Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thoughts about developing lifelong learners

I am a firm believer that every student should find something they love about school. Our job as educators is to educate rather than entertain, but that should stand in our way of making each day the best experience we can.

I know that as students grow older, they often drag themselves to school grumbling and they can find plenty of things they dislike. However, I have also seen sparks ignite in older students as learning becomes an experience.

Yesterday, I left my school a little later than I had planned, but I still found time to do a couple of things on my way to the Central California CUE Board meeting. I stopped by to drop off and pick up with the person who had checked on some things for us while we were on vacation and then, I hit the nail salon for a long-overdue polish change (so long, I had picked polish off of at least five fingers). I sat there hoping things would move along quickly and expecting to make it to my meeting on time. The place was near empty when I arrived; however, it started filling up with people needing various salon services. A woman entered with her two children. One sat with his small electronic and chilled while he waited for his mom. The daughter sat near another customer, an apparent family friend or some such, to chat while she waited for her mom. The very friendly young woman talked with the girl, making various small talk. They sat behind me, so I have no visual, only what I quietly overhear and how I envisioned what I heard.

At one point, the conversation turned to school.
"What grade are you in," inquired the woman.
"Kindergarten," replied the girl.
"Do you like it," asked the woman.
"Not really," replied the girl.

My heart sank. I heard very little of what was said next because I got lost in thought. How could a five or six-year-old not like school? Even on a bad day, both of my kids have generally liked school. I teach middle school and have heard the older student grumbles, but they still seem to like school overall. How could this young girl already be so turned off from the idea of school? In the midst of pleasant conversation, I am accustomed to young students glowing in their reviews of school. As a mom who has seen my children struggle at times, I have always heard very positive responses from them with regard to school. In fact, last night, my daughter flipped through her "First Grade Memory Book" remembering good times with friends, learning, and her teacher.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope everyone reading this is doing their best. As a teacher, I have good days and bad days. I try to keep those bad days in check and do everything I can to keep it a good day for my students. We should all be doing this. Frankly, kindergarten teachers are heroes. They do things that other cannot. They take young minds at the start of the school careers and prepare them to become lifelong learners. Folks, if we lose these kids in kindergarten, it will only get increasingly more difficult as they get older. Imagine what this poor girl may feel by the time she reaches middle school and high school. We have our work cut out for us.

I share a lot about making each day an EduAwesome Adventure. This is more than talk. This is more than a Facebook post or Tweet. This has become my philosophy as a teacher and as a mom. This is why I consider myself a TeacherMom. We need to strive to be engaging. We need to pull out our Educational Swiss Army knives and make magic happen in our classrooms. Will our students love every single day? Maybe not. But if we can build our resources, use tips from colleagues and edu-friends, teach across the curriculum, make things interesting, and work to reach each and every student, then perhaps we can potentially avoid our students sitting in a nail salon late one evening talking about not enjoying or liking school. We can do this. But we have to want it and we have to work for it.

By the way, I did make it to that meeting and it was a great one. I kept my nail salon experience in the back of my mind as we met. Now in a role where I not only have to reach my students where they are, but reach out to fellow educators, I think about these sorts of observations more and more. I am proud to be a part of an organization that builds up teachers who in turn build up lifelong learners. I am proud to be a part of something that is working to make each and every day an EduAwesome Adventure for students, teachers, parents, and the community. I am honored to have a place in this big world that is shaping things yet to come. Happy CUE Year! Now, get out there, hook your students, and do something amazing. They will remember you for it for a long time to come and their future teachers will thank you for sending along students who are engaged and ready for learning in all its forms.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Welcome 2018: turning rocks into crystals

At the start of each year, I pause and look back on the year behind. I do this as a parent, an educator, and as a person who always wants to do better and be better. I usually have it written sooner, but this year took a little longer to process through all of my thoughts. As 2017 entered its final hours, my seven-year-old daughter pulled out a crystal growing kit she had received from Santa. "Mommy, can we grow the crystals now," she asked. Perfect! Let's do it. We warmed and measured water together, then she dissolved the crystal mixture into it. Finally, after we poured the mixture into the designated "pedestal," she placed two rocks into. It was just after 9 p.m. and the instructions said that crystal growth would be seen within "a few hours." I looked at the clock, I looked at my daughter, and I said, "this year's rocks will be next year's crystals." She totally dug it. So did I.
And so it goes. As I look at the year ahead while 2017 flashes in the rearview mirror of my memory banks, I see great ways to turn rocks into crystals. Let's use the year ahead to make things sparkle and shine, using what we can bring along from the year gone by.

2017 ended with a major disappointment for me, so I think I will get it out of the way first. Excited with how my presentations have gone over the past couple of years, I felt hopeful about taking something new to the annual/national CUE conference in 2018. I submitted a proposal and coming off of the "high" from Fall CUE, I received a "thanks, but no thanks" email for spring. I actually was more disappointed than I had expected. With all of the fabulous proposals submitted from so many amazing educators, of course, not all will have a place on the schedule. Once I stepped back, put it in perspective, and took a breath, I felt much better. In fact, this is one of the rocks that I see growing into crystals in 2018.

Highlights from 2017 were many. I presented at the National CUE conference in Palm Springs for the first time in March. My ten-year-old and I continued to work on our "If You Give A Kid a Camera" presentation for other conferences and workshops. I presented three times last year on my own and it got great feedback. I presented at Fall CUE for the second time and while there got connected with the folks who were reigniting the Central California CUE affiliate and eventually was seated on the board, with my term starting November 30. Last January, I had a great, albeit small, edu-hike locally and did another with even more students in October. I have learned how to take data and combine it with my passion for incorporating innovative ideas into education to benefit my students while making me a better educator. My students created amazing ramps and derby cars for a gravitational raceway science adventure. My growth as an educator has helped my students grow as students. That's what this whole thing is about, right?! This is what we do in education. We learn, the teach, we guide, we explore, we grow so that our students can learn, teach, guide, explore, and grow.

Always embracing myself as being perfect in my imperfections, I realize that I have a lot more growth ahead. There were more rocks than I identified here, but I thin identifying that one will suffice as an example for the purposes of this blog post.

Let's start with Spring CUE 2018. At the time I received notification that I would not be presenting, I had already booked my airfare, booked my hotel, and scheduled my sub. All this really meant was that I would have take care of my registration for the conference. That is now done. Additionally, I get to go as an attendee only without the pressure of presenting. I like that. Best of all, this will be my first time attending as an affiliate board member which means there will be other work to do. We will need to host our affiliate meetup and reach out to our affiliate members. This is especially important this year as Central California CUE has not had a Spring CUE meetup in years. We have work to do. I look forward to being a part of that work and to networking with others. One last thing, I reached out to some former colleagues and encouraged them to join CUE and consider attending Spring CUE. At least one is planning to attend, which potentially gives me a roommate for the first time in my years attending. Taking that rock and growing it into amazing crystals!

My ten-year-old will present with me for the first time ever. We kick off our co-presenting of "If You Give a Kid a Camera" at the Tulare County Office of Education TechRodeo in just a little over a week. On January 13 we will spend the day together in Visalia, surrounded by awesome educators. Interested in attending? Get info HERE. This upcoming experience has also prompted us to get back to our podcasting. We have a couple of ideas and will use this week to record at least one and outline a couple of our other EdTechFamily ideas as the Voice of EduAwesomeAdventure. Stay tuned for more on that. At the end of February, we will again present together at ETC! in Stanislaus County. That same day, I will bring back my "Technology as the Swiss-Army Knife of Education" presentation, as well. Want more info on this great educational technology conference? Get info HERE.

I expect that 2018 will be a year of more writing and more podcasting and more connecting.
I expect 2018 will be a year of growing more as an educator and passing that growth onto my students.
I expect to see many crystals grow in 2018.

This post is less of a look back and more of a look ahead. In the words of Brad Paisley, "If you make the mistake of looking back too much, you aren't focused enough on the road in front of you." Just as when driving, though, we need to glance back and check our mirrors every now and then.

I start 2018 with a new Chromebook and a lens set to use with the camera on my phone. That means, I need to: write, connect, reach out, record, photograph, and I need to keep on this awesome path with my kids (including my children and my students). This year, we will grow the EduAwesome Adventure. Won't you come along with us?

What crystals will you grow in 2018? How will you grow them?