MLK Day

We go to school on MLK day. It never occurred to me, until I worked at this school, that our celebration of MLK day is unusual. We give everyone the day off to do…what? Shop? Sleep? We go to school and spend the day, not in our usual classes, but in diversity workshops, celebrating thought and kindness. I wonder how many other holidays we celebrate wrong in the U.S.?

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Are we teaching the right skills?

I hold a high school degree, a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s Degree, and a Specialist’s degree. I hold countless certifications.

On paper, I meet the educational requirements of most jobs I desire. However, that assumes that those degrees and certifications are teaching the skills the job needs.

I have been out of the classroom for six years now, but this year, I’m going back. I’ll be teaching high school English again in addition to a cutting-edge, Makerspace course at a college preparatory 6-12 grade school. As I prepare to teach ninth grade English, I’m reminiscent of my own schooling. On paper, these students meet the requirements of most major colleges. In the classroom, they excel.

Yet, we continue to have thousands and thousands of jobs in the U.S. that our students are not qualified to fill. And, it isn’t because their paper resumes don’t fit. It’s because they lack the actual skills to do the job.

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review recently about the skills gap that I’ve become familiar with. In the graphic design industry, schools teach the current skills necessary to be successful on the job. They don’t teach the “future” skills because they don’t know them. However, we shouldn’t focus on the actual content skill, but the learning skill necessary to be a successful employee. Why don’t we focus on teaching students how to “learn on the job,” how to search and evaluate? We need to redefine the skills we want students to learn. The major skills employers say students lack? Soft skills. Yes, soft skills, followed by leadership and computing skills.

Not content.

It’s a way of thinking. It’s a way of innovating.

As I prepare to teach The Odyssey to freshmen in a pre-made curriculum, I question what skills we are engineering in students. What is the end goal? What job do we hope this will prepare them for?

Check out this school that is functioning as a business. Students leave with skills – of all kinds – to start work.

I don’t think the education system has failed. I refuse to call it a failure. But, I don’t think it’s working as well as it needs to be.

It’s time to step back and assess where are our jobs? What skills are our students lacking? Do we all need to go to a four-year university? Do all jobs require a four-year university? Is there anything wrong with going to technical school instead of a four-year university?

Right now, I hear speeches on making college free for all, but nothing to change the effectiveness of college. If you went to college, did the four-year university prepare you more for your job than a technical school would have? Where did you learn most? For me, it was on the job. I loved my time at college, but I’m the first to admit that it could have been done in less time (and I even got out in half the time) with more time spent tinkering, exploring, innovating.

What do we need more of in this world? What problems do we need to solve?

That’s what we want to teach.

Jobs are changing fast. I feel it is impossible to keep up with the content changes. But, it is possible to keep up with the learning changes. It is possible to recognize that our students need to learn differently to be successful.

Imagine a world where we could fill the jobs that are open. Imagine the economic boost. Imagine the impact it would have on families, on innovation, on communities.

Education won’t solve it all, but it is certainly a great starting place.

2015-2016 school year re-cap & suggestions

A year ago, I left my job in public school to enter the private sector. I did not know then how different and difficult my year would be.

Due to those difficulties, I made a commitment to myself to write a review of my year to better reflect on my accomplishments and struggles and to help those in a similar situation.

This past school year, I found myself on the verge or at burn-out levels multiple times. And, I’ll admit, I still struggle despite it  being summer. I found myself questioning my effectiveness; questioning my job. Have you felt that way before?

I found myself at levels of disappointment I had not felt since my first year of teaching.

That’s when I realized this was my first year. Though I had more years of experience behind me, this was a new phase. This was a transition. I had taken a leap and now, I was finding my footing.

I am still finding my footing. We are all still finding our footing. And, if you have found it, it’s time to take another leap.

It’s that point of frustration we want to keep our learning an our students’ learning at – that point where you want to quit, but you won’t because you want to see through the journey. In a classroom, we support our students through this. Professionally, it can be isolating. This was my struggle. And, unfortunately, I didn’t realize it until the year was nearly over. So, my goal for 2016-2017 – keep my network of support close. Don’t pull the weight on your own.

I spent a lot of time alone, planning. I did not spend time collaborating. I need collaboration. Again, don’t isolate yourself. Reach out. Don’t be shy.

In my time alone, I had plenty of time to dwell on what wasn’t happening. When things are moving fast, there is little time to focus on the negative and only time to embrace the movement. So, take breaks. Write down your accomplishments. Make note of your successes. And, when all else fails, get up and take a quick walk. Rinse and repeat.

I found myself becoming negative and uninspired. At this moment, take a break and create. Create, create, and create. It will instantly boost your inspiration. And, you might discover a new idea to implement.

I have plenty of fears for this next year, plenty of challenges, and, hopefully, plenty of positive moments.

Next year, I’ll be teaching freshmen English again for the first time in six years and a makerspace course – the first of its kind at my school. I’ll also be continuing my normal job as a technology integration coordinator. My work is cut out for me. I’m excited for the busyness. I’m also nervous and anxious, much like our students are.

This school year, I am going to blog more about my daily experiences rather than just my successes. Writing is therapy. Sharing is therapy. Sharing leads to collaboration and networking.

This year, I started a digital citizenship team that led chapels, parent discussions, and student panels. I also created a makerspace course and helped set up three smaller ones around campus. I also created an infrastructure for change. It’s the last point that is hard to see and believe. I still don’t fully believe it. I’m sure many of us have been here before.

This year was nothing short of a challenge. And, I won’t sugar coat my experiences. However, I won’t let them define me, my job, my school, or my work. Rather, when the challenges get heavier, I will write more and share more.

We are connected. Share your experiences and grow.

What were your experiences this school year? What will you do next school year? What advice do you have to share?

EdTech – is it a "thing"?

This post originally appeared in my Chasing Life’s Lilies Blog.

Last night, I had the privilege of being a panelist for the General Assembly and Teach For America event (EdTech – Taking Stock and Forging Ahead) at Austin’s WeWork Co-working Space.

Prior to attending, we were asked to rate our opinion on five different questions. During the event, the audience was polled on those same questions and we were asked to explain our opinions.

Each time I present or engage in conversation with other educators, I am filled with new questions and arguments. Last night was no exception.

The premise was on EdTech. As the conversation moved forward, it was clear we all have different views of what EdTech is. Is it a business? Is it a way of thinking? Is it a subject? Is it a set of tools? Frankly, I don’t know. And, that’s why I don’t think it should be a “thing.”

In every area, there is the mainstream and there are the innovators. Within education, EdTech were the innovators to me. However, the idea of EdTech is no longer new. It should not be considered another pathway. Rather, it is mainstream, regardless of whether or not it is fully integrated. Though we don’t all have SmartPhones, it would be unusual to say that SmartPhones were not mainstream. EdTech as a pathway is education.

As a business, edtech has been around for a while and will probably continue to be a “thing” for a while. We use technology for our infrastructure and what better name for it than – educational technology.

We do need to get away from the idea that EdTech is tools. Or, maybe it is…If it is, then we need to get away from EdTech. I’ll admit that I’ve been that company girl. I jumped into various company-given certifications immediately, partly because I love a challenge, but also because I was excited about a product. That was five years ago, though. Now, I’m excited about ideas. I believe in ideas, thinking processes, and pedagogy as the means for change. The technology will fit into those thinking processes. Unfortunately, when I attend conferences and when I listen to others, I hear tools mentioned. I don’t see as much on thinking processes. I see limited information on how to change the way we ask students to think. We forget that technology is already there. It continues to change. As it changes, the way we interact with it changes. The way we need to think about it changes. Yet, we continue to teach the same thought processes. This is what we need to focus on.

Companies like Google have created services on some of these thought processes. In fact, Google offers a computational thinking course that is completely free. There are Maker Faires across the globe. There are even maker schools – or design-based schools. These thought processes do exist in schools, but they are limited. Rather than focusing on these processes, we look for tools to fix them.

There is a huge push for computer science in schools. And, I am one of the ones trying to making computer science and STEAM programs available to more students. However, last night, my boyfriend who has a computer science degree and is a Web Developer for a living, told the panel audience that he is not a supporter of making computer science mandatory for all students. Several gasped at the “absurdity” of his statement. His point – not everyone loves it. You could argue that not everyone loves science or English, but they are required to take it. But, instead of making it a separate course – another thing to find time for – integrate the principals of computer science, the thought processes behind it, into other classes. Use computational thinking methods in English; in history. What are the reasons making it mandatory? Can they be solved by integrating it into the curriculum, by changing the way we think?

There is no tool that will solve it all. There, I said it. There is no magic tool. Last night, I brought up my belief that it is the pedagogy that surrounds education that glues it together. So, an audience member asked if there was a tool I’d recommend for easing the demand of teachers in pedagogy. My answer – no. We need to stop looking for tools to fix education. We need to look at educators, parents, students. We need to ask who is making the tools? Are we adopting tools that have been created for us and then, figuring out how to use them in the classroom? Or, are we making solutions for our needs?

This is a hazy area. I’m a Google Ninja (or Google Nerd – probably the latter), but I admit that they are a company. They created a product and I found a way to use it in the classroom. They need educators to survive (GAFE does, at least). Yes, they are responsive to teacher requests, but they are the ones who developed it. Educators fit it into the curriculum. We need to provide more support to grassroots change. The more we ask educators to take a product and fit it into their curriculum, the more we make this about tools and not about people.

My former girls coding club decided they were not satisfied with the girls coding programs around the globe. So, they made their own non-profit and are now providing training to area elementary schools. This is a needs-based edtech company. They have a need and they are providing support for it. One trend is classroom teachers moving out of the classroom to train for edtech companies or start their own. And, while this is needed for the best training, they can also lose relevancy. So, who do we look to – we look to our students. What are the needs they have? Let’s support those needs.

Another audience member brought up a point I’ve noticed after switching to a private school this year. At first, I was shocked by the lack of technology at my private school. I thought they would be in abundance. But, they were not. The focus is different than that of the previous schools I worked at. Disparity in income – disparity in how tech is used. His point – lower-income schools throw a lot more technology at students in a consumption-manner than higher-income students. At first, I disagreed because my private school is lacking in technology. But, after thinking – I believe the difference is not in the tools; it’s in the community. At my current school, many students come from households where the parents are heavily involved in their education. The parents understand the technology and the material their children bring home. In lower-income schools, this is not always the case. Parents may be working more, which makes them less involved. They may also not know how to use technology in creative ways. Most students have access to a SmartPhone at home – regardless of income – but in lower-income homes, the devices are used in a consumption manner far more frequently. Therefore, when those students enter school, they are lacking the creative thinking that goes with those devices. This is the backbone of the disparity. We need to find more ways to support communities.

So, is EdTech a “thing”? What is it? Our communities have advanced enough to where EdTech is just education. We are not all there yet, for sure. However, that doesn’t mean that it is not education. Even though we have not all caught up, there is no denying that it is not a necessary part of the education umbrella. So, rather than treating it as separate, let’s accept it. Let’s change our way of thinking. Let’s work on the pedagogy and focus on humans.

#YourEduStory: Avoiding teacher burnout…brown out

Since there is not a topic for this week, I’m skipping to next week: How do you cope with the stress of being an educator? What do you do to avoid “teacher burnout”?

I first learned of burnout when I was ten. Yes, ten. I’m like many other teachers in that I invest all I have into the projects I’m interested in. However, if you deplete all of your fuel on one task, you don’t have it for others. You also need to make time to refuel. I know this. I think most of know this. Yet, avoiding burning out is something I face yearly. And, I’m not alone. The spring wears on us. If we depleted our energy earlier in the year, we are left running on fumes for the remainder of the year. Every year, I say I’m not going to feel the “burn,” but I do. 
I am not an expert, but I am a work in progress. Burning out is a reality I have to understand. It’s a reality I know I will always deal with. However, it’s a reality I can change my perceptions of. I can change how I react to the feelings of burnout I encounter. This is not how you avoid burnout. It’s how you cope with burnout. 
Despite our best efforts, most of us will feel the effects of burnout at some point. We will be faced with how to cope with the feelings – not how to avoid it. 
Three years ago, everything was coming together in my career. I felt I was on fire (burnout often comes after feeling like you’re on fire). I was at a relatively new job. I was helping teachers and students in ways I had only imagined before. I had organized a community-wide lib dub. I was in the beginning phase of planning a 500+ attendee conference the following fall. I applied and was accepted into the Google Teacher Academy. I presented at ISTE for the first time. I started several student clubs, including an elementary robotics team. Yes, I was on fire. 
But, by the next year, reality set in. The fire cooled. Things were normal. It’s the normalcy after the extraordinary that starts my burnout. It’s easy to invest everything into something when it is excelling. When it slows down, it is harder. It drains you. You aren’t achieving the high you once felt. 
This is how my burnout starts. I know this. I recognize this. How does yours begin?
Since that point two years ago, I have had pockets of “fire,” and pockets of “burnout.” I understand I won’t avoid these feelings, but I can change how I deal with these feelings. 
Last year, I started my snapshot diaries in an effort to capture a moment that…captures me each day. I also started a five year journal that challenges me to write and reflect for a few minutes each day. 
When I would feel burnout, I would crave art, writing, exercise, and nature. The more I’d feel burnout, the more I’d crave those things. So, in challenging myself to reflect each way, I was able to keep tabs on my mental health. Does it stop me from burnout out? No. But, it does help me deal with it in a positive way. 
I also made an effort to devote two nights a week to my art projects – no exceptions. Art is something that makes me feel alive. However, it’s also something that I don’t always get to do. So, I made time for it. 
This year, I’m challenging myself to finish what I started. When I feel accomplished, I feel stronger and more apt to cope with negative feelings. In finishing what I start, I also want to spend less – and use more of what I have. This is a challenge we should all take. You feel lighter. 
I don’t know if I can avoid burnout, but I can cope with those feelings. I will always devote  200% of my energy into tasks. And, when they are on fire, I’ll feed off of those feelings. When they slow down, I’ll feed off of those feelings. I can, though, give time each day to reflect to improve my mental health, work on art projects to further my creativity, and accomplish what I set out to achieve to feel stronger. 
I can outnumber my feelings of burnout with feelings of strength, creativity, and wisdom. 
I heard the term brown out the first time last year and it fits the burnout I experience deeply. It’s pockets of brown and pockets of excitement. Many of us never crash to the point of burning out, but we do hit low pockets that can be difficult to rise from. This is my greatest fear – of being stuck in a brown out – surviving, but not thriving. 
Focus on the feelings that make you, you. Nurture those feelings. With these feelings, you can cope with the negative feelings of burnout and brown out.  

I hate "technology"

Oftentimes, I’m asked to help teachers integrate “technology” into their curriculum and, the older I get, the more it makes me cringe.

  1. First, I ask: What do you call “technology?” Are you referring to anything electronic? New technology? What is technology to you?
  2. Why do they need to integrate the so-called “technology?”
  3. And, what purpose will the “technology” serve?
  4. What impact will the technology have?

I’ve been asked this question so many times by administrators and those who are excited to create change that it begins to repel the very teachers we want to change. They begin to see it for what the question is – adding something to the classroom for the sake of adding something.

So, I’ve started something called the “windmill” answer. I choose windmills because they seem absurd, but they get the point across. When windmills were first invented, they were new technology. However, it would sound ridiculous to ask a teacher to figure out how to integrate this windmill into their classroom. We did not force windmills into each classroom, but we did bring in the thought and the science behind windmills into classrooms and workplaces.

I hate “technology” when we call it the tool – when we call it the windmill. What we need to integrate into classrooms is the thought behind the technology tools. And, we must remember, that everything was a “technology at one time.” Technology – as I call it – are the ideas behind tools, not the tools themselves. We must distinguish. Bringing in one device for every student will certainly help some matters, but it will not revolutionize schools. The ideas behind those devices – the ability to collaborate, communicate globally, create, and think critically – will. It’s the soft skills we want. It’s the soft skills that will revolutionize the world.

And, why do they need to integrate “technology?” Well, I’d argue that teachers do not need to focus on integrating technology when it is tool. However, the way many systems ask teachers to integrate technology infuriates the very teachers we want to change. We continue to drill that teachers must integrate technology, but we don’t clarify what technology is. Perhaps, that is because the idea of integrating technology is still a blurry concept.

When pencils and paper first were put into use, we did not ask users to integrate them. Rather, they began to use them because they served a purpose. They were tools and we used the tools because they were more efficient. Likewise, what we call technology today should also be used because of efficiency or productivity. If it is not being used, we need to question why. Is it because it is not as efficient or because we have not shown users its efficiency?

Teachers need to implement the ideas that revolutionize. The tools will come as they become more efficient. Our push should not necessarily be on getting more devices in the classroom (though, it certainly needs to happen), but on changing thought. The devices will come.

We must ask what purpose technology (as a tool) will serve. If we can’t define the purpose, it needs to be questioned. When I first started teaching, I had a SmartBoard. I loved the SmartBoard. However, a few years later when I was a tech director, I was asked to help train on Promethean boards – the same concept – and I struggled to answer “why.” At that time, there were other tools – more efficient tools – that the district was already using. It became a tool that I had to sell. I don’t sell tools. I share ideas. Be sure you don’t find yourself selling a tool. If you do, let the tool rest.

We need to also ask what impact technology will have. I have a debate with my parents oftentimes about what skills still need to be taught in schools. At one time, we needed to know how to make fires from scratch. We need to know how to hunt; to gather. Though, you could argue that those are always essential skills, they are not a requirement of schools anymore. Instead, we know efficient ways to complete those skills and then, make advancements. We invented the freezer so now, we can hunt and gather less frequently.

There is fear of many – I find myself there at times too – to let go of teaching some knowledge in the fear that it will somehow tarnish a memory or generational tie. It will change us. That is for sure. However, it can also advance us. If a student knows how to find an answer quicker than someone can recall it, is that a bad thing? What can we do to challenge this student to invent the freezer, to take that skill further? When thinking of knowledge, think of the freezer – think of what can be done to innovate with it.

Yes, I am an instructional technology specialist and I hate technology but I love innovation. I love the ideas behind technology. I enjoy technology as a consumer, but as a producer, I want to create. I want to innovate. I want to learn the ideas behind technology so I can be a producer and a maker too.

Let’s become makers and not just consumers.