Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Easily Forgotten

This post has been heavy on my heart for about a week now and I finally had the time to sit down and write it out.

I grew up with a family who had a good income.  We weren't rich by any means, but my brother and I always had what we needed in our house.  When my parents divorced, and I went to live with my mom I saw what struggling to make ends meat looked like.  I saw her work countless hours cleaning homes just so we could have decent clothing, food, and a roof over our heads.  I also remember having Ramen noodles many a nights.

But I don't come from extreme poverty.  I've seen it though.  I've done mission trips in the slums of Los Angeles and in the slums of Puerto Rico.  I've seen what poverty looks like.  I've heard the stories of kids from poverty, I've read the studies and stories, I've watched the news.

You see what happens is that people who don't come from extreme poverty don't have that personal association with it so it's very difficult for them to grasp the depth and depravity that these kids are living in.  It's one thing to see it, it's another to feel it.

At my campus, and in my own life, we're always looking for ways to reach every child and we constantly talk about many of the home lives these kids come from.  And it hits us hard in our hearts.

But last week, it hit me even harder.

About 6 years ago I had a student in my 4th grade class.  Formed a great relationship with this student, as well as his family.  I had him again when I moved up to 5th grade the next year.  Over the course of those two years and the two years following I kept in constant contact with the family.  I helped pay for meals, I bought the kids school supplies, I tutored the boy and his brothers twice a week, took the boys to camp every summer, and the father as well as the boys were in my wedding.  I bonded very closely with all of them.  They came from poverty.  Both parents struggled with their health, the electricity to the home was turned off quite often, and some days they didn't have running water.

It broke my heart, but I tried to help how I could.

Then due to some extreme circumstances that happened within their family, I lost contact with them.  Until about two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago I ran back into the little boy (now a young man) randomly at a Navasota Football game of all places!  It was great catching up, and I ended up giving him a ride home.  When I dropped him off at his home, I was broken again.

The conditions that that family now are living in are even worse then before.  And I wanted to do something right then.  I wanted to find a way to help fix this problem in this community.  And that's when it hit me like a ton of bricks,  Sometimes we need that little moment of it hitting us personally to remember the pain and struggle so many families are going through.

But more so I talked with the young man about his struggles and it was incredible to hear his strength and tenacity.  It was even more moving to hear him talk about the impact that I have left on him and how those "little" moments when I helped are what he most remembers.  And how he said many nights knowing someone cared about him and his family helped him get through things.  It also reminds me of the power of connecting and of the power of caring.

Sometimes the best we can do is provide a warm meal or a sometimes even just a hug.  We work as a campus to provide turkeys at Thanksgiving, backpacks full of food every weekend, and even Christmas gifts before the holidays.

There are so many families in need, and not just during the holiday season.  But so often they are easily forgotten in the hustle and bustle of our so busy lives.

Take a moment, drive through the projects, visit your poorest student's home.  See what they're living in and what they go through.  We need to have that personal connection or at least a glimpse of understanding of poverty so that we can work together and work harder to fix this glaring problem.

We expect kids to come to school to learn, but I don't know about you, but it would be very difficult for me to learn on an empty stomach, while I slept the night before in a home with no electricity, and I couldn't take a shower, and my clothes hadn't been washed in a week.  All while I hear mom and dad talk about how they can't afford things.

Together we can work to help find a solution.  Together we must work, for the lives of so many depend on it.  Be the glimmer of hope for these children.

"Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, when indeed, it's the only one that ever has" - Margaret Mead

Friday, December 12, 2014

That's Not My Job

One of the things that always drove me insane as a teacher was when I would ask a child to pick up a piece of trash off of our classroom floor, and their first response would be "I didn't put it there" or "that's not mine"!  I grew up where we all worked together to get what needs to be done, done.

When Angela Maiers came and spoke to my team back in August, she told us that one of the worst things we could do as a team is to tell someone else that something wasn't our job.  And it's true.  When you work at a school, you do much more than you job title suggests.

We begin to "drop the ball" with things though when we begin to say that it isn't our job to do something.  I remember when I was still in the classroom and hearing teachers say things like "I'm not wiping that table off, that's not my job" or hearing them say "I'm not picking the trash off the playground, that's not my job".

When an outsider looks in at a school, they don't see something and think "I wonder who's job that was?".  They look at a school and expect it to be clean, orderly, and running on all cylinders.  And when it's not, they blame everyone.

As an administrator my job is....well,  everything!  Cleaning, calling parents, filing work, lunch duty, trash pickup, gardening, making copies, you name it!  As educators we have to leave behind that thought of "it's not my job" and remember that we are here to serve kids first and foremost.  That is why we were hired.  So if something happens at that school that needs to be taken care of, that IS our job.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The 2014 EduBlog Awards

Every year the EduBlog Awards come along.  They recognize different aspects of the online community of education.  If you haven't heard of them or seen some of the awesome things they recognize please go check them out!

I was a little shocked, but totally humbled to see "The Summer Learning Series (#SummerLS)" That I did this past summer was recognized for "Best Open PD/Web Conference/Webinar Series."

That was a labor of love of mine.  But I am so proud of that little learning series and how quickly it took off.  And I am so absolutely grateful for all the people who helped by submitting content.  They are the true source of learning that took place!

Amazing people like:

- Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler
- Teacher/Blogger Erin Klein
- Administrator Amber Teamann
- Teacher Chris Kesler
- Campus Technologist Stacey Huffine
- Teacher Arin Kress
- Speaker/Motivator/Educator Angela Maiers
- Administrator/Writer/Trainer Eric Sheninger
- Teacher/Author Dave Burgess
- Administrator Ben Gilpin
- Administrator Brad Gustafson
- Teacher Emily Swenson
- Technologist Jessica Allen
- Librarian Jennifer LaGarde
- Teacher Pernille Ripp
- Administrator Daisy Dyer Duerr
- Education Advocate Tom Murray

Voting is open until December 15th and I would love to encourage you to vote (Deadline is Monday Dec 15)!!   It's super easy...

Here is how you vote

Click on THIS link to go to the correct page.

Find the Summer Learning Series 2014 (the photo isn't correct about our series, but they are supposed to be changing it)

Click on the thumbs up symbol

Then it will ask what platform you'd like to use to sign in.  Choose one.

Then the most important part, you'll have to click the thumbs up AGAIN to actually vote!

Thanks guys!  And to celebrate this nomination, I'd like to formally announce that the Summer Learning Series is COMING BACK!!  It will start again in January and run all year (hopefully!!) So get ready for January 2015 when the Educator Learning Series launches!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Meet @BoswellAllison, The Officer of Optimism

In my effort to recognize the amazing members of my staff, I've dropped the ball the last few now, it's BACK!

And this week is a great one.  This week I'd like to introduce you to one of my rockstar 4th grade teacher, Allison Boswell.

Allie is one of those teachers who surprises me every single day.  She has an incredible sense of humor and a great wit.  Anytime I come in contact with Allie I leave laughing.

I love that as her genius she chose the title "The Officer of Optimism" too!

Another thing I really love about Allie is her creativity and heart for kids.  She cares so deeply about her students and it's evident in everything that she does.

She recently adopted a bunny from a local shelter.  The bunny has "special needs".  The bunny had it's teeth taken out.  It's been so amazing to watch her students bond with that bunny.  Dunkin is his name.  Dunkin jumps all around the room, the kids rotate through his station and teach him lessons, and the coolest part???  Dunkin has a BLOG and a TWITTER!!  How amazing is that?

Allie also is great with getting her kids to fall in love with reading and with learning.  We have seen tremendous growth with her students in such a short time.  She also has two students who have special needs or requirements.  Allie has bonded with those kids and made them feel so special that they have bloomed more than anyone expected.

A campus exists and thrives based on it's teachers, and Allie is one of our best!  I'm so honored to work with someone who works tirelessly and creatively every day and someone who is here 100% for those kids!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

1,000 Times

Music is another passion of mine.  At one point in my life I even thought about becoming a radio DJ, haha!  While driving in the car yesterday I heard a song that had a line that really stuck out to me.  The verse said "I don't mind, I would still come back 1,000 times.  Push me away and I will still come back 1,000 times".

I heard that line and I thought about us as educators.  How often do we have those students who just push us away.  Those kids who hurt so incredibly bad that their only safety lies in not getting to close to any one individual.

We can't give up on those children.  Those who push our buttons, those who drive us insane, those who need us the most.

On the same hand though, we have to come to the deep and hurtful truth that we can't save them all.  Yes, it's true.  Sometimes we think it's our job to fix and save every child.  I was just talking with my friends Chris Kesler and Josh Stumpenhorst about this exact concept.

Sometimes when we feel like we weren't able to break through to a child we think it's our fault.  We think we didn't try hard enough.  We think we didn't love enough.

But you see, that's not always the case.  Some children come from such painful existences that a years worth of love from one teacher may not be enough to break through right away.

And there's the catch with education.  We are never truly aware of the impact we have on a child because we typically only see them for one school year.

But something you say today or tomorrow could be the words that break through that broken and hardened heart.

So don't give up on a child.  Go back and try to reach them, again and again.  Even if it takes 1,000 times of telling them that they're valued, in the end the one time it gets through to them makes it all worth it.

photo credit: Thomas Ondrey, Plain Dealer File

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Choose Love

I try not to watch the news too often, but I quickly find myself drawn in.  I'm a very empathetic person and quickly associate myself deeply with others' pain.  Because of that I've had to carefully maneuver through what I watch on the news or read online.

As I watch terrible things happening across our country and our planet and I see the responses of some it breaks my heart even more.  Over the last week I have read some of the most hateful and disgusting remarks from people regarding different things going on around our country.

I sit here, and I think 'why'?  Why do we so often feel the need to chime in on a situation with which we will never know all the details.  Why do we feel entitled to comment on something we have nothing to do with.  Why choose hate?

I remember growing up in a toxic environment.  I remember going to school and many days not knowing who I was going to sit with during lunch, wondering instead if I try and eat in the bathroom.  I can still remember almost every hateful and hurtful thing that was said to me during my Jr. High and High School years.  The off-handed remarks by kids, the mean things said by teachers, the people who really knew nothing about me, I remember every word.

You see because our brains remember emotional occurrences.  They remember the positive as well as the negative.  And those memories can stick with us for a lifetime.

There still will be instances in my day to day happenings where someone will jokingly say something, or off-handedlly say something, that triggers a memory. That brings up the pain that I thought had been dealt with.

I write this because every single day we have a choice.  We choose the words we say and the actions we make.  And we can never take back hate.

As educators, our words and actions affect generations to come.  Every single thing we say to those kids who walk into our buildings every day.  Every single action we choose while their little eyes are watching.  All of it makes a difference.  Some for the good, some for the bad.

We have to take the time to stop and think before we speak and spew hate.  Every one of us comes from a different background with different experiences and we can never fully understand the depth of each persons' upbringing.  But instead, we must choose love.  We must always choose an open heart and a kind word.

Because in the end love always conquers hate.  Always.

If you're surrounded by hate and are one of the few choosing kind, remember as Margaret Mead so famously said "Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, when indeed it's the only one that ever has".

Take the time each and every day to remind someone of their worth, of their value, of their importance.  Because we're human, and we so quickly forget.  Don't make the time for hate.  Instead take the time to choose love.

And to the person reading this right now, who wonders what their value is, remember that you matter.  I may not know you personally, I may not understand your pain, but there is one thing I know to be irrevocably true, and that is that you matter.  That you are needed on this earth.  That you bring something special and wonderful to the table, something that is irreplaceable.

In the end, choose love.

Leading and Learning with @GoSwivl

About 3 weeks ago, I attended one of the best conferences I've ever been to, Miami Device.  While presenting at the conference I had seen a Swivl robot set up in one of the rooms and was in awe by how tiny it was and what it could do.  Little did I know, just a few hours later, I would win one as part of a random drawing!

What is a Swivl?  Well it's a tiny portable machine that allows you to set an iPad, iPhone or something of the like in it, and it will record for you.  The cool part?  The person you want to be recorded wears a mic around their neck that also acts as a motion sensor device.  So wherever the mic-wearer walks, the Swivl moves and follows them!!  How cool is that?

As a teacher, and also administrator my head immediately begin thinking up ways we could use it at my school.  Because there's no way I'm going to win some tech and NOT use it!  So my instructional coach, Aaron Marvel, and I started brainstorming ideas.

As soon as we got back to our campus we began using it.  Teachers signed up for a time-slot that they wanted Aaron to come in and set the Swivl up.  Aaron would set it up and leave it for 30-45 minutes.

Then Aaron uploads the recording of the instruction to YouTube and in 3-5 days he meets with the recorded teacher to talk about things they liked that they saw, and things they want to work on!

It is incredibly reflective to watch yourself teach, but it's also very difficult because we're so hard on ourselves.  I remember the first time I watched myself teach when I recorded myself a few years ago.  I didn't even realize how many times I said the word "Um" or how I taught primarily to the right side of the room!  What an eye opener!

Another teacher also had a great idea of while her students were presenting on their social studies projects they could use the Swivl to record themselves, and it worked awesome!

We plan on teachers recording themselves once or twice each month, so they can watch their growth as teachers and continually evaluate what they're doing in class.

I absolutely love our Swivl and can't wait to continue to think of ways to use it to help our instruction get stronger!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Give Thanks, Give Back

This past week I got to do something that I've always wanted to do as a teacher but never did, for whatever reason.

I work in a district where over 85% of our students are on a free and reduced lunch.  I work with kids who come from all types of backgrounds with all types of stories.

Since we are in November, the month of giving thanks, I was thinking about all I had to be thankful for.  One of the things that kept hitting me was how much I take for granted the food that I'm able to put on my dining room table daily.

So I challenged my students.  On Monday morning I talked on the announcements that I wanted to do a little competition.  I encouraged my students to write me a letter or story about what they were thankful for.  Then I told them I would pick the best 3, and those 3 students would go home for Thanksgiving with a frozen turkey.

I wasn't sure how many students would take me up on the offer.

So, I went with my wife to the store and we bought the 3 biggest turkeys I could find.  Man they were heavy!  All I could picture was a little kid carrying this thing on a bus!

The stories had to be turned into me by 3:30pm on Thursday.  When I checked my box, I had over 250 letters turned in (that's out of about 340 students total).  I was in shock.  I couldn't believe that many kids had written letters!  I was hoping for 50!

That night I spent about an hour and a half reading through letters.  And tears just fell from my eyes with a few of them.  Students who were thankful for being a part of a school where they felt like they belonged, or students who were thankful to have a teacher care about them for the first time, or students who were thankful for cows! Yes cows! haha.  There were students who were thankful for their once a month visits with their dad, students who were thankful they were allowed to visit mom in prison once a week.  I mean just the kinds of things that absolutely break your heart.

But it was a reminder of why I am where I am.  These kids need us.  They need our understanding, our patience, our kindness, and our unconditional love.

So that night as I read I couldn't decide between three, I was instead stuck on 4.  I headed into work Friday not knowing what I was gonna do because I only had 3 frozen turkeys. Then that morning, a teacher stopped me and said, "I don't know who you chose, but if you didn't choose _____, I want you to know I bought him a turkey because I was so touched and moved by what he wrote, and he hates writing but worked so hard for that turkey".  My eyes welled up with tears.  Why?  Because that little boy WAS my 4th pick, and on the way to work I had prayed and prayed for a solution.  Then his teacher, shows up with our 4th frozen turkey, so all four of my picks could go home for Thanksgiving with a turkey.

You should have seen the joy in their eyes when I announced their names on Friday.  I had such a swell of pride in my heart for these kids.  I wish I could have sent every single child home with a turkey.

And the closing part of my day was when a staff member stopped me and said "I'm so glad ______ won the turkey.  Their grandma had just broken down to me on the phone that they weren't going to be able to afford a turkey this year for Thanksgiving"

So give.  Give freely, give often, give openly, just give.  For you never know the impact that even the smallest gift can make.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lessons Are Learned in Times of Struggle

This week was a doozy for me.  This week was the first time I began to feel like there was far more I was doing wrong, then was doing right.

I know I'm a new administrator.  I know I have a lot to learn.  I know I'm going to make mistakes.  Those are things that I am fully aware of.

Regardless of what I know, I still get extremely frustrated when things don't go as planned.

This school year has seen a lot of things thrown at me and thrown at us as a school.

One thing that I really struggle with is wanting to "fix" everything.  I want everything to go great.  There's a lot of work to be done at my school and my teachers are working so very hard to turn our ship around.

This week though, it was one thing after another that just made me feel like a failure as a leader.  I left every day, and on the ride home just sat and cried and prayed the entire way home.  I began to doubt who I was, who I am.

I have the best administrative team in the world.  Without Terry, Aaron, or Geralyn, I couldn't do what I do.

But as I think about my failures and mistakes I've made and continue to make, I'm reminded of one simple fact.  And that is that we learn the most when we are in the midst of the struggle.  We don't learn when things are going great.

And that is what I hold on to.  That through everything I'm learning.  Through everything I'm growing.

I wanted to write this post to remind so many, that we all struggle.  Things don't always go as we hoped or planned, but the road isn't designed to be easy for a reason.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

13 Educators You Should Be Following on Twitter, but Probably Aren't!

I did a list like this about a year ago, and I thought it was a great time to do another!

Listed below are 13 people I learn from quite often, that many of my blog readers probably haven't heard about!  So I've decided to introduce you to them, so that you can learn from them as much as I do!  So give them a follow, send them a tweet, and join in on learning together!

Aaron Marvel is an instructional coach at my campus in Navasota.  He is incredibly intelligent.  His post are always insightful and positive.  With two masters under his belt and working on his PHD in Educational Psychology, Aaron is a wealth of knowledge and someone who is continually trying to better others through learning all he can while also being a bright light.  He's fairly new to Twitter, but the tweets he shares out are worthy for sure.  If there's anyone you follow on this list, Aaron should definitely be at the top of your list!

Andrea Keller is an Instructional Technology Specialist in Irving, Texas.  I have never met anyone with a more sunny disposition as Andrea.  Andrea can always see the best in every situation.  But even more so than that she's incredibly intelligent and super creative when it comes to educating other teachers on technology resources!  She's all about having fun and using technology to create not consume.  She always brings a wealth of knowledge on dealing with students with learning struggles.

Ben Gilpin is an administrator in Michigan.  I have learned so much from Ben and the things he shares about what he's doing in his own career as well as the incredible things his school is doing.  Ben is always willing to give a helping hand and he is a wealth of information.  There are few administrators I admire as much as Ben.

Daisy Dyer Duerr....the administrator with the best souther accent ever!  In addition to a killer souther accent, Daisy is one of those people who shares her story and learning so well. She is always sharing about what she's doing at her rural Arkansas school to continually better a child's education.  She's an award winning administrator who is supremely worthy of a follow.

Emily Swenson, where do I even begin?  Emily has been a teacher for years now and has continually pushed the boundary of what a child's education can look like.  Now Emily is a "Explor-A-Lab" teacher at her school and the things she's doing with those kids is beyond inspiring.  If you're looking for new and innovative things to do with kids, Emily is a must follow.

Jed Dearybury is a second grade teacher in South Carolina.  Jed is full of passion and humor.  He's an award winning educator who's number one priority is doing what's best for kids.  Jed shares so many great resources and tools and tons of photos too!  Jed is a great follow to add to your lists!

JoAnn Delaney is Middle School teacher that I had the pleasure of meeting face to face recently.  She is so full of passion and joy that when you interact with her you leave with a smile on your face.  JoAnn shares so many great resources from everywhere online and is someone who's been recognized by several organizations for the innovative work she's doing.

Kimberly Goh is a force to be reckoned with.  Kimberly is always on the search for the best things going on in education.  She shares constantly and always seems to find out about things before everyone else.  I love following Kimberly's posts to learn about new and great ideas.

Melissa Butler was just recently recognized by the Bammy's as the Middle School Teacher of the Year.  She's from New Jersey and is constantly pushing the boundaries on what a classroom could look like.  I love following the many great posts that Melissa puts out that help me grow and think about things differently.

Paul Carver is a middle school teacher in Kansas.  Paul is exploring the many ways that PBL and Makerspaces can work within a classroom.  Paul is always willing to share the things that he's learning and trying with his students.  I absolutely love watching the journey that Paul is on as he figures out how to make PBL and Makerspaces work at his school.

Russ Kahle is a Director of Instructional Technology in Kansas.  Russ is a wealth of information of all things technology and music.  If there's every a technology question that I can't figure out I make sure to check with Russ because of his wealth of information or the fact that he knows where to go if he doesn't know either.

Tamara Letter is a Tech Integrator out of Virgina.  I just love the posts that Tamara shares on how she's helping teachers integrate technology into their classroom.  I feel like I'm learning all the time from the great things that Tamara tweets out.

Felix Jacomino is a Director of Technology in Miami, Florida.  But man Felix is so much more than that. Felix is probably one of the most hardworking and creative people that I know.  He recently organized an INCREDIBLE conference called, Miami Device.  Felix is a wealth of information on all things technology and improving education.  He always seems to be on the cutting edge of what is happening and what is coming in education.  I respect Felix immensely and tell everyone I know to follow him.

A Conference Unlike Any Other, @MiamiDevice

I'm not quite sure how to even put into words what an experience like #MiamiDevice was.

I was contacted a little over a year ago, by Felix Jacomino, to ask me if I would consider being a featured presenter at a brand new conference coming up.  When he told me it was in Miami, I of course said YES!  Little did I know how amazing it would be.

I have been to MANY conferences.  I have been to some really great conferences and some that I didn't enjoy quite as much.  But none compare to Miami Device.

From the moment I boarded my plane in Houston, to the moment I landed back in Houston 4 days later, there was not one negative thing that happened or one thing I would change from the entire time.

I also had the extreme pleasure of bringing one of my best friends, and my campus instructional coach, Aaron Marvel along for the ride.  He had only been to one really small conference before this, so I knew he was going to have his mind blown.

The reason that Miami Device was unlike any other conference I've been to was because of how it was all set up.  There were about only 350 people there, but the caliber of presenters was HUGE!  They had Tony Vincent, Kevin Honeycutt, Wes Fryer, Lisa Johnson, Jeremy Macdonald, Janet Corder, Jed Dearybury, Erin Klein, Brad Waid, Dave Guymon, and soooo many more.  And because the conference was so small you go to interact with people and have these amazing conversations that don't always happen when you're at those larger conferences.

Felix put together more than a conference though.  He put together and experience.  The swag was top notch, the food served for breakfast and lunch was incredible and authentic to the area, he had a Miami band play a show at the end.  He brought in YouTube star Daniel Kim (PopDanthology) and recent Bammy winner, 13 year old Joshua Williams (Joshua's Heart).  I mean he hit the nail on the head in every way with this conference.

I leave with learning so many great tools.  But I also leave with the distinct reminder that without relationship building, these conferences only mean so much.  What does that mean?  I can attend a conference and fill my head with lots of great ideas and tools.  But when I leave a conference like Miami Device, and I've chosen to spend just as much time in conversation with others, my learning increases 10 fold.  I strengthened relationships, built new ones, and learned more in small group and one on one settings than ever before.

I look back at the over 200 photos I snapped while at Miami Device, and I scan back over my countless tweets, and tears are brought to my eyes with wonderful memories.  I can't believe I had dinner with Tony Vincent or Felix Jacomino.  I can't believe I spent my Saturday with Joshua Williams and his mother touring Miami.  I can't believe I got to hang out with my buddies Paul Carver, Russell Kahle, and Jed Dearbury for a few days.  I can't believe Erin Klein, Aaron Marvel and I stumbled upon a fashion show at Miami Beach and got to walk the red carpet!  I can't believe my buddy Aaron Marvel got to experience it all with me.  There are just so many countless experience that will not be soon forgotten.

So to Felix Jacomino, I say thank you.  Thank you for working tirelessly to make this an experience to remember.  Felix is truly one of the most incredible men I've ever met and so hard working.  He put countless hours into Miami Device, and it showed.  It went off without a hitch (at least from the outside looking in haha).  But this conference wouldn't have happened without a man like Felix willing to put the work in.  He brought together a great team that helped him bring this all together.  But most of all Felix worked tirelessly to make sure each and every attendee got taken care of.  He was everywhere.  Thank you Felix, I'm not sure you'll ever understand the impact and mark you left on thousands.  You are incredible.