I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · III. Teachers know the content they teach. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

A Whole New World: Being a Connected Educator

I set my alarm to wake up at 6 a.m. yesterday. Yes, yesterday was a Saturday, and no, I was not forced to do so. And as I sit here reflecting today, I can officially say that I GET IT –  I get why all of these other educators want to spend their Saturday together learning at EdCamps. Yesterday’s EdCamp Wake experience was full of amazing learning and connecting; and EdCamps, by design, set themselves up for these genuine experiences: attendees write down what they want to learn about, and sessions are generated based directly off of these ideas. These sessions are packed full of great information…we ask questions, share thoughts, and simply learn from each other! I attended sessions on podcasting, technology for young learners, and PBL, leaving with many takeaways in addition to takeaways gained through collaborative session notes and following the #EdCampWake twitter hashtag during the day.

But what resounds inside me most after yesterday’s experience is a thought that is in many ways new to me, and one I’ve kept coming back to for the past month: the value in being a connected educator and the excitement and learning that it brings.

We, as educators, are so much more powerful together than we are individually. Without sharing and connecting, we would each have to do all of the inventing and work ten times harder. And there is so much going on beyond the walls of just one school. During this day in age, connecting with those at your school in meetings/collaborative planning times isn’t always enough. The more people we connect with, the more fresh ideas we have access to. George Couros’ words resonate in my mind: Isolation is now a choice educators make.

So here are the ways that I am working to stay connected in the ever-changing world of education.

Twitter:

A month ago, I joined the Twitter world, and my biggest regret now is that I didn’t join sooner. I have learned so much from educators in my own school, in my district, and all over the state and beyond since creating a twitter account a month ago. How much more could I have shared and learned by getting on Twitter sooner? Outside from connecting with your own team and school, twitter is the first step to connecting on a larger scale. I have genuinely enjoyed expanding my PLN, spreading the #kindersCAN movement, and meeting and learning from so many awesome educators I never would have known, all through Twitter.

And another George Couros inspiration…

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Looking forward to starting our own Twitter challenge at WES, in hopes of increasing staff motivation to connect on Twitter and join in the fun!

Blogging:

2 weeks have passed since my first blog post, and here I am on post number 3! Even in this short amount of time, I’m realizing how little I was taking the time to sit down and ask myself the same questions I ask my students to ask themselves: How did it go? What could I change for next time? Where am I in my learning? When you look at blogging as a reflection, it’s a lot less intimidating. And really, people learn the most from hearing the thinking behind an idea or the challenges someone faced in an experience. Blogging connects educators on an even deeper level, as we take the time to share, read, and respond to one another’s personal reflections.

Awesome PD that doesn’t feel like “PD”:

Convergence. NCTIES. EdCamp Wake. These are the experiences that bring innovative educators together and inspire us to keep raising the bar. These are the moments that we get to learn together face-to-face, while building and expanding our PLNs with new educators we meet and interact with. In addition to connecting us, PD like EdCamp Wake gives educators the personalized experiences we want to provide for our students: it groups us together by common interests in what we are seeking to learn and opens up the floor to discussion-based wonders, questions, and sharing.

Connecting Classroom to Classroom:

We should never underestimate the value in class-to-class connections and opportunities for students. My kinders are currently connecting with kinders at nearby elementary school Underwood GT Magnet (teachers-Star and Tanya), to learn about community together as they seek to improve the community in some way. We’ve done a Google hangout, used Google maps to view and compare our schools, and have each student buddied up with a member of the opposite class to reflect and share with. (I’ll be sure to keep you posted on our kinder #20Time project and where it ends up taking us!) I share a little bit about this class-to-class connection to to say, that even just in these beginning stages of the project, it has been so exciting to see the meaning it has for the students and how they are so engaged in this authentic learning experience. Thanks to EdCamp there are lots of new ideas in the works for more collaborating across classrooms!

Reading:

This is my weakness…I’ll go ahead and call myself out- it’s that same old excuse of not having the time. But it ends here. I usually keep an ongoing list of all the books I plan to read to further my professional growth, knowing that during the summer, I’ll order them all and read them when I have time. But I know I’m missing out on learning by waiting till summer. So I’m MAKING the time, and I’m starting today. I can’t wait to connect with educators by reading their stories and their learning. And by taking this step, I open myself up to the opportunity for additional book studies with other educators.


This whole idea of being connected is something Kelsey and I just shared about at a staff meeting this past Thursday…in hopes that more would want to become part of this awesome, connected world of educators – a world that I am newly discovering. So one of my biggest joys this weekend was seeing 2 of our staff members, Hayley Parker (3rd grade teacher) and Sarah Kichefski (P.E. teacher), get twitter accounts and join us at EdCamp Wake! While our profession is all about the kids, our fellow educators are also teaching kids. So it’s just as important for us to spread the fire of passion and innovation to other educators, as it is important to implement passion and innovation with our own students. We want to increase the overall impact we’re having on kids. To me, our school is now 2 steps further from isolation with 2 new teachers on board to connect and learn more.

Being connected is all part of how we reflect on our practice. I used to make excuses about the time commitments of being connected, but in reality, we make time for what is important to us. Being connected is a new priority for me…and I can’t wait to see where it continues to take me in my teaching and learning!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

If we let them, #kindersCAN

A week ago today, I woke up refreshed from 2 packed days of learning at state-wide conference NCTIES. But racing through my mind, even more than all of the amazing takeaways I was ready to bring into my classroom, was the discovery of an audience I didn’t know existed. This year, NCTIES was different for me, because it was my very first time presenting alongside 2 wonderful educators and friends, Chris Tuttell (ITF-left) and Kelsey Clarke (K Teacher-center).

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The information we shared is near and dear to my heart, because it is something that I experience each day as a Kindergarten educator: the fact that #kindersCAN can do infinitely more than we may believe to be possible. So this audience that I discovered and referred to above, is the audience that rushed through the doors of our session that morning, leaving standing room only and wiping us clean of 2 days’ worth of handouts we had prepared. These were educators of young learners, like myself, who also believe that these littles can handle almost anything we challenge them with, given the right level of support. I believe in my kinders, but what I did not know is how many other educators in our state do too.

As Kelsey and I shared about the flexibility of our classrooms and how we incorporate technology throughout the day, I could tell from the start that we didn’t have to convince our audience that #kindersCAN…they already knew and believed that, which allowed us to connect with this audience from the start. They were here to gather ideas that would raise the bar for their young learners. And these educators didn’t stop spreading the love when our presentation ended. For the next 2 days, we continued to hear personal accounts of excitement about what we had shared, have since connected with many of these teachers to expand our PLNs, and are excited to welcome some of these very educators into our own classrooms so that they can see our kinders in action! My 2nd year at NCTIES taught me so much, giving me the inspiration to even start this reflection process through blogging; but more than anything, I still can’t shake the excitement of this inspiring audience on fire for their littles.

Did I mention that #kindersCAN also be the teachers? Seeing them showcase their work and the work of their peers was probably the highlight of the whole NCTIES experience.

 

My own journey with #kindersCAN has been in the works for almost 4 years now, since I started my student teaching in Kindergarten. The teacher that I learned from showed me what high expectations in a K classroom look like. She taught me that when you set the expectations high, accepting nothing less, they will meet you there or exceed your expectations. When I began teaching my first year in a STEM school, I took baby steps with technology, each time questioning whether such young learners could meet the challenge. If you’ve ever had a Kindergartener on a computer, logging in through multiple platforms, you also know the difficulties and frustrations that are involved (on the teacher’s end AND the student’s end). But each time I’d challenge them, they kept proving to me that THEY COULD DO IT! So why not keep raising the bar?

When I began at Washington GT Magnet the following year, our ITF Chris gave me the support I needed to grow in my confidence and belief that #kindersCAN! We would visit the ilab, a collaborative space for creating and critical thinking, to work on technology projects using different tools on the ipads and using Google. This was the year that I feel like I truly discovered what young learners are capable of, alongside my IMG_8155teammate Kelsey. And finally, this year, my 3rd year of teaching, is the year that all of the same tools I began using with my kinders last year have now become part of my daily instruction and my independent literacy and math centers. Something that I questioned they’d ever be able to do is now in a 15-20 minute independent center, and that concept honestly still blows my mind! This year I’ve also transformed my learning space to allow for flexibility and student choice; and they’ve proved to me that they can handle that too. The more that I have come to believe in them, the more that I have turned the control over to my little learners, giving them a more effective and authentic learning experience.

If you’re curious about what they can do, check out our presentation from NCTIES.

But I want to close with the “how”……HOW can they do it? Of course we now live in a digital world, where many of these young children have been exposed to things I probably never could’ve imagined experiencing as a little girl. But still, they are young, and for this kind of instruction to be effective, here are a few helpful tips I’ve learned first-hand that will help them be successful:

1. Let them play with the app before tying it to a specific academic objective. This will build confidence and allow them to click around, without fear of messing up a specific “assignment” you’re asking them to do.

2. Provide different levels of support. They should practice a new tool multiple times in an environment with support before sending them out on their own to do it independently. When we’re first learning the app, some students may need a kid friendly, step-by-step  “cheat sheet” to remind them what to do. Some may need a buddy to help. Some may need a modified assignment within the app to reach success.

3. Allow and encourage students to be leaders. Train them to turn to one another for help before coming to you. Teach the tool to a group of leaders who model first, and then have each leader work with a group trying it out for the first time. In an independent center, some students may need the support of a student leader for a while before they’re comfortable doing it alone. Using students as teachers has probably been most key to our success.

4. Have them reflect. What was difficult/easy? How can we use this app in other ways? How could we use it better next time? These questions hold them accountable and make them aware of their own success.

Ultimately, it’s not just about kinders. They may be the youngest, so in some ways, the most challenging. But teachers of all grade levels can take something away from our message, because if #kindersCAN, all kids can. So let’s keep learning so that we can let them.

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Taking it to the Next Level

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I’m done putting it off. No more excuses.

After listening to George Couros speak this past fall, I acknowledged and knew that some day I’d start a blog, but not yet. No time, fear of sharing, unable to commit to doing it well and consistently…all excuses I made in my mind. However, #ncties17 brought more inspiration. This time around, George googled me and actually called me out publicly, urging me to blog and consequently take my digital presence to the next level. And I think I may have talked myself out of it yet again had it not been for Kyle Hamstra, another amazing educator encouraging me to grow and learn through blogging. Finally, I did some thinking on my own this past weekend after an amazing, refreshing 2 days at NCTies. I couldn’t dismiss the thought that at the core of blogging is reflecting. And as a passionate and dedicated educator, am I too busy to reflect? That’s the question that sealed the deal for me.

But there are so many other reasons to start now. Along this journey of blogging, I hope to reflect on myself as an educator, learn from my personal growth over time, and build a digital portfolio, while also connecting with and learning from other educators. You will get a glimpse into my Kindergarten classroom of busy bees, my thoughts, and a little bit of my personal life, as I hope to get a glimpse into yours!

Ultimately, I hope to bring this authentic writing experience into my classroom, having my students reflect on their own growth over time while sharing with a larger audience. But the bottom line is, before my own students can begin this process (yes, Kindergarten students blogging…stay tuned for my next post on #kindersCAN), I have to try it and experience it for myself. So here it goes! I’m looking forward to becoming a better teacher and a better learner along the way.