What Does An Assistant Principal Do, Anyway?

Preface

Recently, I was doing my usual nightly scroll through Twitter. If you’re anything like me, you’re used to seeing the most ridiculous headlines fly by without giving it much thought. In an instant we decide if something is worthy of our attention, or if we toss it into the never ending pile of “junk” that we don’t care to read. Many of the tweets in my feed are related to education – I follow a myriad of educators that I admire on Twitter. Many of the tweets in my feed are also political – I find it important to try to stay informed. If you’re familiar with the political and educational climate in Kansas, you also know that one cannot talk politics without talking education.

was a bit taken aback when I came across this article – where Kansas governor candidate Kris Kobach indicated he believes that education in Kansas is top heavy, and schools do not need the amount of assistant principals they currently have. He incorrectly stated that one Wichita high school has 12 assistant principals. A spokesperson later corrected the statement to say that between two Wichita high schools there are 12 administrators, but they stood by the sentiment that this was still too many, and that this was excessive and top-heavy. Kobach claims that more money needs to be spent in the classroom – on teachers salaries and “on the computers and books.” Before I go much further, I think it’s important that I note a couple of things. 1) I do not disagree with the sentiment that more money needs to be pumped into teachers and into resources. We actually agree on this. I think we disagree in how this should happen, but nonetheless, we agree on it. 2) Politically, I’m always evaluating where I stand, reflecting on what’s happening, and try to stay level headed, and use… common sense. I find that common sense is found on both sides of the political divide, and I align myself differently for different issues. I believe in treating others with dignity and respect. I do believe we currently live in a society where extremists on both sides’ main goal is to pit people against one another instead of coming together for commonalities and seeing past the red or blue that too often defines who we are and what we stand for.

Now that I have that out of the way,  I want to revisit one quote I can’t get out of my mind from the article I linked up earlier, where Kobach is quoted as saying, “My high school had one assistant principal, and I didn’t know what that guy did.”  I’ll be honest here – the fact that he is seemingly basing his opinion of what assistant principals do (or don’t do) on what he observed as a student in high school is a bit absurd. I think I stand for several APs when I say, for those who believe we don’t do anything, if you were to shadow us for a week, day, or even an hour, you just might leave with an appreciation for what we do. I realize that may not ever happen for a number of reasons, so I thought attempting to educate people in the daily lives of assistant principals would be a decent place to start. Mr. Kobach, I have no idea who the assistant principal was when you were in high school, and I have no idea if he was any good at his job, so I can’t speak for him. What I can do, however, is try to paint you a picture of the efficient way schools are run today, and why each AP position is so vital to a school’s success. So, without further adieu, here’s my blog post on, “What Does an Assistant Principal Do, Anyway?”

What Does an Assistant Principal Do, Anyway?

Olathe West High School is an amazing place to work. I’m surrounded by hard working educators every single day, and I am very fortunate that I get to call that place home. Part of what makes it such an incredible place is my administration team, composed of my principal, three other assistants, and myself. That’s five total. We are a 5A, soon to be 6A school in one of the largest districts in the state. Within a few years, we will most likely have close to 2,000 students enrolled. For those of you who are new here, Olathe West is in its 2nd year of operation, and we will grow by hundreds of students each year until we reach capacity. Please bear with me as I describe how each of my colleagues contributes to the overall functioning of our school, and how by investing in them, you are also investing in the success of our teachers and our students.

Let’s begin with our assistant principal that oversees all things facilities. Are you too hot? Are you freezing cold? He’s your guy. Is there a leak in the gym? Is there a weird smell in your hallway? You need furniture? You have a work order that needs placed? Do you need to communicate with the custodians but don’t know where to start? Do you need to reserve an area of the building for an event? Need some keys? He will work night and day – literally – to be sure our school is the optimal place for learning to occur, and to make sure our teachers can function in a literal sense while they are here. But that’s not where his responsibilities end. He’s also our SPED administrator, getting paged to the autism room multiple times a day, oversees the CBR (center based resource – think “lifeskills”) program, and works all things SPED. That’s not all, folks. He also is our crisis management guru, running our emergency drills and planning ALICE protocol. He also works with the performing arts departments on scheduling, concerts, and tending to their needs. He is a busy, busy man who works extremely hard to make Olathe West a great place to be. He oversees the junior class, and on any given day is completely tied up with discipline and student support.

Next, I’d like to write about our assistant principal who also serves as our athletic director. Some people who come across this post may think, “Schools need to focus on academics – not sports!” I actually dedicated an entire blog post to this topic, please feel free to read it here. In a nutshell, sports are an integral part to any school, providing outstanding outlets for a great number of students that prepare them for life beyond high school, in a way just as meaningful, if not more for some students, than their experiences in the classroom. I will always support athletics in public education. Just as I will always support performing arts, and other extracurricular activities. I digress. This man works tirelessly to ensure that all of our athletic programs are running smoothly. Not only does he work with parents on an academic front, but he is constantly working with and communicating with parents on an athletic front. Who do parents go to when they don’t get the answer they want from a coach? And he does this with such grace and poise. It takes an incredibly strong person to have this role. And organized. This person has to be organized. Think of just the transportation alone it takes for one sport – he oversees it all. He organizes all aspects of home games, he works to develop the coaches, and most importantly, he works to develop high character kids through athletics. Supporting athletic directors is directly supporting students. Let’s also not forget that this man oversees our AVID program, all field trips that occur in our school, and he teams up with our facilities AP to run our school’s calendar. If there is something that is important to stakeholders, it’s an accurate calendar. Oh, I also need to let you know that he oversees the senior class, not just for discipline, but also working alongside our counselor to help kids graduate from high school. As a former counselor, he is a guru all things college admissions and is an invaluable asset to not only our student athletes, but all students at Olathe West.

Next up, I’d like to tell you a little bit about our assistant principal who also functions as our activities director. He oversees all KSHSAA sponsored clubs and activities (think Cheer, STUCO, Scholar’s Bowl, etc.). He helps students get involved in and create student-initiated clubs. He is also the technology guru, and worked alongside our district’s technology department to roll-out over 1300 MacBook Airs to students, and basically took on the roll of an I.T. guy for the period of about a week and a half, and he does so periodically throughout the year. He runs all of the TV monitors around our building, and manages the content that scrolls on them every day. Our school is set up like a small college campus, and teachers change locations every hour, depending on what they are teaching that day. Our monitors have to be accurate and functional, and he ensures that these things happen. He helped implement two technology-based programs for us to efficiently monitor students this year. He organizes parent-teacher conferences twice a year every year, sets up registration every summer, and any time we have an event at our school, he is organizing it. For example, we have homecoming next week. He’s been working tirelessly with our STUCO sponsors to help ensure it goes off without a hitch. Homecoming, winter formal, prom – if it’s a big event at our school, he is managing all aspects of it. For those of you who are thinking those things are frivolous, think again. These things are the heartbeat of a school, giving kids something to look forward to, garnering school spirit, a sense of community, and a sense of belonging. As we learn more and more about social-emotional needs of students, we know these things are extremely important for the mental and emotional well-being of our students. Oh, also, this guy oversees freshman. I feel like I don’t need to say much more about that, but this is such a big transition year for those kids, and he is the perfect person for that job.

Then there’s me. My gig is that of curriculum and instruction. I work with our principal to create professional development for our staff, which hopefully has a direct impact on our students. I work with our building leadership team on our school improvement plan, striving to see the success of all students. I oversee assessments, which come in seasons these days. I oversee MTSS. For those of you outside of education, MTSS a system for working with students who struggle and implementing interventions to help them find success. At Olathe West, we work every day to make learning relevant and meaningful to students. We are working to move the needle in education towards real-world application, where students leave with the skills they need to be successful in life. We are moving towards a more project based learning (PBL) model, and I attempt to lead our incredible staff to take instructional risks that are beneficial for kids. They’re pretty great – both our staff and our students. I simply try to inspire the learning that occurs in our building, so that we can continue to grow our students every day.  I helped implement a positive behavior approach system, to help us reach all students, to understand their social-emotional needs, and to help our negative interactions with students decrease. I oversee the sophomore class, and with over 400 students in this class, any given day I am working alongside students to get them on a path to making better choices.

Besides the different assignments each of us have, there are also a lot of things we do that are alike, working with the students in our grade level. Now, Mr. Kobach, I’d like for you to really take heart to this part of my essay. This is the nitty-gritty work, that I would be willing to guess your assistant principal was doing every day that most kids had no idea he was doing. A lot of adults don’t even know this work goes on every day. Now, please know, each one of us loves this work. We are in no way complaining. But if you don’t know what APs do all day, I really would love to answer that question for you. Here it is. Here is what we are doing, anyway.

We are working daily with the kids who come to us from trauma filled backgrounds. If you didn’t know, kids who come from trauma are more likely to make fight or flight decisions, go into survival mode, and land themselves in our offices.

We work to give backpacks to kids who are using the same torn-up bag from 5 years ago. We are working with community partners to stock our food pantry to help feed students over the weekends and long breaks.

We are working to fight the incredible vaping epidemic that has taken over our youth. Do you know what a Juul is?

We are working to repair relationships between students in conflict. We are taking the phone calls from angry parents, or making really hard phone calls because their student made a poor choice, while still maintaining a positive, or at least a workable relationship between the school and the family.

We are working with our counselors to come up with plans for our students who are struggling socially, emotionally, and academically. We are working with our school psychologist and our social worker to meet the needs of the whole-child.  We are contacting law enforcement in the evenings and on the weekends because we believe a student may be at risk for self-harm.

We spend time counseling kids from dropping out of school. We talk to students about their goals, aspirations, and dreams. Sometimes those goals are to simply make it through the day, but hey, we’ll take it and run with it.

We are a safe place for our students to come to, because for every poor choice that landed a kid in our office, we attempt to build a positive relationship so that kid knows they have someone in their corner.

We work with teachers, Mr. Kobach. Did you know I have over 20 teachers on my appraisal caseload this year? This is exciting because I enjoy the appraisal process, but I’m about at capacity time-wise with 20+ teachers up for appraisal this year – just in my departments.  Each of us assistant principals oversees departments. Did you know that? Each department has a department chair. When the department chair needs something for their department, they go to their AP. The AP then works with the department chair to problem solve what they need. We try to be widely available to our teachers for support. This can look different on different days. If a student is having a meltdown in a classroom and a teacher needs an administrator ASAP, and someone is in an IEP (which we are responsible for attending), someone is already tied up with discipline, someone is in a meeting, it’s nice to have someone available to come to help immediately. Or what about the chronic issue in a teacher’s 3rd hour and they’d like some advice on how to approach it? I bet you never knew your assistant principal did any of those things every day. I’m just guessing that he didn’t involve you in the appraisal process of teachers or in classroom management issues.

Mr. Kobach, I am far from perfect. I work my tail off to be good at my job, which means I work my tail off for teachers and for students. How about we work out a deal – I won’t try to pretend that I understand everything that you do – because surely I don’t – if you don’t demean the hard work my colleagues and I put in every day. You may have noticed that I didn’t even get into what our head principal does, because, well, I could designate an entire blog post to that as well. He’s one of the hardest working people I know, which hopefully means something to you after reading this blog.

Oh, and also, we do lunch duty every day where our entire student body is at lunch for 50 minutes.

Thank you readers, for giving me a few moments of your time.

The Engine That Powers Us

Who here loves the movie Office Space? You know the one. Peter Gibbons absolutely hates his job at Initech. He can’t stand his boss:

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(Umm, yeeahhh, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow…) and he sees no purpose in his day to day work.

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(It sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays.)  That is… until he gets hypnotized to help him relax and enjoy life. Well life would have it that his hypnotherapist dies during his session, and Peter is in a permanent state of hypnosis. He is totally carefree. He literally stops caring about work, ensuing in comedic gold for the next hour and a half.

So what’s your point here, Megan? My point is that we can’t go to work every day feeling like Peter Gibbons, or we will surely end up destroying any passion that we have for our profession. Or at least destroying the copy machine.

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At the very least, we should be able to have meeting with the “Bobs,” enthusiastically explaining to them why our work is important. I should be able to let them know what powers me, and how I help power the mission and vision of the company.

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(Ok I think I’ve successfully incorporated a number of my favorite parts of the movie in a somewhat meaningful way.) In all seriousness, if you lack passion, energy, and enthusiasm for your work, chances are, you will have a hard time finding the success you seek. So if you’d like, hang with me for my second of twelve promised blog posts in 2018; this one all about enthusiasm (John Wooden’s second cornerstone in his pyramid of success, to which he describes as “the engine that powers all blocks of the pyramid“). As you read below, I’d invite you to reflect on what powers you.

Enthusiasm

It’s a pretty simple concept at its surface – if you enjoy what you are doing, you are more likely to be successful at it. What’s more difficult, is executing it. That is, sometimes we can get caught up in the day to day negativity, that we forget why having enthusiasm for what we do is so important. February, although the shortest month of the year, can oftentimes feel like the longest at school. Nothing overly exciting happens in February, and it takes great focus on enthusiasm to maintain it. And you know what? The most successful people I know do just that. Before going much further, I want to share a couple of quotes from Wooden, by John Wooden, on his thoughts on enthusiasm.

“You have to like what you’re doing, your heart must be in it. Without enthusiasm you can’t work up to your fullest ability.”

“You must have enthusiasm to prepare and perform with industriousness. Enthusiasm ignites plain old work and transforms it into industriousness.”

One caveat before moving on – I’m not saying that life can’t knock you down. Because it definitely can. We face adversity. Things get tough. But, if you love what you do, it’s easier to bounce back from those curveballs that life throws your way. It’s easier to stay positive during life’s most trying times when you have a genuine enthusiasm for what you do. You know that little phrase, “Fake it ’till you make it?” I believe in this. Let me clarify. I don’t believe in being a “fake” person – I tend to be a very “real” person if you know me. But I also know that as a leader, people can thrive (or not) off of my emotions, so I must try to be enthusiastic about what we do, even when I may not feel like it on a particular day. This is much easier when I have an authentic enjoyment for what I do day in and day out. As John Wooden writes:

“Enthusiasm brushes off on those with whom you come into contact, those you work with and for. You must have enthusiasm, especially if you’re a leader or if you wish to become a leader.”

Nerding Out:

Sometimes, I find that people who love what they do don’t always show enthusiasm for it. Why is this? One answer could be personality. I get that. However, we oftentimes get caught up in wanting to look “cool.” The best educators I know are the ones who don’t give two thoughts about looking silly in front of their students (or maybe more importantly, their colleagues) – yes, even at the high school level. Teachers who go “Owl In” (pardon the pun, our school’s mascot is an Owl..) with their enthusiasm and aren’t afraid to totally “nerd out” and risk looking ridiculous in front of their students are the ones who win over their students’ hearts. This is a concept we try to instill in our students – do what’s right regardless of what others say or think. Don’t get caught up in whether it’s “cool” or not to have great character. Who cares how many “likes” or “streaks” you have on Instagram, Snapchat, etc. What’s more important is whether or not you are a good person. I think that same principle applies to showing enthusiasm for what you do. In fact, this Wooden quote is hanging up in my office:

character quote wooden

Now, I have to say I am not perfect in this regard by a long shot. I, too, get caught up from time to time in wanting to look “cool.” But, once you get to know me, it doesn’t take long to figure out that I’m one of the most uncool people you’ll ever meet. And I’m really ok with it.

Coaching:

You can take me off the court or field, but you’ll never take the coach out of me. So, I’d like to take the next couple of moments to speak to my people. Coaches out there – are your athletes excited to work hard every day? Do you foster a culture of enthusiasm that revolves around the daily grind of the sweat that goes into practice every day? Even through the most difficult drills, conditioning, or even those “teachable moments” that can oftentimes come in the form of tough love, are your kids excited to be there? Are they cheering for each other? Are they lifting each other up? The fundamental drills – are your athletes excited to do them? Do you hear them encouraging one another? Are they there for each other? (I hope at this point, it’s clear that I’m talking to more than simply “coaches.” This philosophy transcends educational roles.)

As a college athlete, I was fortunate to be a part of a team who understood this idea of enthusiasm. Every rep, every ground ball, every practice, I had a team full of student athletes cheering each other on, who loved putting their cleats on every day, who knew our time on the field was precious. We lifted each other up. We cheered. Sometimes, we even got in trouble for telling each other “good job” when it wasn’t deserved (something we still get a good chuckle about today). Softball sometimes gets a bad rap for being “annoying” or “over the top” with the cheering that comes with the sport. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been guilty of being annoyed by some softball cheers. Let’s be honest… there are some doozies out there that I have shut down as a player, coach, and definitely given some eye rolls as a spectator. BUT.. here is what I will say about the cheering that exists within a softball team. When you start a cheer, you are encouraging those around you. You are lifting the enthusiasm level of your team. Another truth bomb… we don’t draw huge crowds for a run-of-the-mill softball game. So… we feed off of one another. The enthusiasm is contagious. And if you spread enthusiasm, you can spread industriousness in those around you. If one “dumb” cheer can lift up one of your teammates, it’s a dumb cheer well spent. Teammates are there to pick each other up, have each other’s backs, let each other know that you believe in them. And you know what? If you allow yourself to feel it.. it can be fun. Like… really fun. But you know what? You can’t be afraid of what others think. (Even those like me who have done some major eye rolling at cheers before – hey.. no one is perfect, just being honest here in this safe space…) When you let judgement of others prevent you from being enthusiastic, you are letting them keep you from your fullest potential. Nerd out. Do it. Don’t apologize for loving what you do, and for having a great time doing it.

I’d be willing to make you a bet. Those ladies that I shared a field with in college – The ones who brought enthusiasm to every practice, every conditioning session, every game, every mental training… I bet they are bringing that same enthusiasm with them in their professions today. Because being enthusiastic is a skill that has been engrained in us. It’s what we know how to do. For my ESU softball alum reading this… Can I Get A Whoo Haa?

My Challenge For You

As I conclude this blog post, I want ask you this – what do you do to foster enthusiasm in your job? Or what can you do to create a culture of enthusiasm like my team had in college? We so often get bogged down in the day-to-day things that can be downright HARD, and it can take a toll! Enthusiasm can fade, and it can fade quickly. I’m guilty of it, no doubt! I’ll ask you again, what do you do, or what can you do to revive the enthusiasm in your daily work? And if it is so mundane to you that you don’t know how to answer that question, I can’t help but ask – is it time to re-think how you do what you do? I’m not telling you to quit whatever it is that you do. What I’m asking is, is it time for a re-birth in what you do? Do you need something to revive your passion? To reignite the fire that used to be there? If the answer to those questions is yes, I don’t have the magic solution, as every case of unenthusiastic-itis is unique. However, I’d be willing to bet that with some soul searching (and maybe even some internet searching), you can find a project, an angle, a philosophy, a SOMETHING to get excited about. And if you’re thinking to yourself, maybe nothing at this point can give you enthusiasm for what you do, and you’re overall miserable in your career, then I will go ahead and direct you to this quote from Wooden.

“…I believe it’s true in any profession. If you’re knocking it all the time, get out!  Don’t whine, complain, or criticize. Just leave.”

I can tell you, at least if you’re in the world of education, there are so many ways to find yourself again. To revive the love and passion you have for this profession. For me, it comes in many forms as an administrator. Getting into classrooms, seeing excellent teaching in action, interacting with kids, implementing positive behavior supports, learning as much as I can to stay on the cutting-edge of education, just to name a few. I nerd out about those things, and I take no shame in it. I challenge you to find the passion within you, find resources to feed that passion, and learn. Learn and implement. Even if it means flipping everything that you’ve ever known about teaching on its head. You don’t have to take a giant leap into something to feel reignited. You just have to take the first step.

Enthusiasm helps us find the joy. Enthusiasm means we have found a purpose. Enthusiasm helps us get through the hard days. Enthusiasm turns our hard work into something we love. Enthusiasm, as John Wooden says, powers us.

Thanks for reading! Here is to hoping you have as much enthusiasm for your profession as Milton does for his red stapler.

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(: Megan

No Substitute for Hard Work

“Industriousness is the most conscientious, assiduous, and inspired type of work. A willingness to, an appetite for, hard work must be present for success. Without it you have nothing to build on.” – John Wooden, “Wooden”

I dare you to find a profession that is full of more industriousness than education. I’m not knocking other professions here, I know several people who are extremely hard workers and are not educators. I just happen to know a plethora of teachers. And they work so, so hard.  As the first cornerstone in John Wooden’s Pyramid for Success, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting topic to start my first of twelve promised blog posts in 2018.

“I call it industriousness to make very clear it involves more than merely showing up and going through the motions. Many people who tell you they worked all day weren’t really working very hard at all, certainly not to the fullest extent of their abilities.” – John Wooden, “Wooden”

I could pull quotes from Wooden all day long, but then it wouldn’t be much of a blog post, so much as excerpts from one of my all-time favorite books. My main point here is that teachers, administrators, counselors, and educators of all sorts are some of the hardest workers you will ever meet. Join me as I reflect over seven months of work that has gone into opening a brand new high school that attempts to move the needle a little bit at a time to redefine how education is done here in Kansas.

A New Endeavor

Opening a brand new high school is something that I will never forget. I will have to dedicate an entire blog post to this topic at some point in the future, but for now I will highlight the industriousness that I have seen day in and day out from my colleagues. I will break this up into some sub-categories for your reading pleasure. 🙂 Just know that when I show up to work every day, I am inspired by the hard work that goes on around me, and the hard work put in by the adults in our building will transcend past the current students in our building, and will help shape how education is done in the future.

Project Based Learning – A Transformation

When our school opened its doors to students this August, several teachers dedicated themselves to teaching in a new way, which was Project Based Learning. For those who may not be in the education world, or who may not be familiar with PBL, this is much different than simply “doing projects” in a typical class. The projects become the class. Instruction is done through the project, the teacher takes on more of a facilitator role, students engage in sustained inquiry, engage in their communities, and strive to answer driving questions that are linked to content area standards. It’s a complete over-haul of a traditional classroom, and something we’ve been encouraging our teachers to try – even if it’s only bits and pieces of it. The mere thought of transforming all you’ve ever known about teaching is overwhelming, and the hard work that goes into executing it is unparalleled. Take a look really quickly at some of the hard work that our teachers have completed in the realm of PBL so far this year:

"Give What You Have To Give"

In this English II Pre-AP project, students worked for the better part of a semester working in groups of how they could make our school a better place. The theme was “giving back” to somehow enhance what is already in progress at Olathe West. As a culminating activity, students gave (super impressive) presentations to outside guests – administrators, community members, parents, etc. I saw presentations on a school coffee shop, a giving tree, a leadership club, and even a proposal to add a slide from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor in our building. The amount of work that went into this project by both our teacher and her students was simply impressive.

"Chemistry Night"

One of our chemistry instructors hosted a community event one evening showcasing the projects that his students had put together over the past several months. The amount of sheer effort to organize such an event is outrageous. Not only are you giving up your own time on a weeknight, but several “unseen hours” that go into planning, promoting, preparing. The turnout from parents, community members, and experts in the field was outstanding.

"Law Enforcement Recruitment"

One of the flagship programs in our school is our Public Safety Academy. Our facilitator for this program has really jumped into PBL and his ongoing PBL unit for the first semester was for his students to create a recruiting tool and propose its use to different agencies. Over a course of two nights, Public Safety students presented their products to agencies such as the Olathe Police Department, the FBI, Secret Service, and more. Can you imagine? No, really. Can you imagine the time and effort that goes into pulling something like that off? Incredible.

"Owls in the Kitchen"

Now this one was really cool. Our culinary teacher hosted multiple evenings where students could cook for their loved ones. She invited their families into our school and their students cooked for them. If anything brings people together to slow down from life’s crazy pace to just sit and enjoy each other’s company, it’s a meal with loved ones. This was nothing required of this teacher, but something she wanted to do to foster the culture of her program. Amazing.

"Social Justice"

Students in an English 1 class spent several months researching an aspect of social injustice. They then had to think of possible solutions and what they can do to be a part of the solution. They wrote a research paper and presented their findings to district leadership, school leaders, parents, and community stakeholders. They included a digital component to their presentation, fielded questions, and dressed professionally. To say they rose to the occasion is an understatement. How did they do this, you may ask? Through a lot of hard work put in by their teacher, that’s how.

"Give a Hoot"

I know I said the last one was really cool, but this one was a whole school effort. We have a couple of staff members that prepare advisory lessons for our school each week. (Advisory is a time each week for students to get with their advisory teacher, go through activities to help map out their future, among other activities.) Our advisory teacher-leaders created a “Give a Hoot” campaign where each advisory chose their own community service project and completed it over a period of about 3 weeks or so. We had toy drives, clothing drives, adopt-a-families, trips to the elementary school, trash picker-uppers, window cleaners and more. All advisories participated in something. Hard work at its core.

I hope it’s starting to become clear that teachers teach things that go beyond the textbook, beyond the walls of our school. The combination of passion and hard work yields some of the most amazing things you’ll ever see.

Technology

I’ve blogged before on how technology can enhance what a teacher does in their classes. When it goes hand-in-hand with effective pedagogy, it can turn a “basic” lesson into something so “extra.” (Pardon my attempt to try to use the lingo of our students.)

Perhaps something that I haven’t touched base on is the amount of hard work that goes into properly and effectively implementing technology into the classroom. Our students at Olathe West each have a school-issued computer. That’s great, right? Yes, it’s great. It’s an amazing opportunity to transform the way learning is done. And with that, comes a tremendous amount of work on the part of teachers to learn the ways in which this is done effectively. A tremendous amount of work to learn new tips and tricks to classroom management. A tremendous amount of work to learn effective tools vs ineffective tools. A tremendous amount of work to re-create solid lesson plans into something more relevant to today’s students.  A tremendous amount of work to balance that technology with teaching soft skills/employability skills. You find me a teacher that effectively integrates technology, higher order thinking skills, solid pedagogy, and soft skills all in one, and I’ll show you a tremendously hard worker. My hat is off to you, teachers who I just described.

English Language Learners

I want to give a quick shout out to all the ELL teachers out there in the universe. You know who you are. You know your work is hard. You know the industriousness that goes into your every. single. day. You very well could have  6 lesson plans going on simultaneously in your classroom. You find a way to teach students who have just come to our country, students who have not had any formal education in 8 years, students who are on the cusp of leaving a sheltered classroom, students who are spreading their wings and flourishing in mainstream classes, and everything in between. You want a lesson in differentiation? Visit an ELL classroom for a day. I respect all that you do.

Special Education

How about another shout out to our special education compadres working incredibly hard to meet the individual needs of each and every one of their unique students? Whether a learning disability, emotional disturbance, behavior disorder, gifted, or more – your patience, compassion, and hard work does not go unnoticed. Your kids need you. They love you. And you love them back. It’s not easy. But you do it with a smile. YOU work hard.

General education teachers, I have not forgotten about you. You find a way to reach up to 30+ students of all sorts of abilities and language proficiencies in a given lesson plan. You modify curriculum, accommodate for our students in need, plan amazing lessons, put in extra hours to make sure all of your students can access your curriculum. Your hard work does not go unnoticed. Thank you.

Mental Health

Where to even begin? Our students need us now more than ever. Teachers today are not only teaching their content, but soft skills such as how to persevere when times are hard, personal responsibility, growth mindset, collaboration, creativity – the list goes on and on. Additionally, teachers are concerned about the mental health of their students. Our counseling and administrative teams work through our SIT process every week to identify students who need extra support and come up with action plans to help them as we can. More than once this school year I have received a call over a weekend where a teacher was concerned about a student’s well-being. Partnering with our counselors and school resource officer, we work to ensure the safety of our students.

If you know a school counselor, give them a hug. The heavy stuff they hear on a daily basis might shock you. While their hearts are breaking, they work with students to give them social and emotional skills to make it through what life has handed them. Thank you, counselors.

Additionally, our counselors work to provide for our students in need not only throughout the holiday seasons, but all year long utilizing resources and programs both inside and outside of our district. This kind of work to ensure our students are taken care of is not easy. It’s hard. Really hard.

Extra, Extra..

I could write forever on the value of extracurricular activities that teachers and schools provide for students. (In fact I may have blogged about it once.) However, I cant talk about the hard work that goes into education without at least mentioning the extra hours that coaches and activity sponsors and club sponsors put in on a daily basis. Between practices, meetings, games, performances, concerts, community service, and competitions, our teachers are doing more and more to prepare the whole child for life after high school. Students have so many opportunities to get involved in SOMETHING that they can relate to, and we know that the more a student is involved and connected to their school, the more likely they are to find academic success as well. This is all thanks to a lot of industriousness on behalf of our teachers. Not only do they put hours and hours of hard work into extracurriculars, they work to foster the best team, activity, performance possible.

Professional Learning Communities

In addition to creating inspiring lesson plans, caring for the wide array of students in each class, and fostering students’ mental health, teachers do more work behind the scenes than one can imagine. Our teachers meet weekly in their Professional Learning Communities. In these meetings, we model our work after the book Learning by Doing (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many) in the sense that we are looking at content standards, breaking them into learning targets, using them to create common formative assessments, then using those assessments to determine our path – how to reach students who don’t understand, and how to extend those who do. That’s the nature of our work. It’s not a matter of going to last year’s lesson and hitting “copy/paste.” But rather, it’s looking at the standards, realizing what students know and don’t know, and let the art and science of teaching take us from there. I’m a firm believe that those who can, teach.

Professional Development

The world of education is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. To stay on the cutting edge of education is difficult. Just as you feel as though you are hitting your stride with the latest and greatest teaching strategies, there is a shift, a turn, an enhancement – something to keep you on your toes. The best teachers are the best learners. Teachers who have a growth mindset, are willing to take risks, learn new ways of doing things are often the most successful. Because that takes industriousness – hard work with a purpose – to do what’s best for kids. My promise to my teachers is to do my part to provide you with what I can with best teaching practices, new ways of doing things, encouraging you to take risks, try new things, and to be a reflective practitioner. I hope to do well by you.

#AdminLife

Let it be known that the glory of this post goes to the teachers that work day in and day out with ALL of our kids. They inspire me on a daily basis. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the extremely hard work put in by the admin team that I work with day in and day out.  Each of us has a well defined role, and I’m very fortunate to be part of such an amazing team. The extra hours that these men put in is unparalleled. Each one willing to help each other out, even if it means more work for them. Each one of them has a unique skill set that they put to work every day. Imagine the hours that our athletic director and activities director have put in starting up brand new programs in literally every single sport and activity that a school has to offer. Then there is our principal and facilities AP who put in more hours than what seems like humanly possible to make sure our school is physically up and running, advocating day in and day out for our students and teachers. The two of them started this school from the ground up. Additionally, let’s not forget the hours put in by all of them, attending events, reaching out to community members, meeting with parents, and all the things that happen outside of the 8-3 school day. When I think of what John Wooden means by, “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile things come only from work,” I think of my admin team.

My Personal Reflections

I’ve taken up enough of your time for the time being, so I’ll keep this portion short. As a working mom of three, I like to think that I work hard. It’s one of the things that I value most. But I know that I’m not working any harder than any of my counterparts out there, our hard work might just come in various forms. As for me, I’ll strive to work as hard as I can to lead those in our school as well as my family to be the best possible versions of themselves. I may not always accomplish this, but you better believe I’ll be working for it.

Thanks for reading,
Megan

Wooden It Be Nice?

Happy New Year! I hope those that are reading this had a restful and enjoyable break for the holidays, and are starting the new year refreshed, revived, and ready to take on whatever 2018 has to bring!

As I have been reading through blogs and tweets of educators that inspire me, I’ve been soaking in the words they chose for their “One Word” — that is, the word they’ve chosen to serve as a theme or goal for the upcoming year. I’ve never been one to set New Year’s Resolutions, but I do enjoy reading about how people hope to shape their year around a  principle they hold close to their hearts.

Now, knowing myself, if I chose a word, it would probably get lost in the shuffle after about a month or so. (I mean, have you seen how good I am at blogging after I claim that I’m going to start trying to do better?…) Sometimes life takes over, and some things, like resolutions and One Words get out of focus for me. However, I am going to try something this year. I’m going to have Twelve Words. (Say What?!?) Ok, hear me out.

I have a passion for a handful of things in life. One of which is teaching and learning, and another, leadership. Mix this with the fact that I think John Wooden is one of the best role models in coaching (read: life), and an idea was born.

John Wooden is famous for many things, one of which is his Pyramid of Success. In this Pyramid, Wooden uses building blocks of character traits that build up to what it takes to be successful in sports, leadership, and in life. Here’s what I plan to do throughout 2018: I’m going to focus on one of the building blocks per month, and blog about my observations here at school and/or in my own life. That is, I hope to blog about the amazing things are happening in our school that reflect the given word for the month, and how I am focusing on being intentional in that quality.

Through this, I hope to become more aware of the good around me. I say it all the time – our school is amazing filled with amazing people. But now I want to be purposeful about seeing it in action. I also hope to hone in my own skills in a Wooden type of way. I believe that by being intentional in each of the building blocks that I choose, I can continue to reflect, learn, and grow as an educator. I hope to never be complacent in my professional life – there is always something to be learned and improved upon.

As it turns out, there are actually 15 building blocks to Wooden’s pyramid, which doesn’t fit so nicely in a 12-month year, so I have chosen what I believe to be the most essential and prominent things that I see in education. Perhaps someday I’ll look to grow in the three that I didn’t choose. At any rate, here is a lineup of what I hope to blog about each month:

January – Industriousness (Really Hard Work)

February – Friendship

March – Loyalty

April – Cooperation

May – Enthusiasm

June – Initiative

July – Intentness

August – Condition (“The Choices You Make, Make You”)

September – Skill

October – Team Spirit

November – Poise

December – Competitive Greatness

(The ones I’m leaving out – for now – are: Self Control, Alertness, Confidence. Each of these is vital to success, perhaps a great way to start 2019? We shall see.)

I hope you’ll join me on this journey this year in 2018. I’m excited to combine a few things that I like to “nerd out” about – school, leadership, and of course John Wooden. Best wishes to you and yours in 2018!

-Megan

 

 

 

Response To: The Dark Side of Tech in the Classroom

Recently, I’ve had a bit of a “reawakening” in my professional life. As things in my personal life have recently taken an all-time high in the crazy department (we added twins to the picture this past summer, so we’ve also added to the cute department), my presence in Twitter chats and my blog have taken a severe plunge. I’m the first to admit – I can’t do it all – and something had to give. But, as we come out of the fog of what is life with newborn twins, I’ve begun to re-emerge, joining my favorite chats once again, interacting with those I respect and admire on Twitter, and now, thanks to my most recent #leadupchat, I’ve resolved to spend more time in my “whitespace,” which has resulted in my renewed interest in my blog. Add to the mix that one of the people I so admire and respect, George Couros, tweeted a very thought provoking article (at least thought provoking for me), and alas! My first new blog post has been born.

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As you can see in the image above, the article that George tweeted is titled, “The Dark Side of Tech in the Classroom: Caveats for Implementing Tech in Schools.” The article can be found here. The article quickly got my attention, and as I read on, I knew I couldn’t respond how I would want to in 140 characters or less. So, I’m here to take you through my thoughts – right, wrong, or other.

First, I want to make one thing very clear. My response is in no way an attack on the author of this article. In fact, it seems as though we’d be in the same school of thought when it comes to technology. He considers himself a tech-enthusiast, and the last sentence of the article reads, “If used properly, tech in education can (be a) fabulous tool for learning.” This statement is one that I can 100% be on board with. High five! If you know me, you know I am indeed a tech-enthusiast. I’m very pro-technology. But you know what? I’m also pro-personal interactions. Pro-have a good handshake. Pro-make good eye contact and speak clearly and respectfully. Pro-appropriate social interactions. Pro-face to face conversations. Pro-self advocacy. You get the idea. The thought here is that it’s all about balance. Technology is great, but solid teaching practices have to come first. I’ll touch more on this later.

As leaders, we are automatically charged with several things. Two of them, as they relate to this article are:

  1. Leaders are called upon to nudge people out of their comfort zones. As you well know, there are effective ways to do so, and there are also very ineffective ways to do so.
  2. With this in mind, when trying to initiate change, or when asking people to step outside of said comfort zones, it’s important that you listen to their concerns just as much if not more than you push the change upon them.

So while I may not agree with the majority of what is in this article, as a leader, I need to understand that these are not just “excuses” that people are throwing out there. They are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. If you toss them into the pile of “excuses,”  if you don’t hear what these people are saying, and if you don’t try to work with the so called “excuse givers”, what do you think the chances are of you getting them to step out of that comfort zone we talked about earlier? Build relationships. Learn to work with those who oppose you or your ideas. This is not something that happens overnight. It comes over time by building trust and modeling and encouraging risk taking. I wanted to say that, because as I go through the points the author is making, it may seem like I’m brushing this above point to the side, but please know that I understand this to be true with every fiber of my being.

One last bit before I dive into this article. I know we are taught at an early age not to assume things. You know how that saying goes. But, I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to assume the following:

  1. We (educators) want what’s best for kids.
  2. We (educators) are good people at heart who want to do the right thing.
  3. We (educators) want our classroom to be a place that kids want to be.

Ok, now that you hopefully have a better understanding of my philosophy as a whole, I feel as though I can have some honest dialogue about the aforementioned article.

The article

I want to start by addressing a sentence found very early on in the article. It states:

“Oftentimes, technology is thrown into classrooms while the school administrators sit back and wait for the high test scores to roll in.”

I cannot cringe enough about this statement. I’ll put it as simply as I can: An ineffective teacher with technology is still an ineffective teacher. There. I said it. Technology does not improve test scores. It is not the magic solution. Pedagogy ALWAYS comes before technology. Good teachers improve learning, and good teachers integrate technology to help students learn. While I see the point that the author was trying to make with this statement, what I see here is a leadership problem, not a technology problem. If the leaders of your school expect technology to all of a sudden make kids perform better on standardized tests, then they’re missing the point of why technology integration is important. This is hard for many, because the effects of technology are not easily shown with numbers and data and test scores, but rather with creativity, projects, and genius hours. I like to compare it to “soft skills.” Is there a standardized test for responsibility? Dependability? Gumption? Grit? Just because we want to integrate character education in our buildings, doesn’t mean it has to correlate with test scores. We do it because it’s good for kids. Similarly, wanting to prepare students and teaching them how to problem solve, create, and be fluent with technology in a digital age is enough reason for technology integration, without looking solely at test scores. To complete my thought from earlier in this paragraph, if you give technology to an effective teacher – now that’s something to be reckoned with. The possibilities are endless.

Counterpoint to First Caveat:

“Students may not be interested in activities that don’t use technology.”

The simple counterpoint: Effective teachers will find ways to engage students both with and without technology.

My more complex description: Teachers have been engaging students without technology for years. They will continue to to so for years to come. You want to know how? With lesson plans that are relevant and interesting. This may or may not involve technology depending on the week, day, activity, etc. I’m going to lay it all out there for a moment: If you really cannot find a way to meaningfully engage our students without using technology, it’s time for some deep reflection on why you are an educator. I truly believe that as an educator, you should be able to reach your class in meaningful ways that don’t involve technology. Yes, technology can be an excellent way to engage students in higher order thinking, and a great way to add relevancy to lesson plans, but in the end, it’s YOU that’s engaging (or not engaging) students. The school I’m currently in is a 1:1 school with Chromebooks. And you know what? It’s awesome. I see teachers effectively using technology all the time, and it’s so fantastic. And you know what else? I see teachers effectively not using technology too, and it’s so fantastic. They are finding other ways to engage students, working on ALL THE OTHER skills that are important for our students to leave us with. Remember what I said earlier? It’s all about balance. So while I do think it’s important for educators to grow, learn, change, adapt, and meet the needs of learners, it doesn’t always mean technology all the time. It’s not a “technology or nothing” mindset. That would be counterproductive.

Now, I have to admit, that previous paragraph is just a reaction to the title of this section of the article. The actual example it gives under this section is essentially this: If students are so used to typing essays on a laptop, and turning them in via Google Classroom, then they won’t want to write those essays by hand, if something were to happen to the technology. He states, “Most will prefer to use the computer than doing it the old fashioned way.”

Can I just say for a moment, that I’m with the students on this one? I can’t blame them for not wanting to handwrite an essay (other assignments – sure…essay? Probably not).  I’m not de-valuing having students write things by hand. I think it’s important for a number of reasons, I know the research is there – handwriting IS IMPORTANT (remember – balance), but to think that someone wouldn’t prefer to type an essay is a bit of a stretch for me. Do you know how many times I’ve hit backspace typing this? Deleted entire paragraphs? (You’re welcome.) There aren’t enough erasers in the world for me to write this out formally by hand. I bet if you took a poll of adults and asked if they would prefer to handwrite or use a computer to compose an essay, I’d be willing to say a vast majority would want to use a computer for such a task. Now let me take a moment to recognize and give a shout out to the hand-writers out there. Good for you – you do what works for you. In fact, I hand wrote the outline to this blog post. But there’s no way I would want to write my finished product by hand. Furthermore, if while completing, let’s say, my Master’s degree, I lost all ability to use technology to type my papers, I’ve got to admit, I would have been pretty bummed. And by pretty bummed, I mean I probably would have lost my mind. Also, there’s a reason that things like Google Classroom and Blackboard exist. It’s called organization and efficiency. I’m going to go extreme here for a minute, if you’ll allow me to do so. We no longer use quills for pens and carrier pigeons for message delivery, as those methods no longer meet our needs, right? We’ve deemed them inefficient. I don’t keep a carrier pigeon around in case I lose all electricity and the USPS goes under (I’ve found my Harry Potter owl much better for such cases). I digress. What I’m saying here, is that I don’t think it’s fair to blame the students on this one. Sometimes technology is a good thing that can make our lives easier, and it’s ok to accept that.

Counterpoint to Second Caveat:

Teachers in-service training is generally needed when introducing new technology — another workshop or staff development they don’t have time for.

I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet, because this is a topic I could write on for a very long time. I said this earlier, and I’m going to say it again. This is a leadership issue, not a technology issue.  What are the leaders in this building doing to promote a growth-mindset among their staff? What are they doing to attempt to intrinsically motivate teachers to learn and grow? This is true whether your PD is technology driven or not. Good teachers will make time to learn something new. Remember my assumptions before? Educators want what’s best for kids, and they are good people at heart. Tap into this and find a way to get their gears going. Work to personalize their PD (shoutout to my #personalizedPD crew!). Give them choices, find what they want to learn about, build relationships, build trust, invest in your teachers, and eventually, they’ll come play for a bit in your sandbox. You cannot just say “here’s what we are learning so learn it.” Find a way to make the technology (or any PD) relevant to what they do, how it can transform their classroom in a good way, and then differentiate/personalize/individualize the heck out of your PD.

I have one more point to make here (well several more, but since this post is getting rather lengthy, I’ll make this the last one for this section). Don’t assume that teachers don’t want to learn and that they don’t have time for new PD. If you work to make learning relevant to teachers and balance that with getting them out of their comfort zone, amazing things will happen. I want to talk specifically about those veteran teachers who get a bad rap sometimes. The author states, “Getting veteran teachers to try a new teaching method, let alone something they have to take time and learn, can be something of a chore.” I’m sure this can be true. I’m not naive enough to think that there are no teachers out there who aren’t “stuck in their ways” so to speak. I know you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink, etc. etc. However, in my experiences, some of the best learners are veteran teachers. I think if we automatically write veteran teachers off as unwilling to change, we are doing everyone a huge disservice, and even missing out on amazing leadership potential in our buildings. Again, do some leg work to find where they want to grow, and create PD to match that, while still stretching them out of their comfort zones. But please, can we stop throwing veteran teachers into this massive pile of “unteachable teachers?” My mom was a teacher for 38 years, and up throughout her last year, she was learning new ways of doing things, integrating technology, making lessons fun and engaging for kids. There’s a teacher at my school who is retiring at the end of this year, and I’ll be darned if she’s not taking things from PD days and applying them almost immediately. Remember, educators want what’s best for kids, educators are good people at heart, and educators want their classrooms a place that students want to be.

Before moving on to counterpoint 3, I’m just going to pose this question, because I can’t seem to shake it. Has it crossed anyone else’s mind that this article was written satirically? I’m going to paste a paragraph below, to which I won’t respond necessarily, but it almost seems like the author was being sarcastic here.

Teachers spend six or seven hours in a classroom but as most teachers know, a lot of their teaching time is dedicated to preparation. After all, someone has to put together those Powerpoints and worksheets as well as enter student work into their grade book. Attending training on something entirely new will take them away from their necessary tasks.

Counterpoint to Third Caveat:

Technology could prove to be a distraction for students.

Yes. This is true. Students are…SQUIRREL! Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. Counterpoint: Everything can prove to be a distraction for students. Your poster on the wall. An email they received earlier. The kid sitting three rows up. What they’re having for lunch. Thinking about the game after school. Kids are distracted creatures by nature. Whether you “allow” cell phones/technology in your classroom or not, kids are texting in class. Fifteen years ago, they were writing notes to each other on notebook paper. Today, they text each other.  This is a classroom management issue. Yes, you’re going to have kids try to text and get on social media at inappropriate times. These are teachable moments. Use them as such. Have clear classroom expectations, use strategies such as positive behavior supports, conferences with students, and when necessary, discipline. Be consistent. Be fair. If you let the fear of students using technology for communicating with friends keep you from using technology at all, you’re really missing out. Yes, it will happen. Yes, it will be frustrating. Yes, it’s something you can overcome.

Similar to a statement I made earlier: A teacher with good classroom management skills will continue to have good classroom management skills with the addition of technology. Similarly, a teacher with poor classroom management skills will continue to have poor classroom management skills with the addition of technology. As leaders, we can help them overcome this.

Counterpoint to Fourth Caveat:

Teachers use it because “they” like using it, with little concern for the students.

I’m having a hard time coming up with a response to this. Not because the argument is so solid that there is no rebuttal – quite the opposite. The author points out that if a teacher gets a new computer, they’re going to spend all their time ONLY making presentations on said computer because they like it, disregarding all other forms of teaching. I know I’m young, and I have a lot left to learn in my career, but I’ve literally never met a teacher like this. Sure, there are teachers who are slide show heavy (I had a professor in college nicknamed Slide Show Eddie), and I would encourage these teachers to continue to seek engaging ways to have students learn the material. Most teachers that I know that use slide show presentations also utilize really awesome projects, assignments, and activities that are student centered and good for kids. I’ll end this counterpoint with a statement I made at the beginning: pedagogy always comes before technology. If a teacher is putting technology ahead of pedagogy, let’s all rally together to bring them back to the mothership.

Final Thoughts

I always have the intention of being short and to the point, but rarely measure up to that intention, so I thank you for hanging in there with me ’till the end. I do want to share a few closing thoughts before I wrap this up. Technology is a really powerful tool that teachers can and should integrate to maximize student learning, to create innovators, to create problem solvers, to create great communicators, and to have fun. However, we all know that technology is not always sunshine and rainbows. It’s not easy. Neither is being a teacher. It’s hard work. Really, really  hard work. But what a great opportunity that we have – to model to students how to problem solve and work through difficult situations, to take risks and learn from mistakes. To teach them when it’s appropriate to use technology and when it’s not appropriate to use technology.  We are preparing the leaders of tomorrow, and if we don’t use technology because there are going to be too many difficulties along the way, then we are doing our students a disservice. Yes there will be times when the network goes down. Yes, there will be student misbehaviors. Yes, your hard drive may crash (be sure to back up!!). I encourage you to take these challenges head on, learn from them, improve upon them, and continue on the path of creating great lessons for kids. I’ll end with a quote from the great John Wooden, someone I look up to immensely:

Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort. We are all imperfect and will fail on occasions, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all.

 

Scary New School Finance Bill – My Thoughts

If you haven’t heard, there is a new school finance bill trying to make its way to a vote in the Kansas House of Representatives. In case you didn’t know, last year, Kansas did away with its old school funding formula (because it was too complicated) and replaced it with the new block grants that we saw this year. I’m not here to talk about the block grants, although I do feel comfortable stating for the record that public education in Kansas is not adequately funded, which the Supreme Court has also stated. In fact, school funding has been found unconstitutional in the state of Kansas, and if our elected officials don’t get it sorted out before the June deadline, schools will not open up in the fall. Again, I’m not here to give you a report on all of this, but if you’re not familiar with school finance in Kansas, give it a quick Google. Hint: It won’t be quick. Back to the bill I want to speak on for a few moments – it wouldn’t actually give public education any more money, but it would redistribute how it is spent, and quite frankly, it uses a more confusing formula than the one that was nixed before our lovely block grants. The new bill would highly restrict how school districts would able to spend their state aided funds. I could probably write a separate blog post on almost all of these restrictions (and I may), but for example, we wouldn’t be able to use state aid to pay for food services, because having well-fed students has nothing to do with delivering effective instruction. (Also, there is wording in the bill that allows for our state aid to fund private schools – let’s save those opinions for another day, shall we?) The bill restricts school districts from using state funding to pay for anything that doesn’t directly affect classroom instruction. What this blog post is going to mainly defend is how, contrary to some legislators’ beliefs, extracurricular activities do indeed have an instructional impact on our students. You see, extracurricular activities are one thing (of many) that the bill specifically outlines that state funding could NOT be used for. And let’s just say, that doesn’t settle well with me.

I’m not here to spit research or statistics at you. I’m here to speak from the heart. I may not have statistics, but I have stories. I haven’t spent hours researching the effects of extracurricular activities on students’ lives, but I have lived it. I’ve seen it as a student, as a teacher, as a coach, and now as an administrator. And while that may not be enough in some people’s eyes to qualify me as “educated” on the topic, I’ll take my experiences any day over the “numbers” that some of our legislators may have, although they’ve never worked in a public education institution and seen first hand the impact these activities have on students.

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in a classroom as an educator, you’d know that each student is motivated by something different. Some students are motivated to learn just for the sake of learning. Some are motivated because they know their parents won’t accept anything less than their best. Heck, we have students whose expectations for themselves exceed those of their parents. But guess what, we don’t just teach those students. We teach those students who are motivated by external factors as well.  And guess what one of those external factors is for a good portion of our student body – the ability to participate in an extracurricular activity. Now, I want to make it clear, that although a good portion of the rest of my blog post will revolve around athletics, that athletics are not the only thing at stake here, and every other extracurricular activity is just as important, carries just as much weight, and can have just as big of an impact on a student’s life.

Life As A Student Athlete

First, let me tell you about the things that I gained from playing high school sports. (How much time do you have?)

Time management. When you are playing a high school sport, you typically either have a game or practice every day after school. Sometimes, you don’t get home until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. And guess what – you still have homework to do, tests to study for, projects to work on. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible? Absolutely. You might struggle at first, but being a student athlete teaches you early on how to manage your time, work efficiently, and prioritize. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Yep.

How to interact with adults. Sometimes when playing a high school sport, we are put in situations where we have to communicate with our superiors (adults) in uncomfortable ways for adolescents. For example, we have to learn to advocate for ourselves, and we have to learn to listen to reasoning from our coaches, and deal with news that maybe we don’t want to hear. We can’t just “change teams” because we don’t get along with the coach – we have to find a way to work through the situation in a respectful way, and find a solution that works. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I’d hope so.

Effective communication. Sometimes, you take on the role of a leader in a high school sport. You work with underclassmen and your peers to assimilate them to the program. You work with them to build camaraderie, and ultimately to work towards the same goal. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I vote yes.

Overcoming difficult situations. Losing is hard. But you know what? Sometimes it happens. What I learned in high school sports is that a loss is only as good as what you can learn from it. Also, sometimes, giving your best isn’t good enough. (That’s a hard pill to swallow.) You can give it your all and still lose. You use that as motivation to get better, work harder, and stop making excuses. Do I still apply that to my life today? Yes. Has playing high school sports helped develop my grit and overall ability to cope with situations that just plain stink? Yes. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Absolutely.

Dependability/Personal Responsibility.  On the softball field, I had eight girls depending on me to do my job every pitch. On the basketball court, four other girls counted on me, just as I counted on them. They counted on me to put my best into practice every day, to push myself to become better, and to push them to become better. They counted on me to run the plays that coach set forth, and to work within the system that had been designed for us. They counted on me to pull my weight, to do my fair share, to contribute. If you didn’t do these things, you didn’t play. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Yes.

Commitment – This one is directly related to dependability and personal responsibility mentioned above. When you make a commitment to a team, you see it through to the end – you don’t flake out. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I think especially today, it’s a resounding yes.

Working with people you don’t get along with. I learned that just because a teammate and I didn’t get along off the court or field, it didn’t mean that we couldn’t be good teammates to each other. I’ll let that one sit for a minute, because this is something several adults have a hard time with as well.

Bottom line – if you think that these skills – these soft skills that are a huge push in education right now – are not a vital part of a students’ success in the K-12 public education system, I’d argue that you haven’t spent much time in a classroom lately. If you tell me that these skills don’t play a part in a student’s ability to effectively receive instruction, and a teacher’s ability to effectively deliver instruction, again, I’d argue that you haven’t seen these things in action. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for many of our students to gain these ever-important skills.

Life As A Teacher and Coach

Coaches. It’s easy to look at their positions as an easy “cut” to the budget and a place to save money. But what are we losing as a result? We’re losing mentors to our students. For many of our student athletes, they develop a bond with their coaches that go beyond the playing field. They look to their coaches as role models and adult leaders in their lives. Can teachers play this role? Yes, I’ve known many who do this every day to many students. But again, I argue – would we reach all of our students? Some of our students form stronger relationships with coaches than teachers – to no fault of the teacher. I know that when I was a teacher struggling to build a relationship with a student athlete, who was one of the first people I went to for advice? Their coach. Their coach would either give me advice on how to best reach that student, or the coach would work with that student to be more successful in my class. And as a coach, I had teachers coming to me for the same reasons. Sometimes, if a student doesn’t want to work hard for a teacher, they may not want to let their coach down, and working together, we can help that student find success.

As a coach, I was able to work with more students than I would have in my classroom alone, and I feel so blessed to have been a part of these young ladies’ lives. As a high school coach, you work with every skill level of athlete, from beginners to the elite, and you teach each one how to find success, and you help them through many of life’s ups and downs. I’ve been there for student athletes who needed academic support. I’ve been there for student athletes to help them overcome the typical adversity and pressure of the sport which they wear very heavily on their shoulders. I’ve been there for student athletes whose parents were going through a divorce. I’ve been there for student athletes whose mental health was not stable, and they were engaging in less than healthy behaviors. I’ve been there for student athletes whose parents were not supportive, and they were looking for approval elsewhere. I’ve been there for student athletes who have gone through more tragedy in their lives than anyone deserves, and were looking for something positive to pull from their day. I’ve been there to teach a student athlete how to win with grace, and lose with dignity. I’ve been privileged to pass along all the lessons that I was able to learn as a student athlete, and hope that I have had a positive influence on our next generation of student athletes.  If I was not afforded this opportunity to coach, I would never have met some of these young ladies. Would they have found another mentor? It’s hard to say.

School Buy-In

This point is pretty simple to make. Students who have “bought in” to their school are more likely to succeed in school academically. When you see school as a positive place to be that provides you opportunities, and you have multiple positive adult relationships, you’re more likely to put more effort into your school work. Why do you think that one of the first steps that poor performing schools take is to build up morale and school spirit within their students? When a student takes pride in their school, they take pride in doing their part to make their school great, including in academics. Disengaged students tend to do the opposite. I’m pretty sure there is research to support this, but talk to any teacher, and they’ll tell you this trend is accurate. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for students to buy in to their school.

Opportunities For Our Students

Do some student athletes have the opportunity to play club sports? Yes, there’s no doubt. Do all of our student athletes have this opportunity? Absolutely not. In fact, there are some sports, where their primary season is the high school season. High school athletics afford students the opportunity to play at a level higher than recreational sports do, and provide opportunities for students to try to reach the next level – college.  We are all about trying to find opportunities to get our students scholarships for college. Many of these are academic scholarships. Several of these scholarships require that students are involved in extracurricular activities. Some students even receive athletic scholarships. Guess what these athletic scholarships require? Certain academic standards need to be met. So if a student seeks an athletic scholarship, let’s say for cross country, they’ll also be motivated to meet that college’s academic requirements to be accepted into their school. And if cross country wasn’t offered at our school because we couldn’t afford to fund it from our local taxes, that student may never get looked at for said scholarship. I would hope the state wouldn’t want to take these types of opportunities away from our students.

Focus on the Whole Child

It will be a sad day when we stop focusing on the development the “whole child,” and we are only concerned with the old three Rs of education – Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic. We have come so far from those days in order to support the ever growing needs of our students, and to provide them with opportunities that did not used to exist. Let’s please not go back. Instead, let’s look ahead to our potential new accreditation system, and 5 better Rs that are being proposed within it: Rigor, Relationships, Relevance, Responsive Culture, and Results.

We Want It All – It’s What’s Best For Kids

Do I think that athletics are more important than providing sound instruction in the classroom? Absolutely not. I’m simply trying to make a point – extracurricular activities support what we do in the classroom and help us reach more students who may otherwise remain disengaged from school. Do I think that we should take funds out of the classroom and into extracurriculars? No. Call me crazy, but I want to have my cake and eat it too. And is that such a bad thing when all you really want is to see opportunities for kids? I’d like to see a bill come across that supports extracurriculars (and everything else this bill undermines) AND puts substantial money into teaching staff so that our schools can continue to grow in their academic offerings. When you get into the field of education, you’re constantly thinking through the lens of “What’s best for kids?” It’s unfortunate that many of our elected officials do not go through this thought process as well. (And thank you to those who do.) So where does the answer lie? I’m no economist, but I think this comes with a responsible tax formula, and not by robbing Peter to pay Paul, and certainly not by taking away opportunities from tomorrow’s leaders. So, as voters in the state of Kansas, let’s stay aware of the types of bills that are trying to make their way through the legislature, and advocate for our public schools.

Tech Tuesday: Student Presentations That Are Not Slideshows!

Well Hi There! Happy New Year!!

No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth, in case you were wondering. I know, I know, I’ve been lagging on my blogs – but for a good reason, I promise! I’ll blog more about that in an upcoming post.

What I want to talk about today are three Tech Tools that you can have students use that are not slideshows. I’m not trying to knock any of my favorite slide show tools, such as Google Slides and PowerPoint, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a little variety in the mix… especially if you’re viewing over 100 student presentations.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to draw your attention to a few things. First, please remember a while back, I did a Tech Tuesday over Digital Storytelling, where I highlighted the tools Animoto, WeVideo, and VoiceThread. These are really great tools for students to use on a presentation or project, but not what I’m presenting today. Also, I’ve presented Storify to my staff before as well, which definitely has its place for some projects and presentations. The final point I’d like to make today, is that my blog post today is all about the tools, but I have a disclaimer for you: Just using a fancy tool with a surface level project that’s not meaningful to students doesn’t mean that you’re using technology for the betterment of student learning. It won’t turn a bad assignment into a good assignment, just because you use one of these technology tools. Please continue to put pedagogy first, technology second.

You’ll also notice that for each of the tools that I present below, I’ve included a presentation about Genius Hour, using the tool at hand. Genius Hour has been a topic of conversation at my school, and several teachers have been wanting more information about it – so today’s Tech Tuesday was a 2 for 1 – come learn about some presentational tools, and if you want, here is some information about Genius Hour!  I more or less have the same presentation three times, so you can see what the differences look like in each of the three tools. My main resources for putting together this presentation were: www.geniushour.com (and several links and videos that I gathered from that page), this Edutopia article, and this LiveBinder, put together by Joy Kirr.

Ok, without further adieu, here are the three tools that I presented today during Tech Tuesday!

Tool #1: Adobe Slate

Adobe recently released the web-based version of their presentational tool, Slate. Slate was previously only an iPad app, but has since made the transition to being completely web based. Here is a promo video for Slate, where you can get an idea of what some of the products have a potential of looking like.

The idea behind Slate is that you can get a great, professional looking product, without having to be a designer. If you like something with pre-made themes, this is for you. Since the themes are set for you, it allows students to spend more time on the content, not on the style. This has both pros and cons, depending on what you are going for – some people prefer something they can customize a little bit more. I, on the other hand, appreciate the fact that I don’t have to think about the design.  One limitation is that you cannot embed videos in Slate, but you can put a link in for a video.

Here are some examples of what Adobe Slate looks like:
If you click on this link, it will take you to the Slate website, and if you scroll down just a bit, you can see quite a few of examples for you to click on and view.

Here is a brief tutorial on some of the features in Adobe Slate.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in Slate.

Tool #2: Smore

Smore is a tool where you can build online newsletters and flyers. I use Smore to send out a Friday Focus newsletter highlighting the great things I see in classrooms each week. The version I use is not the free version, but rest assured, there is a free version, so don’t let the “pricing” page fool you.

What I really enjoy about Smore, is the ability to embed a YouTube video into the newsletter itself, and you can watch it without leaving the page. In this one aspect, I believe it is better than Slate, but I enjoy the options that Slate offers with photos more than what Smore offers.

In a similar way as Slate, Smore is another tool where you can choose backgrounds and themes and fonts, but most of the formatting is done for you.

Here is a brief tutorial on what Smore looks like.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in Smore.

 

Tool #3: PowToon

Bring your slideshow to life with PowToon. Although the paid versions offer some really neat features, the free version is more than enough to add some pizzaz to a typical presentation. You can choose from ready-made templates where you fill in some information here and there, you can choose a theme that’s ready for you to add all the details, or you can start completely from scratch.

When you are making your presentation, you’ll have a choice to be in “movie mode” or “slideshow mode.” In movie mode, all you have to do is hit play, and the “movie” that you’ve created will play. In slideshow mode, it will be, well, a slideshow. You can still have all the same features as movie mode, but it’s more ideal for “presentations” so you can stop and go at your own pace. PowToon allows you to tell more of a story than a typical slide show. Also, If you want to embed video or hyperlinks to your presentation, you can only do so in slideshow mode.

You have the opportunity to add background music, and even some voiceovers for some really neat sound effects.

PowToon is much more complicated than the other two tools that I’ve shown today, but it has the potential to make a really great product that the students can have a lot of ownership over. Complicated doesn’t necessarily mean bad. It simply means more problem solving and working with the technology. Also, you don’t necessarily need to be an expert in PowToon to have your students make one. Have them be resourceful to troubleshoot some of the issues they come across. (But just in case, here is a link to some tutorials for PowToon.)

PowToon Examples:
https://www.powtoon.com/examples/

*These examples are made with premium accounts. You can’t have “people” in the free version.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in PowToon – it is in “slideshow mode” for the sake of having hyperlinks and videos. You’ll notice that on sides where I have links and/or video, I have placed a “hold” at the end of each slide to allow myself to “pause” the presentation if needed, so we can visit those links. That is why there is a brief pause after each slide. I could take these holds out, but it is a neat feature for students when presenting. You’ll notice it does interrupt the flow of the music a bit. The holds are not necessary if you take your presentation off of “autoplay” and manually change the slides. I did not opt to have holds on slides without a link or video.

NOTE – THIS IS NOT LIKE GOOGLE DOCS – IT WILL NOT SAVE AUTOMATICALLY. PLEASE REMEMBER TO HIT SAVE MULTIPLE TIMES THROUGHOUT YOUR WORK!! OR ELSE YOU’LL LOSE IT!!! (Speaking from experience here.)

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Those are the three tools for today! I hope you enjoyed the lesson, and learned something as well! Happy Tech-ing!!

-Megan

Tech Friday: Student Blogging

Well, in the imperfect life that is school administration, my Tech Tuesday turned into a Tech Friday, but I was just glad to be able to get it on the schedule, regardless of the day! This week, I aimed to provide a quality resource (or curation of resources) to teachers about student blogging. In my lesson, I make the case for blogging, and some really awesome “side effects” blogging can have for students. I referred to an article by George Couros where he does an excellent job of explaining why students should blog. I then linked up a bunch of resources and examples of student blogging, followed by four (free!) platforms that make the process pretty easy. Don’t get me wrong – there is quite a bit of work to get started with student blogging, but using the right tools can help the process become easier. I hope you enjoy the lesson on student blogging! Thanks for reading!

Click here to access the lesson on student blogging.

-Megan

We’ll Never Be Royal – Oh Wait, Yes We Will

The Kansas City Royals won the World Series.

The Kansas City Royals are World Champs.

The Kansas City Royals took the crown.

(Insert an insane amount of hashtags about the #Royals and being #ForeverRoyal)

I still can’t believe those statements are true. It’s like we’ve been living in a dream for the past few days, and we haven’t woken up yet. For the Royals fans in this household, we’ve been waiting for this moment, well, for a lifetime. And oh how sweet it is. Let’s all just sit here for a moment and take it all in. What a season. What a team. I think something that speaks volumes to what this means to us as a collective city (yes I’m including the suburbs as part of the “city”) is that several area school districts canceled school today for the celebration parade and pep rally in downtown KCMO. How special for those that were able to attend! Needless to say, our city is electric with Royals fever right now.

(A fun side story – today at daycare, my 2 1/2 year old was supposed to be napping. One of the teachers was sitting on the couch watching the parade, when she heard a tiny little voice break into the “Let’s Go Royals!” cheer. So, the teacher went to get her from her napping spot, and my little one got to watch the parade in lieu of a nap today. She won’t remember that, but I will.)

So why am I writing about this championship team in my school blog? It’s easy – this team exudes qualities of what it takes to be successful, so I want to talk about a few of them.

Let’s start with the obvious. These Kansas City Royals are resilient.

re-sil-ient

Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations

Here’s a fun fact to get us started:

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 8.43.08 PM

Let’s walk through some of the most notable comebacks of the postseason. We’re going to start with the game where we had a 1% chance to win. Let’s go all the way back to the ALDS Game 4 against a very solid Houston Astros team, and we were facing elimination. If we lost, we were done. We were losing 3-2 going into the bottom of the 7th inning (did I mention we were in Houston?). The Astros then knocked in three runs off of two home runs to extend their lead to 6-2 in the 7th inning. It was looking dismal at best. The very next inning, something special happened. We kicked, clawed, scratched our way back into the game, and scored 5 runs off of 5 hits. (Sometime I’ll have to tell you about my crazy superstitions during post season baseball. Let’s just say once we scored the first run of the 8th inning, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot listening to the radio for approximately 45 minutes.) We ended up winning the game, forcing a Game 5, which we won in a come from behind fashion as well to move on to the American League Championship Series.

Fast forward a bit to Game 2 of the ALCS against a very, very good Toronto team. We were losing by 3 going into the 7th inning. And then it happened. Again. The comeback kids scored 5 runs in the 7th inning, which would end up being enough to win the game before the series went across the border to Canada. (I was at Power and Light for this game – you want to talk about a place that went from semi depressed to electric in the blink of an eye?!) Anyway, point is – we were in a tough spot, and we found a way out of it.

We can’t talk about epic comebacks without talking about Game 1 of the World Series. Fourteen innings of pure stress and excitement rolled into one baseball game. (Side note:  The post season really has an effect on my sleep – I was running on fumes the next day, like most of Kansas City.) Anyway, the Royals were losing going into the bottom of the 9th inning. We were up against Familia, the Mets’ closer who was known for getting the job done, and who had been solid all throughout the postseason. Then Alex Gordon (my favorite Royal) steps up to the plate and BLASTS one out of the park. All of a sudden we’re in extra innings, and in the bottom of the 14th, Hosmer hits a walk off sacrifice fly ball. Royals win, beating the odds.

The last one we will talk about is the game that clinched the World Series. The Mets’ pitcher had pitched LIGHTS OUT all game. “The Dark Knight” (Matt Harvey) was shutting us down. It looked inevitable that the series would return to Kansas City for a game 6. We were losing 2-0 in the ninth! The ninth! Then out of nowhere, the Mets make a mistake or two, we capitalize on it, take some risks, and tie the game. We force extra innings, and end up taking the series on a 7-2 win in twelve innings (Thank you Christian Colon!). Is that incredible or is it incredible?

Here’s the deal. When faced with tough situations, the boys don’t give up. They don’t throw in the towel. Even with the odds were COMPLETELY against them – they keep at it. They scored more runs in the 7th inning or later than any other team in history in the postseason:

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 8.42.35 PM

If you listen to any interviews by the Royals about their ability to come back, they’ll all give you a similar message – we know how to play when our backs are against the wall. We know how to handle tough situations. We know how to work through adversity. We stay focused on the task at hand, and we find a way to get it done. No excuses. We just get it done. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our teammates. There’s no pouting or complaining – we have a job to do, so we do it.

Take away the context of baseball for a second, and replace it with the context of school, teaching, and learning. Isn’t this what we want of our students? Of our teachers? Of our administrators? Resiliency is a skill. It’s a skill that is taught. Everyone is going to face hard situations in life. How do you handle that hard situation? You’d be well advised to take a lesson from our Boys in Blue.

Let’s now re-visit Game 5 of the World Series. You know the one. Yeah, the one where we WON THE WORLD SERIES! (Sorry, it’s still pretty fresh.) Remember, we were losing 2-0 going into the ninth inning. We scored 1 run to close the lead to 2-1, and then Eric Hosmer was at 3rd base. Salvador Perez was up to bat.

There’s a ground ball hit to the left side. Third baseman David Wright fields the ball. He checks Hosmer at 3rd, then makes the throw to first. AS SOON AS Wright throws the ball, Hosmer breaks for home. Lucas Duda (Mets first baseman) makes a throw home, but it’s off the mark, Hosmer scores, tying up the game.

This was a huge risk for Hosmer to take. With a good throw, there’s a high possibility that he would have been out, and the game would have been over. But, his gut told him to take the risk, he did, and it paid off… big time. Without that risk, it’s very possible we don’t score again that inning, and the Met’s force a game 6. You see, for Hosmer, the possibility of tying the game in the bottom of the ninth outweighed the “safe choice” by a landslide.

There can be no great accomplishment without risk. – Neil Armstrong

So it is too, in education. We are always faced with new challenges. New obstacles. New expectations. Sometimes, embracing all the “new” comes with a huge risk. The risk and fear of the unknown. Did Hosmer know he was going to be safe? Absolutely not. Do you know as an educator if trying something new is going to work like you envision? No, we don’t always have that foresight. But hopefully that doesn’t stop us from trying. Hopefully, we can see that the benefits of engaging more students and trying something new and innovative outweighs the safe choice of “this is how I’ve always done it, and it’s just fine the way it is.”  Great teachers take risks to try new things to make their classrooms student-centered, rigorous, and, well, fun.

If you look at any of these come from behind wins, you can probably point out at least one mistake that our boys made that led us to the aforementioned deficit. Here’s another thing that’s special about our team: They rally behind each other. When someone is having a rough outing, they let them know “Hey man, we got you.” For example, when Ryan Madson gave up the 3 runs to the Astros in game 4 of the ALDS (remember, Royals were facing elimination), his teammates came up to him and said, “We got you. Don’t worry. It’s not ending like this.” When three of our players lost parents during the season, their teammates picked them up, supported them, and helped them through a hard time. These guys go past your typical “teammate” relationship. They have entered into what seems to be a brotherhood of sorts. A special bond that they’ll always share.

How important is it in education for us to do the same for one another? Collaboration is key to fostering a growth mindset among our teachers. We can support one another, learn from one another, pick each other up, help each other out – we are a family. Just like the Royals had one goal that united them and made them fight together to keep the line moving, so do we as educators. Our goal is student success. If we can support each other to accomplish and achieve our goal, we are one step closer to being Royally successful.

The spirit this team has is contagious. You can feel it throughout the entire city. We have some great guys in the clubhouse. (Gordon and Zobrist – please, pretty please, stay!!) I think we can all learn some valuable lessons from this team and apply them to our every day lives – but hey – that’s what sports can do for you in general. This just happens to be a special group of guys doing remarkable things. Thank you, Royals, for an incredible season. Teachers and school leaders, my question to you is:

What can you do to foster the same type of spirit in your school with your students and your staff?

As always, I thank you for reading my thoughts. I always enjoy reading yours, so please feel free to comment below! I’ll leave you with one more thing before we part ways:

IMG_1450

-Megan

Tech Tuesday: Digital Storytelling

(Programming Note: If you don’t want to read my commentary about the process I went through to produce this week’s Tech Tuesday, I link up my presentation at the very end of the post, you can just scroll down:)

Before Tech Tuesday this week, I sent out a survey to staff asking which type of professional development they were most interested in. The choices were “Alternative tools for student presentations (besides Google Slides and PowerPoint),” “Teacher tools for organizing your digital life,” and “Digital Storytelling.” I wanted to be sure that I was presenting on topics that the staff wanted to learn about, and this survey would help me determine the priority of the professional development that teachers wanted. As it turns out, all three were tied in interest level almost all the way through. At the end, Digital Storytelling barely prevailed, and I was very excited at the thought of putting together professional development for this.

And then, I Googled it.

If you ever want to be overwhelmed by resources, you should try Googling “Digital Storytelling” sometime. It was tough to know where to start. Luckily, I had recently made a connection with the educational technologist that is now at a school where I used to teach. She had recently completed a large project for a master’s class on Digital Storytelling, so her resources provided me with a FANTASTIC starting point. I then got on Twitter, because if I ever need a bunch of GOOD curated information, I head on over to @cybraryman1’s website (cybraryman.com) and I know I will find a ton of excellent resources. So using these two platforms as my launching pad for research, I knew I was in good hands. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to my PLN and all of the interwebs for your resources.

When I taught, I cannot say that I used a ton of digital storytelling in my classroom, but I did use the heck out of GoAnimate (back in the day where you could do some cool stuff for free) for some funny Spanish videos with my students (hey, all that matters is if I thought they were funny, right?). And that was about the extent of my knowledge on digital storytelling. So, I knew I had quite a bit of work to do when it came to this professional development. I needed to get to know the ins and outs of digital storytelling in about a week. What better way to get to know it than to start making a few videos?? But what do I make a video about? The obvious choice is to make a video about my daughter (which I did), but I knew I would need something a little more powerful. Something that came from…. the students. So I talked with our video production teacher to see if I could borrow a few of his students in his upper level video class to be in my video. I asked them a bunch of candid questions about storytelling and why it’s important, and how technology helps them tell their stories. I was blown away by their responses. Check them out!

The fun thing about this video, besides the students providing me with some amazing responses, was that I completed it ALL on my phone. (Shout out to the iPhone 6s for coming complete with iMovie!) Now, here’s where my Tech Tuesday adventure took a fun little turn. I sent my completed video to the video teacher and another tech-savvy teacher so they could see how great the kids did. I also put a plug in there about how iPhones rule, because they are both passionate about their Android devices. This spurred a fun and friendly video competition. The video teacher laid out the parameters for the contest:

Length: 45 seconds – 1 minute
Theme: Your Kid(s)
Must Haves: Text, a close-up shot, and a spoon.

I’m a sucker for competition, so I made my second video for Tech Tuesday. Check it out!

Through this competition, I was able to include mobile storytelling in my presentation for both Apple and Android devices.

I then knew that I needed to become familiar with some web-based Digital Storytelling programs. Throughout this process, I bet I looked through 15 or so web-based programs, and it was a lot of work to go through and weed out the ones I felt didn’t offer as much. Through my research, I came up my version of the best FREE ways to complete digital storytelling in the classroom. (Sometimes you have to get creative for “free.”) The top three that I found were:

WeVideo (Free version allows for 5 minutes of video production per month.)
Animoto (Apply for the educator’s package to get 50 free student accounts – get creative with student grouping if you have more than 50 students.)
VoiceThread

All three offer slightly different types of stories to be produced, based on teacher preference and comfort level with each one.

I finished my presentation with curricular ideas for implementation, to get some creative juices flowing for teachers.

What digital storytelling lessons to you incorporate in your classroom, or what ideas do you have for future use? I’d love to hear them! In the meantime, below is my presentation that I used during Tech Tuesday today! I hope you can find something useful out of it! Thanks for reading!

-Megan

Tech Tuesday Presentation: Digital Storytelling (Note – you can only watch the videos if you are in “Present” mode in Google Slides. And the links in the slides only work properly if you are not in “Present” mode.)