Jump Start Your Workout (And Your Classroom)!

A couple of months ago, I started working out again. I’m one of those people who works out a lot for a few weeks, then loses interest and doesn’t work out for six months. It wasn’t a New Year’s thing; I started in December instead of with everyone else in January. It wasn’t a weight loss thing either; I just wanted to be healthy and strong.

Part of being successful and consistent in working out is finding a routine that works for the individual. Some people are early morning gym rats like my husband. Others race to the gym after work before picking up the kids. Neither of those worked for me. I found my best time is right after putting my son to bed. I’m awake, I have energy, and nobody else can bug me.

I also had to discover that I hate cardio. Well, I already knew that actually, but I found out that what I really enjoy is lifting weights. Not only that, but just walking or jogging here and there didn’t give me the results I wanted. Now, I still get some cardio mixed in there, but my program is much heavier on weights than anything else. And you know what? My body is not the same as when I started. Most people probably don’t notice, but I notice a difference in how I look and (more importantly) how I feel.

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or get in shape will tell you that they struggle with plateaus, those points where they seem to stop making progress. No matter what they do, they can’t seem to lose another pound. The body has gotten used to whatever it is they were doing and has refused to budge. Many trainers recommend cross training and changing things up to continue to see results. Surprise the body with changed routines and it will respond.

In many ways, teaching is the same. It’s easy to fall into the same “plateau effect” where things might feel in control but aren’t really going anywhere. While it’s okay to pause to take a breath during those times, it’s dangerous to get comfortable there. Just like we have to surprise our body with new workouts or foods to jump start our metabolism, we have to jump start our teaching with new ideas and strategies to keep us moving forward.

Teaching on autopilot and expecting results is the same as those people you see at the gym who do the elliptical on a low speed while reading a magazine. Yes, they’re moving, but if they’re really trying to improve, they’re going to have to be on that thing 24 hours a day. Yes, your kids are learning something, but are you really making progress?

If we don’t defeat the plateau in the gym, we keep those last ten pounds in perpetuity. If we don’t defeat it in the classroom, we keep our kids from reaching their highest potential. But remember, just like we can’t just keep doing the same thing in our workout routine and expect to see results, we can’t keep doing the same with our students. If you’re not seeing the results you want, change your routine.

What’s the “ten pounds” in your classroom? What are you hanging on to even though it isn’t working? Take a hard look at what you do in your classroom (and your workout) and only keep what is truly effective. The next time you plan a lesson, stop and think: what am I trying to accomplish and is this the most effective way to get there?

For the record, those are not my arms in the photo. Maybe someday?

Wise Words from the Wayward Son

Those of you who know me personally, know my musical tastes are very eclectic. My favorite time to listen to music is in the morning while I’m getting ready. In any given week, you could hear anything from “Piano Man” to Pitbull coming through the door. Earlier this week, my Spotify mix featured the classic tune “Carry on My Wayward Son” by Kansas (I’ll pause while you get that one stuck in your head).

I’ve listened to that song hundreds of times before and I know most of the lyrics, but for some reason I heard a new line this time. In the second verse, the line goes, “And if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know.” This struck me because of everything I’ve been reading, thinking about, and working through the past few weeks.

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Stone Mountain, Georgia (home of 30 Rock‘s Kenneth Parcell), for a training dealing with building capacity in teachers. The biggest priority for these trainers was building awareness and reflective ability on the part of the teacher. They described four stages that the reflective practitioner goes through as they develop.

We begin as unaware teachers, practitioners who are doing the best we can with what we currently know. We aren’t aware that there are more efficient ways to do things, better ways to get our kids to learn. As we progress through the next stages, we (hopefully) ultimately end at the refinement stage. This is the “sweet spot” of teaching and learning. Refinement teachers are responsive to their students and their curriculum and can pivot on a dime to adapt to their needs right then in the moment. Every child gets what s/he needs when they need it.

As you can imagine, this takes time and practice to get to this point. It’s important to note, however, that the four stages of reflective practice don’t exactly correlate to years in the profession. I’ve worked with first year teachers who are closer to refinement than some twenty year veterans. It really comes down to how intentional we are in the classroom.

So, back to my bathroom jam. What struck me the most about the lyric was that it reminded me of so many teachers I’ve worked with over the years. The teachers who we view as “experts” often doubt their own expertise. They are constantly growing, learning, changing despite getting better results than many of their colleagues. On the other hand, the teachers that self-identify as experts, or perhaps more accurately, see expertise as an “arrival point” rather than a state of mind, often have much more work to do.

Nobody’s perfect, especially teachers who are fighting an uphill battle to educate children despite difficult home lives, unreliable political climates, and full moon/lunar eclipses/barometric pressure changes. Every year is a new battle with new players and new challenges. None of us can afford to get complacent and think what we’re doing is “good enough.”

I challenge you to find an area, no matter how small, where your teaching could improve and take some solid steps to go there. Not sure where to start? Find a coach, a principal, a colleague who you can process with. Have them watch you teach and give feedback. Pay extra attention to your students and see what needs you discover.

And then go listen to some sweet tunes and dance in your bathroom…

Two Months In

Well, I’ve officially been at the new gig for two whole months now.  It’s been a bit of a blur, but in mostly good ways.  A big piece of that time has been preparing for back to school workshops: 3 days for new teachers plus 6 additional days for all staff.  Most people in my position likely start getting to work on planning August events in late spring or early summer, so I had a bit of a disadvantage in that sense.  Still, I pulled it off (while planning and teaching workshops at two other schools that I had arrangements with previously).

So, now workshops are over and we’ve had students for a week.  I had a couple of “slow” days where I spent most of my day either jumping in and out of classrooms to watch my teachers in action or preparing paperwork for the next few days worth of teacher meetings.  In the last two days, I met with 18 teachers to start getting to know them a bit and start setting some initial plans for our coaching process (in case that doesn’t sound like many teachers, fear not; I meet with the other 30 next week!).

I get a lot of “so how’s the new job?” and “do you like your job so far?”  And the answers are “good” and “yes.” It was a bit intimidating at first to jump into a new place and try to figure things out for a position that’s never existed before. But I’m always up for a challenge!  And the teachers and staff have been extremely welcoming to me in the past few weeks. Several have personally reached out to me and have shared how excited they are that I’m here.  I feel the same way!

I read an article (read it here) not long ago that talked about finding the work you were meant to do.  While I don’t know if I have been working here long enough to know if this is really my “calling,” it definitely feels like a move in the right direction.  The author says your calling happens at the intersection of 1) doing something you’re good at, 2) making people’s lives better, and 3) feeling appreciated (see below).

I still have a lot of work to do and I have a lot to learn, but I’m heading down a good path.  I can’t wait to start spending more time in the classroom watching teachers and helping them to discover their best selves.  And if I can channel my inner musical nerd for a moment, I’d like to quote little orphan Annie and say, “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here.”

Preparing For That First Year

Think back to your first year of teaching.  For some of you, it’s an easy request as it wasn’t long ago.  For others, you may have to dig in the memory a bit.  I don’t remember my first day of teaching, probably because it was a nerve-wracking blur.  I do remember highlights, though, and that will suffice for now.

As I write this, I’m taking a break from planning a new teacher induction program.  My job is to take brand new baby teachers and help them have a successful first year (and hopefully come back for a second).  I’m calling on a lot of my own knowledge of things that were good and not so good from my own first year (perhaps it’s fortunate my first year wasn’t that great, so I have lots of ideas for what NOT to do), but I’m also consulting outside sources.

One such book is called Your First Year: How to Survive and Thrive as a New Teacher, written by Todd Whitaker along with his two teacher daughters (Whitaker is also the author of books like What Connected Educators Do Differently, School Culture Rewired, and a handful of books talking about what great teachers, principals and others do differently).  The book is a quick read (a must for me) and gives some pretty solid advice for newbies to the profession about how to not only survive but even thrive in the first year of this crazy job.

The authors give a great deal of emphasis to relationship building and classroom management for the new teacher and spend very little time talking about curriculum and instruction.  While some might see this as odd, I think it’s brilliant.  Not that teachers don’t need to plan great lessons (actually, they do), but if you don’t have the respect and cooperation of your students, you can’t expect much magic to happen in that classroom.

Behavior management is one of the most difficult things for first year teachers, though I actually like to think of it as behavior prevention instead.  If I invest time up front with structure, procedures, and respect (not necessarily in that order), I will have very little behavior to “manage.”  There was a running joke between my behavior para and I when I was in the classroom that if I ever sent a student to the office, they must have really screwed up in class!  There were many years I could count the number of students I removed from class on my two hands.  And that was teaching 400 kids each week.

Why?  Because I had routines in place for students to follow so they knew what to do most of the time.  I had lessons planned that kept my students moving and engaged to keep them from having down time (what’s the saying about idle hands….?).  My students knew if they messed up in class, I wasn’t going to tolerate it but I would let them try again when they had pulled themselves back together.

I know the time I have with these new teachers is invaluable.  I also know their minds will be spinning a hundred miles an hour with excitement, anticipation, and honest to goodness fear as they think about everything that is coming their way.  What do I leave them with that is a good use of their time and helps start the year off on the right foot?

What do they need to hear in August and what can wait until later in the year?  How do we give them as much information as possible while not making their brains explode (in a bad way)?  But how do we make their brains explode in a good way because of all of the mind-blowing discussion or ideas?

I’ll be tackling some of those questions and others over the next few weeks.  In the mean time, what would have been the most helpful for you in that first week as a new teacher?


Note: Clicking on any of the links in this blog post will take you to Amazon.com for purchase. 

Happy Birthday, Twitter!

Though it seems hard to believe, Twitter is officially a decade old! Ten years ago today the first tweet was sent and the rest, as they say, is history. According to some quick Google searching, there are roughly 320 million people using Twitter as of 2016. Crazy, no?  Even crazier still, another site estimates that roughly 500 million tweets are sent EVERY DAY. Mind blowing!

For myself, I’ve technically had a Twitter account since 2008, but have only been actively using it for just over a year. In that time, I’ve added over 800 followers (most of which are educators) and followed over 900. I’ve made so many new edu-friends that I’d have lost count if it weren’t for that handy little counter on my profile. And the amount of knowledge I’ve gained in such a short time from the fabulous people? Immeasurable!

My second year of teaching (2007)

My second year of teaching (2007)

When I think back ten years ago, Twitter was just in its infancy and so was I. Not as a person, obviously, but as an educator. My teaching career turns ten this year as well. Back then, I was a brand new grad ready for my first job. I spent that first year as a middle school choir teacher, and let’s just say the experience was not exactly a highlight of my career.

Many things have changed since then. I escaped the middle school hormones and spent the next eight years teaching elementary music. I earned a master’s degree, another teaching license, and dozens of post-graduate credits. And now I’ve spent almost a year as a technology integration specialist.

If you had told 2006 me that that’s the path my career would take, I’m not sure I would have believed you.  So what, then, about the next ten years? As someone who wasn’t sure she’d make it to year ten, now we’re talking year twenty?!

I have no clue as to what the future holds. Will I still be in education? Still working with technology? I can’t even possibly imagine what technology could look like ten years from now, though I’m excited about the potential.

Or who knows? Maybe I’ll be off traveling the world on my yacht after my startup/book/blog/____ hits the big time…  😉

Out With The Old…

Think about your favorite lesson to teach.  We’ve all got at least one; the one we look most forward to teaching every year and can’t wait to dust off.  When did you first start teaching that lesson?  Last year?  Five years ago?  More?

Does the lesson look the same now as when you started teaching it or have you made changes?  Most likely, the first time you taught it, there were some bugs.  Maybe a direction was unclear or there was a step missing that, once added, made the student’s work go much more smoothly.  The great part about accumulating experience is that we get the opportunity to revise our work and continually make it better.

Here’s the thing though.  If that favorite lesson is more than, say, five years old, there are so many things we’ve learned about learning and teaching that your lesson is most likely in need of a revamp (and very possible that it might even if it’s newer than that).  Much research has shown us that the way many of us were taught is actually relatively ineffective.  That’s not to say we didn’t have great teachers; in fact, it’s likely one of those great teachers who inspired you to pursue this career in the first place.  Even our best educators need to update their material once and awhile.

Think of it this way: how likely would you be to go to a doctor who hadn’t gone to a single medical conference or medical practice seminar in the past twenty years?  Would you want them using outdated medical tools, practices, and procedures on you or your loved one?  Of course not!  With medicine, we want the most up to date knowledge so we can care for our health effectively.

Education is very similar.  Though the stakes may not seem quite as high as in medicine, using practices that don’t support what we know about how students learn actually makes it that much more difficult for our students to learn.  We need to use what we’ve learned about education to make better choices.

Before you teach your next unit or lesson, consider the following images:

What do you notice?  What do they have in common?  All of them shift the focus from the teacher as knowledge bearer/giver and student as passive receiver to a model where the students are actively learning with the teacher as facilitator or guide.  You’ll also notice that there is an increase emphasis on personalizing learning for the student (and using technology to help with this as needed).  Kids don’t need the same things, so they don’t get the same things (I will grant that this gets a little stickier to understand when we have a push in education for “standardizing” everything – more on this in a later post).  In the 21st century classroom, the teacher’s role becomes more of a coach, guiding kids to the outcomes while pushing them to do the real “work” of learning.

I hear a lot of teachers argue that these ideas don’t match what was when they attended, and they’re right.  Schools in years past prepared students for jobs that already existed. But schools today must prepare students for jobs that can’t even be imagined yet. Kids today have unprecedented amount of knowledge at their fingertips within seconds. That changes the type of information they need to know going forward, and the type of skills they need to have to be successful after graduation.

This is a hard concept for some teachers to get behind. We are trained to be in charge of the classroom and make all of the decisions about student learning.  But don’t worry; giving students choices is not the same as letting them be in charge (My two-year-old gets to make choices, too, but he is certainly not in charge).  In fact, I would argue that allowing for student voice and choice actually requires better classroom management skills because those things can only happen within a strong classroom structure so students can feel safe and free to learn and explore.

Again, remember we are preparing students for life after our classroom.  Life is full of making choices.  If we want our students to make good ones in the real world, they need practice.  And what better place to practice making decisions that probably aren’t life altering than in the classroom with the support of a great teacher/coach?

These changes likely won’t happen overnight.  I don’t expect you to overhaul your entire curriculum over the weekend.  But as you sit down to plan your next week, consider the following and see where you can make a tweak or two:

  • Is there room in your lesson plan for a chance for students to make a choice or two?
  • How can you allow them to be creative, collaborative, critical thinkers with strong communication skills?
  • How can you provide differentiated learning for students of varying ability or readiness levels?
  • If your lesson includes lecture, how can you shorten, minimize, or toss it out altogether for something more engaging?

You just mind find your changes addicting.  I can guarantee your students will!


Voxer: Professional Development in Your Pocket!

Many educators out there have been touting the merits of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for connecting with fellow educators for promoting ongoing learning and development.  I agree with them, and I’d like to add another app to the list: Voxer.  It’s a free website as well as an app for iOS and Android and it will literally change your professional life.

Voxer is essentially a walkie-talkie where you can either listen to people talk in real time or hear their recorded messages later.  Messages can be sent to individual people or multiple users can send messages back and forth in a group conversation.  The result?  You can listen to colleagues from around the globe asking questions, providing solutions, and offering support in real time.

I discovered Voxer a few months back after joining in on some Twitter chats with some fellow Minnesota educators.  I was added to the group and at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it.  Then I was added to another group that made me almost give up Voxer entirely – the group was huge and I couldn’t keep up with the messages!  But then I found the #TOSAchat group and it has been the best thing that has happened to me as an educator!

The group is active, but they make it okay to come and go as you please.  We use a hashtag system, which allows users to know the topic of the message so you can skip over it if it doesn’t apply to or interest you (this was me when some of them were talking about some standardized testing issues in California when I’m in Minnesota).

Just like Twitter, some people actively participate in the voice chats, while others prefer to listen and lurk.  You can record voice messages or you can write text messages.  You can like another person’s message and you can forward them to a variety of other apps to store them for later reference.

I take advantage of my commute time by listening to Voxer messages while I drive.  Time that would normally be “wasted” in the car is now time I use to enhance my practice and connect with other educators.  No other social media can do that!  Others listen during breaks during the day, others at night during Twitter chats.  Because you can listen to messages any time, you can hop in and out as you please.

Have a question? Throw out a message in the morning and you’ll likely have a response later that day.  Just need to vent?  Throw out an “edu-rant” and get support from like-minded colleagues.  Want to celebrate a major “edu-win?”  Share it with your pocket pals who will be more than happy to celebrate with you!

The friends I have made and connected with the past few months have literally changed my life.  Being the only TOSA in my district can be a lonely life sometimes, but I know I’m not on my own because I have an entire network of fellow coaches in my phone who support and challenge me to grow every single day.

Your first step is installing the app and creating an account.  Next, you need to find the right group.  I have seen lists floating around Twitter of all kinds of groups around a variety of topics.  Many times Twitter chats will also have a Voxer group on the side for continued discussion.  If you’re having a having trouble finding a group, reach out to me on Twitter (@halversonandrea) and I will try to help you find a group that meets your needs.

Overwhelmed by Social Media? Meet Nuzzel!

One of the comments I hear from teachers all the time, particularly if they are new to social media, is how they feel overwhelmed by the sheer amounts of information that can flood your news feed every day.  I’ve often heard it described as trying to take a drink from a fire hose.  I’d say that expression is generally pretty accurate.

The best way to get connected and really learn from others is to follow a lot of people.  When you don’t follow many people, you don’t see as much in your news feed.  On the other hand, once you start down that road, it can become impossible to read everything that comes into your feed.

Some Twitter fans use other sites or apps like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to organize their feed into different lists or groups, but I’ve never really had much success with that.  I know I won’t be able to see and read everything, but I’ve always felt like I have been missing good information that could really benefit me as an educator.

Enter Nuzzel!  One of my fabulous #TOSAchat colleagues introduced it to me last week and it has CHANGED the way I do social media, particularly Twitter.  Available for both iOS and Android, Nuzzel is an app that shows you the most relevant tweets from a given time period, such as the past 24 hours.

Not only that, but it tell you how many of your social media friends have shared it.  Now you can know exactly what everyone is talking about (or tweeting about) because it shows up first on the list.  You can view the tweet (or connected blog post), share it out again on social media, or export it anywhere (like Evernote where I personally like to store info for later reference – see blog post about Evernote).  There’s also a “friends of friends” screen so I can expand my search out to beyond just my own Twitter circle.

I can still go back to Twitter any time I want and take a sip from the firehose, but Nuzzel allows me to focus my searching and see the best of what’s out there with just a few taps on my phone!  Almost everything I’ve read through Nuzzel has been worth retweeting because it has been just that good.  If you tweet, you MUST use Nuzzel!

Nuzzel Website

Nuzzel for Android

Nuzzel for iOS

Our First Mystery Skype Adventure

A little over a week ago, a member of my PLN (Thanks, @korytellers!) threw out a tweet saying she was looking for a few more classes to participate in Mystery Skype. What is Mystery Skype? Basically, two teachers connect their classes digitally (most use Skype but some also use Google Hangouts). By asking a series of yes or no questions, the two classes have to determine where the other one is located.  In this case, both classes were in the United States, so we had students narrow it down to the state the other group lived in, though I believe some narrow it down to the particular city.

So, since I don’t have a class of students of my own, I sent an email to my teachers in my district.  Within 24 hours, I had four teachers on board and ready to play!  After figuring out some technical issues (the computer in the back of the room and the SmartBoard in the front of the room), I set up time to meet with each class ahead of time to teach them how to play.

I handed each student a labeled map of the United States with the regions of the United States labeled on the back.  Then we brainstormed a list of questions we might ask to solve the mystery quickly.  Early questions that didn’t give us much information (such as, “Are you in Montana?”) soon gave way to much more specific and inclusive questions (like “Are you in the IMG_7842southeast region?”.  Students had to really think critically about the questions they asked in order to get the best information possible.

To make sure they were really ready, we played a practice game with one half of the class challenging the other.  Since we couldn’t both use our home state, each group secretly chose a new state (and of course, chose some tiny state in New England to make it as difficult as possible for the other group).  As they asked each question, they marked off states on their maps which were off the list of possibilities.  They had a lot of fun working together to figure out the answers!

When it was time for the real thing, we took turns asking Mrs. Graham’s classes yes or no questions to figure out where they were.  And wouldn’t you know it, but they were right here in Minnesota!  Mrs. Graham’s students told us a little bit about their school and community and we did the same as well.  Both groups were absolutely floored to find out that both schools do coding in their technology/innovation classes AND both schools are building new primary schools right next door!  What a coincidence!

I had a blast getting to work with these students and they really enjoyed solving the mystery.  I can’t wait to try it again with classes from another state!  If you are interested in connected with one of the teachers or classes I work with, please connect with me on Twitter (@halversonandrea)!

700 Followers and Counting…

This morning, my Twitter account reached 700 followers.  While I don’t get too caught up in the number of followers I have, the milestone does give me pause.  I didn’t really use Twitter until December of 2014.  Before this, my professional connections consisted of my colleagues at my school and a handful of friends I had met at music conferences over the years.

When I attended my first technology conference just over a year ago, I attended a session about growing your PLN (and really had no idea what that was at the time).  I started following a few of the folks that presented that day and little by little, my own list of followers grew.  I joined the #mnlead chat on Twitter and my network grew even more. A couple of months ago, I stumbled onto the #TOSAchat group on Twitter, which led me to their group on Voxer and participation in that group is an almost daily ritual for me.

I have always valued connecting with other teachers, but this year it has become particularly important.  I’m in a new district in a completely new role and I am the only one of my kind.  This type of job could easily get lonely and overwhelming if you tried to do it alone.  But with the connections I’ve made this past year, that’s never the case.  In the past twelve months, I have participated in Twitter chats, connected with teachers and their classes over Skype, gotten innumerable ideas and suggestions to use in my classroom, and gotten advice and support from trusted friends.

Today, I was thinking about what teaching might have been like 20 years ago.  Teachers teaching in their own classrooms with closed doors, perhaps collaborating with a teammate or two, but no Internet, no PLNs, no connections to anyone outside their own building.  If this were me, I’m not sure I’d have stayed in teaching as long as I have.  Doing all of the work yourself is exhausting, and having many brains to think through solutions and ideas makes light work.

I know the term “connected educator” is getting tossed around quite a bit these days, but I believe having some sort of network to connect with and support you is absolutely vital.  The department or grade level team you work with is likely great, but if they are the only ones you get ideas from, you’re likely missing out on a tremendous wealth of resources.  Plus, sometimes I just need to talk through a problem or idea with someone with new ears who doesn’t know my situation directly and can give me fresh perspective.

I can’t begin to name each and every one of these people individually, so to the entire group let me say, “thank you!” You have pushed me to learn and helped me to grow as an educator more than I can possibly say.  If you don’t feel supported as an educator, I can’t recommend enough to find a group to connect with.  It WILL change your teaching life.

To Share or To Sell: An Internal Debate Over TPT

Full disclosure:   I do not have a store on Teacherspayteachers.com, but I do have an account for purchasing items.

Remember a time before the internet when teachers had to make everything themselves because nothing else was available?  Hours of designing lesson materials that got used once and were put away in the file cabinet until the following year.  Thinking to yourself, “Man, I sure wish there was someone to do this for me.”

Or maybe you are the one who is always creating those same lesson materials for your whole team, or maybe your entire district.  You probably think to yourself, “I sure wish I got paid for this.”  Meanwhile, your teammates are probably thinking, “I’m sure glad I don’t have to pay for this.”

Enter Teacherspayteachers.com, a website where teachers can post the materials they’ve spent hours working on and make a little money from them.  And other teachers can save themselves the trouble, so long as they’ve got the money to pay for it.  Teachers can post lesson and unit plans, lesson activities, games, classroom decor, and so much more.


TPT, founded in 2006 by a NYC school teacher, now claims to have 1.7 million resources posted on their site (https://goo.gl/gKwO7a).  They also claim that teacher-sellers have earned $175 million. According to an article on Business Insider, the all-time top earner on TPT earns around $80,000 a MONTH (http://goo.gl/BP8Wtb).  Excuse me?!  I don’t think I know any teachers who make that much in an entire year.

So, what’s the problem?  For the most part, nothing.  I commend these teachers for seeing an opportunity and making the most of it.  I have friends who pay their car payments each month because of their TPT earnings.  Other friends have been able to cut down on their own or a spouse’s working hours because of the extra income.

And I’ve spent plenty of my own money on the site, too.  While I’m certainly capable of creating my own resources, I can free myself up to do other things if a teacher-seller I trust has already made the same thing.  Why recreate the wheel, or in this case, recreate the SmartBoard file?

My biggest issue with TPT comes when it starts to deteriorate a community of collaboration and sharing among educators.  I remember teachers who would never share anything they had created because they wanted to save it for themselves so they would look like some amazing teacher in the eyes of someone else.

But who does that help?  A teacher who might get a better evaluation from their supervisor?  Certainly not the students in the other classes who might have benefitted from their knowledge.  And not the health of the team that may grow to resent the teacher who never shares her genius.  I would be curious to know how TPT sellers handle working with their teams in their own buildings.  Do they share with their teammates?  Or do they expect them to pay up like everyone else?

Having spent the past year on Twitter growing my PLN, it would absolutely change the dynamic if during a chat someone posted a great idea but then wasn’t willing to share it.  Or worse, sent me a link to buy it for $5.00.  And now attending professional development conferences takes a little different tone when you realize the presenter is, in many cases, presenting in hopes that you will go to their store and buy what you see.

I don’t have a definitive answer on this one.

What do you think?  Are you pro-share or pro-sell?  If you’re a TPT seller, do you share with friends and colleagues?  I’d love to know what you think!

Clovers and Corn: 4-H and FFA

This past weekend, I traveled to my hometown of Blue Earth, Minnesota, and visited the Faribault County Fair (for the record, Blue Earth is not in Blue Earth County – don’t get confused).  When I was a kid, I literally spent the entire week at the fair.  I would often come home long enough to shower or change clothes and right back we’d go.  Not because I had an intense love of the fair, per se, but because I was IN STUFF at the fair.


Yep, I had the jacket (2 of them, actually)!

I was involved in both 4-H and FFA for a number of years.  My entire week at the fair was busy and planned out: 4-H project judging early in the week, Arts-In performances almost every day, fashion revue, horse showing, junior leader/4-H ambassador responsibilities throughout the day, and a shift or two at the FFA Children’s Barnyard.  And all of it within a span of about five days.  Most years I don’t remember even getting to go on any carnival rides because I was just too busy.

But it was awesome.  Going back this week, I walked through the barns and exhibit halls and saw many familiar names but mostly new faces.  Some of my friends from back in the day still live in the area and now their kids are the ones in the show ring.  And I started to think about the kinds of things I did as a kid that I took for granted at the time, but now as an adult, they sort of blow my mind.

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One of my 4-H projects: Model Rocketry!

One of the things that I did quite a bit was help to lead meetings.  As a 4-H’er, I was a club officer by late elementary school.  That meant that at each meeting, I was required to give some sort of report, that is, stand up and speak in front of the entire room of adults and kids.  As my responsibilities grew, I eventually became a 4-H and FFA president, which meant I was leading the entire meeting.

The other thing that intrigues me as an educator is the idea of project judging.  In 4-H, I would sign up for a project area, work on my project independently (with parental help, of course), and then bring my project to the fair for judging.  During the judging process, I would have to explain what I did and what I learned.  The judge would also ask questions about the project.  My overall ribbon (my assessment) was determined by a combination of the project and the judging process.  FFA was no different; horse judging required me to give “oral reasons” where I had to justify why I placed each horse as I did.


State 4-H Horse Show

How often do most kids get the opportunity to do that these days?  When do we give them a chance to talk about what they know and have learned?  Genius Hour is one way that teachers are starting down that path.  What about explaining their answers?  I see this happening the most in math, where teachers are asking students to explain their reasoning behind their solution to a given problem.  But what about other subject areas?  Kids learn great life skills in athletics, too, but do coaches ask kids what they learned or why they made a certain play or move?

To me, all of these things require communication and critical thinking, two skills that some of our students dreadfully lack but absolutely need to be successful in the future.  One of the best ways we can get to know what our kids know is to get them to talk about it.  It will likely feel strange at first, probably for both student and teacher, but eventually it will become the norm.  And not only that, once students can communicate what they DO know, I’d argue that it will also help them begin to articulate what they DON’T know and that opens the door for learning and growth.  And really, isn’t that the point?

Schedule Your Email With Boomerang!

In case you haven’t figured out yet, I am all about any technology that makes my life better or easier.  Isn’t that the point, anyway?  Well, not long ago I wrote about one solution for cleaning up your email inbox (Unroll.Me – read that post here!) and today I have another handy tool for making your email life easier – Boomerang!

What is it?  Boomerang is an extension that you can add to your Gmail or Google Apps account.

What does it do?  Boomerang allows you to have better control over your email.  The two main tools I use are Send Later and Reminders.

Send Later  Have you ever needed to send an email, but not right now?  Maybe you want to get a little work done on a Saturday morning but you don’t want to send the email until Monday morning?  Or maybe you know an email reminder for an event needs to go out in a few weeks but you want to write it up now so you won’t forget?  Sure, you could just set a reminder and write that email later, but with Boomerang you can choose!   You can choose to send your email in one hour or in one month.  You can also specify a date and time for your email to be sent.


Reminders  Sometimes I find myself dealing with some kind of issue that really needs some follow up.  In the past, I’d just keep the email in my inbox; maybe I’d star it in Gmail or maybe I’d set some calendar reminder to deal with it.  Boomerang reminders allow you to select an email conversation and set a date and time for it to return to your inbox when you’re ready to deal with it.  You can even specify that it only returns to your inbox if nobody responds.  I use that feature quite a bit.

Cost  For the most part, Boomerang is free.  You can use Boomerang up to ten times a month for free (this includes Send Laters and Reminders).  This has been more than enough for my personal use.  If you’re an email heavy hitter and you really love it, they also have monthly plans for greater usage.

Want to check it out?  Click this link here to visit Boomerang’s site, install Boomerang for Gmail or get more information.

Twitter for Schools: Tell Your Story

Right before school ended this past spring, I presented to my building colleagues about joining Twitter and using it to build their professional/personal learning network.  A few of them joined, but I know most of them were in “OMGIjustneedtosurviveforafewmoreweeksuntilsummerbreak” mode and weren’t ready for the information.  So when I traveled to #ISTE2015, I saw a handful of sessions talking about using Twitter in education and I knew I wanted to check them out to get some tips about using it more efficiently and how to get more teachers on board.

One session I attended, “Creating a 140 Character Culture: School-Wide Twitter Adoption,” talked about using Twitter for personal use as a connected educator.  More than that, they talked about how schools can and should use social media in general to tell their story and promote what they do.  While some educators and administrators might think they don’t have time for social media or that it should be avoided for safety, public relations experts would disagree.  There are many quotes out there all saying something to the effect of, “Tell your story so nobody else tells it for you.”  This is becoming more and more important as schools are often the target of public scrutiny, and outsiders are quick to tell our story because we don’t advertise what really goes on after the bell rings.

In addition to getting all teachers on board with social media, the presenters recommend using a schoolwide hashtag that everyone posting about the school can use.  This helps anyone searching for social media posts to find all of the good things going on at your school.  This could be done on the smallest level with only one or two teachers or it could grow to become building-wide.

Another reason the school hashtag is helpful is because of tools like TagBoard, TweetBeam, and TwitterFall.  TagBoard collects social media posts from various sites (includingTwitter, Facebook and Instagram) and collects them in one feed, so long as they use the specific hashtag.  The result?  A neat display of everything amazing happening at your school.  Some schools even use something like this on a display screen in the school, perhaps in the front office where parents and other visitors are waiting.


TagBoard pulls from many forms of social media

TwitterFall and TweetBeam are similar, but they have different visuals and so might be better suited for different types of displays.  I particularly like the look of TweetBeam but there is a cost involved (TagBoard also charges for its “presentation mode” which is what schools would likely want to use for display purposes).

So create that hashtag and share it out!  Get teachers, students, and parents tweeting about all of the awesome things your school is doing.  What a great tool to promote your school!  Plus, how excited will your students be to see themselves pop up on a TweetBeam screen in the office?  I plan to get back on the Twitter bandwagon this fall and use some of these ideas with my new colleagues.  Hope to see some new hashtags popping up in my feed!


AMP Your Professional Development By 20%

I spent a lot of time at ISTE in sessions about professional development: how to make it meaningful, getting more efficient, and personalizing it to best meet teachers’ needs.  In my new role, I will be doing much more formal professional development than ever before, so I figured I’d better learn from those who already do it and do it well.  One of my favorite sessions at ISTE this year was from Ann Crilley and Becky Goddard, two tech integration coaches in North Carolina.  Their session was titled, “Transforming Your Professional Development with the 20% Model.”

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Based on Google’s 20% model, many schools now are trying to give teachers time and space to pursue professional development that is exciting and meaningful to them.  Also drawing from Daniel Pink’s work, they cite his idea that teachers (and anyone) requires three elements to create intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose (AMP).  Unfortunately, in most professional development sessions, the teacher’s purpose is “because we have to.”   Purpose.

But what if teachers could have some say in what they learn, when, and how?  There’s so much buzz in education circles now about student voice/choice, but what about their teachers?  We talk about how students need to be engaged learners, that worksheets don’t build dendrites, and that students learn best by doing?  But what about teachers?  Aren’t we really just (slightly) bigger students?  How many times have you sat in a PD session, bored out of your mind, telling your tablemates how you just can’t sit like this all day?  Autonomy.

One thing the speakers talked about was assessing how well their teachers were integrating technology into their classroom.  They had teachers self-assess using a 3-tiered system that was more accessible to teachers than, say, a SAMR model.  I think this reflection piece is missing in a lot of PD models.  The only one who really knows how well a teacher integrates technology is the teacher (and hopefully the students).  If they are currently at a tier 1, what do they need to do to advance to tier 2 or 3?  Again, this will look different for every teacher.  Mastery.

One piece I absolutely LOVED was the idea of an app challenge.  The tech coaches set these up using various apps that teachers might want to utilize in their classroom, such as PicCollage, Aurasma, Kahoot, and others (they used www.smore.com to create theirs).  Once the challenges are set up, teachers can access them on their own at any time.  When completed, they submit some form of evidence that they’ve learned the app or process.

The best part of this idea?  Aside from the fact that anyone can do these at any time (early in the morning, during prep at school, after the kids are in bed, etc.), what I thought was so brilliant was how they used them during snow days.  Yes, apparently they get snow days in North Carolina – who knew?!  One of the presenters said that she had a few app challenges ready in her back pocket and on their first snow day she sent one out to her teachers.  Since most of them were home with not much else to do, she had about 17 out of 25 teachers complete the challenge.  Not bad!  How many other teachers can say they were still productive on a snow day at home?  And we all know that here in Minnesota, we’re bound to have at least one snow or cold weather day.

These ladies had lots of great ideas for AMP-ing up their PD time for teachers.  I’m excited to use some of their ideas this next year.  If you’d like more of their info, they’ve generously shared their information on a Smore – check it out by clicking here!