In what's been a very unique and challenging school year, I'd love to chat with you about your personal experiences and your plans for the new school year.
Tomorrow I begin year 14 working in education, and...I just don't know. I typically form an opinion on just about everything, but when it comes to the start of this school year I just don't know what to think. 2020 has been so polarizing in nearly all aspects of life.
So many questions and things on my mind...
TBH, most of these things I'm pretty embarrassed to share because they're a joke compared to what millions of other people are facing.
Who should have to decide? I thought by taking time to reflect and share my thoughts here that it'd give me some kind of clarity, or maybe even pump myself up before I walk in to a district building building in the morning - masked of course. There will be so much to do, work that is important and meaningful. But, I don't think I can say I'm excited. My biggest fear is going back to work, being around others, and coming home to make the people I love sick. Regardless. I'll still give my best and even go above and beyond to make an impact in my field.
For now I cling to Matthew 6:34...
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
P.S. I'm obviously out of practice sharing my thoughts, and in fact, it's been nearly a year since my last official blog. I will do better because when things do get back to normal, I'll be able to look back and see how far I've come.
Another school year is up and running, and TBH I don't feel like I really have the time to be writing about it. I should be polishing presentations (more like developing some of them), pouring over curriculum resources, studying new standards, supporting others - don't forget emails, follow-ups, documentation, etc. Throw in home life - family, kids, Bible time, house stuff, working out, getting my shows in - how do you find balance and take care of everything?
I'm the person who's ready to eat lunch at 10:59am, so when I didn't get a lunch break until 1:30 yesterday I was probably a little hangry. The problem is that I had a meeting with a co-worker at 1:30. Ironically enough, I didn't have time that morning to get my lunch together, so I insisted we head to Golden Chick for a lunch and learn :)
As Emilee and I walked towards the door, an older gentleman got the door for us and motioned for us to go ahead. Instead of eye contact, I concentrated on his hat. He was a Korean War veteran and reminded me of my grandfather. I placed my order, asked the cashier to add the man's order to mine, and completed the transaction. We thanked him for his service and went our separate ways so we could talk work. As we were talking the man stopped by and said, "That was the best meal I ever ate." He asked to pull up a chair because "sometimes it gets lonely" and we began to talk.
Fighting back tears at times, we learned Mr. O is 88 years old and lives independently. He turns 89 next Friday. He grew up in Arkansas but has lived locally for decades. His wife passed away 10 years ago, and they were married for over 50 years. He served in the US Army in Korea after being drafted (just like my grandpa). Some of the things we learned that we have in common with Mr. O include:
The point is...time.
My time spent with Mr. O reminded me that, for all us, time moves at different speeds. If we're constantly running in high gear we become unaware and oblivious of others that might need some quality time. We aimed to brighten this man's day just a titch, but in return, we received the greater blessing. He blessed our hearts, and I'm challenged and convicted to look for more opportunities to love on people, especially our oldest generation. Will you join me in doing the same? People need people.
Don't judge, but after some basic technological creeping techniques we have Mr. O's birthday and address. He turns 89 next Friday, so we'd like to do something for him to let him know he is appreciated and valued. Any ideas to make his day would be much appreciated!
never say never
January 6, 2007 I got got married....before I graduated from college. It was the start of my last semester at the University of Texas at Dallas where I was completing my undergrad in the pursuit of a Bachelor degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. All I had left to do was my student teaching, so the only difference in waiting 6 months to get married was a paycheck.
In August 2007 I began my teaching career at Kimbrough Middle School (my alma mater) as an 8th grade Social Studies teacher and coach. At the time, Mesquite ISD had a rule where all teachers had to get their Master's degree within 10 years of employment. I figured I'd get to it at some point because I had plenty of time. For the next 5 or 6 years a lot of life happened - serious car wreck, 2 kids born, a house move. Many of my friends had gotten their Master's in Admin, Counseling, or even specific content areas, and I had desire desire to pursue any of those things.
So, I chose an alternate route the district provided. If I could accumulate 540 hours of things like professional learning, more teacher certifications, being a department chair, writing curriculum, etc. then that would satisfy the requirement. I began collecting and documenting all of this, and just as my time at Kimbrough was complete, I turned all of that in. The only downside is I did all that work and didn't get the stipend that Master degree recipients receive. It's at that point I said,
I'm NEVER getting my Master's!
In August of 2015 I started my work as an Instructional Technology Facilitator. While I can't quite summarize the past 4 years, a recurring theme I recognize is growth. I've found a niche that I love - the kind where it doesn't feel like work. I'm empowered to pursue areas that interest me, and I've reached the point where I'm comfortable taking risks for the greater good of education. Frankly, I want to change how we do school. Our education system isn't keeping up with the changes and demands our society brings. I would pray asking God for opportunities to increase my sphere of influence so that I could reach more people - with the ultimate goal representing Him along the way. Doors were opened.
Having been around what I consider experts in the field of educational technology, one area that I always seemed to be lacking in was the theory and the why any of it was valuable to education. I also knew that if I ever wanted to pursue of career opportunities beyond what I have, that official piece of paper that I didn't have was going to be an obstacle. So the conversation to the husband sort went, "I think I want/need to get my Master's." The supportive husband that he is said, "Okay." After gathering intel on various programs, I thought the online variety through Texas A&M - Commerce was the right fit for me. I started Summer I in June of 2018. Less than a year and 10 graduate courses later, I am about to WALK with a Master's of Education in Educational Technology Leadership.
God Proves Faithful. every. time.
100%, literally 100% of my coursework was valuable and applicable to my job this school year. I didn't have to make up scenarios, write a grant, or develop curriculum that was pointless. If I had gotten my Master's years ago when everyone else was doing it, it would have been in a field I didn't care about and certainly one that I didn't have a passion for. Here's the portfolio that documented my learning over the past year. God's timing is perfect. I still don't know what the future holds, but I do know who holds tomorrow, and I know He will continue to open new doors. Check out the YouTube video below to watch me walk the stage, completing my coursework with a 4.0 GPA. My lesson learned from all of this...
Never say Never!
When you ask the typical middle school student what they're interested in, the most popular answer you get is "I don't know." A close second is something about gaming or maybe even hanging out with their friends. The crazy thing is that by the end of 8th grade, we expect students to choose a career pathway that they will pursue in high school....and P.S. most of the careers students will have don't even exist yet!
Current instructional methods being used in secondary classrooms are not preparing students with skills that are consistent with industry needs. But it's proven that classrooms which utilize a student-centered approach, where learners show mastery of objectives by learning the content through a lens of passion and aptitudes, empower students to take ownership of their growth and are able to connect their learning to relevant, real-world experiences.
Over 1200 Agnew students from grades 6-8 were asked what they wondered about. Some took it seriously, several said they had no clue, and many wondered why they had to fill out the Google Form. They were shown the video above and told they would get the chance to participate in Wonder Day, but besides that, that's all they knew. Nearly 100 students were selected for round 2 based on their "I Wonder" statement's appropriateness, feasibility, uniqueness and flair.
We didn't look at names, grades, or ages because none of that matters. If students showed the slightest bit of interest in learning, we included them.
Round 2 required students to join a Google Classroom and submit 3 research questions to support their topic. Keep in mind, these students still didn't know what this day was about, and all of this was dependent on them completing this on their own time and not in a specific class period. After a week of accepting questions we had 25 students complete the task, so those are the 25 that got to participate.
When I attended the Google for Education Certified Innovator Academy in Sydney, Australia, we did a ton of design work to dive into and explore our problems in education we were passionate about solving. It was a fast and furious 3 days and the best professional learning experience I have ever been a part of. It's the kind of thinking that was exhaustive, made your head hurt, but it was so ridiculously worth it. I firmly believe THIS is the type of learning our students NEED to experience EVERY day. The Innovator academy and Wonder Day seemed to compliment one another, so that's where my inspiration came from to create the schedule. The challenge was condensing it into a single day, or an amuse-bouche tasting of sorts, to see if this would even work with students.
Structuring Wonder Day this way meant I needed reinforcements. Agnew's Instructional Coaches, Librarian, and an additional Technology Facilitator stepped up to become what we called Wonder Day Coaches. Since we couldn't plan everything together, a schedule and Slides deck was necessary to organize our learning for the day, and I'm confident to say we pulled off something great.
Wonder Day was step 1 of many when it comes to changing how school is done at Agnew Middle School. No, it was not based on a specific TEK or learning objective, but that's what we'll be aiming for beginning this Fall. So, what if students were given more choice where they are allowed to explore and learn content within the context of their passions? In this type of environment, students would be given the autonomy to master objectives and standards through passion-based learning. Working in this environment of discovery would empower students to not only own the learning process themselves but to learn deep enough to teach others. These types of learning experiences will afford students life ready skills that will prepare them for success in the future.
It’s been nearly half a year since I’ve posted. Needless to say, the last 6 months have been a whirlwind. Going back to work August 1st seemed extra early, probably because I didn’t give myself a true break from all things education related - see my last post.
So what have I been up to? Being a Technology Facilitator at a 6A high school is no joke. I’ve met and worked with so many new teachers, and that barely seems like scratching the surface. A quick count shows I've personally worked with over 30 different educators. I get caught up in trying to make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time, and I forget about the small day to day wins. Wins like building relationships, growing teachers to be campus leaders, coaching new Google Certified Educators, increasing student engagement, mentoring a student podcaster by starting my own, offering tons of professional learning opportunities, and so much more.
My most recent breakthroughs have occurred with people who have been teaching 20+ years. I'm blown away by these teachers' willingness to learn and perseverance when things get tough for them. Every time I'm with them I learn something new too.
I pray I don't ever take for granted how much I love what I do. It's my mission field. Not every day is easy, and in fact, I feel challenged more days than not. For this I am thankful.
Tomorrow I start year number 12 in education. With certainty I can say that I had no idea what I was doing in the days leading up to the start of year 1 when I was an 8th grade Social Studies teacher and coach. I can't guarantee that I know what I'm doing now as an Instructional Technology Facilitator, and there are many days when I feel like I know even less than when I started. Either way you look at it, I am continuing to strive for excellence, learning what I can along the way.
Here's a little of what I've been up to this summer...in no particular order.
boys will be boys
Google's Expeditions AR Pioneer Program visited my middle school campus this week. Most of these kids were familiar with the virtual reality experiences Expeditions offers, so they didn't know quite what to expect. Once they got past the "fancy" phones and selfie sticks, they were pretty enamored with the technology. I mean, not too many people can say they've seen DNA inside Chromosomes, or stood next to World World II soldier, or held a Category 5 hurricane. These kids can, and they loved it.
science in the real world
Before Christmas one of my teachers had an idea he wanted to run by me. He had been thinking about taking his 7th grade Science students on a field trip to a nature preserve 30 minutes away and asked for my input. I was a bit skeptical at first because field trips, in my opinion, seem to be dying off...especially for middle school students. Nonetheless, I heard him out, and he started working on getting it approved.
Fast forward to last week, that approval and bus request had been accepted and scheduled. For me, that's where the fun began. The teacher and I discussed his vision for the trip, specifically the learning objectives, and then (since he asked me) we talked about how we thought technology could facilitate deep learning. My mind immediately went to our curiosity and contextual learning technology strands. Here's a link to the planning document we created. This was shared with our Science curriculum experts, who helped us keep the standards in focus and make the experience even better.
In our district, we believe that teachers should provide academic experiences that foster curiosity; we also believe students learn in a meaningful, relevant, and real-world context. I'm thankful for this teacher who stepped out to take a chance on a new kind of learning experience for him and his kids. I think what made this so special is that this idea came to him because he wanted to share something he was passionate about with his students. I truly think he felt empowered to pursue this endeavor because it originated from his love of all things outdoors.
Yes, learning happened, and students met the objectives. But more importantly, I saw young teenagers unplug, explore, embrace a foreign environment and experience many new firsts. There's something about letting loose and letting kids be kids. If you haven't seen the video, check it out below. Here's the setup site and student work.
Google Expeditions Beta
google expeditions app
A high school teacher I was working with last week asked students, "If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?" All students had an answer, but surprisingly the majority of them chose a place somewhere in North America.
The truth is our kids don't know how big to dream!
If our kids lack the curiosity and context to know where things are in the world, then why would they ever think they have the opportunity to go there and see it for themselves? When this teacher and I prepared a lesson we gave them 10 recommendations of Expeditions from all over the world that they could experience. To see high schoolers that excited about anything first thing in the morning was a welcome sight!
Over Spring Break I got to tour and photograph 19th century pioneer homes in our hometown. I've been pleased with how well this fits in with my Innovator Project. For the past couple of weeks (in between all of my actual job requirements) I've been writing the narrative that will tell the story of Pioneer Life on the Prairie. Now, I'm just 2 scenes away from being able to publish my own Expedition that I've been working so hard on.
There's a potential my Expedition could then be available to everyone in the world. It's entitled Pioneer Life on the Prairie, and I'm proud to say it's loaded with curriculum content and TEKS that are relevant to our students. The best thing about that is it gives students an idea of how their hometown fit into the story of history. We all live in cities rich with history, and it's up to us to learn and share that heritage.