Professional Generosity

I love that term, professional generosity. I first saw it as the tagline, “Practicing Professional Generosity”, on Lucy Gray’s blog and that phrase has stuck with me ever since. It reminds us to “pay it forward” with regard to our knowledge, expertise, and experience. A PLN is a global example of this, in my opinion, but I had a wonderful experience with professional generosity much closer to home.

On Twitter, about a month or so ago, a local ed-tech colleague was looking for some inexpensive summer professional development for her staff. With budget cuts hitting all of us I thought I would follow this thread and see what I could learn and use for my district. Next thing I know we created a Google Doc of people in the area that would be willing to travel to nearby districts and offer PD with the expectation of benefitting from someone else’s expertise at another time in their district. Basically, I come help you out, someone helps me out, and so it goes…Pay it Forward! I have participated in this kind of situation before, but was excited to see a collection of people willing to participate.

We were on the receiving end of this idea yesterday. Erica Roberts came to teach our tech staff how to use iMovie 09. Now this is not earth-shattering, change the world stuff, but it is something we all have been “meaning to learn” but have never quite found the time to do so. Erica spent about 3 hours working with our tech staff modeling, guiding, helping, and converting us (from iMovie HD users) to the point where we can open the program, know what is going on, and even instruct and troubleshoot with students. My tech staff found Erica to be highly knowledgeable and easy to work with. In short, they loved the training and loved her!

For me, the biggest take-away was how amazing it was that Erica probably spent more in gas to drive to my district than I did on her Panera lunch. And for what? To share her time, talent, and expertise with a group of folks who needed it. Is there the expectation that Erica and her colleagues will be on the receiving end of some of this professional generosity? Maybe. But I don’t think that was Erica’s true motivation.

We are very lucky to have a deep pool of ed tech talent in my area. But think about how this could be done via Skype. Charlene Chausis recently shared an experience with me where she invited Katie Morrow to Skype into Charlene’s high school to work with her teachers. I have used Skype to connect classrooms, but hadn’t thought about using it as a PD tool in this way.

A big THANKS to Erica and to all the teachers and ed tech folks in my PLN who exercise professional generosity every day.


Philosophy of Education

Recently I had to write my philosophy of education; something I have not done since my undergrad days many, MANY years ago. I wish I had a copy of what I wrote while an undergrad. Certainly I must have changed considerably although the way we teach has changed less.

Here are my thoughts. What do you agree with? Anything I missed?

An ideal classroom is a community of learners with the teacher as lead learner. Each classroom should provide a safe environment where risk-taking is encouraged. Children need to discover that it is acceptable to struggle sometimes, that it is okay for things to be difficult sometimes, that it is all right not to understand sometimes for it is from our mistakes that we learn the most. Students must learn more than facts; they should learn how to learn in an environment that is differentiated with regard to content, product, and process. Students will learn best when their learning experiences are authentic and include hands-on learning and manipulatives as often as possible. Parents are integral partners in their child’s learning and should be included as valued members within the classroom community.

Schools must consider the “whole child”. This includes their social, emotional, and physical aspects, as well as the arts. All children can learn and school needs to meet their individual needs through differentiation and teaching to the multiple intelligences. Children need to feel successful, be encouraged to push themselves, and have positive experiences in school. Providing choice for students when appropriate involves students in their own learning and empowers them. Children need to feel a sense of self worth to be successful learners and successful members of society.

Learning should be joyous; laughter should be heard in every classroom. School should provide experiences that might not otherwise be possible. Learning is a lifelong journey and children of all ages need to experience wonder, success, and challenge.

The Online Addiction

BalanceThis morning I came across a post on Beth Still’s Nebraska Change Agent blog titled, Finding Balance. Beth writes about her commitment to finding balance between her online time and spending quality time with her family. This is a struggle many (all?) of us face. Here is my response to Beth’s post on how I am trying to ‘unplug and reconnect’.


You describe a struggle many of us face. Not only is there work to be done (I’ve got my office in my lap!) but I often justify that I am fulfilling my lifelong learning goals by being connected.

It may seem silly, but I find the need to schedule time for relaxation and family/friends. I am trying to flip that and schedule time for online work/access. This will become more important as I have just begun a yearlong, rigorous online A&S certification program.

I have long since turned off my email sounds and taken the twitter pop-ups preference off. This has helped immensely. I check email at intervals, rather than constantly. During the school year this will change a bit due to the nature of my job, but when I am home, I am pledging to be more ‘present’.

I am also not constantly walking around with my phone in my pocket at home. I actually leave it upstairs for hours at a time! There are days where I just can’t turn on Twitter due to limited time. I know I am missing out on some great things, but I also know my PLN is always there; I don’t need to know or read everything.

As for my Reader, I am spending more time reading ‘offline’ when I have the time: on an airplane, waiting at the dentist, etc. Blogs, Readers, email, Facebook, they can all wait. Family and friends cannot.

Gotta run. I’m out the door to walk the dogs. It’s a beautiful day!

What are you doing to create a balance between your online life and your family?

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Rethinking my work with teachers

I spent a wonderful 2 hours with Diane Sweeney, author of Learning Along the Way: Professional Development by and for Teachers. Diane has been working with the literacy ‘lab teachers’ in my district for a few years helping to develop a model for ‘gradual release’ with our district teachers in their journey to learn more about comprehensive literacy and guided reading. This session was for those in our district who take a leadership and coaching role with our teachers.The two hours flew by; which is a feat to accomplish on a sunny Friday afternoon!

Three things really resonated with me:

1. Diane’s ability to connect with her audience.

I was thrilled at how quickly Diane was able to connect to the diverse roles of those of us sitting in the meeting. There were literacy coaches, gifted teachers, and technology facilitators (like me!).

2. The idea of ‘coach’ as a verb, NOT a title.

When I was hired, I asked that we change the name of my position from ‘tech coach’. I didn’t think it sounded collaborative enough. I envisioned a coach barking out orders and drills (as many of my athletic coaches did). While those being ‘coached’ may be better after these drills and orders, for some it means breaking them down and building them back up. I didn’t want to work that way or to give the impression of Me=expert You=novice, so listen up and do it MY way.

3. The Continuum of Student-Centeredness in School Based Coaching

The model for coaching she presented led me to begin thinking about changes I may want to make to improve my effectiveness as a ‘tech coach’. I like thinking about the idea of student-centered coaching with regard to technology. I have implemented the relationship-driven and teacher-centered coaching, but at times, I am not as effective with teachers when I ask about the students.

This is an oversimplification of a conversation, but represents a typical scenario. This type of encounter often takes place as I pass by a teacher walking her class through the hall.

Teacher: “I want my kids to do a PowerPoint for social studies”.

Me: “What are the students learning?”

Teacher: “They’re doing Native American research.”

Me: “What are you hoping the kids will gain from using PowerPoint for this project?”

Teacher: “They’ll know how to use PowerPoint and how to add the fancy elements.”

Me: “How will the learning be evaluated?”

Teacher: “They’ll be sharing with another student.”

Me: “There may be some other ideas that would accomplish the same thing. Would you be open to other suggestions?”

Teacher: “No, they need to learn to use PowerPoint.”

Sigh! This interaction does nothing to examine the value of this experience (or lack thereof) for the students. The focus is solely on the tool; not even the best tool! When I have an opportunity to talk with teachers about their goals for their students, not only does it help me to best tailor an appropriate learning experience for the children, but it allows the teacher to focus on her students’ needs. The biggest obstacle to this kind of planning is TIME; there is never enough time for teachers. These conversations needn’t be lengthy or numerous, but they need to happen, and not while passing in the hallway.

The second largest obstacle is teacher tech-phobia. Teachers often see my role as solely about them and what they are not able to do. I think that is why many teachers don’t contact me. There are those who say, ” I already use technology, so I don’t need your help.” or “I hate technology and I don’t see the value for students”. Again, a slightly dramatization of actual comments but the message was similar. By focusing on what the students’ needs are, the topic of conversation is about learning — not technology!

I have begun the first chapter of Learning Along the Way and am thrilled that Diane will be returning next year to work with my district. I have already requested time to sit and talk with Diane for some student-centered coaching of my own!

How technology ‘changed’ my (work) life

I have been listening to the audiobook version of How Starbucks Changed My Life by Michael Gates Gill. In this book, Michael, gets a new lease on life after being fired from his high-powered adverImage from: job. This life-change occurs, you guessed it, as an employee of Starbucks. Basically, Michael learns about who he really is and what is most important in life; something he couldn’t have done if he was still in his high stress job.

So, what does this have to do with me? While listening today, it dawned on me that technology had a similar effect on my life; well my work life for certain. About 12 years ago <choke>, I was in a rut professionally. I had taught the same grade in the same place for a number of years and was looking for something to energize my teaching — enter computers! I was excited by the possibilities for both my students and myself. As I began to use computers with my students, I saw an energy in them. They were excited about learning, able to challenge themselves whatever their level, and be self-directed in their learning. Students who had been in the ‘background’ had begun to fine success and in some cases emerge as leaders.

Now all of this didn’t happen overnight. The implementation of computers into my classroom started with simple word processing. But I was motivated to learn more about the potential of their use with students and understand the importance of technology in students’ lives. The move to integrate technology into my teaching and students’ learning also created a philosophical shift for me. Technology caused me to examine what I felt was most important for students and look at my teaching to see if I was meeting their needs. I hadn’t really thought about learning theory since college. Teaching for me, at that point, was about the curriculum and helping students to learn it.

Now, as a technology integration specialist, with a master’s degree in educational technology, I help other teachers feel that spark that I felt many years ago. I didn’t think I would ever step away from being a classroom teacher prior to my retirement date, but technology changed my life, my career, and now I attempt to change the professional lives of our district teachers. It’s not always easy, but very rewarding. I love when teachers share with me their pride in an accomplishment they have made, or remark “That was painless” as we complete a project with their students. And I love that technology has cemented me as a life-long learner.

How has technology changed your career? Your classroom? Your attitude/philosophy about teaching and your role in educating your students?

Podcast Apathy ~ What’s my problem?

I am struggling with why I am having a difficult time embracing podcasts. Many (many!) edtech folks I admire create, consume, and promote podcasting, yet I don’t feel the same enthusiasm. I’ve heard some good podcasts; loaded with info, catchy music, well-produced. I think that listening to audio isn’t my preferred learning style. I long for something more interactive. Listening to a podcast while driving or walking the dogs doesn’t work for me, either. I want to write down what I hear, access the sites mentioned, or contribute to a backchannel. Video podcasts seem to hold my attention better, but again, I want to stop them and browse the resources mentioned. And I just never seem to find a good time to watch them if they are longer than about 10 minutes.

Because of my apathy about listening to podcasts, I tend to shy away from having students create them. I do know how to create them easily with GarageBand, KidPix, etc. I just usually find another way for kids to express themselves with audio; like with a VoiceThread or recorded Keynote. I have heard some great student podcasts. Radio WillowWeb is still among the best. I just don’t see students or their parents sitting and listening to a 20 minute podcast about Native Americans or whatever.

What’s wrong with me?

Blogging with a plan

I’ve struggled with the fact that I just can’t get into blogging. It seems like the right thing to do. Most everyone in the Ed Tech Community blogs on a frequent basis. So what’s my problem? I completely subscribe to the PLN idea; I can’t imagine this past year without my ‘network’ and throughout my 20+ years in education I have tried to practice professional generosity. I read lots of blogs and have learned much from them. Yet I’ve completed 2 posts in 2 years.

I figured out why I don’t blog. Fear. Not fear of writing something that wouldn’t be worth reading. Not fear of no one reading it. Fear that someone would read it. What I mean is, say I complain (or even describe) a situation at work, what if the person I wrote about reads it? I guess I’m not really feeling confident in being able to consistently write wonderfully profound posts about technology in education. What I would write about would be my experiences, both good and bad. I’m worried that people would feel violated for ‘airing my dirty laundry’ if they were part of the laundry. Sure positive ones are fine to post, but sometimes it the adversity that make us reflective (aka more interesting to read, I think) Who only wants to read, or write, about all their successes? That gets a little boring.

So I decided to make an effort to blog regularly (once a week?) and model my posts after blogs like Larry Ferlazzo and iLearn Technology. I plan to write about a web site, gadget, piece of software, etc that I think others should know about. It might be a something new, it might be something more ‘tried and true’, but it will be something of worth to the K-8 teacher or student.

By putting this kind of structure on my posts and having a plan for what I write, I hope that at some point I will feel freer to write about my experiences. If you’d like to learn about some great ed tech tools and how to use them with students, then please add me to your Reader. Please grant me a little catharsis from time to time, too.

Thanks for reading.