I have migrated to a new site! Please find me at https://mandyfroehlich.wordpress.com/. As of April 15th, 2017 this site will no longer be updated. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Defining Educationese & Creating a Common Language

Education has so many buzzwords at any given time. We take these words, throw them into goals that we create, revamp our mission & vision statements to include them, and expect teachers and students to meet the goals. What we often don't do is define what the words mean to the district. How the district defines any particular word that is used as a driver for learning. The term innovation is a perfect example...personalized learning is another. If we don't take time to define the educationese that we use in our goals, it's difficult to expect people to know how to meet them.

Recently, I was presenting a workshop on personalized learning. The night before, I had an idea on how I might be able to get this very idea across. I revamped my presentation, and the next day I broke the participants into groups, gave them a word that I wanted them to define and asked teachers to close their devices briefly (gasp! - I know, it was only for a bit, though) so they couldn't look up the definition. The word was Nomophobia. Teachers were asked to define the word, create a SMART goal to meet the needs for this word, and action steps on how to meet the SMART goal. The result was amazing. Teachers created very real goals and definitions. They had an idea of what the word could be by noticing that the root word "phobia" was there, similar to how we might have an idea of what a buzzword might mean. They created action steps that would be best practice for meeting any goal. They had professional development offered, students were creating content, teachers were running PLCs based on the concept. They had many activities that we see in new districtwide and schoolwide implementations every day. When all the groups finished, we looked at how they had defined the unknown word. Even though they had fantastically realistic goals and activities, all of their definitions, although similar, were incorrect. All of them had an element of truth. The groups recognized that phobia was a fear, but the root word threw them off, therefore while the plans were solid, nobody knew what the goals and activities were really accomplishing.

(Nomophobia, by the way, is the fear of being without a mobile phone. I am a self diagnosed Nomophobiac.)

Sometimes, defining a word seems like an elementary task. Sometimes, it seems like it would be obvious that all stakeholders know what a term means. Sometimes, I think deep down, we are afraid of finding out that we were the ones who didn't know what it meant. No matter the reason why, when we create goals and implement new ideas without going through this important step, we are risking complete failure because we have no common foundation to build upon.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Would you do what you're asking of your students?

I think that we oftentimes have expectations of students that we, as adults, would not do ourselves. Many times, we file this under the fact that students are children and we are adults, so as adults we should get special privileges that students shouldn't have. However, not all of what we do should fall under this umbrella, and we need to be more cognizant of what we are actually asking of our students.

How We Listen
Since I have moved into instructional support (even as a director I'm still instructional support), I have been able to work with adults in a different capacity. As I provide professional development or hold a meeting, I can see things I couldn't when I was sitting as a participant. Oftentimes, I see participants multitasking, chatting on the side, or standing up because they "can't sit that long" (and I do all of these same things...sitting quietly through a long meeting is the closest thing I know to torture). Yet, students are often asked to sit for extended periods of time while doing nothing but listen. In education, we are just now seeing classrooms moving to flexible learning spaces, but not all classrooms have embraced this kind of learning support yet. If an administrator would ask adults in a meeting to close their technology, stop grading papers, and sit down quietly, many of us would be outraged.

Conflict Resolution
Another example is what we ask of students when they have a disagreement. Students come in from recess angry after arguing with each other, and we ask them to go get some version of a conflict resolution bridge, and tell them to go in the hall and work through it. Teaching kids conflict resolution is not the issue. Obviously this needs to be done. However, as adults we often take time to process a disagreement after having it. If we don't, we are often told we should have because people need time and space to think about what happened and what the best solution would be. Think of how it would feel if you were involved in a disagreement with a co-worker and the principal took you two immediately into the office and told you to work it out? It would be uncomfortable and possibly confrontational. Yet, we tell students to handle the situation immediately, which leaves them frustrated, angry and less likely to be able to process the situation they way they could have otherwise.

Uniform Expectations
As we go through our year as educators, we need to have expectations uniform from our leadership or we struggle trying to figure out what is expected from us, which makes sense. It's difficult to work in conditions where you're unsure of what's expected. Sometimes, we have a few leaders who have expectations that differ, and are either left frustrated trying to figure out what we need to do or stressed knowing that no matter what we do, it won't satisfy everyone's expectations (or both). Yet students go through their day interacting with several different teachers all with different expectations. For example, particularly at the secondary level, a student might have one teacher might consider "on time" as being in the seat with books out, another teacher may consider just being in the room as on time, and yet another considers on time as being as long as you can be seen outside the door and walk in prior to the sound of the bell ending. Those teachers might be the first three classes of a student's day, and they might still have four more. The expectation of what is considered tardy is only one small compliance in the grand scheme of rules and procedures that teachers might have implemented. We expect students to conform and adjust to us, but what is expected of students is sometimes not what we would accept as being reasonable as adults if the same were done to us.

Empathy needs to surround us as teachers, and I think many teachers are amazing at thinking about their students' learning challenges and life outside school, but when it comes to what is expected of students across their whole day, we may need some reflection time. If it is something that we wouldn't do ourselves as adults, maybe there is a better way in order to make it work for students.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Five Things to Think About When Talking To Students

Teachers are busy. No doubt. There are a million things going on around them at any given time. While trying to live in the moment, they are reflecting on what just happened and thinking about what needs to come next. Being a teacher brings the role of "multitasker" to a whole new level. However, while our jobs may include standards and best practices and getting that next math lesson ready, our entire reason for professional being is for our students, and being aware of our interaction with them is one of our most important duties. Here are five things I think we need to remember when talking to students:

Be Present

Oftentimes, we have an undercurrent of a to-do list running through our head at all times which keeps us from actually living in the moment that we're in. With such busy minds, it can be difficult to remove the thinking that distracts us from what is happening right in front of us.  Sometimes, I am thinking about an answer prior to the person even finishing, which diverts me from catching additional information they might be giving me in the conversation. Also, kids have super skills in detecting if someone is paying attention. It's imperative that we turn our attention to whoever needs us, quiet our minds in order to be in the moment with that person and give them our full attention.

Be Empathetic

Image result for difficult kids need us mostEmpathy can be a hard emotion to conjure when you're constantly on the move or trying to determine if a recess disagreement was bullying or tattling. But, so many of our kids are coming to us from situations that are not anything we've been unfortunate enough to experience. Recently, I was speaking with a consultant who worked in an area that the gang activity was really high. When working with a principal in a school from the area, they determined that the high rate of teen pregnancy was because the gang members were impregnating girls in order to raise the next generation of gang members. Think about the level of mental and physical strain that those kids were going through, yet they were still coming to school. Some of the kids have situations at home that we, as adults, we would be crawling under the covers and refusing to come out, yet they come to school and are expected to learn and act in a socially responsible manner. Sometimes, the most difficult kids are the ones that need our love and understanding the most.

Remember They're Kids

When my son was in first grade, he really liked his teacher. One night, he came home and told me that she liked a certain animal, and he was going to draw her a picture. He worked on it for hours, which is impressive for a child who was that young and didn't like to draw. When he was done, he was proud of his creation and asked me for an envelope that he could decorate to give it to her as a present. I gave him one, he spent more time decorating the envelope, and put it in his backpack for the next day.

After school, I asked him if he gave his teacher the present. He said yes, but didn't look as excited as I was expecting, so I followed up with, "How did she like it?" He told me that he tried to give it to her, but she was busy and told him to put it on her desk, and then never said anything to him about it so he didn't know if she opened it or not. He was crushed. He never drew another teacher a picture again.

It doesn't really matter if you're talking about a 5 year old or 17 year old, they are just kids. They are trying to figure out who they are, which let's face it, is something that even as adults we can't seem to get a handle on. Everything that happens to them will shape what they think and what they do in the future. That one interaction, where the teacher wasn't present, wasn't remembering that she was dealing with a child, affected my son. She probably doesn't even know she did it, but her attitude toward him had lasting effects. They're kids. They're not adults. They need patience and attention and to feel like you know they're there.

Model Good Communication Skills

I don't think that adults, including myself, really grasp how kids grab onto our words and actions. Even when it doesn't look like they're watching, they are still paying attention to everything we do. An old song that reminds me of this is by Harry Chaplin called Cats in the Cradle. Basically, the song is about a dad who doesn't have time for his son, and in the end the son doesn't have time for him. While this may be a little dramatic, I guarantee that when students watch us communicate and interact with others, they are taking in how that sounds and what that looks like and recreating it in their own interactions.

Take a moment and think about the communications you had during the day today. Were you present? Were you being an active listener? Did you smile? Nod? Look angry? Bored? I once talked to an assistant superintendent who I swear was thinking about what he was going to have for lunch throughout our entire conversation. Would you want your students communicating in the same fashion you do? Are you modeling the kind of communication you want your students to use?

They Want a Relationship With Us
When little ones seek attention, it's because they want adults to realize they're there. They want to have a relationship with us where we think that they're awesome. And they are, all in their own ways. Even as the students get older, they want that connection with their teachers. Even if they would never admit it in public, they enjoy having a friendly conversation with a teacher who has taken an interest in their interests, and who can connect with them on another level besides academic. When students talk to us, it is the perfect time to cultivate those relationships and make the connections. Your favorite teacher in school wasn't your favorite because they were super organized or taught the standard for equivalent fractions...it was the teacher who made the biggest impact by being present, listening, and making a connection. For some kids, these relationships might be the only ones they have, and that connection might mean the world to them.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Made in China: New Connections

I've joked before in posts about living my entire life outside my comfort zone, but it's true. It's where I've found the most rewarding, unexpected experiences to happen that, in some cases, have changed a part of my person that would not have otherwise been affected. A few years ago, I decided to begin to say yes even when I really wanted to say no. Sometimes, that means considerable angst and anxiety, and my poor friends and family take the brunt of it as I try to work through what seems to be a complete inability to take things as they come.

When I was asked to go to China for an international forum and to visit schools in order to see if there could be the possibility of student exchanges, I was more than apprehensive. China was never a country I considered visiting, and I was concerned about some of the stories I had heard about others' experiences. However, in the true spirit of trying to say yes instead of no, I agreed to go and, in turn, began my months worth of worrying and concern about what everything would be like, and if I would do something wrong no matter how hard I tried to control my Americanism and end up tragically offending someone. My good friend, Dave Gundlach, was convinced I would cause an international incident. Possibly end up in prison. I didn't really think he was that far off.

The plan was to travel with our high school principal, Randy Hatlen, and his wife Mary. But while they had each other, I would be going alone. Alone. Another thing I don't do well at. I was concerned about this constantly. I have traveled alone many times before, so that wasn't the issue. The issue was the part of being alone in a foreign country in which I would stick out like a sore thumb. We didn't have a clear itinerary. I didn't know what to pack. I didn't know what the hotel would be like. I didn't know if my curling iron would work (gasp!). All in all, this trip would be the opposite of everything that I need in my life to feel comfortable. Lists. Plans. Checkboxes. And we were missing all of them. Then, to top it off, the first change came instantly when we arrived in China. First thing, I was separated from Randy and Mary to go to a different hotel because our itineraries changed, and I was to go alone. Alone. By myself. In China. I cried for an hour when I got to the hotel. I'm not proud of that, but I was literally past my anxiety point and had no idea what to expect next. I was trying to tell myself that I had an opportunity that I might never have again. It didn't matter. I was distraught. It was pathetic.

The next day I was exhausted. I had five hours of sleep in 48 hours and I was almost sick I was so tired. However, my first school tour changed the entire game. Changed my entire view, really. Being able to interact with kids and see them learn, even when the teaching was so different and the style was like nothing I had seen, reminded me exactly why I do what I do when I work late hours and go away from my family to conferences and workshops. The students were thrilled to see us. Literally thrilled. They would squeal if we said hello. Blush if we asked for a picture with them or gave them a compliment. One boy, red-faced, head hung and embarrassed, came up to me to give me a paper flower he had made me. He was about 12 years old. It was the highlight and turning point of my trip. Kids are kids no matter where you go. They want to learn and grow and deserve that chance. Leave it to the kids to set me straight.

From that moment on, I vowed to try to take things as they came, and that was a good choice for me because had I been looking for the most random experience ever, I would have certainly gotten what I wished for in China. Ultimately, living outside my comfort zone allowed me to have an amazing, life-changing experience. Not only did I cultivate a love for the country and its inhabitants, but I met phenomenal people from all over the world. People that create positive change for education and are truly making a difference in their educational system. I was humbled to be able to be a part of their experience. For example, my new friend Sylvia Paddock, who works with schools to improve teacher effectiveness through professional development and shared professional practice, and who shares my weird sense of humor. Or the amazing Joel Backwell from Australia, who passionately believes that creating relationships with Asian countries will allow students to have opportunities in the future that they wouldn't have otherwise, and who has quickly become a good friend of mine because he makes me smile just by chatting with him. My new friends Dan Meyers and Scott McLarty who are headmasters of a Catholic private school in San Francisco and are not only ridiculously intelligent, but also the ones who can make me laugh until I cry repeatedly with their quick wit. And finally, Petri Vuorinen from Finland and Rients VanGoudoever, who I was able to have engaging, informative conversations with about the state of education in our respective countries. Also, they might be two of the sweetest people I know. These connections have already enriched my life both personally and professionally in very unexpected ways, and I haven't even landed back on US soil yet. At one point, we were engaged with people from around the world that represented seven different countries, and an outsider might have thought that we had been friends all our lives. I don't know about anyone else, but I could use more togetherness right now...less us against them. Hopefully, we were modeling the kind of connections we would like our kids to make; the kind of future collaborations and relationships that they need to have.

I'm more sure than ever that the choice to say yes when my whole being is shouting no is one of my better life choices. It's not easy. It's difficult to consistently choose to go against your gut, especially when everyone tells you to follow it. However, had I said no to this China trip, I would have been passing up an opportunity and friendships that I now wouldn't give up for anything.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

I'm Not a Natural

A few weeks ago, my friend George Couros wrote a blog post called No Shortage of Road and reading it made me smile because I could really relate to it. Basically, the post is about how he used to be able to run marathons and loved running, and now he doesn't and it's painful, and how sometimes it's hard to see what's behind you because you're so busy looking at the people passing you. So true, and it's inspired me to write my own blog post.

There are quite a few things that I am not a natural at. Things I have tried and they just do not come easy to me: public speaking, chemistry, and running (among others). I like to believe that I have a pretty healthy growth mindset, so it doesn't mean that I can't do these things, it just means that I need to work much harder in order to do them well. Public speaking is a prime example. As a kid, I didn't even talk to people let alone talk in front of people, so when I went to college I took every public speaking course I could find in order to conquer that fear. Now, I can speak in public and am often in front of people, so I joke and say that I live my entire life outside my comfort zone. I am not a natural public speaker, but I can speak publicly.

Running is another one of those things that I am not a natural at and I want so badly to be. Not too long ago I was in a #personalizedPD chat with my friend Jay Posick and he joked about getting back from something like a 12 mile run just for fun. JUST. FOR. FUN. And I instantly thought to myself, I could never do that and was disappointed in my meager three miles that I run (even my growth mindset needs a check sometimes).

I am not a natural runner. I say that because I need to work hard at it. I've been running for two years and there are times when I can't even run the three miles and need to walk some of it. I have asthma and sometimes that acts up, or I get those ridiculously painful cramps in my side (does anyone know how to stop that?!?). But, in looking back, I have come a long way from when I began. At first, I wouldn't even run outside because I knew I wasn't fast and I knew my running form was less than stellar. One of my favorite Friends episodes is where Phoebe tells Rachel to go outside and run even though she looks strange doing it. She says, "It doesn't matter if people are staring at you because it's just for a second and then you're gone!"

When I look back at where I started to how far I've come, I'm proud of the work I've done even though I might not be as good of a runner as others who have been running for the same amount of time. There have been times where it has been literally painful (today was one of those days), but the progress I've made has been from hard work, ignoring any feelings that people might be staring, and knowing that running is good for me mentally and physically. I'm more proud of the progress I've made in this area than I am in other activities that have come easy to me. I have failed a million times at running my entire three miles, but the times that I have run the three miles are enough of a success to keep me motivated to continue to work hard and get better.

It's important that we teach learners (adults and children) that it's not about comparing yourself to someone else, but it's about recognizing our strengths and weaknesses and and the work you do to grow in these areas. And it's not about the growth you do in relation to someone else's standard, but the progress you make according to your own standard. We can choose to use our weaknesses as excuses for why we will never be any better, or we can use them as motivation for growth and change. Just because something might not come naturally to us, doesn't mean we can't create our own type of success, and what might be considered successful to one might not be for another, but we should be celebrating those successes anyway. 

Image result for growth mindset

Friday, October 28, 2016

We Underestimate our Students

I always felt like one of my strengths as a teacher was that I always had high expectations for my students. I never lowered expectations based on a specific class or student. I expected them to grow and make progress (at their level), to enjoy learning (most of the time-we all have our days), and that each of them had strengths that made our class the community it was. Students would rise to the expectations. There was never a reason to lower them. I tried hard not to underestimate what my students could accomplish.

Yesterday, I was shopping with my daughter and I ran into one of my former pre-service teacher students from the university. She's a super girl, appropriately candid and always asked great questions. She will be a fantastic teacher. She was in one of my first classes I taught, and we all know as teachers how first classes have the ability to create a special imprint. When I asked her how her semester was going, she replied with "It's a joke". Immediately, I jumped to the conclusion that it was a lot of work, that she was swamped and struggling to keep up, therefore: a joke. When I asked her some clarifying questions, I found that by "joke" she meant that her classes were too easy. She said she was able to get all her work done at her job, hence the reason she was out shopping instead of studying like a college student should. She said that she thought her classes would be more rigorous. Instead, she barely has any work to do at all.

I'm not going to lie, I was a little shocked, but my pre-service students always continue to amaze me. It's one of the reasons that I love teaching those classes. Then I realized that I had totally underestimated her because she is a "college student" and I had fixed her with a get-out-of-as-much-work-as-possible stamp, which was wrong of me to do. In this case, she WANTS to learn. She WANTS to be a great teacher. Her classes are not providing her with enough to keep her learning, and it's irritating to her. IRRITATING TO HER that she can't get the learning she needs to be awesome (which she will be anyway because she will make it happen on her own - she'll be awesome in spite of school).

I feel like we find that same thing with teachers in the field. They have a window where they are excited and want to do what's best for their students but are not provided with the training and tools they need to move forward, so some burn out and some become cranky, but they don't start out that way.

As for the high expectations for students part, it was a good gut check for me. I was discussing this with a teacher at the beginning of school. He's a great guy, came into the teaching field from the private sector and is doing his absolute best while not yet having his teaching degree (he's working on that). When I asked him how it was going (he was first-year teacher exhausted, we can all relate) he said, "I don't know. I think I just need to lower my expectations for how my students should act". I told him absolutely not, if anything, raise them. Have faith that your students will rise to the occasion and will probably surprise you by bypassing your expectations and coming in with ideas and behaviors that are better than expected. Yet, I did the same thing with one of my students, underestimated her because she is a college student.

Image result for high expectations for students

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Change is an Opportunity to Do Something Amazing...All Around #IMMOOC

I have taught and read the Innovator's Mindset several times. I read it the first time for me, the second time for a book study for my school district's Innovation Teams, a third time through the lens of a pre-service teacher when I assigned it to my University of WI - Oshkosh students, and now again for the #IMMOOC book study. I have reflected on it repeatedly, blogged about it quite a few times, and have had/participated in multiple book studies on it, recommended it to hundreds of people. In all these discussions, the quote that seems to resonate with the most people is always:

Image result for change is an opportunity to do something amazing

It's easy to apply this quote to education. Our world in EDU is constantly changing. New roles are created, new curriculum is adopted, new technologies are being introduced all the time. Our world is practically fluid, rarely do things stay the same. For some, these changes in education are expected and while not always embraced, they are at least accepted. For others, change is a difficult and stressful time. The quote resonates with people because it takes the constantly fluidity of education and puts a positive spin on it. We are perpetually changing, and with that change, you can either fight it or take it as an opportunity and run with it. In that case, it's hard to imagine anyone not choosing to be amazing.

As another semester of my UWO students started and we were discussing the beginning of the book, and one student said, "I like this quote because I think it doesn't only apply to education and our jobs, but applies to our whole lives. We are in college. We've experienced big changes in our lives when we came here, and we can choose to do something amazing with our experience." I have been reflecting on what she said since that class, and it's true. Students in college are expected to make big decisions that will affect their lives forever. I remember George telling a story in one of his keynotes about a student who said she was expected to go out and change the world when she left for college, but shortly before that she had to raise her hand to go to the bathroom when she was in high school. It's a big change when you go from the constraints of high school to the openness of college, and the change is definitely a choice and an opportunity to do something amazing.

I've experienced this myself recently with taking my new position as Director of Innovation & Technology. And as much as I love my new position, there have absolutely been moments when I've felt like the amazing part of the change might not come, or "Who am I to think that I can do something amazing at all?". Change in any form is hard, and to convince yourself to do something amazing with that change can be even harder. I think about friends who are going through tough times personally: job changes, divorce, financial trouble, and it's possible that this quote might be able to be applied to all of that. In any of these cases, including in the classroom, the work related changes, the college student, the job change, the personal issues...the amazing part of the change is going to take some work.  It's probably not going to be a lightbulb moment or some epiphany where you think, "Ahhhh...there's the amazing!" but rather something that takes diligence and commitment, hard work and motivation, which can be the hardest to muster during difficult times. I think that remembering great quotes like these help us work through those changes in order to find the amazing, which brings me back to another one of my favorite quotes, and I think these two go hand-in-hand:
Image result for not telling you easy worth it

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Us vs Them on #satchatwc

It always amazes me how a single comment on Twitter can bring on a blog post.

This morning I woke up and did what I do almost every Saturday morning...I got myself a cup of coffee and sat down to read through Twitter posts. The chat #satchatwc was going on, and the participants are some of my favorite #PLN people, so I decided to jump in and attempt to catch up. The theme was "Us vs Them" and the discussion questions revolved around how we recognize this kind of behavior and ultimately stop it. Us vs them involves any groups of people where it's possible that they are not on the same page to support student learning. This could be parents vs teachers, teachers vs admin, or even teachers vs teachers.

If you haven't participated in a Twitter chat, it's amazing how when you're in the right one with the right people, your mind can be swimming with ideas and realizations by the end. Sometimes all it takes is one tweet. In this case, the tweet was this one that involved Dr. Clint Freeman & one of my favorite people, Shelley Burgess:

The part of Clint's tweet that resonated with me was the idea that the contributor to an us vs them mentality is the lens from which we view what happens around us...our perspective. Since I've entered education, I have been fortunate enough to be able to look through many different lenses. It has given me perspective that other people may not have. My first job was as a Family and Consumer Science teacher in middle school. During that time, I would have categorized the role I had as a teacher vs teacher. I often felt like the grade level teachers thought I "only" taught FACE while they did the "real" work. Not all teachers feel this way, but in the school I worked in at the time, this was the climate. I also worked as an elementary teacher, an instructional support teacher, and finally, my newest position in admin. I would say that in every position at every level, there was the feeling of an us vs them. The only thing that changed was who the "them" was.

It took me less than a month to experience this difference in perspective in my current position. The other day, a teacher said to me, "So, how do I go about getting a cushy office job like yours?" to which I had to choose between several responses that went through my head. I could have responded by telling that teacher that I was only running through the teacher's lounge in order to get to the office copier, eating a granola bar for my lunch after getting up at 4:15am for the last month in order to get to work early, or how I hadn't seen my kids three days out of the previous week because I had left before they got up in the morning and came home from work after they went to bed, or I could have told him that when I finally did make it to bed, I collapsed in exhaustion but would still wake up at 3:11am thinking about everything I couldn't get done in a day. But, I didn't. I wasn't about to perpetuate any kind of preconceived notions he had about administration, nor would it have done anything for the relationships and trust I have been trying to cultivate during the first month in my position. So, I smiled and kept walking. Plus, my guess is that there have been times he's done this same thing for his students.

Was that the right response? I have no idea. Some people think that admins should have all the answers. The truth is: I'm just trying to do the best I can for the teachers and students I serve. Just like everyone else in education.

As an Technology Integrator, people would often come up to me while I was working on my computer and start conversations with, "While you're not doing anything...". What they didn't understand was that I was making a quick instructional video or creating PD for teachers or researching an educational technology tool for a teacher, but their perspective was that I wasn't really working because I was on my computer. That's ok, it was their perspective. What I've found as I've moved positions is that this kind of thing comes from not understanding what another person does in a day. Teachers, without a doubt, have the craziest days. So many kids, so many standardized tests, so little time to go to the bathroom...but in every position I have experienced days where I wasn't really sure I'd make it through the day with my sanity. Sometimes, it's just a different kind of crazy busy. 

I believe that where we begin to misunderstand each other is when major decisions are made where all the information isn't available to everyone and there isn't a culture where trust has been established. I have already made decisions that have not been popular. The hardest decisions usually aren't. I try to let the question, "Is it supporting student learning" to guide me, and there are factors where sometimes what's happening absolutely does not support student learning. Not everyone always understands these factors, though, and it's not that I'm not willing to be transparent, and I will always provide anyone with the why behind my decisions, but rather that we need to start trusting each other to be professionals and make the best decisions for students. If that trust is broken, then that builds on the us vs them mentality. So, as usual, my conclusion is that, like everything else, the us vs them mentality begins and ends with relationships (or a lack thereof) and trust. The best way to develop empathy is to actually walk in a position's shoes, but second to that is building a culture where all "groups" have faith in each other's decisions. As an admin specifically, if you've built trust in staff by being consistent in decision-making (all decisions are guided by the mission, vision, and what's best for all learners), being visible and involved in classrooms, and knowing staff both personally and professionally, they don't need to have walked a day in your shoes in order to trust your decisions. They are more likely to trust in you, and in turn your decisions, and hopefully that reduces (if not eliminates) the Us vs Them mentality.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

How Do We Change Teachers' Perceptions of PD?

Last school year, I came up with the idea of creating a Google Apps for Education "Track". Instead of teachers attending one hour sessions on a specific Google App, myself and another Technology Integrator, Matt Callahan, developed a course in Canvas, our LMS, that covered eight of the Google Apps. In each module there are skill based lessons, examples of integration, discussion boards, formative assessments, professional readings on integration and innovation, and finally, a summative assessment that requires the teacher to take something they learned and implement it in the classroom, and then create a 3-5 minute video reflecting on how it went. In each discussion board and for each assessment, there are also choices as to questions to answer or activities to do, and each one is leveled (a beginner, intermediate, and advanced). Teachers are asked to challenge themselves in these areas, but ultimately which questions they answer and which assessment they complete is up to them. We work on district points, so the track is worth a significant number of points for completion toward their yearly goal. Teachers could choose to take it fully online or attend monthly one hour sessions where myself and Matt taught the module and supported the learning that needed to be done.

This track has, without a doubt, become my baby. I love it like I love my own children, and because of that, I am very protective of it. A requirement of joining the track was that it was all or nothing. Teachers needed to finish the whole track in order to earn all the points. When we were previously providing the hour long PD on GAFE, teachers were not attending all of the offerings. So, what was happening was we would have a teacher in a Slides PD that wouldn't know how to create a group in Gmail to easily share the Slides with their students because they never attended the Gmail PD. In order to increase capacity in this area, I felt like the entire track needed to be completed in order to really get a depth of knowledge on  GAFE and the integration into the classroom.

Overall, we have had an insane amount of positive feedback. I have been surprised multiple times by teachers searching me out to tell me how much they learned and enjoyed the track. However, even with the positive feedback, there was always a "but...". I truly dislike buts because they often negate the positive that was just heard. I often think about this quote by G. Couros, and even though I know it means in education in general, I like to apply it to my own thinking as well. The positives in my head need to outweigh the negatives that are often rolling around in there. Something I'm working on. But what bothered me was that the negatives for the track were nothing we were willing to change because it erased the best practices we were tried so hard to include in the learning. It really wasn't about what needed to be changed to be better PD. It was about what needed to change to make it "easier" or "faster". These were the kind of comments I've received:

"I learned a ton but it took me way longer than it should have."
"Why do we need discussion boards? It seems useless to need to talk to other people about this."
"I don't want to do the final reflection. Is it a requirement?"
"If I just finish five modules, can I get five points?" (which my answer was no, it defeated the purpose of the track)
"I attend the face to face monthly meetings. How many can I miss and still get my points?"

Let me be clear: I am all for feedback, and we have taken constructive feedback on the track and made changes for another upcoming enrollment. So, I take all feedback very seriously.

At first, I took some of these comments as a direct reflection on the track's setup  and implementation, but after reading the post on edSurge Why Good Professional Development is Crucially Linked to an Educator's Attitude, I started to reflect and I came to a conclusion that some of the comments may not be as linked to the track as it is to educator's attitude toward PD in general.

Every single teacher in the track (and we had 120 teachers out of 800 in the district take the track for the first year) felt like they learned a lot and the track was worth their time. Even the ones that complained it took too long still felt like they learned a ton. Part of the problem, however, is that points are mandated by our district. Teachers feel like they now must participate in PD in order to move up on the pay scale and remain a "teacher in good standing". And, we all know what happens when we create a situation where people must comply with an initiative...all of a sudden it becomes work when prior to that they would have done it before for their own professional learning. Teachers are becoming disillusioned with PD because they must comply with the points initiative. Now, I'm not saying that I know a better way to implement the system...I'm just saying that this has been a side effect.

I also feel like the type of PD that we had been offering, myself included, was mostly sit-and-get one-size-fits-all learning. Since I've become more aware and fully subscribe the the idea of personalized PD, my PD has improved, but we have still conditioned teachers to feel like their time, opinion, and learning is not going to be valued when they attend professional development, so we are now fighting that battle as well. When teachers leave a PD that has been valuable to them, they can take something back to their classroom and implement it immediately, and they are excited about what they learned...this shouldn't be something that is a pleasant surprise to them. This should be the norm, but this is the attitude that we have cultivated by not allowing for teacher voice and choice in their learning, and now it is shown in the attitude toward PD.

What I think is ultimately happening with most teachers in the track is that they enjoyed learning and becoming a "master" at GAFE, but because it's PD, they don't think they should like it. Last night we watched a guy put a meat hook through his nose on America's Got Talent. I think it's similar to watching something like that...you can't take your eyes off from it because it's exciting, but you know you shouldn't enjoy it. Most teachers commented positively about their learning, the choices they were given throughout the track, and how they now feel more comfortable with their Chromebooks and implementing GAFE in the classroom. As we become more aware of our professional development and how to personalize it to teacher needs, I am hopeful that the attitude will change to the acceptance that PD can be something we celebrate as an indication of professional learning and growth, rather than work we need to do as a part of our job.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Adjunct Teaching

Sometime last December an opportunity to teach at the University of Oshkosh literally fell into my lap. The professor for the one and only instructional technology course for students in the college of education was going on sabbatical, and the school was looking for adjuncts to pick up her classes. I applied. I interviewed. I was offered two sections on the spot. It was truly something I had wanted to do since entering into the field of education, so I was beyond excited for the opportunity.

I began planning immediately. I tried to think of what my professors had done that I really liked when I was in college. They:

  • made me feel as though they cared and formed relationships
  • gave me practical knowledge as well as theory
  • remembered that we all had lives outside of school (I happened to have 3 kids while finishing my bachelors)
  • made me laugh
  • told me stories
  • challenged me to think differently
And I tried to remember what I didn't like:
  • when they were super unorganized (I had a prof that wore her button-up shirt inside out once)
  • the work seemed like it was designed only to keep me busy
  • they lectured - all. the. time
  • there was no "give" to their methods (due dates were due dates no matter what, how I showed my learning was nonnegotiable, etc)
  • they clearly didn't care
I also thought about my experiences in the professional development that I provide to teachers, and how I have been working toward providing PD that is more personalized and that has voice, choice and pacing options. I wanted that for my students as well because I wanted to model that type of classroom environment and learning. I wanted to model innovative thinking. I wanted to show the importance of making connections.

In true "first year teacher fashion", I'm not sure how much of this I did. My good intentions were definitely there. We read the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros (clearly I have an affinity for this book). I tried to come up with innovative ways for students to do their weekly reflections/discussions on the chapters. We did EDUin30 videos, group discussions, a Twitter chat, used Padlet...I wracked my brain trying to think of different ways. We connected with Jen Hegna and her Innovation Cohort of grad students twice during the semester to grow our PLN and learn the importance of being connected. I gave choice in their assessments and modeled using rubrics to allow for that choice. Once they figured out that they could actually be creative in their assessments, mainly in our very last Innovator's Mindset reflection, what they turned in was amazing. Certainly beyond my expectations. Every. Single. One. 

Still, I feel like I could have done more.

Now that it's the last two weeks of the semester, it has really hit me that the two classes I had this semester are the equivalent of the first class that I ever taught in middle school and then again in the first class I taught in elementary, I am going to MISS them. Every single Monday and Wednesday I laughed, had moments of teacher pride and saw many of them grow in their thinking. Sometimes I caught them rolling their eyes at me, but hey, there are times I'd roll my eyes at myself, too. One of the reasons I love being a technology coach is because I feel like I can reach so many more students by working with their teachers, even if I don't do it directly. I feel the same way about teaching students who will one day be teachers, and on the way I also figured out that college students are phenomenal people. When you allow them, they love to laugh and have fun while they learn. They still can have a creative side when you allow them. They will challenge themselves as evidenced by some of their EDUin30 videos and how they posted them on Twitter (SO proud of them for that-see examples here). Sometimes I think we spend so much time labeling people with their generation and focusing on what they don't do that we forget to remember the awesome people that they are and focus on their strengths. In the past, I have been guilty of this as well. Overall, I have learned that it is possible to love students after 14 weeks, and teaching these courses might be one of the most important jobs of my career.


I highly recommend, if given the chance, to give being an adjunct a try. It is a truly rewarding experience. When you do, I hope you have someone like my friend Brian Bartel, who is a tech integrator like me by day and an adjunct by night, who answered every one of my questions. All 1001 of them. At least twice (I suspect he's just copying and pasting answers to me now). Thanks Brian! :)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Implementation of Innovation Teams

The 2015-2016 school year was my first year as a Technology Integrator. When I first began, both the position and I were new to the district. My understanding when I started was that some schools had "Tech Teams" and some didn't, and even the ones that did couldn't really tell me what the purpose was. Until I could get a handle on what was happening in the schools in regards to technology and innovation, I decided to hold off on beginning any kind of team.

This year, following in one of our high school's footsteps, I decided to start teams that focused on personalized learning and different innovative s, and I called our teams Innovation Teams. Currently, I am the Technology Integrator at three elementary schools, and each school has teachers and administrators that are a part of the team (one team, three schools). Teachers are on the team on a completely voluntary basis, and they are receiving no additional compensation of any kind for their extra work. Everything they do is to make themselves better for their students and profession, and I am super proud and humbled to be working with such a dedicated group of educators.

We began with a book study on what I knew to be a fantastic read in The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. I've read the book multiple times, as well as assigned it as a class textbook for my UWO class, and I strongly felt that the mindset that the book describes was exactly what I wanted my Innovation Teams to embrace. We are almost done with the book, and there have been many ahas and that's-what-I-was-thinkings along the way. I think that the idea of being open to new experiences, the characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset, discussing an innovator's mindset versus growth mindset versus fixed mindset versus a false growth mindset has been eye opening and has set the teachers on a self-reflective journey prior to really digging in to what we wanted to accomplish.

Once the book study was underway, we also pulled up articles and research on Flexible Learning Spaces, how to create one, what to expect from students, and the benefits of implementing them. For me, I felt like Flexible Learning Spaces was a fantastic way to create teacher buy-in. Considering I was a former elementary teacher, I knew that I gravitated toward initiatives that I could both see and that would make a difference in my classroom immediately if not sooner. My thoughts were that studying and implementing Flexible Learning Spaces would hit both of these targets. In order to allow for the purchasing of flexible seating options, each principal in my three schools decided to pitch in some funds for purchasing, and each teacher put their classroom up on GoFundMe to get additional monies. There was a variety of success, but all Innovation Team teachers have made modifications to their classroom in various degrees. Some of the teachers who have made the biggest changes have plans to blog on their new classrooms and successes in our new collaborative blog: Teaching, Learning & Innovation.

As teachers began working on their classroom design and figuring out what works for their students, we also began looking at personalized learning and what it means for students to have voice and choice in their learning. We have decided to put pacing on the back-burner for now since set school schedules don't allow for as many pacing options in elementary, not that we can't get there eventually, but voice and choice are easier to implement within the elementary curriculum. Currently, we are implementing the practice of creating a rubric with standards and allowing for choice based on the rubric. Our goal is to create more authentic learning experiences for the students. We are working our way there.

In one school, we implemented our version of a student led edcamp, which we plan on doing again with some tweaks to make it more edcamp-like. We are also looking into Genius Hour and what that looks like in elementary. Each of the Innovation Team's teachers have gravitated toward a different part of what we have studied, but they are all moving forward. What has happened is that we are ending up with teachers who have become "experts" in different areas and it will allow our team to be stronger as everyone brings something different to the table.

I knew when I began the Innovation Teams that there were pockets of innovation and elements of personalized learning already going on in classrooms. I by no means think that I have brought innovative thinking to these teachers, but rather have put them together in order for them to feed off from each other and grow. I just provide them the support they need to move forward and the resources that challenge their thinking. My hope is that once others see what these teachers have accomplished (and in a relatively short period of time!) there will be a shift in thinking and we will be working toward a culture of innovation where innovation and personalized learning aren't the exception or a special occurrence, but happen everyday and will be known instead as simply learning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Just Met You But I Love You

I often joke and say I "don't keep friends". Really, I mean that I put so much effort into my profession and my family that I often don't have time to really cultivate relationships with others in the way that, in the past, I would have considered someone to be a friend, which really begs the question, what exactly is a friend?

Recently, Julie Smith posed this question in a Tweet: can you be friends with people online? People you've never actually met? Before really diving into Twitter, I might have said no. I mean, how can you be friends with someone you've never even made eye contact with. But, since reexamining what a friend means to me, I'd argue that you can absolutely be friends with people you've never met. Relationships can be formed online. Meaningful ones, even.

All my friends have certain roles. My best friend, Dawn, is the one I call when I need to vent or want to do something crazy (I dragged her with me when I got my first tattoo, for example). My friend, Kristi, is someone that if I ever got into a boxing match, she'd be the one that would let me tap out. She's a tough chick and also one of the smartest people I know. My friend, Anne, is someone that will guaranteed make me laugh until I spit out all my green tea to the point where I struggle sitting by her in meetings, and my friend Matt will help me with anything I need anytime I need it, sometimes even before I know I need it.

At first Twitter allowed me to fill the personalized PD void and connected me with others who both challenged my thinking and inspired me to be a better educator than I was. And it was great. I would see people Tweet about their "tribe" and how they "loved" other Tweeters, and I was all like, "What? You've never even seen that person?" Then, one glorious day, I found the #personalizedPD chat and my entire perspective changed. Instantly, I loved these people. I'm convinced that Mandy, for example, is my personality doppleganger. I think that God made one of us and said, "Whoa, that one turned out pretty well. I'm going to try that recipe again." (Of course, she must've been the second one made because he made some modifications to make her funnier - #jealous). Jason & Kenny have welcomed me with open arms and take my teasing and off-topic-ness like champs. They have even invited me (and by invite I mean I had to beg a little) into their Voxer personalized PD group.

So, my perspective on what constitutes a friend has changed. Sometimes I think people use the words "friend" and "acquaintance" interchangeably, but these people have definitely made their way into fulfilling a role in both my personal and professional lives. And really, when it comes down to it, what difference does it make what we label people as long as they make us happy and support us in our journey.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Freedom to Fail

I have been failing for a long time. I've had loads of practice at it. I was failing way before it was cool to fail, and telling people that I had failed never bothered me even before it was "a thing". I'm the first one to admit that I have failed, have no problem pointing out to someone I've failed, and immediately look for ways that I can improve and grow from my failing. In every experience I've had with failing, however, I've noticed there is one constant: how you and your failing is perceived by those around you and their subsequent attitude can be drastically affected by their mindset.

We have one camp of growth mindsetters who believe that we need to fail in order to grow, and honestly, thank goodness. These are my people. They believe that failing is just a part of growth, and even though eventually you must have enough grit and determination to succeed in your endeavor, you will most likely fail on your way. But, that's okay! Each failure provides lessons that get us closer to glorious success.

Then there are the people who either don't feel this way or maybe just don't know any better. They are the ones who either falsely claim that failure is okay but don't really believe it, or just don't even accept failure as an option to begin with. I've worked with some of these people...admins, other teachers, instructional coaches, students (and who has modeled that for them?)...and inevitably what happened is I felt like I was seen as someone who was incompetent in whatever area I had admitted my failure. I was no longer asked questions or for help, no longer asked to mentor others, and definitely not asked my opinion. Even though they wouldn't change the way I believed regarding failure, I absolutely stopped admitting to anyone I didn't trust that I had failed. I kept it to myself and there were a few downfalls from that: 1) I no longer had the option to reflect on my failures by collaborating with someone and finding a better answer 2) I never modeled how to fail and grow for anyone who was not yet in that mindset 3) I no longer had the option to reflect on my failures by collaborating with someone and finding a better answer (that was an important one worth repeating). In effect, I stunted my own growth.

Sometimes, I feel like we talk about failure only in philosophical discussions, but in practical terms are not always willing to put it into practice. The freedom to fail should be something that is an expectation in classrooms. Not that failure is an expectation in all that we do, but that all educators and students are given the freedom to fail without judgement, taught how to take lessons and learning from the failure, and persevere in working toward success with the learning. Once we establish that kind of culture in a school, there will be no reason for anyone to adapt their own beliefs to those around them, like I've had to do, because those who succeed because they failed will be seen as competent, growth minded professionals.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Just Keep Swimming or Create Real Change?

Last night, I was participating in one of my very favorite Twitter chats: #PersonalizedPD (Tuesdays, 8pm CST). Question seven was regarding what we've done to try to bring personalized PD to our district, and this was my post:

After laying in bed and thinking about the chat, I started to get a little irritated with myself that I used #JustKeepSwimming, because to me that phrase implies that I'm fighting to stay afloat, and  just staying afloat in my job has never been one of my goals, although admittedly some days I absolutely feel like that is all I'm doing.

What I really want to do is cannonball into the water. Some teachers will think it's funny and enjoy the ruckus, while others will grimace and mumble about the splashing, but all will move forward on the waves. And when others see me cannonball, they just might get out of the water and try to cannonball themselves, and then we can all be moved from their waves as well. I don't want to float, or wade, or tread water or just keep swimming or any other type of water analogy that implies I'm not moving forward.

Part of the challenge in being an instructional coach is that we are expected to provide the professional development, but don't always have access or authority to make the changes that we want to see or we believe to be best practice. We can implement new learning and personalization into our own PD, but there are times that our PD is still managed top-down, and we have very little say in how that looks outside of our own sessions and planning. To continue to focus only on my own PD would be the equivalent of allowing myself to keep swimming, or maintaining the status quo. To create a lasting change, because I believe THAT strongly in personalized professional development, is what I really want to do.  It's either go big or go home for me, and I feel it's about time that I figure out how to encourage and create meaningful change, because while we all learn from failure, ending with failure is not an option.

Monday, March 21, 2016

How Do We Move Toward a More Personalized PD Experience?

I love my job. Seriously. One of my favorite components of being a Technology Integrator is the professional development that I am able to provide teachers to help them with technology skills, integration, and innovative thinking. When a teacher comes back to me and tells me that s/he used something I taught them with kids, it makes me all eyes-lit-up, jump-up-and-down, arms-flapping-happy. I have the ability to affect so many more students' learning by providing their teachers with what they need to enhance their already awesome skill set.

Back in December, I presented at the TIES Conference in Minnesota, which is one of my other favorite parts of being a technology integrator. I was incredibly nervous because I was presenting for the first time alone. In trying to calm myself in the moments prior to beginning, I chatted my boss, Dave Gundlach, for support. He said, "Mandy, just go up there and do what you're good at. Teach." My stomach dropped. I was about to get up and talk at people for 50 minutes. That was never something I would have done with my students when I had a classroom. Although the session went fine, I felt like it was a massive fail because I realized that even though I love presenting and providing PD, there was a seriously high probability that I stunk at it.

In a total twist of ironic fate, my session at TIES was on providing personalized, cohesive PD for teachers in technology. I went over creating an entire curriculum of Google Apps for Education including skills practice, integration techniques, discussions, and professional readings in order to increase capacity in our teachers and make them the "experts" in Google. The Track, as we call it, has some elements of personalization in the way that it has scaffolded & tiered practice sets, choices in discussion prompts and pacing options. It can also be taken completely online through our Canvas LMS, or it is the teachers' choice to come to monthly sessions where myself and Matt Callahan go through the online modules face to face. While I am proud of the Track and the opportunities it provides for teachers who might not have otherwise taken on learning about Google, the class option we provide is still a traditional sit and get, and every other professional development that I provide is that way as well. My problem is that I know it, and I don't know what to do about it.

Before I even left the conference I began to research how to make PD more personalized and have come across an entire community who believes as I do (with special thanks to Jason Bretzmann and #personalizedPD which has been an amazing resource). I want to create PD that models the type of personalization we want to see in the classroom. This has been my first challenge. After all, teachers are not students. Adult learners are not the same as child learners, although many of the same ideas for personalization apply. I wanted teachers to have voice and choice in their professional development along with additional pacing options. I strongly believe that, especially in the case of technology learning, there needs to be both skills practice AND integration techniques, along with a study of growth mindset and how it relates to innovation. In putting all of this together, PD needs to be ongoing with additional embedded support versus a one-and-done model if we truly want to make sustainable changes to teaching and learning.

So, I need some innovative thinking help. I need some strategies for creating a more personalized professional development experience while still addressing different skill levels, different integration levels, different content areas, and providing specific follow up support. I would love to try and edCamp style session one day, but the sessions I need the most help with are targeted sessions where the teachers need to come out with information on a specific idea (like GAFE, for example). Any examples of professional development that went really well or conversation on personalized PD I would welcome with open arms. I am looking for my opportunity to do something different with my PD. My goal is for teachers to leave any session I provide with energy and enthusiasm to implement what they've learned with their students. After all, it IS all about student learning, but in this case, it starts with providing the PD that will make a difference.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Kids with To-Do Lists

I was walking down the hall the other day and a couple of fifth grade boys were walking the opposite way. I did my normal, "How's it goin', boys?" and from one of them in return I received, "Mrs. Froehlich, I have so much on my plate right now. I'm just so busy." At first, it made me giggle a little to think that this fifth grade boy thought he was so busy as my scrolling list of adult to-dos was ticking through my own head, but later, in telling the story to a fellow tech integrator, we started discussing how sad it actually was that the boy felt like he was so overwhelmed with everything he had going on in school, and that's not including anything he has going on at home.

Recently, my son suffered a concussion during a basketball game. He missed two weeks of school during the worst possible time...right at the end of the trimester. After those two weeks, he was back for half days for a week. In trying to stay on top of what he would need to do, I emailed his teachers from last trimester and this one to get his list of assignments that he would need to do. Fortunately, the school district has an actual concussion protocol that they follow, so each teacher was willing to be lenient on what he finished and what he didn't. Still, each teacher gave me about four to five assignments that needed to be done. That was out of seven teachers. In three weeks, two full-time and one half time, with more than half of his work forgiven, he had a minimum of 28 assignments and tests to make up along with keeping up with his current daily work. If he did one a day, it would take him almost a month to catch up.

I don't get overwhelmed often by what I have going on, but when I do, it is a terrible feeling of helplessness. As an adult, I feel barely equipped to handle these feelings at times, let alone being a fifth grader or a freshman in high school. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the politics of school and the standards that we need to teach that we forget to be empathetic towards out students. We discuss the importance in teaching our students empathy for others, but forget to practice it ourselves. In an article called Busy teens lack time for fun, or even lunch Chris Churchill describes how students are working through lunch or skipping it all together in order to maintain their studies and how insane that seems. One of his recommendations for a remedy? Giving less homework. I'd vote for no homework unless it is an authentic activity with true value, but that's just me (oh wait, and a bundle of researchers, but I digress...).

We are adults with adult responsibilities for far longer than we are kids. Students shouldn't be so overwhelmed with what is going on in school where it causes stress and, Heaven forbid, a true nervous breakdown. If our teaching is causing this type of stress in our kids, it's time to reevaluate what we are doing in the classroom to cause it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

SLedCamp (Student Led edCamps)

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to the idea of Student Led edCamps. Being a Public Relations Coordinator for edCamp Oshkosh and a total believer in the power of the learning that can happen through an edCamp, I was all for trying the idea out. All I needed were some test subjects teachers who would be willing to work through what it would look like when it was implemented. Lucky for me, three of my fifth grade teachers were up for the challenge.

Fortunately, most of us had been to an edCamp and knew how sessions were grown organically by the attendees of the conference. What we didn't know was what it looked like when students took the helm, so I decided to research what others have done. I researched and researched and researched. I found blogs and articles on the benefits of Student Led edCamps and teachers who had implemented it and found it to be a wonderful way to empower kids and engage them in their learning. What I didn't find were any resources on HOW to implement such a project. I wanted perimeters (if there were any), timelines, guidelines...but I couldn't find any of that. So, we started from scratch, and my hope in posting this information would be to share what we did, what was successful, what failed, and what will be done differently next time.

Around this same time, I had just finished the book The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. He spoke about Identity Days at his school where students and staff were able to present on a topic that they were passionate about. In one chapter he says, "Allowing students to share their interests created an environment where they felt that their voices mattered and that what they cared about mattered as well." I loved this idea, and at the first brainstorming meeting I suggested that we did a mashup of an Identity Day and a Student Led edCamp. These are the basics of what we ended up with on our planning doc:

  • Students could volunteer to lead a 20 minute session on a topic that they are passionate about. If they wanted one partner that was also passionate about the same topic, that was ok.
  • We wanted students to TRY to incorporate some sort of academic skill. For example, if a student decided to present on baking, they could also talk about fractions and how they relate to a recipe. More on this later...
  • I would offer (as the technology integrator) my services at some designated lunch recesses to assist the leaders with anything they needed as they planned such as presentation help (although presentations did not need to be done on technology - it was the choice of the student), connecting with experts in the field that they were passionate about, or planning out what they were going to say.
  • The majority of the planning and work for the SLedCamp would be done on the students' own time either at home or when they were done with work in class.
We really had no idea if the kids would go for this or not. Even though they could talk about something that really interested them, they had to do all the work on their own time, and weren't required to even participate and it wasn't graded. I think that my three teachers were skeptical that the students would take something like this on.

Our next step was to get all the fifth graders together to show them a presentation showing them an example of a teacher edCamp and explaining what we were thinking. They were instantly excited and students began signing up to lead sessions. We began with 63 total students and, after a couple of changed minds, 38 asking to lead a session either individually or with a partner. 

We gave the students two weeks to get ready for their sessions. I met with them during recess several times to try to help them in any way I could. One issue we had was that there were not enough computers available for students to work, and some didn't have computers at home to work. Our computer lab was reserved during many of the days that I had available to work with the students, so we did the best we could and the teachers tried to allow time in the computer lab.

Close to SLedCamp Day, we had all students choose the sessions that they wanted to attend. We were afraid that there would be some sessions that nobody would choose, and truthfully we weren't sure what to do if that happened. Fortunately, it did not. This was our final schedule.

The day of SLedCamp really went well. We had very few behavior issues because students were engaged in the learning. One teacher stayed in each room with the students to supervise, but students watched the clock and transitioned without much prompting. They felt in control of their SLedCamp. The Leaders were amazing. Even students who would typically not get up and present were enthusiastic. Many students were absolutely natural teachers and it was obvious that some teaching strategies were modeled for them. For example, in a drawing session, I heard the leader say, "Everyone give me a thumbs up if you're ready to move on!"
Segway Demonstration

Group Cheesecake Creating

Cupcake Selfie

He was so excited for the Drone session that he brought
his own iPad to record the presentation.

Overall, our first SLedCamp was a huge success. The students were excited about what they learned from their peers.
"It inspired me to want to learn more about technology."

Upon reflecting upon the day ourselves, we found that the next time, we wouldn't bother asking the students which session they wanted to go to and scheduling them out. I think that our worries were unfounded that some students wouldn't have attendees. Also, the next time that we have SLedCamp, our sessions are going to be more academic and possibly we will try to embrace more of the true edCamp style where the sessions are grown organically from the participants. Only about half of the students included any kind of skill into their sessions, so that was a fail on our part for not making that more clear. For the first time, this time, the way we did it was great. We created buy-in and the students said that they would not have been comfortable presenting immediately without time to prepare. Regardless, it was an awesome experience for both us as teachers to see that side of the students and the students to be given the chance to show a part of themselves that they might not have otherwise shown.

I hope this post was helpful to anyone thinking of taking something like this on. If you have any questions, please let me know!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The First Post

The first post is the hardest. It has to be. There’s no established writing style, no inside jokes from another post to fall back on, no knowledge of my credentials or if what I have to say is worth the five minutes you found to read blog posts that will challenge your thinking and improve your teaching. However, when speaking about goals, one of the smartest guys I know asked me “Why not?”, and I couldn’t answer him with anything that didn’t involve me showing a complete lack of faith in myself - something I would never have allowed in my students. Therefore, welcome to my first blog post.
I didn't set out to be a teacher. To be honest, when I went back for my Bachelor’s degree my own kids were little and the summers off sounded fantastic. Being done for the day when they were done: phenomenal. Spring break. Winter break. Snow days. A magical place called “Teachers’ lounges”. Need I say more?
When I was hired for my first job in a middle school I was terrified. I thought middle schoolers were narcissistic, cruel, and wore their pants down to their knees. They swore like pirates while looking like 12 year olds, made crude hand gestures, and might even try SMOKING for goodness sakes. I was fairly certain that they were going to eat me alive and laugh while they were doing it. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It took me about three months to figure out that my strong suit was humor and making connections to the students and I loved them. LOVED them. Many of them I loved like my own children. I had been right. They could be narcissistic, cruel, and all the other preconceived characteristics that I described...sometimes, but mostly they had moments of being little kids again loving a five minute hand-eye coordination game, crying when someone hurt their feelings, and were just trying to navigate their way through middle school unharmed which was not much different than what I was doing. I think they recognized that in me, and there was a great deal of mutual respect and affection because of it. Since then, I’ve always said that there is nothing like teaching middle schoolers, and I mean that in the kindest, most wistful way possible.
When I moved to teaching elementary school, I treated my students like a family. I didn’t know how else to treat them. There were days that I saw those kids more than I saw my own. I designed my classroom to look as much like a living room as possible. I had a couch against everyone’s better judgement. “I’d have lice” they said. “They’ll fight over spots” they said. And they did, no doubt. One year I even had to have a schedule on who could sit on the couch at what time, but they did it because they loved that old, ratty, 70’s style brown and orange couch. When they would leave for the year, they would say good-bye. To the couch. But, it was because it had been part of their home for a year. Before I left the classroom, I had so many different chairs and spots to sit that nobody had to fight. I was doing flexible seating before I knew what flexible seating was. Had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten rid of desks all together. Those moments of allowing the students to sit where they wanted, work how they were comfortable, even if it meant me getting down on the floor to hold our reading group, connected the kids to each other and to me in a way that desks couldn’t facilitate. There is more to flexible seating than a choice in where to sit. It helped build my classroom community.
My last experience as a classroom teacher I had looped from fourth to fifth grade with the same students. The students had the chance to opt out of my class for fifth grade and not a single one left. Having the same class two years in a row, especially the class I had, was truly the best experience of my career and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any teacher lucky enough to be given the chance. At some point in that year I discovered that I belonged in education. Actually belonged there, like a club that I originally didn’t want to be a part of. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without the influence that all my students have had on me. I wouldn’t be the professional that I am if my students, and now other classroom teachers, hadn’t  inspired me to continue to learn and grow. So, for the teacher who didn’t want to be one, and a believer in the fact that everything happens the way it’s supposed to, I am truly grateful for teaching and how it has shaped my life. The education profession is like no other in the type of relationships you create and the influence you have on students, and we are all fortunate that our paths have brought us to students to love, protect, and teach.