Teaching Blog

Being a Parent at Open House

Last week, I attended my son's Kindergarten Open House. For the first time in my career, I sat in the room while a teacher talked about her class.

It was a surreal experience for me. For one thing, there wasn't a lot I didn't know. Systems that teachers use to monitor grades, test the students, determine Lexile levels, etc., I already know. And I'm not good at managing my face in situations like that.

What was most striking to me though, occurred between the teacher and a couple other parents. This is the conversation as it happened:

Parent 1, looking at a primary journal: These here, can we buy these for them?

Teacher: Yeah, they were on the supply list.

Parent 1: No, I mean, I didn't get this for him.

Teacher: Well, I have plenty of them. I picked up a bunch at the store the other day.

Parent 2: Wait...you bought these for the kids?

Teacher, hesitantly: We...needed more so...

Parent 2, shocked and appalled: But, you bought these? With your own money?

Teacher: Yeah...yeah, I did.

Parent 2: Is that normal?

Teacher: Yeah, I would say it is.

The parent then proceeded to ask if they could contribute money to the teacher, which was followed by a lot of discomfort by the teacher, but with persistence, the parent got the teacher to say that gift cards would be an option.

What amazed me about this whole experience wasn't that the teacher spent their own money. It wasn't that there was a parent in the room who hadn't bought supplies. It was that there was a parent that was in dismay that the teacher had spent their own money on supplies for the students.

Was this woman living under a rock? I thought to myself. Surely she knows the stats. She must have seen the countless articles and videos that circulate social media about teachers spending their hard-earned dollars to support kids in need!

But no, she had not. And it wasn't because she lived under a rock, or because she didn't care. It was because her social media, her social awareness, didn't look like mine. Naturally, as a teacher, my feed is full of teachers. They share "viral" videos about the time and money teachers put in, and they are viewed by millions...of teachers. Much like political affiliation creating a distortion bubble of people who agree with you, our plight is widely known to people like us.

Here's where we can all do better. We need to tell our story. We need non-educators to know the effort and cost of being a teacher. When we are at parties, when we are having dinner with friends, when we meet people in coffee shops, when we are talking to our grocery cashier, we need to tell our story. When someone asks you "How's work?", don't simply reply, "Meh."

"How's work?", you might reply, "Fulfilling, life changing, and amazing. I love my job and I love my kids, so much in fact that I put part of my paycheck every two weeks into buying them paper and pencils, markers and crayons. Not because their parents are lazy, not because they can or can't afford it, not because it is fair or equal, but because I love what I do, and who I do it for. I would love to live in a world where that isn't necessary, and maybe one day we will, but for now, that is the reality of my life. I am not just a teacher. I. Am. A. Teacher. And I couldn't be more proud."

Sprint #1MillionProject

The digital divide is a real thing.

Many students do not have internet access at home, and many do. It is easy, especially for anyone reading this blog, listening to my podcast, or working walking down the street in most areas, to forget that there are still families out there that don't have internet access. But it is real.

My school has around 65% of our students on either free or reduced lunch. For my area, that's actually not too high. Some schools are closer to 100% and many are over the 75% threshold that label them what is known as a Title I school.

Sprint is doing something about this massive problem. Yes, I said Sprint. They have started the 1 Million Project, an attempt to provide free internet to students in need.

My district has received the ability to participate in the first round of this project, and I was put in charge of making sure our qualified students received the devices. This consisted of sending out a qualification survey (which consisted of the simple question "Do you have high speed internet at home?"), calling all those students down, providing them the parent permission forms, collecting the forms, and activating the devices.

(All in the first week of school...while we're still trying to get laptops handed out to students and everything setup... I guess I shouldn't be picky with some of this, but it would be nice if every decision made by my district wasn't shadowed by terrible implementation...)

The initial survey consisted of 62 students who self-identified as eligible. From there, I called them all down and discussed what the program meant. By the end of Wednesday last week, I had it down to 35 who were truly eligible and in need.

The coolest part is that on Friday of last week, I got to activate and send home 25 students (who completed their paperwork) with a wireless hotspot device to use for all their homework! You should have seen how excited they were as they left with the devices. These are high-schoolers, teenagers who are barely excited about anything. And they walked away with their Sprint bags with their hotspots, with a smile on their face.

These students get 3GB per month of 4G, high speed, Sprint data connection, and it costs them nothing at all for the device or the service for the year!

Thank you so much Sprint for sponsoring this program and selecting my school for it. My students thank you as well.

The Connected Educator Back-to-School Blues

Most teachers lament returning to work. While parents are ready for their little darlings to stop harassing them every hour of every day about going to the pool or theme parks or bowling or anything but sitting on the couch so we can work, teachers have the opposite. Our summer break is over, we have to go back to work after two months off.

For me, and I believe for connected educators across the board, going back to work presents a different set of challenges.

Summer, for me, is all about learning opportunities, interactions, connections. It's twitter chats, conferences, Voxer groups, podcast interviews. It's constant professional development, new ideas, planning out changes, and running those plans by other connected educators.

All of this combined creates a kind of bubble around me. By the end of the summer, I fully believe that my ideas are going to be met with excitement by the teachers on my campus. That isn't to say that I'm oblivious to resistance. Possible resistance is built into my plans, but it's planned for. I know how it is going to go. All the people I've talked to for the last two months agree: This is going to be awesome!

Helmuth von Moltke once said "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" (and yes, I Googled that). In my case, no excitement survives first contact with teachers.

Coming back to school is like bursting a positivity bubble by hitting me in the face with it. Hard.

What it comes down to is the summer is a vacuum in which it is easy to forget that not all educators are as excited about making real change as I am, or as my PLN is. Teachers, and not all teachers but some, can be really negative. They don't think their classroom instruction needs to change, so they don't care how the PD is presented, they don't want it. They don't all agree that grading is flawed or homework isn't effective. They don't buy-in to standards-based grading, flexible seating, digital curriculum, technology integration, or flipped instruction like I do.

They are annoyed because learning a new testing platform is a pain. They're miserable because course progressions have changed. They're pissed that the principal wants more data from them. And it isn't just the ones you expect. It can be your friends, it can be your co-teacher, it can be people you've worked with for years or weeks. And in none of these things are they wrong or unjustified.

It comes in drips and drabs, and it comes in waves. It builds and builds, and it is suffocating and overwhelming. It takes the wind out of my excitement sails.

Here I sit with the connected educator back-to-school blues.

What We Can Learn as Teachers from Challenging Administrators

We all have said the words that relationships with students, especially relationships based on mutual respect, are critical to getting the best performance out of our students. Still, a great student will excel no matter what, right?

Let me tell you a story of two school years, and the parts of the Venn Diagram of those years that most wouldn't want to talk about.

Last year was the best year of my career. We launched a 1:1 initiative with Windows laptops for a 4200 student, 200+ teacher school. On any given day, I was pulled in 15 different directions, solving problems, developing plans, implementing training, supporting staff, and building and running a student tech support group to teach students important job skills and keep the whole program up and running. It was stressful, and not without moments of minor-frustration at students and teachers, but I left work everyday proud of what I had done and what had been accomplished. I was supported by an Assistant Principal who, while she didn't always agree with me, considered my expertise and treated me like...if not an equal than at least someone who was close to and was worth listening to.

This year, I continued in my position, but between June and August, there were major shifts in admin. My principal and two assistant principals were either transferred or left, and they were replaced with another veteran principal, and two fresh-faced assistant principals. In addition, we have a relief school opening up next year, so we had the looming threat all year that some percentage of our staff would be released, with no real guarantee that they would be rehired at the new school.

It has genuinely been one of the most demoralizing and painful school-years of my career, and while partly it is because of the huge pendulum-swing from last year, it is also because of the constant battles I have with the assistant principal over the digital initiative. My job as Digital Coach should, in my eyes, be evidence of my expertise, and yet I regularly have to argue that I know what I'm talking about and I should be listened to, and even then, I am often ignored still.

My own plans and solutions for how to move forward are not really the point of this post, instead, I want to try to take what I have learned this year and extrapolate meaning as a teacher.

I have been tremendously unproductive this year. I've gotten the things done that I needed to get done, but there has been no creativity, no new ideas, no pushing the envelope of digital integration. This week, as we collect laptops and am again met with arguments and roadblocks from someone who thinks they know better, I realized that this same feeling is what many of my students deal with everyday.

If I were to grade my performance, I was an A employee last year. I was in an environment that pushed me, lead by someone who supported and encouraged me to be my best. I did great work and thrived. This year, with a new leader, my performance is sub-par at best, at least below what I'm capable of. I'm a solid C employee.

And so it hit me that the leader makes all the difference, and by extension, the teacher does as well. A student who thrives in my class because they respect me and I in turn respect them, will do just enough to pass in another class if they don't respect the teacher. They will comply, because that's necessary to reduce the adversity on themselves, but they won't really learn, won't interact with knowledge in the way for true acquisition to occur.

These are things I already knew to be true, could have said the words before now, but it was this year that it truly hit home. I always thought, in the back of my head, that a "good student" would struggle through the problems and perform to their best effort, but how can I expect that of my kids when I haven't done that myself? I've let a leader drive me down, and a student is less well-equipped emotionally and mentally to overcome that.

So, my call to you is to consider this when you are interacting with your students. They don't need you to be their friend, don't need to like you. They need you to respect them as individuals, to provide them with an environment that encourages learning, not challenges their self worth. And if you find that students who you "think" could be better aren't producing that effort, maybe you're the problem.

Future of EdTech Coaches

Last night I participated in the #EdTechChat on Twitter, in which the topic was Ed Tech Coaches. As a full-time Digital Instructional Coach, the topic obviously intrigued me.

Given the content of the chats, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it a little on here. Huge thanks to Susan Bearden for moderating and asking the questions.

My role has changed significantly in the last two years of this process. When I started out, it was entirely about running in a thousand directions at once, trying to get a one-to-one program off the ground. In any given day, I was fixing dead access points, troubleshooting student account issues, explaining where the power button was, training students to do tech support, handing out 4000 laptops, one-on-one training with teachers, training teacher groups, recording voice-over presentations to send out, sending and answering hundreds of emails a day on any or all of these. And then the next day I would do it again. This made perfect sense, because it was essential to be everywhere and make sure my staff got whatever support it was they needed.

This year though, as we are finishing year two, my model has completely changed. I now work on an appointment basis, where teachers request for me to come to them for whatever they need. I can then spend an entire period walking them through their issues and what they need. It personalizes the experience for all our teachers, and makes my day significantly more predictable.

My first response to this was that twitter chats like #edtechchat and #edchat are a great way to interact and build a PLN. Last night was my first time participating in #edtechchat, and I was surprised by how many people were Instructional Technology Coaches or Technology Integration Coaches, etc. (we really need a more universal title, but then again, this is education, so why would we do that?).

I, of course, also felt compelled to include that podcasts are a great way to build ideas. I recommended @mrnesi House of #EdTech to the group. As a heads up, episode 3 of my podcast will also be very EdTech centric.

Overwhelmingly, the answer to this question seemed to be trust. I said basically that we need admin to get out of our way as tech coaches and let us do our thing. Sometimes I am amazed that they put us in these positions, presumably because we are experts in technology instruction, and then we are questioned at every step. Give us the space and trust it took to hire us to actually let us do our job.

The other thing I suggested is that it would be nice if administrators had a little more teeth in enforcing expectations, especially with heavy resistors. I will say, this could easily be a double-edged sword, but it would be nice if those who completely, and stubbornly, refuse to even try technology integration had some kind of administrative follow-up.

This is one space where I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job. I have created a Google Appointment Calendar, with available slots by period. All my teachers have to do is go to the link, and click the period they want me. They add their room number and what they want to talk to me about and I come to them at that time. I then built a Google Sheet and VBScript combo that imports the calendar each day, and after each appointment, emails them a follow-up email to say "Thanks, please take this survey and tell me how I did." It even goes further, and since the feedback survey is a Google Form, it imports those results and checks those against those that have been sent the survey. If they haven't filled out the survey in 4 days, it sends a follow-up email reminding them. In the future, I will probably share a tutorial on how to make this happen for yourself too.

As change agents. I like to believe that having an Ed Tech coach gives teachers the confidence to try something new, knowing they have the support to make it work. I'm not 100% sure I accomplish this goal every time, but a boy can dream, no?

This one has been on my mind for a while. What I honestly believe is that we should be actively working ourselves out of a job. Early on, we can make it possible to try new things and teach tech. As a one-to-one initiative reaches maturity though, we need to stop focusing on tools, and instead focus on instruction. For me, this means transitioning into a CRT role, in which instructional support and PD always assumes everyone is using and knows how to use technology. In order to fully immerse our students, this is the essential next step.

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