My mom died last week.
I had just finished story time with my son and was prepping a slow cooker lasagna for tomorrow's dinner when I got the first call. 8:30 pm on a Tuesday, and it was Uncle Bill calling. There had been some kind of accident at work and she was bleeding internally. Details were limited as I was getting information 3rd and 4th hand. She had a preexisting condition, cirrhosis, and that had maybe caused or complicated the injury.
My mom and I hadn't talked in almost 3 years. I was driving up to visit, with my 3 year old son in the car, when I found out she was still with him. To be fair, he is an addict just like her, but he had come to represent all the worst parts of my mom's choices. She had assured me that he was out of the picture, or else I wouldn't be driving up there. I stopped about half way and called her from a cheesy plantation-themed highway gas station to say "What the hell?" It ended in a fight and the last thing I said before she hung up on me was "Mom, I don't think your life is safe for Z to be around at this point."
"The doctor is saying that there isn't much hope," Uncle Bill said, and I spread a layer of ricotta over meat sauce.
Texts, calls, discussions, and searches made up the next couple hours, and ultimately it was decided that my brother and I would head to Atlanta where she lived and deal with the situation. We were her only living heirs, and so it was on us. The last call came at 3 am Wednesday. She flat-lined, and per her wishes, they did not resuscitate. At 6 am, I put my lasagna on a timer and got on a plane.
I'll spare all the details of how and why, but the end result is that I spent three days in Atlanta with my brother, his girlfriend, my aunt and uncle, another aunt, cousins, and (quite briefly) him. It was some of the most emotionally confusing days of my life.
I kept remembering a moment from just this past July when I was in Atlanta. I was visiting my Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill. Aunt Peggy is my mom's older sister, and as would make sense, we often talked about Mom. We would wonder where she was, how she was doing, and how her life could have gotten to this point. She had estranged herself from almost all of her family by the time she passed, and she used to love her family, and there were times we were all a loving group. Huge Thanksgivings with even larger meals taking up every flat surface just to be able to enjoy stuffing and turkey.
Anyways, just a few months ago I told Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill that there were only two ways this estrangement would end. I would either get a call from Mom saying she realized everything she had done wrong and was getting clean, or I would get a call that Mom had died. As I said a few times on this most recent trip, the call came 6 hours earlier than I expected.
I left Atlanta and returned home Saturday morning. That was when the emotions really started to kick in for me. Being up there, things needed to be done, wills found, events planned, people consoled. Once I got home, there weren't other people to take care of, and it came flooding in. Not in a debilitating kind of way, just in waves. Quiet one minute, sad the next, angry after that, confused always.
Now it's Monday, the first period bell is about to ring. My students are going to ask, they're going to want to know why I was gone three days, what happened. Do I tell them? Is it too much for middle schoolers? Or, will the honesty be valuable? Create a learning experience?
And I'm still looking forward to the leftover lasagna I'm having for lunch.
If you listen to my podcast, you've probably heard that I am going to a new school this year, and in my area, students are back on campus today.
I have been lucky enough in my 10 or so years teaching to have some wonderful students. My last group of students at the high school I was at, students I have written and tweeted about before, are the best group of young people I have ever had the pleasure and honor to teach. They have gone so far above and beyond what is required, even by a service based class like Student Tech Support, or as the lovingly call it Shreff Tech. These students have even come to help me distribute laptops to the middle school I'm at now, taking some of their last days before heading off to college to help me even more. They're great.
What I have been struck by over this time though is that they don't really understand their place in my heart (and yes, I am aware of how cheesey that line is).
I care for these students so much. I have spent every school day for the last 4 years with them, watching them grow from awkward 14 year olds, fresh faced and in a new school, into young adults, ready to make their way into the world. It makes me so sad to realize they won't walk into my class today, and yet tremendously proud they graduated and are moving on.
I love these kids like I love my own son, with the same pride and respect, awe and excitement.
And while I have spent those 4 years showing them through action and word how I feel about them, I don't think they can actually understand it. Few if any will become teachers, but I suspect that is the only way they could connect to this feeling. Even then, I struggle to imagine any of my teachers felt this way about me. I suppose some did, but it doesn't fit with my memory of school and my teachers.
Teaching is an odd job for a lot of reasons, but this might well be the top. We spend a year, or years, building relationships with our students, raising them up and supporting them, pushing them towards adulthood, only to let them go, and in most cases, never see or hear from them again. Even if you're that teacher that kids remember, without the bounds of a scheduled course, that relationship typically evaporates in the time it takes to cross a stage and grab a diploma.
There is nothing to be done about it, nothing to scream against of fight. We just have to accept that students will never understand their place in our hearts.
Kyle Bowen kicked off the session talking about Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Teaching. He had some great points about what AI really is, and ultimately shared some experiments he is working on with others at Penn State. The huge takeaway is his slides! The graphic work was excellent, from the Maslow's Hierarchy with the bottom level stickers of Wifi and Power. And the graphic of the BYOD Action Figure (in the style of GI Joe) "Now with kung fu texting grip." The whole audience was laughing at each slide, which helped drive home the message, which is we need to be thinking about how we can use AI to enhance learning.
The session included another student presenter, Austin Tong. He also presented last year at ISTE, and was one of the students who really stole the stage. Austin is a powerful student voice calling for personalized learning. He shared a number of examples of his own work at his school, including projects generated in MInecraft, with video editing, and with no-tech options (like making a board game). The important thing, according to Austin, "it is important to get to know your students and provide them the space to learn." Really impressive presentation.
Another excellent session was Promoting Social Emotional Learning with Technology and the Makerspace with Robert Ruff. Robert is a music teacher and tech coach (mind blown!). He talked about some easy and interesting ways to improve social emotional learning, which is making sure students are being treated well, are engaged in their learning, and are cared for so they can learn content. One idea I particularly liked was the implementation of random acts of kindness cards. Students would commit a random act of kindness, and pass the card along. Those cards had tracking numbers on them, and the students could fill out a short Google Form with that number so they could track who gave them the card, and where their random act was passed on. How cool is that?
Bonnie McClelland presented on her project #GridPals. It uses Flipgrid as a way for classes of students to interact in a PenPal style format, but through video and real conversation. You can find more at FlipGrid's Blog. This is a powerful way to bring authentic connections into classrooms, and it is truly simple to setup.
Overall, an excellent session. Still love IGNITEs, and I can't wait to present mine on Wednesday!!
If you have followed my ISTE journey over the past few years, you know that I am obsessed with IGNITE sessions. This series of 5 minute presentations are fast paced looks at ideas presented quickly and effectively. In these 5 minute presentations, the presenter has 20 slides which advance automatically every 15 seconds.
This first session of IGNITEs included student presenters. Last year, they were the star of the show, so I was very excited to hear new students present.
One of the student presentations was from Evan Osgood, a member of the Tiger Tech Crew (student tech support). This 13 year old opened with a joke that made the whole room laugh, and continued the relaxed comedy throughout the presentation. The session was about being a student in a student tech support group, and since I run student tech myself, it was interesting to hear the student perspective. It was fun to hear, and he had some good laughs. Great work Evan!
A theme in last year's student IGNITEs was students taking ownership of their learning because they weren't getting what they needed in school. This sentiment was echoed by Jada Keplinger, a 16 year old girl who wrote and illustrated a children's book for her little brother's first birthday, then published that book, and provided copies of the book, funded through GoFundMe, to every PreK and kindergarten student in her town! She walked us through the process, the tools she used, and what she learned, with the goal of getting teachers to let their students do the same! Wow! Click here for Jada's website to learn more.
I can't even with this little boy Nate Butkus. He is 8 years old. Yes, 8! He's so tiny, I literally can't see him because the podium is taller than him, and he gave a perfect IGNITE. Seriously, watch:
O. M. Geeee!!! Nate Butkus is 8!! He is so tiny that you literally can't see him behind the podium!!! He is so adorable I can't even. And he's a Podcaster. Wow, wow, wow!!! #ISTE18 #ignite pic.twitter.com/qlQPlMh61s
— Brad Shreffler (@BradShreffler) June 24, 2018
He is also the host of The Show About Science Podcast. AT 8!! This kid was totally amazing. Learn more about Nate and his show by clicking here.
Jen Giffen took the stage fast and instantly owned it with clear confidence. She presented on What Making Pancakes Taught Her About Teaching. The basic premise is that it is a learning process about failing and learning from that failure, requiring reflection on the failures to iterate the process. It was a great metaphor, and Jen presented it perfectly.
Elliana Donally is a 6 year old girl who announced early in her presentation that she has dyslexia. Then, she proceeded to read through her entire 5 minute presentation, and it was awesome! Her premise was that while dyslexia can be a challenge sometimes, it also means she see the world differently, and it doesn't mean she can't think. It was genuinely impressive, and I particularly liked the changes of font to give us as an audience a view of how she sees things.
Pernille Ripp closed out the session. She started with a story of her fear of a cop pulling her over, possibly for speeding, and being terrified that she didn't have her green card, the document that as a Danish citizen she needed to be in the US. But due to her white skin and blonde hair, she was never asked for her green card. She proceeded to explain that is white privilege, but many of our students don't have that privilege, and we as teachers need to do more to create opportunities for our students to open their minds. Technology can be used to do more than just engage students and be fun, Pernille says, it can be used to tell the whole story. "The true power of technology is the power to break down walls" she includes in her speech. It was a powerful and passionate presentation.
Overall, the IGNITEs did not disappoint. Always awesome sessions, and I can't wait for Round 2 tomorrow!
It is officially ISTE 2018, and that means I get to start learning from some amazing educators!
My first session of the conference is Top Tech Tools for Teachers presented by Dan Kreiness. Let me start with that ISTE does not have its organization on point this morning. These are the People's Choice sessions, which were voted for by hundreds of people, so it is logical to assume that many people would attend. But, they put them in small rooms, and there are probably 600 people in line outside who didn't make it in. Which is sad for them, but awesome for Dan that his session is so full!
Now, onto the session. Dan set his session up as a set of 4 categories of tools. Each category he quickly explains a few tools that work for it, then gives everyone time to look through the tools and play with them while he walks around and answers questions. It's very interactive and means that Dan isn't just talking at everyone the whole time. I like it.
Here is a direct link to the Padlet that Dan made to organize all the tools. The four categories are Calendar and Scheduler, Organize and Curate Ideas and Resources, Reflecting and Record Keeping, and Collaboration, Networking, PD, and Social Media. I won't go through all of them, but I'll talk about some of my favorites.
First, Google Calendar. As an Instructional Coach, it is really important to be available for your staff. One way to accomplish this is by creating a calendar of appointments that your staff can sign up for. I do this a lot, with appointment slots set up within our class period schedule. Then, I provide a link to my staff, where they can click on the period they want me to meet with them and then I go to them. It's very powerful.
He also talked about Flipgrid, which got a lot of people talking. It is a very powerful tool, and to use it to organize resources for staff is a great idea. You could make title cards for each topic of resources, and attach short videos describing, and then a link to another resource. Plus, with it now being free for everyone, that really opens up options.
One of the last tools he talked about was Voxer, and he even included me in the session, which was fun. He sent me a Vox live during the session, and I replied to him during the session. Talk about interactive!