Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Reflections on iPadpaloozaOU

The first two weeks of school, as always, have been a whirlwind of activity as students and teachers settle in to the schedule of school. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend and speak at iPadpaloozaOU in Norman, OK. What I loved about this conference was the fact that the entire day on Friday was devoted to providing authentic professional learning to pre-service teachers.  Anne Beck, Dr. Terri Cullen, and the faculty at the OU College of Education are creating such incredible opportunities for these undergrads to engage in their profession, even before entering their own classrooms. I loved getting to speak with these students and watching them engage on Twitter and build their own professional learning networks. We even took a selfie in my green screen session.
We spent a lot of time in this session actually working with apps and experiencing the green screen, and we even took some pictures with Beyonce, which I thought was hilarious.
The best part of this day was the general sense of excitement and enthusiasm. You could feel it in the air. These junior and seniors are so pumped to be teachers! It makes my heart so happy to know that these are the people that are coming into our schools and are preparing to make a difference in the lives of students. As the morning keynote speaker on Friday, I spoke to this audience of about 150 pre-service teachers about the importance of creating a safe haven for all students in our classrooms. Technology can help us foster that sense of community as it connects us to students in new ways and allows them to share their lives and learning experiences with us as teachers. I know that teaching my students to blog and journal with technology has given me so much insight into their interests, passions, fears, and joys. Teaching my students to code with Sphero and create with iMovie has built their confidence and helped them to see their own awesomeness in the classroom. Being with these soon-to-be teachers on Friday just got me so excited to get back into my own classroom and make this year the best year yet!  

On Monday, we had our first lesson with the Spheros, and I wish I could bottle up the joy and excitement I saw on those kids' faces! When you can get a kid that excited over reading early American literature, it feels like a real teacher win. As I reflect on the past few days, I can't help but feel a renewed sense of passion for what I get to do every day. It's a privilege to learn and create and improve every day with these kids, and I can't wait to see where this year takes us! 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Be a Bridge Builder

I just completed my 23rd first day of school, my 6th as a teacher. For some reason, that feels bigger than my other first days as a teacher. Time really does fly faster with every year in the classroom. Today, I found myself reflecting on all the relationships I have built with other teachers in my short time in the classroom. I feel so fortunate to have friends and colleagues and mentors that constantly help me to grow in my work. Those relationships are part of what continues to fuel my love for the classroom. 

As I was meeting students today and watching them in the halls, I was intrigued by watching the way groups of students ebb and flow and the way some students walk the halls alone. I was struck by the idea that “no man is an island.” When we think about teenagers, we often think about them traveling in packs; we think about the way kids operate in cliques or groups or whatever you want to call them. But I was really struck by the number of students I noticed going it alone on the first day of school today. 

Often, kids do spend some time in their adolescence as an island. Even when they are standing in the middle of a group, they can feel isolated, as if no one really understands them. They hold back because they’re afraid to share all of who they are with another person. That’s not always something we grow out of as we become adults. 

As I was watching all of this today, I found myself thinking about my role as a teacher in this intricate infrastructure of student “islands.” In addition to the many other roles that teachers fill each day, I think one of our most important roles is that of the bridge builder. It’s incumbent on us as teachers to be architects of relationship, to reach out to students who isolate themselves and those who hide their isolation in plain sight as they stand in the middle of a group but don’t fully engage. 

We’re meant to learn together. Learning in isolation doesn’t stay with us the way it does when we can talk about what we know and share it with others. If we want to be bridge builders of concepts in our content, we have to be bridge builders of relationships and trust first. I’m looking forward to continuing to build the foundations of those bridges tomorrow. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Process Over Perfection

Well, it's been quite some time since my last post. "BLOG" has been on my to-do list in big, bold letters for months now, and it somehow kept getting pushed to the bottom of the list. Recently, I ran into one of my old high school teachers at Whole Foods, and she asked if I was still blogging. Embarrassed, I said "kind of..." and apparently that was the motivation I needed because here I am. Writing again finally.

I want to be clear that my lack of writing does not come from a lack of excitement about what I've been doing in the classroom. I think I can honestly say that this past spring semester was one of my most rewarding teaching experiences. In the fall, I felt insecure and uncomfortable as a high school teacher. I was trying to fit into some mold I thought existed for upper secondary teachers instead of just being myself in the classroom. It was awkward and frustrating, and I finally had to tell myself to just settle down. This spring, though, all that awkwardness and all those growing pains paid off, and I found myself so much more willing to try new things in my classroom.

So why couldn't I seem to get myself to sit down and write about all those experiences through the spring and even the experiences I've had this summer at conferences? Great question. I could blame it on busyness, but that's not really fair. Everyone is busy. If I'm honest, I just wasn't prioritizing the time and space for written reflection. Every time I would sit down to start a post, my mind would wander to other seemingly more pressing items on my agenda. I'd start to ramble as I wrote, feeling like I was writing in circles and deleting whole paragraphs because they didn't feel good enough. I saved and deleted drafts all through the spring; it was like I couldn't ever get anything to come across in a satisfying way.

In thinking about this yesterday, I realized that I had gotten stuck in a loop where perfection became more important than process. As I looked at my to do list and started to think about this new school year, my eyes came across the word "BLOG" in all caps again, and I decided it was time to break my silent streak. It's a new school year, and I'm preparing to teach another group of incredible kids. They have stories that need to be shared. They're going to create and grow and learn and teach me important things that will continue to shape my practice as an educator.

Today I'm committing to process over perfection. I tell kids that's what I expect from them all the time, but I realized this week that I haven't been holding myself to the same standard. Sometimes, even in the professional world, it can become easy to let self doubt sneak up on you and convince you that your narrative isn't worth sharing, but that's just not the case. Our collective voice as educators is what will create change and advance our profession. Every story matters, and I'm so excited to see what incredible stories I get to hear and tell and engage in during this new school year.