twitter and Pinterest) why not provide ideas of meaningful activities as suggestions for students to complete at home as homework. I did a choice board with things like follow a recipe (reinforcing following directions, measurement, reading) or play a game outside (exercise, following directions, communication) or write a letter to a friend (writing, spelling, grammar, communication) or read to someone in your family (or a pet - family is busy but pets are present) or create something at home and bring a video/picture to show the class. Sometimes we (the students and I) would come up with ideas to connect to our learning outside of the classroom. For example, a scavenger hunt of shapes in the real world - take a pic, draw a picture, cut out an image, make a list of all the shapes you see. This was much more fun but also didn't hold this heavy weight for my students who cannot complete work at home - we do not know every child's home situation. This is important to me! We may think we know but we do not know. Why assume every child has a parent who sits at the table with them every night to work? Some parents work nights, multiple shifts, do not speak/read English, or are busy driving children to extra-curricular activities. Remove the pressure, for everyone. Encourage play, rest, reading, conversations... not paperwork.

My son's principal spoke to parents at the beginning of the year when she first took the role at his school. Her speech made such an impact on me. Her sons are grown. She reminded us of what we already know, that time goes so fast. She said they will not have regular homework sent home. Instead, read, reinforce manners, play, talk to, and make memories with your children. They will not look back and say, I'm so glad my parents made me do all the homework. They will look back and remember moments that matter. WOW. Yes!!

As adults, we are always searching for balance. Why not help our children keep the balance they already have - work hard, play hard. Kids know when to play and have fun and smile. We need to be sensitive to their need for balance. I watched a bunch of kids on the way out to a field trip this week. They were SO excited - to ride the bus! Gosh, as adults I'm not so sure I feel the same way. They were filled with joy and smiles and laughter. I loved it!

Instead of focusing on if a child can read, write, spell, count at five in order to be successful in school, why can't we focus on reinforcing that balance and building those social and emotional skills to provide a foundation for further learning? To me it is NOT all about academics in life. It is about a well-rounded being and I want to let them be little for as long as they can.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

#ShadowAStudent 2017

Last year I learned about the Shadow a Student Challenge. School staff members are challenged to experience a day in the life of a student by following them from the first to last bell, participating in the student's day. My administrator supported several of us to participate last year (blog post HERE). This year, as I am no longer a classroom teacher, I felt it even more necessary to participate. I want to stay connected to classroom cultures, teachers, and students and I feel this is a nice opportunity to do so. The opportunity to shadow a student at another elementary school was my goal. After working at the same school for 16 years, I am learning how much of a bubble I was in (even while participating in collaborative meetings, conferences, and having grown a strong PLN). A few weeks ago I learned I had the opportunity to shadow a first grader at an elementary school I am fortunate to work with often. I shared with the teachers and parents what the #ShadowAStudent Challenge is plus the campus leadership shared the project with the staff so they would have some understanding of the reason I was walking down the hall in line with 7-year-olds.

The day began in a teacher's room because I was shadowing a teacher's child. It was fun to be one of the first students in the classroom. The teachers smiled and welcomed me, showing me where to leave my lunchbox. The students in class were very confused and giggling when I brought in my backpack and asked where I could hang it up. My shadow student knows me and he quickly helped me out. The students asked me several questions but followed procedures and were prepared for the day to begin. One of my favorite things was how the day began with pleasant music. The morning announcements had not yet begun but there was music playing that made me feel happy and welcome. The students on the morning show announced that I was there and explained why, which made me feel special and happy (and hoping that I wouldn't be a distraction). After announcements, the teacher allowed me to introduce myself and explain my project, then each student introduced themselves as we had Circle Up. Circle Up is such a wonderful way to begin the day. Everyone gets their voice heard in the room and connects, which is warm and inviting and builds a positive classroom culture.

First, we had Math. We did so many fun things!! We sang, danced, read a story, did a formative assessment activity, had a quick assessment, then played partner games. It was busy but with a nice balance - sit & listen, dance, sit & listen, move, sit & listen, work, sit & listen, play. Before I knew it, it was time for Writing! We took a bathroom break as a class and it felt good to leave the room for a different space to fill for a few minutes. We went to another teacher's class for writing, which was research about dolphins. Our group worked together to search books and a site for facts the teacher referred to as 'treasures', which made me smile and miss teaching first grade. Plus, it made research feel like an adventure since we were searching for TREASURES! A single word made a difference that transformed our activity to an experience.

Next, we returned to our classroom for read aloud and an optional bathroom break. Our teachers were great partners and the two classes moved seamlessly through the day as a group. We worked on some activities while students worked with the teacher on Student Led Conferences prep work (Student Led Conferences were the next day). I had a conversation with the students at my table about the conferences. They enjoy sharing their growth and learning with their parents, which falls in line with our district Portrait of a Graduate. The students and their words made me smile.

Before I knew it, it was time for lunch and recess. I was so glad because all this movement and fun made me hungry! If you have never joined first graders for lunch, you must! The conversations are informative and entertaining and I had a great time. I knew what to do all the time because I could understand the expectations from students' actions or their words to help me. Procedures are clearly defined and executed in this school, which made my stress and anxiety for doing 'the right thing' at ease. Recess was great - it was a beautiful, sunny day! I mostly walked around to stretch my legs and arms, but also snagged a swing for a little bit. : ) It made me aware that even though we moved and had flexible options for seating, I needed to have big movement (gross motor movement) time. This had never occurred to me before as a teacher. Providing movement is important but this time to really move, stretch, run, and feel the sunshine is super important, too.

The afternoon was a buzy blur of Personalized Learning Time and science, which was a combination of books, paper, games, songs, and more. The day wrapped up with Specials. I went to Music then PE (yes, I wore my tennis shoes). In Music, I had so much fun but was really comforted by the clear expectations in place. With such a short period of time in which to experience this art, the teacher was prepared and ready for each step seamlessly. We sang, danced, and use an app called Quiver to practice music knowledge and skills to secure. Next, we went to PE. Y'all. I'm a spectator. Despite my boys and their gifts in athletics, I am NOT an athlete and quite clumsy. I was nervous. However, the PE teacher quickly led us to a fun game and I had a great time (pretty sure I got my steps in!) The children were encouraging and we smiled, laughed, and had fun moving and playing (reinforcing important skills of sharing, taking turns, postive teamwork, etc).

The end of the day was there before I knew it. I had a Student Council Meeting on campus afterwards so I had no time to process or rest until later (thus this post sitting in DRAFT for almost a year...) however, it was a most amazing experience. Some of my take-aways were how much fun our students are. Just sitting and listening and getting on their level was so uplifting and eye-opening. Another was how music was such a happy way to start my day. It promoted an even more postive and uplifting atmosphere in the classroom. Procedures and calm, caring teachers helped me feel so comfortable, safe, and confident throughout the day. Lastly, movement - moving in the classroom felt different than moving outside in the sunshine and fresh air as well as different than playing a structured game in PE. Movement, music, and many smiling faces helped me get through my day. Had the supportive teachers and encouraging students not been there to build me up, I'm certain my confidence would have dipped... which led me to believe had I needed to secure any knowledge or skills, I would have struggled had it not been for the pieces put in place by these dedicated educators.

What a fun day! I'm so thankful to the teachers that opened their doors to me, for the teacher friend who allowed me to shadow her child all day, for the energetic, sweet first graders who were my new best friends for eight hours, and most of all that I am surrounded by these forward-thinking educators and allowed to have this opportunity to push on and continue to learn and grow.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

All The Learning

Currently, I'm reading Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker. I'm a huge fan and follow her on social media. I also read For the Love - and after following her and reading her books and listening to her podcast, I feel like she is a friend. She speaks some serious truths and makes me laugh, cry, and think.

As she was sharing in her book about her journey as an author, she mentioned how she is always learning and working on her craft. It really struck a connection with me. Years ago, I had a great leader on campus that would fill us with information and ask questions that challenged our thinking. When she moved on to another role, I was left at first very confused about who was going to feed me (information)? It was frustrating but I'm thankful for that growing pain, because it brought me to the realization that I am responsible for my own learning and I took it from there. I hope I was able to push my students to do the same and now, I was to be able to motivate our staff to want to know more as well.

I love this part of Jen's book. I even made a #BookSnap about it:

She said "The day I stop learning...I need to hang it up" and I thought YES! In this role, all roles, we are constantly learning - most often it is on the job and in the moment (especially as a parent).

Several years ago I was made aware of conferences. Previously, I thought conferences were only for administrators or the people at the top. I had no idea there were conferences for teachers. An Instructional Coach shared a few opportunities with me and I selected a few. Those truly changed my life as an educator, and even my path!

For years when my children were young they took Every. Day. I couldn't even think about reading anything other than Good Night, Moon or Love You Forever. However, as my children grow and gain independence, I find I have time to do things like... read!

However, always as an educator I've learned from others. I value the thoughts and knowledge of those who surround me. ALWAYS I find greater development of ideas from a group than just myself. My students have always inspired me and taught me, as well. Be an inspiration to your students and model what you expect from them each day.

I'm thankful to be in a profession that constantly challenges me. Yet, I also hope those in other roles continue to learn, as well... I hope my doctor, dentist, pastor, etc continue to read and learn and grow. I owe that to myself and to those I get to work with and especially the children I am blessed to be surrounded by.



That is all I can say ~ WOW! The last few months have been an amazing rollercoaster of quick decisions, celebrations, prayers, mourning, and all. the. learning. Seven months ago I had NO idea everything was going to change with my career. I was finishing up grad school with a degree in Education Technology Leadership and passed my Principal Certification. My fresh, new notebook was already filled with ideas and lists of things to do for the upcoming school year and I was pumped to get started in my second year as Instructional Coach with the Technology Team. My focus was Digital Citizenship and I was hoping to start some Genius Bars or Student Tech Groups at the elementary level. Last year was an enormous, exciting learning curve after 17 years in the classroom. I was going to really have a clue this year and do things well. ... Then, I received some phone calls and within a short amount of time I had interviewed three times and was named the new (recommended) Assistant Principal of one of our amazing elementary school. Y'all. WOW!

I was not expecting this opportunity and it absolutely thrilled me. The school, staff, students, families - all are the best! And my team - I am SO thankful.

At a recent meeting, we were asked to share how we came into administration. Of course, I mentioned the amazing leaders before me - my father, my former principals and assistant principals; not to mention those who were my boss or leaders in prior jobs. I shared how I never imagined I would leave the classroom and I was certain I'd never return to school. The older I get the more I learn we eat our own words all too often. ; ) My teaching experiences brought me here. My love for learning that was reignited by amazing leaders brought me here. Those I surround myself with, who lift me up and encourage and motivate me - brought me here. My former students and my own children - brought me here. I truly feel that all the dots (learning experiences) I've been collecting for years and years are now connecting. And I continue to learn - every. single. day.

This role is so different from what I imagined, not good nor bad, just different. Each day is a new day that is challenging, unpredictable, and amazing - all at the same time. Today I did three observations, watched chicks hatching while first graders 'oh-ed' and 'ah-ed', got a kagillion hugs, coached a student on making choices, called parents, completed online training and a test, thanked some teachers with Sonic drinks, facilitated a make-up CogAT test, walked many steps, met with our amazing specialists in three separate meetings, debriefed on our day with my leader, chatted with some teachers, and ate a HOT lunch in under ten minutes. It was glorious. I love it! This role is hard. This role is rewarding. I'm so thankful for this experience.

Was it hard to leave a role I loved for another? Yes! Of course it was. I really enjoyed my role as Instructional Coach and I have a passion for purposeful technology integration. However, I felt led to go for it. In my belly and in my heart, I knew. It was sad. I cried. I love my team from last year. I miss them very much. Yet now I see what I needed to learn in that role also contributes to what I'm doing now. After all, one of my favorite quotes from George Couros (@gcouros) is "change is the opportunity to do something amazing" and I remind myself of this every time it gets tough, and when it is awesome.

My hope is I can empower others the way others empower me. I hope I can still accomplish some of those tasks I had as a goal for this year, but they may look differently in my new role (social media interns, lunch and learn, book clubs, etc). I'm excited - I'm overwhelmed (and have struggled to blog on a timely basis) but it is all good.

Every day I see it: Teachers are working hard. Students are growing and learning and they make me smile! Families long to be connected and want what is best for their children. Communities want to encourage children to grow into outstanding citizens. It is happening.

#OneWord for 2018

Well, hello 2018! Finding my #OneWord for this year has had me pondering for several weeks. I decided to begin with my words from prior years:

balance - always a struggle to strive for equity in all areas: family, faith, friends, career, me

purpose - reminding myself daily of my WHY

2016: choose - make decisions that I feel confident about

2017: be - to be present (work at work, focus on family at home)

One lesson I've learned from using #OneWord (and also perhaps from being over 40...) is:
This year I struggled to find THE word to focus my year. I am such a thinker and over-analyzer that I'm quite certain I have been over thinking THE word for ME. After all, it is not the only thing I will concentrate on, but I like having a word that encompasses all of MY current needs and goals.

After years of practicing one word to focus my year, this year I decided to read the book One Word That Will Change Your Life (plus I actually had the time over the holiday break - celebrate!) The book was helpful and reinforced that I've been selecting my words correctly, but reading it didn't bring my word to me. The book suggests reflecting, spending quiet time thinking, praying, being aware and open to insight into what word will best drive my year. I tried it all. I have a list: worthy, forward, joy, enjoy, peace, courage, hope - but nothing fit like a puzzle piece to me.

I kept reflecting ... recent years have been super busy and so much has happened! The last five years just of my career have each been different:
2013 - taught my tenth year in first grade, my second year in dual language
2014 - taught second grade
2015 - looped to third grade (looping is the BEST experience ever!!) and began grad school
2016 - left the classroom after 17 years and spent an amazing year as an Instructional Coach with Technology
2017 - graduated with my degree in Educational Technology Leadership plus earned my Principals Certification AND accepted an amazing opportunity to be Assistant Principal

I mean... WOW. And that does not include personal, family, house, and other gains and challenges. My boys are growing and parenting changes as your children grow (News Flash: it does NOT get easier, just different... costs, interests, activities, celebrations, and challenges) and marriage continues to evolve (celebrating 15 years). We have also been in the process of remodeling our home very slowly, focusing on one area at a time.

So, all of that to be said... finding a word to push me forward, to remind me that I am worthy of these things, to stay focused on continual growth, while also being present enough to enjoy the blessings I have... has been a challenge.

For a while I almost selected MOXIE. Partially because I finished Jen Hatmaker's book Of Mess and Moxie over the holiday break and I thought 'moxie' might fit. After all, it means "a force of character, determination, or nerve" and I really like the determination part. It made me realize that the things I've been working on and striving for are here. Right on my plate. So, now what do I do with them??

So, after much thought (and viewing 100s of other people's #OneWords) I decided I need to take ACTION. An action is "the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim". You may think: 'well, duh. Of course, you need to act on all you are working toward'. However, sometimes when time starts rolling quickly and you get caught in the whirlwind of marriage, parenting, children's athletic schedules, house care, laundry (All. The. Laundry.), work, and trying to have a social life and not lose all your friends ... AND ... eat well and exercise, while also finding time for yourself, you forget to stay focused on what you have worked so hard to achieve. So, for me, ACTION makes sense:

*ACTION in my marriage means always working toward building a positive, loving relationship that will continue thrive after our children become adults

*ACTION as a parent means being present for my children - really listen when they want to talk, drive them all.over.the.metroplex for sports and fishing and movies and friends because one day they will drive themselves, and soak up these moments and continue to create memories

*ACTION as a sister and daughter, not to neglect my parents and my sister, especially as our family really needs each other now

*ACTION as a learner, to not let the exhaustion of completing a degree turn me off of additional learning, but instead fuel me further

*ACTION as a leader, to instill a passion for learning and leading in others (students and staff) while continuing to prioritize build trusting relationships

*ACTION as a friend means to send a quick text to let someone know I'm thinking of them or call a friend for dinner or coffee (look, we are past the age of caring what our house looks like and if we are in a messy bun and jeans for dinner, THANK GOODNESS) and lean in to each other

*ACTION for myself to eat better, move more, and revisit some of those hobbies I enjoyed BC (before children) now that my boys are becoming more independent, plus focus on fueling my body with better foods and having fun when I exercise

This year for me ACTION is my word. It reminds me to implement the things I've learned and DO SOMETHING with it all.

So... I hope my reflection on 2018 will bring me great happiness by putting in to practice the things I'm learning while keeping my priorities in place!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Whole Child

This morning as I work on my final assignment for grad school (WOOHOO) my mind is spilling with thoughts, emotions, ideas, and questions. Our assignment is to first watch Sir Ken Robinson's TEDTalk "Do schools kill creativity?" then respond to a variety of questions and prompts. I find myself overflowing with what I want to say and hope that by blogging first, I can streamline these thoughts.

Several years ago our school read Sir Ken Robinson's book Creative Schools and I remember it being one of the first educational books that made me think - made me REALLY think and reflect and consider. It so happened at the same time my first child was beginning school. Listening to his words made all of these memories come flowing back and all the feels! *I must say before sharing more that in no way at all do I blame any educator for my children's experiences. As an educator, I have grown and evolved and understand how things work and I do not place blame. However, I do want to see and be part of the change that continues to push the boundaries of traditional education. I am thankful I belong to an innovative district that is constantly moving to provide new ways of learning while asking questions and encouraging learning forward.*

It is stated in the TEDTalk that 'all kids have talents and the education system squanders them' and I completely agree this is true when we only focus on academics. Sir Ken Robinson shares the story of a girl - her parents were told she may have a learning disability when in fact she was a gifted dancer! Once given the best learning environment for her needs, she was able to grow and learn and eventually create CATS! Wow!

What are we doing to ensure our children are provided all they need to be well-rounded members of society? Not later - not when they graduate, but now? Please know there are children around the world making a difference at very young ages - thanks to technology and social media, people of ALL ages make an impact. We do not need to prepare them for tomorrow as much as preparing them for today. For now.

Traditional education systems were formed to educate the masses, often preparing students for factory work or war - hence the lines of silent students walking from one place to another, or completing a set of tasks to show mastery of a concept. If you look around, few work environments function this way anymore. People collaborate, must have strong communication skills, must be able to work independently and self-motivate to complete a wide variety of tasks in multiple environments. Where are all the people walking in a line silently? I struggle to understand the reasons for some of the expectations we still hold in high regard without understanding how it is best for children.

One child I know has such a strong athletic ability. He shows exceptional control on a pitching mound, where he is still and focused and holds the entire game on his shoulders with confidence. Yet if you ask this child to read a book or write a story, he faces multiple challenges. He can appear to be impulsive and hyper, but if you really know him, he is the most caring and loving person and wants to be accepted. Another child I know is overflowing with curiosity. He wants to take things apart - not just physical items, but also ideas. He begs to gather information and question the norm. He finds no value in knowing facts, he knows he can 'ask Alexa' or Google it; so memorization holds no weight to him. He wants to program things and feel challenged. At three years old, he carried a tiny notebook around drawing ideas and writing questions; but at school, he had to put it away. These stories I have seen first hand, as these are my children.

Please, know your students. Please, ask them questions and value their answers. Know who they are and what their strengths are. Some people need to move. They feel like they can't breathe when they have to sit still and conform. Some people need to talk. They thrive on learning from others. Some people need to be alone. All of the noise, movement, action just exhausts them. Don't you know adults like this? Children are no different.

Continue to ask questions. Continue to learn forward and provide options that are in the best interests of your students. Let's continue to promote educating the whole child.

In what ways can we challenge the traditional system and evolve to value all unique strengths of students?