Tech Tuesday: Google Hangouts

Good Tuesday evening to you!

I apologize in the lack of blog posts lately. I could give you a myriad of excuses, but nobody wants to hear that, so onward we go.

Today was my third Tech Tuesday with my staff, and today’s lesson was all about Google Hangouts!  As I’ve stated in earlier posts, we are a GAFE school, so I wanted to do the first several Tech Tuesdays utilizing tools that we all have available to us, and that can be utilized across content areas.  Prior to putting this lesson together, my experience with Google Hangouts was fairly minimal, so I apologize for the raw-ish video tutorials that go along with the lesson. I will say though, that the more I learned, the more I loved about Google Hangouts. There are some really great ideas out there about how to utilize Hangouts (I hope I cited all the proper sources!). One of my favorite discoveries through my “research” were two Google+ communities, which I talk about in my lesson. They are a fantastic way to connect with educators not just across the country, but across the world. (Wow – how powerful is that?! Sorry, sometimes the foreign language teacher in me comes out, and I just get awestruck with things like global connections – and how easy it is to have them in today’s classroom.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the lesson, and can find something useful out of it as an educator.

Happy Hangout-ing!

Here’s The Lesson

-Megan

Technology Integration: My Thoughts

Technology. Does anyone else seem to have a love/hate relationship with it? Mine is mostly love, but gosh darn it, why can’t my iPhone 5s be as awesome as the 6s? Why does technology have to change all the time? Why couldn’t my phone be cool for longer than approximately ten minutes? I don’t want to keep up with the Joneses, I need that technology! (Enter lesson of wants vs needs.) I want that camera! That speed! That power! (In Rose Gold, please…) Oh, here’s a fun one – WHY can I never seem to get my computer to work correctly with the library projector during staff inservice?? That’s a really awesome feeling – when the technology inservice can’t get started…because of technology. (insert irritated emoji)

Ok, Ok, I say those things in jest (kind of). But honestly, technology, as wondrous as it is, can cause people some headaches (including me from time to time!). Especially teachers. It’s always changing. There are always new things to learn. It’s hard to keep up! You try something, and it doesn’t work out quite the way you envisioned, so you slowly start to write technology off altogether. After all, we’ve gone all these years teaching students without the latest and greatest technology – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it! Right?

Wrong. And here’s why.

I truly feel that if we don’t incorporate technology into our lesson plans, we are doing our students a disservice. Ok, let me back up just a second. I should probably define what I mean by “incorporate technology.” I think technology has two distinct roles in education. 1) To make teacher’s lives easier. (Think online formative assessments, grading made easy, analyzing data, etc.) That’s a really awesome role that technology can play. and 2) To engage students in higher order thinking skills, make them creators of digital content, and prepare them for life in a digital society. Please know that for this post, I’ll be referring to the latter, although I do love the former as well. Ok, so back to my point: If we don’t incorporate technology into our lesson plans, we are doing our students a disservice. We, as educators, have been told for a while now that this generation of students are “digital natives.” They’ve haven’t been alive in a time when the internet didn’t exist. (Say what?) So, naturally, they’re better at technology than previous generations, right? Again, I argue the opposite. Today’s youth is really good at certain things in regards to technology. Think about the things that consume a large portion of their digital time. Social media and…yeah, social media. Generally speaking, this generation loves sharing statuses and pictures with their friends, and receiving instant feedback. What we have to keep in mind, is that they are 14-18 years old. This leaves a lot to be desired in problem solving, analytical, and decision making skills. (No offense if you’re 14-18 years old and reading this post. It’s just science. That frontal lobe of yours is still developing.) So, education now has to take on a new role of giving students these skills to not only survive, but thrive in a digital world. Employers today expect graduates to be proficient in a variety of medias. Where else are they going to learn how to turn out professional grade products using technology? And evaluate those products? And take feedback to then go make changes to those products? The answer is simple: at school. I came across an article that discusses the idea of the “digital native myth,” and a paragraph pretty much sums up how I feel about the topic.

While clearly many young people are adept as digital consumers, their immersion in this world also heightens their susceptibility to the manipulations of advertisers, unless they’ve also acquired the critical and analytic skills needed to navigate our complex information landscape. And while today’s students certainly have a bigger menu of diversions before them than did their parents, entering the digital world as a creator and producer of content and mastering the tools to do so require a new and different skill set.

– Fred Mindlin

We have to be the ones to teach students this “new and different” skill set. This goes beyond teachers using things like Google Forms to interpret student data (although that is a great use of Google Forms!!), and into having students create Google Forms and have them analyze, interpret, and evaluate the data. Rather than giving students information and having them answer questions about the topic, we can utilize inquiry based learning and have students produce a product that demonstrates their learning. Now this is just one example, but is it easier to adapt certain content areas into a technology rich environment? Certainly. Does this look different for every teacher? Absolutely. Teaching is not a one size fits all profession. We don’t want to produce a “robot” teacher. But let me tell you this – if you give a technology tool to 5 teachers, I’d be willing to bet that you’d get 5 unique lesson plans incorporating that tool. Teacher autonomy and individuality does not go out the window when technology comes in. Nor is technology an “add on” to what we do. It should start becoming a part of how we think when we sit down with our lesson plans.

Another reason to incorporate technology is because it adds an element of relevance to our lessons. As mentioned before, this generation of students has not been in a world without the internet. It’s part of their lives. If you can take your content and use technology to give it more relevance to students’ lives outside of school, and into the “real world”, you’re going to give them a deeper connection to your content. Earlier this week, Daisy Dyer Duerr posed the question in her blog, “Can JUST RELATIONSHIPS keep teachers relevant to students in the classroom?”  First, I want to start off by saying that I’m having a difficult time thinking of a current classroom teacher who refuses to use technology on any level, so I do not have any teacher in mind when I answer this question. I’ll be answering in generalities. Ok, on to my answer. I think all teachers know that the relationships you build with students are the building blocks to a successful classroom. You simply cannot have an effective classroom if students do not feel valued. Think about the worst teacher you’ve ever had. Chances are that you probably didn’t even like this teacher, let alone learn much. I’m a firm believer that students learn more from teachers they like. They’re also willing to do more for teachers they like. So Daisy’s question was, are these great relationships enough to get meaningful learning in a classroom? My answer is no, it’s not enough, although it is a necessary ingredient. Many times, I like to relate things to sports. I played sports my entire childhood and through college. Having a coach that you love and respect as a human being is so important. There is a special bond between player and coach, but only when the coach allows it to happen. But is this bond enough to make the team successful? Of course not. The coach has to have an effective way to get her athletes to master the skills of that sport. Many times, a coach can be loved, but lacks in actual coaching ability. It doesn’t necessarily make the athletes love this coach less, but it does has an effect on the outcome of the athletes’ performance. Is this a stretch of a comparison to relevance in the classroom? Maybe. But I think the concepts are similar. Additionally, I can think of a handful teachers from elementary school through college that I loved as human beings and could talk to about almost anything, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy their class, and I didn’t necessarily learn a lot either. But I still really liked them.

Now, back to my answer on this whole relationships vs relevance piece. In addition to “No, relationships are not enough,”  my answer is also that technology does not stand alone as an “end all-be all” to add relevance and thus, to have a successful classroom. However, let me say, that technology is a fantastic way to tie the two worlds together. Technology is a tool, and should be utilized as such.

Relevance and relationships walk hand in hand to creating an effective classroom. In just the way that relationships cannot stand alone to create an effective classroom, neither can relevance. Students won’t care about the relevance if they don’t think you care about them as individuals. We also cannot talk about relationships and relevance without mentioning the other “R” sibling – rigor. (Have you seen the new accreditation system for Kansas? You’d be wise to ensure your class has strong relationships, relevance and rigor.) With these three qualities, you will push students to do things they never thought possible, and I think that is a goal that every teacher possesses.

It would be hard for me to talk about technology and not mention student engagement. I’ll keep this portion fairly short and to the point. If you had an opportunity to reach more students, would you? Technology offers us this opportunity. What you currently do, without technology, is probably great. But are there a few students you’re having a hard time reaching? Or who may just be going through the motions because they’re into the whole “compliance” concept? It’s just a thought, could technology integration be just what those students need to rejuvenate their engagement? Not to mention you could be hitting two birds with one stone – higher oder thinking skills and technology fluency – both of which are two skills employers today are looking for. This is what’s best for kids.

Let me conclude with one last word: Balance. Please don’t be all technology all the time unless your content truly calls for it. Interpersonal skills are still extremely important, and they are also skills that employers are looking for today. Face to face interactions are vital for our students to have. Can they put technology down and have a professional interaction with an adult? Can they shake hands and look a stranger in the eye and have a solid conversation? Can they speak in front of a group of people? Can they use spoken word to elicit emotions from others? Can they get their point across without having to type it out first? We still need “people people.” We still need to teach students “soft skills.”  These skills do not take a back seat to technology. These two world’s absolutely do NOT live in isolation of each other.  Methods that could be considered “old school” do not have to be eradicated from classrooms today. In fact, there are times when those methods are the best and most appropriate methods to utilize. Please, continue to use these methods when this is the case. There are times where technology should absolutely be put away and not utilized. I really think that we can have our cake an eat it too. By this, I mean we can produce students who are well rounded in both interpersonal and digital skills, and I think it’s vital that we do just that. So I leave you with the one word I told you I was going to leave you with: Balance.

Thanks for reading,
Megan

My Open Letter to New and Future Teachers

Last week, I received an email from a former softball player of mine. She is in her senior year of college – her last semester before student teaching. She’s one of those kids that you knew was going to do something special with her life. A hard worker, a team player, a great attitude – I mean, you have to admit – this is the perfect recipe for a successful teacher. Anyway, back to the email.  For one of her classes, she needed responses to a series of questions asking for advice for new teachers. Advice on the challenges of working in education today, advice on working with challenging students, advice on how to communicate with parents, etc. As I was typing the responses to her questions, I was inspired to write this post. If you’re reading this as a teacher in Kansas, this may apply more to you than if you teach in a state where the governor actually cares about appropriately funding public education. I digress – I will try not to bird walk too much in this post. Alas, now we begin my open letter to new and future teachers.

Dear Teacher,

Welcome to the most challenging, gut-wrenching, heart-pouring, amazing, rewarding, fantastic jobs known to mankind. You have chosen a profession that many don’t understand, yet try to judge constantly. We are in a sad place in public education right now. It’s becoming more difficult to retain teachers in the political and economical environment that our state has created, and the ones who have stayed feel like they take blow after blow from the statehouse.  The work keeps getting bigger, more complicated, more technological, more… Common Core. And the pay keeps decreasing. And decreasing. Cuts are being made. Job security is a thing of the past. Programs are disappearing. Fees are increasing. Class sizes are maxed out. I could go on and on about the negative things happening in our state right now in regards to public education. But if you pay any kind of attention to the news, you knew this already. And you chose to teach anyway.

I commend you for that, and I urge you, as time goes by – remember that. Remember what it was that made you want to teach anyway. Was it to make a difference? To spread your love of learning and of your content? Was it because you feel like you have a gift? The gift of teaching? Do you have this innate ability to create amazing lesson plans that you know will engage students from the minute they walk in, to the last second they are in your room? Was it because you absolutely love kids and you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else with your life? Hold on to that passion. Whatever it was that made you decide to take this crazy leap into this great profession. Hold it close. Guard it. Keep it near your heart. Live it every day.

Because teaching is hard. Really, really hard. I think everyone in their first year or two of teaching asks themselves, “Is it worth it?” Most of us quickly shake that off, and might even feel a little ashamed for thinking that, because we know that yes, it is definitely worth it. The rest? Well, they either discover that teaching is not for them and they leave, or they keep on teaching without passion. My hope for the latter is that they find that passion, find that spark, and give it the ol’ college try.

So what makes teaching today so difficult? Let’s start with the obvious. You know the saying, “I didn’t get into this profession for the money!” It’s true. And you know what? It’s hard being poor. My first year of teaching, I lived at home with Mom and Dad for a year. No bills, not rent, no nada. And I was still poor. (By the way, thanks Mom and Dad.) For whatever reason, I decided I would move out after a year. Retrospect is 20/20 – I should have ridden that gravy train for a lot longer. And boy –  I thought I was poor while living at home?! Now I owned a house?! My husband and I – we know what it’s like to go paycheck to paycheck. It’s hard.

What else makes being a teacher so difficult? Law makers. People who have never been an educator or a part of school finance are making decisions that are detrimental to the funding of our schools. This has a huge effect on 1) how much you get paid (see previous paragraph), 2) if you’ll be a “budget cut” next year (RIFs are no joke),  3) the resources you have available to you to use as you teach (yet you’re asked to prepare 21st century learners), and 4) programs that your school is able to offer students – both academic and extracurricular. Speaking of the importance of extracurriculars is probably better saved for another day.

On top of those two glaring beasts staring you in the face as a teacher – you are tasked with managing day to day lessons, grading, planning, other responsibilities (there are a lot of these), learning, pressure, stress – your plate is full. (Yet you may try to squeeze in coaching one to three sports on the side.) Sometimes it feels like the waves are right below our nose, and it’s only a matter of time before we sink.

So far, I have painted a pretty glum picture. (“Gee, thanks Megan. I wanted to be uplifted by reading your letter.”) But again, I go back to the fact that you already knew these things. But it was important that I address them because of what I’m about to say.

Teaching is hard. Teach anyway.

You’re going to be poor. Create a budget, and teach anyway. 

You’re going to have students, and maybe even entire classes that are a challenge. Always keep the students’ best interest a priority. Build positive relationships with each and every one of them, and teach anyway.

You’re going to encounter parents that seem overwhelming. Keep in mind that you both want what’s best for their child, work together, and teach anyway.

You’ll have administrators that you love. And some that you don’t feel so fondly for. Find a way to make it work, and teach anyway.

You’ll have days where you feel like you did nothing right. Don’t worry. Learn from it and adjust. There’s always tomorrow. Teach anyway.

You’ll feel like the demands of learning new techniques, technologies, and standards are going to overtake your sanity. Take a deep breath. You’re dedicated to being a life-long learner. Make a plan of action. And teach anyway.

You will cry. Sometimes they are happy tears. Sometimes they are tears of frustration. Sometimes they are tears of heartbreak. You see, we teachers tend to share a heart with our kids. Just grab some Kleenex and teach anyway.

Some days you may feel all alone. On these days, talk with a veteran teacher. They’ve been there. They know. They have great advice. They have great strategies. Listen to them, take their advice, and teach anyway.

Some days you may feel all alone. On these days, don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Be willing to take risks. You’ll know the difference between these times and the times in the previous paragraph. Find some courage to pursue your passion, and teach anyway.

You’re going to have politicians who either intentionally or unintentionally try to strip your joy for what you do. Don’t give them that control over something you are passionate about and hold dear to your heart. Yes, you should absolutely advocate for yourself, teachers need a voice! But in the same breath, if you let that negativity fester inside of you, it will turn into the true monster that it really is. Take control over your passion, over your joy. Teach anyway.

You see, it takes true grit to be a teacher. An unmatched courage and resolve to do what we love, even when faced with tough times. A resolve to provide an education to all students, regardless of zip code. A resolve to do more with less, and keep students a priority.

For all the hardships mentioned above, immerse yourself in the positivity that surrounds you every single day. Show up with a true enthusiasm for what you do, look for the positives that happen in our schools every day, choose to smile, and you know what? I bet you’ll forget from time to time all of the negatives.  Yes, acknowledge the negatives exist, yes, speak up when you’re being mistreated. I will caution you this- getting caught up in the negativity is easy, but getting caught up in the positivity is a heck of a lot more enjoyable. When you show up to teach every day, it is a choice. It is a choice that positively affects the students in your classroom. Be proud to call yourself a teacher. So, do you have grit? If so, I think you’ll make a fine teacher indeed, and I wish you all the best as you begin your wonderful career. If you have grit, teach anyway.

Sincerely,

Megan

 

Tech Wednesday: “Google Docs: More Than Word Processing”

Today I had my second Tech Tuesday. Well, it was actually a Tech Wednesday. Tuesday of this week was a disaster scheduling wise, so Wednesday it was. It doesn’t quite have the ring that “Tech Tuesday” does, but hey – I think I can let that go.

Anyway, to keep it short and to the point, this week’s lesson was about getting the most out of Google Docs. It was not a lesson about Google Apps overall, but it was three mini-lessons about how to use Docs for more than word processing. Now, my disclaimer is this: Word processing is a good thing. It is a needed skill, and students need to know how to write a variety of texts, and write those on a computer. I’m not undermining the importance of that in the least.  I spend a good portion of my days putting my word processing skills to use.  The goal of the lesson today was to explore what else Docs can do for us – because there is a lot. With the collaborative features, and the ability to link up websites, articles, images, videos and more – you can turn a Doc into a really interactive experience.  I hope you enjoy the lessons!

Click Here To Access The Tech Wednesday Lessons

If you’re a teacher, I hope you can find these mini lessons helpful! If you’re an administrator, I hope you can find these mini lessons helpful! 🙂 Feel free to comment below to let me know your thoughts! Have a fantastic day!

Megan

P.S. How about this short and sweet post?! It’s a miracle!

Tech Tuesdays – A New Adventure

One of my goals for this school year is to provide differentiated, meaningful professional development to teachers in our building. For those of you who have been charged with PD implementation in your respective buildings or districts know that this is no easy task. However, I’m passionate that professional learning should have relevance to teachers, so I aim to provide them with relevant topics and ideas for professional development. You may have read my post on how we are allowing teachers to participate in Twitter chats for PD points. That is just one path on my adventure to personalize PD this year.

Last year, I would give monthly, hour(ish)-long presentations to staff about a technology tool or an idea of how to better incorporate technology into lesson plans. It was a decent start, but I knew I was somehow still missing the mark. I tried to reach as many content areas as I could within a single presentation, but as you may well know, it’s hard to have a one-size PD session where everyone leaves thinking, “Now THAT is something I will start using immediately.”

This year, we decided to restructure that PD time. Those days once a month are going to be used for teacher collaboration, and we will not interfere with that time. However, technology is an initiative we feel is important for our school to continue to progress and stay relevant to students and stakeholders. So where does that put us for technology professional development?  Enter Tech Tuesdays. Twice a month, I will put together a PD “menu” so to speak, for teachers to come pick and choose what tech tools they want to learn about.  I set up shop before school, stay in the library all day, and stay after school to try to meet the convenience needs of as many teachers as possible. Oh – and did I mention this is optional?  We want to support and encourage teachers who want to take risks and try new things by providing them with ideas and resources. But if you don’t want to come play, I’m not going to make you.

So today was our first Tech Tuesday of the year. I set up in the library conference room, a little nervous, a lot excited. After all, I had spent probably close to 15 hours researching, making decisions and choices, creating video, curating content, and putting it all into a neat little package. This was a “Labor of Love” that I was really excited to share with staff.

I decided to make today’s Tech Tuesday all about Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Our district is a GAFE district, so why not spend time investigating ideas of how to better incorporate this FREE resource that is available to us? So, I put together the first in a series of GAFE Tech Tuesdays.

When teachers came to see me, I first shared with them this Google Doc. This Google Doc was a “table of contents” more or less that contained links to the three different lessons I had created for the day. Teachers could do all three lessons if they wanted to, or they could pick and choose the one(s) they felt were most relevant to them.

The first lesson option (click to see the lesson) that they had was an update to Google Classroom. I studied up on some of the updates, had a teacher show them to me, and put together a little screencast featuring the updates. I paired this with an article and video that I found on the “Ditch That Textbook” website that described 12 creative ways to use the new features in Classroom. There was another link that helped navigate Google Classroom in general. At the end there was a discussion question in my Tech Tuesday Google Classroom for teachers to discuss how they have used Classroom in the past, and how they can see themselves using it in the future. (The discussion question aspect was present in each lesson option today, with the hopes of sparking some online collaboration and sharing of ideas.)

The second lesson option demonstrates how to use the “Go To Page Based On Answer” feature in Google Forms to differentiate instruction for students. Using this feature, teachers can create a Form that is responsive to the answers that students submit, and take them to various pages within the Form based on their answers. For example, if a teacher has a multiple choice question on a formative assessment, and the student answered it wrong, based on that wrong answer, the Form would direct them to a review page rather than the next question. When they finish the review page, they can try to answer the missed question again, and when they do answer it correctly, they can then move on to the next question. Pretty neat stuff.

The final option for today’s Tech Tuesday was another lesson that featured the “Go To Page Based On Answer” option in Google Forms, but this time it centered around the idea of “Choose Your Own Adventure” (you remember those books form the 80s and 90s?). Check out the lesson linked above for details. (Thank you to #sstlap for getting me engaged with this idea!)

I’d like to give a quick shoutout to my PLN on Twitter for providing me with a vast majority of the resources found in those Google Docs. I tried as hard as I could to give credit where it was due throughout the lessons – please do not think by any means that I created all of the resources within these lessons. Curated – yes. Created – no. A BIG shout out to the makers of HyperDocs who helped me with the organization of my lessons for Tech Tuesdays. It will be a really seamless way for teachers to access the lessons, especially when I put them in my Tech Tuesday Google Classroom.

I want to sincerely thank the teachers who came to Tech Tuesday today. I so appreciate you dedicating your time today to some professional learning. My attendance rate today was not through the roof – but it was a good starting point. I received some good feedback from the teachers who attended, so I will continue to try to build and improve upon what I have started for future sessions.

If you have any suggestions, feedback, comments, etc., please comment below, or contact me via Twitter, @MeganBlackEHS. If you are a school leader, I hope you can find something useful to share with staff. If you are a teacher, I hope you can find something that speaks to you to use in your classroom. Thank you for taking the time to read through my post! Stay tuned for the next Tech Tuesday in a couple of weeks! Have a fantastic day.

Megan

A Week(ish) in Review: Back to School

Well, we just wrapped up the first full week of school. It’s Friday night, about quarter ’till ten, and I’m just sitting down to decompress. And wow, there is so much to decompress from. What a whirlwind the past 8 days have been. Last time we met, I couldn’t sleep because I was so anxious about the first day of school, so I shared our Twitter for PD Policy we’re piloting in our district. That blog post seems like a lifetime ago! This past week or so has had it’s fill of ups and downs like any week in the life of an educator and parent, but overall, the outlook for the year is bright.

First, I’ll try to (as briefly as I can manage) describe to you how our first half day of school went. This was a day for freshmen and new students to the building. I asked my principal in the spring if I could be in charge of the first day of school and make it my baby. He graciously allowed me to do so, and I had the passion and purpose (those two are a dangerous combination) to make it a fun, meaningful, successful day for our students. The planning that went in to this day was tremendous, but it was nothing compared to the way our school came together and truly put on a show. There were teachers over the summer preparing materials, contacting students, and choreographing and rehearsing performances. I had a group of about 25 upperclassmen who gave up two days out of their summer to come train with me to get ready for the big day. I had volunteers who helped me set up for the day, and they did so willingly and with a smile on their face. I’ve told you before, and I’ll probably tell you again – our school is a great place to be. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the wonderful dispositions of the people at our school. Anyway, the whole idea of the day was to start these new students’ year off on a positive note. But, I didn’t want it to stop there. I wanted them to feel on that first day. I wanted them to feel what it was like to get involved. I wanted them to feel the power of our pep band. I wanted them to feel what a spectacular a cappella National Anthem from our choir sounds like. I wanted them to feel like family as they learned the alma mater and fight song. I wanted them to feel unity as they learned the “freshmen” cheer for pep assemblies. I wanted them to feel as though they belonged during their small group sessions with their group leaders. I wanted them to feel like they could have a successful school year with a few good decisions. I wanted them to feel…like a Cardinal. Was this achieved? I can’t speak for each individual student, but I’d like to think we came close. So for those of you who had a hand in making this day special, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was one of the most stressful, fun, and gratifying things I have been a part of.

The weekend soon followed our back to school bash, and starting Monday, school was in full force. I was able to relax a bit, as our inservice days and first days of school were complete, but it wasn’t long before I was right back into the groove of my “usual” routine (or as routine as we can get) of tackling our next PD days, organizing Tech Tuesdays, completing teacher evaluation tasks, organizing meetings, getting into classrooms – the works. And now that I think about it, although my blog from last week seems so long ago, I also feel like this week flew by. At any rate, last week, I wrote about our Twitter PD opportunities in our district, and this week, I was delighted to see teachers start to take advantage of them. I saw at least three teachers start to interact with other educators, and participate in chats on Twitter. Conversations that I had with these teachers afterwards only affirmed that what we’re doing is the right thing. Each teacher had gained resources, ideas, and a network of people to collaborate with in the future. But what I loved hearing most of all, was that those teachers had fun doing this. That brought me so much joy, and I can only hope it’s a positive sign for what’s to come throughout the year for learning via Twitter (and heck, learning in general).

As I mentioned earlier, the week had both ups and downs.  In the midst of the sad times that can oftentimes come along with the job of an educator, there’s always something that brings joy back into my heart. Tonight, I hugged my baby girl a little tighter, gave her a few extra kisses, and shed two tears as we said our prayers before she went to sleep. There’s no way I deserve all I have been blessed with in life thus far, but each night I will continue to pray prayers of thanks.

Megan

Twitter? For Professional Development? You Betchya.

Tomorrow is the first day of school. So, naturally, I can’t sleep. It’s either blog or have a dream that I show up and have nothing actually prepared for the big day. I’ll save the latter for later.  Although I’m so excited about our first day tomorrow (I’m getting more familiar with why they call it “on pins and needles”), I’ll wait to blog about it until it has actually happened. Let’s just say I have roughly 25 upperclassmen taking the reigns for a good portion of the day, and I’m so anxious to see them rock it!

The last few days have been a whirlwind. We, as an administrative team, worked very hard to prepare the first two days of inservice for our staff. We have a lot of logistical changes this year, and our staff, like the champs they are, took them all in stride. I feel very fortunate to work at the school I work at. The teachers are hard working, open to new ideas, and down to have fun. I took them through two ridiculous team building activities, and we had SO much fun with it. Truth bomb – it was the first time I had played these games with adults, and I was a little nervous about it. All I knew is that I thought the games were hilarious and fun (and could deliver the points we wanted to make), and hoped the staff would enjoy them. We may have left the gym sweaty, but we laughed the entire way back to the library, where it was off for more learning. Anyway, back to my point – our teachers rock. Today, one of our secretaries came by my office just to say, “I love where we work. How did we get so lucky to work with such amazing people?” All I could do was agree with her, because she was absolutely correct.

Nonetheless, when presenting new ideas to a group of teachers, it’s easy to find yourself second guessing your presentation, how you delivered it, how it was received, etc. (Which is why we started giving out feedback forms after each inservice day – we want to know how our teachers feel about how our time was spent!) So when I delivered the presentation on how to earn Professional Development Points by learning via Twitter, I was both ecstatic, and a little nervous.

Let me back up just a little bit. Back in February, I attended the NASSP Conference in San Diego. This was one of the best things that I think could have happened to me in my first year as an administrator (because let’s be honest, I need all the help I can get in this still-new-to-me-role). With people like Eric Sheninger, Dwight Carter, and Daisy Dyerr Duerr presenting, how could I not come away with some of the most amazing ideas? (Which by the way, I’ve taken at least one thing from each of those education gurus and implemented a version of it at EHS, so thank you for that!) Even though the presentations I watched from these leaders were not directly about Twitter, I couldn’t help but notice that Twitter was everywhere around me. Hashtags here, @’s there, presenters tweeting as they’re presenting, attendees live-tweeting the conference – I was submerged into the Twitter-verse. So one night in the hotel room, I took a look at my Twitter. I had a private account. I tweeted mostly just personal things, little updates (that no one probably even cared about), the Royals, and occasionally, maybe something about school. That night, I started following the conference hashtag and started following some people from the conference. I started looking at what they tweeted about. I looked at who they followed, and what they tweeted. I found more hashtags. More resources. More everything. I started reading articles on the benefits of using Twitter for professional reasons, and I was hooked. That night, in the hotel room, I made a change. It was subtle at first, but the more I got into it, the more I loved it. I began the journey of transforming my presence on Twitter. I started leveraging Twitter for professional growth and telling our school’s story, and I haven’t looked back. Now, if you look at my profile, it’s nothing to brag about. In fact, 629 followers as of tonight does not qualify me as someone to be looked to for advice on, “How to get more followers on Twitter.” But more importantly than the number of followers I have, is what I gain from Twitter each time I get on. I should probably re-phrase that. Twitter is the tool I use in which to get resources; however, what I gain, I gain from like-minded, driven, passionate educators around the world. From reading articles, to getting resources, to new ideas, to collaboration – Twitter is a vehicle that will take you all of those places, and I knew that night in San Diego, that Twitter was something I needed to get to know. Now.

Last year, I worked with a couple of teachers at my school, and with the professional development council in our district, to write and approve a policy that allows teachers to earn Professional Development Points if they participate in their own PD on Twitter. By submitting a “proof of learning,” they are eligible for up to 2 or 3 points per submission. If you’re interested in the policy itself, feel free to check it out here.

I spent some time last year trying to lay some groundwork so that this policy could be ready to roll out this year. We spent some time as a staff learning how Twitter works, researching hashtags, and exploring what it has to offer educators. Yesterday, I was able to briefly re-touch on those points, and present to the staff the opportunity to gain PD points through their own learning experience, followed by time to explore and play around on Twitter (and Storify).

One of our goals this year is to improve and transform professional development in our building. We hope to be able to bring a bigger, better EdCamp to our teachers, implement Genius Hour, and include other innovate ideas that our teachers came up with for professional development. We hope that by implementing our Twitter PD Policy, it will only have a positive effect on teaching and learning in our building. I think it’s important to note that this is not going to be an expectation of our teachers – we understand that this isn’t for everyone. We simply want to provide teachers the opportunity to get rewarded for taking the initiative to learn on their own, and encourage them to use this massive resource if they feel it can benefit their growth journey.

I had a teacher today tell me that she always has a hard time finding new, innovative ideas for CTE classes. With one of the hashtags from the presentation yesterday, she said she already found a few! I was A) so happy for her that she found some resources, and B) so excited that she shared that with me.  I told you earlier that our staff is awesome.

Here’s to a new school year – one full of change, opportunity, learning, and let’s not forget to sprinkle in some fun and laughter. As usual, thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. Now off to dream about all the t’s I forgot to cross and i’s I forgot to dot for our first day of school.

-Megan

First Year Down – Many More To Go

Tomorrow, I head back to work to begin my second year in administration.  As I’m sitting here before going to bed, already at least an hour past my bedtime, I’m having some major reflections of my first year as an administrator, and what I hope to accomplish in my second year. Normally, I would just sit with my thoughts, then go to bed, but since I have this newfound journey of blogging, I thought it could make a decent first post under “School Life.” So, if you’re interested, here are a few things on my mind.

1) I really should have started this blog last year.  If you want to truly talk about “lessons learned,” there were a plethora of them last school year.  I’m not going to reminisce through every one of them tonight, but when the time feels right, we’ll bring up some of those “memories.”

2) With that being said, one of my biggest goals this year is to bring more life and meaning to the professional development that I provide teachers.  A large part of my job entails creating, developing, organizing, and presenting professional development for teachers in our building. This is one of my absolute favorite parts of my job. (Probably because it reminds me of teaching, which I absolutely loved as well.) You know the feeling – you put hours of work into a presentation or a lesson plan, you have everything planned out down to the cheesy jokes you’re telling along the way, and you get that rush as you’re presenting something you’re passionate about. While I’d like to sit here and think that what I organized was super awesome and everybody loved it and wanted to go implement it right away, the realist in me knows that I didn’t meet every teacher’s needs (or wants for that matter).

Don’t get me wrong. I tried. I always put every ounce of effort I have into professional development. I don’t think what I was lacking was effort. We had some PD days that included small breakout sessions, and teachers had a little bit of choice of which session they’d like to attend. We even orchestrated a little mini EdCamp. (A major shout out to our staff who showed up BIG for EdCamp. You guys rocked it.) On a smaller scale, I tried making as many content specific connections and examples as I could in PD presentations throughout the year, as well as including resources that would potentially be really useful (to some teachers). But on the other hand, for the times when we weren’t doing something along those lines, I know I can do better. I can bring more meaningful PD to more teachers. I may not have known it at the time, but every year is filled with growth and learning, and I hope to bring more personalized options to our professional development this year. It may not be perfect, in fact I’m sure it will be far from it, but my goal is to make learning more personalized in our building this year, or at the very least provide teachers with more opportunities for personalized learning, with the hopes of nourishing the growth mindset that already exists within our building. Will every PD day be 100% personalized? Let’s not get crazy. I mean, a girl can dream, and I think down the road, that’s a goal worth setting. This year, hopefully we will make positive strides in personalizing PD, make choices that are good for our building, and ultimately make decisions that are best for our students.

It won’t take you long to figure out that I am a huge fan of John Wooden.  I feel like I can always find a quote of his that applies to an aspect of my life.  One that I go back to a lot is this one: 

You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.

I think praise is great – we all love to hear we are doing well. But it’s also important to stay grounded. There is always room for improvement. And just because some people may have enjoyed what I presented on a certain day, doesn’t mean that it was great for everyone. I need to seek everyone’s feedback to see how I can better myself. In the same breath, take criticism to heart, look to grow and improve. Criticism is an important part of becoming better at what you do. It may hurt or be a shot to the ol’ ego, but last I checked, I’d rather build a solid education for students than build an ego. So sometimes you have to pull an Elsa and “let it go”, and understand that criticism isn’t always a bad thing. (Sorry, I know that “Frozen” reference is way over-used, but when you’re surrounded by Elsa and Anna everywhere you look in your house – it sort of becomes a part of who you are.)

3) Sorry #2 was so long.

4) I’m so excited for our freshman first day. I have over 20 amazing upperclassmen who are going to be running the show that first day freshmen show up. They are fantastic leaders, and I know they are going to rock it. Along with that excitement comes a bit of stress – I have an extremely long to-do list to get ready for that day. Time to get to business tomorrow. Transition years are huge. Having an awesome first day in high school is tremendously important. I want 9th graders and new students leaving that first day thinking, “I want to go back there. That’s a place I want to be.”

5) I am extremely grateful for my mentors that helped me through my first year in administration, and I know will continue to provide me guidance, advice, and friendship. I could not have asked for a better team of administrators at our building and throughout the district to provide me that guidance. What an amazing group of people. I also have a pretty rock-star line up of former principals who have  been a phenomenal support system, and who have served as role models that I try to emulate. I also can’t forget my dad – the former school administrator who always brings me back to the question, “What’s best for kids?” We can talk more about my dad in a later post. Those of you who know Scotty know that I can’t sum him up in just a couple of sentences.

In addition to this network of professionals who I look up to and respect whole heartedly, I have an entire world (literally) of support on Twitter. Before this year, I hadn’t ever really thought of leveraging Twitter for professional reasons. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the NASSP national conference this year, and wow, did my eyes open up to a whole new world of learning, filled with unbelievable sights, indescribable feelings (Aladdin, anyone?). Anyway, this whole new world was Twitter. I started following a few people here, a few people there, just kind of looked at what they posted about, would make a few posts about the going ons at school, and I kind of slowly immersed myself into learning via Twitter. Again, I could dedicate an entire post to this topic, but I just want to say thank you to all the principals at the NASSP conference who showed me what an incredible tool Twitter can be. (If you’re up for it – follow me @MeganBlackEHS – I’d love to grow my PLN!!)

6) We are now several hours past my bedtime. Although I’m sad that summer has come to an end (I’m so grateful for the precious time I’ve spent with family and friends these past four weeks), I’m also extremely excited for the beginning of a new school year. It’s going to be a great one. If you’re still reading this – you’re a champ, and I thank you. 

-Megan