It’s a Big Job…

The nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping a bit, the sun is coming up a tad later every morning, pens and notebooks are on super sale in the store. Summer is winding down and it’s about time for school to start again. While people are always somewhat reluctant to head back to work after a vacation, most teachers I know are ready to get back in their classrooms after a couple of months away. They miss the energy of a new school year, their students, the creativity and collaboration of lesson planning and learning from students.

This year, I am also getting excited as I am transitioning into a new role. For the past two years I have supported the Magnet Program in Lansing. These five schools focused on STEM, STEAM, and Global Studies/Spanish Immersion. Through that role, I built relationships with some wonderful people and helped to share the power of technology in creating meaningful and relevant learning opportunities for students. Now, as that program is winding down, I have moved into a new role where I am supporting the entire district’s technology integration efforts.

While it is a big job – one of me and 27 schools – I am excited for the opportunity to continue to push students and teachers to do new and innovative things with the assistance of technology. But, it is going to be a challenge to support so many people with only so many hours in the day. This year I am trying something new – a booking tool that syncs with my Google calendar. Hopefully this will eliminate a lot of the back and forth emailing that sometimes happens when people want to set something up. I anticipate there being a bit of a learning curve as the most common way to connect with someone is to send them an email. I am hopeful, though, that after a couple gentle reminders, most people will look to the booking site first rather than email.

I put together a little flyer to showcase who I am, what my role is, what I can do, and how to reach me. This will be posted on our Technology Integration website as well as shared with the people in Central Office and all the building principals. In a district our size, it’s impossible to know everyone, so this was the best way I could think of to get my name out there. Let me know what you think!

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School Year Goals

One of the best parts of working in the education field is the opportunity to start fresh each school year. Similar to how lots of people set New Year’s Resolutions on January 1st, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what my goals for this school year are.

Rather than come up with a list of three or four “things” I want to implement in schools or projects to complete, I have decided to focus instead on something that is both small and large. Last year, I heard George Couros speak at ISTE, and one of things he said really stuck out to me: “What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day they did in their classroom […] and took five minutes a day to read each other’s tweets? What impact would that have on school culture?” You can read more about Building Culture from George here. 

Today’s educational environment – in Michigan especially – is challenging and demoralizing. Threatened with closure, almost 100 schools throughout the state are waiting to learn their fate. The state’s largest public school district (Detroit Public Schools) have students and teachers in buildings with mold growing on the walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s a mess, and it can be really hard to stay positive and work throughout the school year to continually try to innovate and come up with ways to engage students. It is challenging when you’re in the thick of it, to remember all those little moments that get buried in the daily minutiae of teaching.

So, this year, my goal is to tweet out one thing each day that I did or saw in my classroom observation. As the Technology Integrationist for the entire district – all 25 schools – I am sure I will have a lot of things to share! I’m going to share to the hashtag #LansingComeUp. As part of the mission to bring positivity and hope to this area, students brainstormed this hashtag as a way to show people that great things are happening in our schools and we are coming up. I invite you to join me; let’s make this year the best one yet!

ISTE 2016

In less than a week, I will be headed to Denver – along with about 16,000 other educators from around the world – to engage in four days of connecting, learning, sharing, and growing through panels, poster sessions, interactive lectures, hands-on workshops, and informal conversations. I cannot wait! Last year was my first ISTE experience in Philadelphia and it was everything I imagined it would be – and so much more!

After attending the conference, I left Philly on fire for improving my practice as an Technology Integration Specialist. While I gathered a lot of practical resources and slideshows, the most valuable things I left ISTE with were the connections I made with others throughout the world. Growing my PLN has been an ongoing task that has been incredibly rewarding.

This year, I vowed to connect more as a leader and contributor to the ed tech world rather than just a consumer of resources. I have been an active member of a grassroots organization here in Michigan known as the METS group. We are Michigan Education Technology Specialists throughout the state who come together in various capacities – face to face meet ups, virtual rallies, and a vibrant Google+ community – to support one another through purposeful and meaningful technology integration. While I felt like I contributed here and there, I was utilizing the METS group more as a consumer. In order to start being a leader and challenging myself to take my profession to the next level required moving a bit out of my comfort zone. So this year I have stepped up to be part of the leadership “team” and will be working with a few others to plan and coordinate the Spring Rally and meet up. So far it’s been great to feel like I’m contributing in a more meaningful way to an organization that I really value and respect.

Along those same lines, I have gotten so much out of being a member of ISTE. The resources and discussion forums have really helped to push my thinking and to provide some support and reassurance that I’m not the only one who doesn’t have this all figured out! To that end, I wanted to continue to grow professionally, and so I volunteered to moderate the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Twitter chat. It was a really fun experience and helped me to build my PLN.

This year, I am going to be working with some really smart and inspiring people to build the ISTE Technology Coordinators PLN back up and help it to be a functional and vibrant place for folks like me. I will be serving as Social Media Outreach Coordinator and one of my first goals is to support the group in their panel presentation at ISTE next week. It’s going to be awesome; I’m pumped! If you’re attending ISTE, we’d love to have you at our session: The Changing Role of the Chief Technology Officer. It’s on Monday, June 27th at 2:30pm in the Mile High Ballroom 1D. If you can’t join us in person, I will be Tweeting out questions and ideas using #ISTE2016. Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@AllisonKEDU) and participate from wherever you are in the world.

How Do You Get That Lonely?

My blog title comes from a heartbreaking song called “How Do You Get That Lonely” by country singer Blaine Larson. The song tells the story of a young man who committed suicide. He asks over and over, “How do you get that lonely and no body knows?” This song lyric has been echoing in my head for the last couple of weeks as I heard about the death of one of my former students. His name was Alec and he was 17 years old. 

Alec was a bright, sweet, caring, and thoughtful young man when I had him as a 7th grade student. He was one of the 140 students I taught my first year of teaching. That group of kids will always have a special place in my heart. I’m certain those students taught me more my first year of teaching than I taught them. I learned patience, how to see the potential and good in each student, how to forge relationships with them, learn about their interest, how to engage students in different ways, how to challenge them. I also learned what exhaustion felt like and how hard it was to give your all – day in and day out – and still feel like it was never enough.

Perhaps even more heartbreaking about Alec’s death is that it happened in the midst of so much happiness in the school year. Students are graduating, making plans for college or a career, reflecting on their high school years. There is so much hope and optimism; a sense of the entire world at their feet. Tinged with all these celebratory moments is a profound sense of loss.

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Alec was a much different person as a high school student than he was when I had him as a 7th grader. He grew up – figuratively and literally. Reading through the posts from his classmates and family, it is clear that at his core, Alec was the same bright, caring, kind, and thoughtful young man. My heart breaks for his family.


Twitter Chat

On Tuesday, I hosted two Twitter chats as part of the ISTE PLN  – ETCoaches. I have participated in many Twitter chats and always love the energy and excitement of sharing stories, asking questions, getting new ideas, and finding more and more resources to utilize in my practice. Perhaps best of all is the opportunity to connect with other people from across the country. If I stop and think about all the ways technology enhances my ability to connect with others in such an easy way, it really is mind-blowing! I had never actually hosted or moderated a chat, so I was a little nervous about that.

As the chat moderator, I had a little bit of anxiety over hosting! What if no one logs in? What if people don’t engage? What if there’s a disagreement? Instead of falling prey to those anxiety-inducing thoughts, I focused on reflecting on my own answers to the questions. That helped break the ice for some of the other participants. I also wanted to make sure that I personally welcomed each person who chimed in, so I set that as one of my goals. Prior to the chat, I reached out to my own PLN and asked for any tips or tricks they had, so I felt pretty prepared in that sense.

We had two chats on Tuesday; one at 1pm (EST) and another at 8pm (EST). Both sessions really flew by as people engaged and interacted both with me and with one another. I loved the supportive atmosphere many of the Ed Tech coaches created in raising one another up. The end of the school year can be a trying time, so taking a few moments to look back and reflect on those areas of success is critical – not only to our practice but to our morale as well!

In about 3 1/2 weeks, I will be heading to #ISTE2016 in Denver – along with about 15,000 other folks – and I am really excited to hopefully connect face to face with a lot of people I have “met” on Twitter. For me, Twitter helps to break down those barriers and to help people forge gaps because you have some instant connections with people you have never actually met.

Are you going to ISTE? Let’s connect!

Have you ever participated in a Twitter chat? What do you love about it? 

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Using KidBlog

Last week I wrote about the introduction of blogging with students using paper and pencil. It was a really powerful lesson that helped students to think about the realities of writing online and that there are real people behind the posts. It also was really engaging for them to see others comment on their posts.

Now, we are moving students into the digital realm and having them blog online using KidBlog. We chose this platform because our students don’t have email addresses or GAFE accounts, so Blogger was out. I have used KidBlog in the past and had a fair amount of success with it. We also liked that the educator version was reasonably priced – $35 for a calendar year – and it came with lesson plans, support, and ideas.

Students have the ability to personalize their blog posts through different backgrounds, images, media, text, and font colors. They also can personalize their blog avatar. These things go a long way in giving students ownership over their learning.

Since we started pretty late in the year, students have not used KidBlog as much as we would like, but they are LOVING it! Ms. Rubio wrote a blog post about why she was out sick from work and gave students an assignment to complete online. She can then interact with the students even while she is out of the classroom. It also helps students to develop empathy and realize that their teacher is a person with challenges and issues outside of the classroom. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that!

Earlier this week, I logged in to KidBlog and commented on several students’ posts. They were so excited to have their posts read and to continue the conversation. Ms. Rubio has already said she wants to start off the school year with her students on KidBlog. It’s such a great way for them to document their learning and growth throughout the year. It also provides a great way for kids to get to know more about their classmates. Students who tend to be shy about speaking up or don’t always have a chance to share in class can now comment and post about their learning and their opinions. IMG_5269 (1)IMG_5270 (1)

Blogging With Students

It can be really hard to get students to write – right? So often students do not resonate with the topic we’re asking them to elaborate on, or there are barriers and challenges that make writing at length difficult for them. One of the schools that I work with has a very large ELL population, and it can be challenging for them to write – they don’t know the English words or they don’t know how to spell them. Writing for a teacher, turning it in, waiting for feedback, then shoving the paper in a folder isn’t always the most meaningful way for students to grow in their writing. Too often the feedback comes at the end – and it only comes from one person.

One of the teachers I work with really understands this struggle and has been working to make writing curriculum more engaging for her kids. We worked through a couple of different platforms and decided on KidBlog. We liked the built in safety features and – because our students don’t have email addresses – it was an easy way to get student accounts without collecting personal information.

Blogging opens up the opportunity for students to share and engage with many other people – whether it’s the other students in the classroom, their friends at another school, or globally. When students know that others are reading their work, they have a higher level of ownership over it. Aside from that, the conversations often continue as others comment and ask questions and the author engages in a dialogue. Students, then, are naturally reading and writing more as they respond to comments and questions on their own blogs as well as interacting with others’ blogs as well.

To get kids excited about blogging, we knew we had to go beyond just “Tell me about your goals” or something similar that kids have been asked to think about many times before. Having attended a session at a conference last summer on introducing blogging to students, I knew one of the best ways to get kids excited about writing was to let them write about anything they wanted – their passion. I wrote a short “post” (on paper) about one of my passions – running. I decorated the paper similar to how you would decorate a blog page, and then read the blog to students.

Students were then given 10 minutes to write about anything they wanted. The only rule was they couldn’t stop writing for the entire 10 minutes. At first they were reluctant and hesitant; many of them didn’t think they could write for 10 minutes about anything. We continued to encourage them to write and write without talking. After a bit, students did settle in and the quiet was really neat – just hearing the sound of pencils on paper. Once students had time to write their post, we discussed commenting. I shared with students how one of the ways blogging is different than just writing something and turning it in, is the opportunity to have communication with others who are reading your blog. We talked about some of the things students might have commented after reading my blog post about running.

A little mini lesson was really all we needed to remind students about writing in complete sentences, using proper grammar and spelling, and writing comments that added to the conversation. We kept comparing it to what you would say if someone told you the story face to face. Most students understood that it would be rude to just say “Cool” to someone’s story. After that, we gave each student 3 sticky notes and had them write their names on each note. Then, students got up and walked around the room, reading other blog posts, writing comments on the sticky notes, and posting them around the edges of the blog. IMG_5254

It was really neat to see kids reading and quiet. Students were on task and engaged. At the end of the commenting period, we asked students to share what they learned, how the comments made them feel, etc. Then, the one student who had been the most reluctant to engage in the lesson at the beginning asked if they could do it again, reading others’ posts. We ended up doing it two more times. One student wanted to read everyone’s post and comment on everyone’s blog. It was awesome!