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?

#YourEduStory: Brown-out: it’s a real thing

This week’s #youredustory topic: what’s your biggest challenge as an educator? As a person?

I purposely wrote this topic because we often forget one another’s struggles. We become observed in our own struggles. We hide our own challenges. We don’t post the full picture.

So, this week is a chance to be authentic and to provide support for those in your educator community or greater community.

Last year, I read an article about brownout and I instantly connected with it. It’s something many of us have or have experienced it in the past. You may even know someone who’s dealt with it.

For me, the realization was embarrassing. And, I felt alone in that feeling.

I was still the same self I knew – I worked hard and I would not settle for failure. Sure, I’d fail. But, I’d never let that be my resting place. When I admitted I was suffering from brownout, I felt like I was quitting; like I wasn’t giving my  best effort. And, I was embarrassed by that. I was comparing what was really happening with my views of how I should be behaving. And, that’s a hard comparison to hold.

I found myself trying to compete with everyone and everything. It was less about learning and more about competing. And, after a while, that is overwhelming. I came home and continued to work. I never unplugged.

There is no one way to suffer from brownout. For me, I didn’t give up my other loves. I felt more compelled than ever to continue them. In fact, I felt stressed to make sure I found time for them. If I didn’t have time to paint, I felt stressed. If I didn’t have time to visit my family, I felt stressed. If I had to do work when I got home, I felt stressed. I felt I couldn’t escape being stressed.

Brownout can be about the job, but it’s usually something larger. For me, it was a reminder that I have many ambitions that I want to pursue. And, that is my stress-er. My own drive for success has the potential to drive me to brownout.

And, it did. I can’t pinpoint a particular day, but I know the time when I stopped feeling joy from the things that I did to make me happy.

At the time, I felt alone in my struggles. As an active sharer and participant on Google + and Twitter, I was sucked into the “echo chamber.” I only saw the great things everyone else was doing or trying to do. I wanted to do it all as well, but yet, struggled to find the joy I found on their social media faces. I found that, while we are great at sharing ideas, we struggle in sharing our struggles.

It wasn’t until I read a blog from The Nerdy Teacher, who opened up about his depression, that I realized other successful educators have struggles. It wasn’t until I opened up about my own frustrations that I found others – many others – who shared in my journey.

We ask students to reflect on their online self vs. their real self, but, as educators, we do not always do this. I looked at my online self and realized others would never know I struggled with brownout. So, here I am – sharing and hoping others will too.

I also recognize that my personality is prone to brownout. I’m ambitions. I’m competitive. I want to learn more. I want to do more. I want to be more. But, at the end of the day, that can be stressing. It can also be taking work home and letting it consume your time. And, this is the number one factor leading to brownout. For me, I have to continuously check myself. It will never be as simple as “don’t do too much.” But, it is possible. And I also recognize that many highly successful people have these same qualities. It’s what drives you and burns you.

So, I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on your online self. Who are you? Do you represent the real you? Do you find yourself competing with others online? Do you want to try everything?

While these qualities make use better, they also can lead us to brownout.

Think…do you (from “Are You Suffering From Brownout“:

  • Work long hours, but without any real interest in your job? Is work a dull slog and does it lack intellectual challenge or stimulation.
  • Feel as if you never really finish tasks? There’s always more to do.
  • No longer know where your career is going?
  • Pour cold water on other people’s ideas?
  • Use any excuse not to show up? A headache becomes a migraine and a cold is always flu.
  • Check emails when you get up in the morning and in bed before you to sleep? Glued to your Smartphone? 
  • Feel out of shape, eat junk food, lack sleep?
  • Feel you’ve lost your sense of humor and tend towards passive aggressiveness and surliness. 
  • Come home late to watch TV and show little interest in your spouse and children? Friendships have withered on the vine and outside interests have been forgotten.
  • Feel you’re boss is moody and unpredictable (though you don’t hate your boss)? You never know whether they’ll like or hate a given piece of work.

When I answered these questions, I found myself answering “yes” to many. I felt like I never finished any tasks. In many ways, I still do. So, this year, I’ve made a goal to finish what I started – this includes all of the crafts, cleaning, etc. And, you know what? I feel accomplished in that. I finished a quilt I started four years earlier. Not only did I feel accomplished, but I spent time doing an activity I enjoyed. A win-win.

If you found yourself answering “yes” to any of the questions or if you feel exhausted right now (let’s face it – who doesn’t?) My advice to you:

  1. Be a full person online. You don’t have to share every personal struggle. However, you should represent both sides to your story. For instance, if you share that you did an awesome maker unit, share where that unit fits into the larger picture. What challenges did you face along the way? What challenges do you still face? I know I’m guilty of this as well – especially in my personal life. We see the highlights. 
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others online. Remember – you  see the highlights so don’t live the highlight reel. Use what you see and read as inspiration but remember that you are only seeing a slice of their story. Keep yourself grounded in those around you.
  3. Remember what you value and don’t lose sight of it. At the end of a hard day, it can be exhausting and difficult to be positive to those around you. And, that’s okay. But, don’t forget what you value. Make time for it. Schedule it if you need to, but don’t miss out. And, if finding time for it is stressing you, reevaluate your tasks and priorities. What are you doing that you can drop?
  4. Leave your Smartphone and devices behind. This one is very challenging for me. I’m in the edtech industry (or whatever we want to call it now)! But, the phone becomes a clutch. I find myself checking my emails when I first wake up and before I close my eyes at night. I find myself feeling anxiety over notifications. I find myself using it to avoid awkward social situations – to get out of having to have a real conversation. It gets more attention than some I love the most. Don’t love your Smartphone. Use it as a tool to spend more time with those you love. It’s that distinction that makes all the difference. 
  5. Exercise. Those who know me probably think this is easy for me to say because I do workout excessively. I know this. But, I love it. The more difficult the workout, the happier I am. You don’t have to be a workout nut like me to exercise. The point is you should make time for it each day. This is not only because it is essential to health, but because it is rejuvenating. I started taking short walks outside periodically throughout the day and, gradually, it made me look forward to each day a little more (especially when I find myself dreading the coming days).
I spend a lot of time teaching digital citizenship to tweens and teens, but not enough to my peers. We need to support one another – especially in the area of showing our authentic selves. 
Be authentic. Be you. Be okay with you. 

#YourEduStory: The importance of citizenship

This week’s topic: Why do all students need to be digital citizens?

I’d change this to say “why do all students need to be citizens?” Whether you are on a digital or traditional platform, citizenship still applies. When the term digital citizenship is used, other educators assume it is the job of “tech” teachers to instruct. However, that could not be further from the truth. It’s everyone’s job just as general citizenship is everyone’s job. 
I am responsible for digital citizenship (along with the librarians) for digital citizenship. And, while I love the task, I know it’s more than our jobs – it’s everyone’s job. So, when we talk about digital citizenship, we need to be careful to reinforce the idea that everyone is part of it. The word “digitial” to some implies that it is for those of us who are digitally inclined (and I could write a separate blog on how we are all so-inclined.)
At my school, I started a digital citizenship focus group (yes, I know I hate the preface word) run by several teachers. Together, we created a Website for all staff to use. We have held (holding) two masses – one in the fall and one in the spring – for all students on how to be positive citizens. The lessons focus not on what NOT to do, but on what TO do. In April, we are organizing a chapel with three student speakers to present on their online presences. We want to highlight examples of how other students are using the online platform to do good. 
We want all students to be citizens because we want all students to make an impact. Every impact spreads. 
Digital citizenship is citizenship. By withholding devices or refusing to teach with devices, we are not showing students who to be positive citizens. Instead, we are only showing them what not to do. 
I watch as my brother and sister-in-law hand iPads and Kindles to my 3-year old niece. From an early age, she is figuring out how to make use of technology. We are not showing her. Rather, she is figuring it out in a way that she feels benefits her. But, what about creation? We only show consumption of technology. Children watch videos, listen to music, and play games. Where and when are they creating? This is part of being a citizen – a productive, creating member of society. 
We need all entities in students’ lives focused on providing opportunities for creation. When your child or student complains about something missing, have you helped them design a solution? Have you helped them use technology in a way that makes a difference? 
It’s not just important for our students to be positive citizens, but it’s important for us to. I can count very few of my colleagues who are using technology in a meaningful and impactful way both in the personal & professional lives. We need to model this use. We can’t be afraid of it. 
What will you do to make an impact? How will you make a difference? I started a blog last year, the Snapshot Diaries, to focus on the moments each day that I’m thankful for. It’s small, but it’s meaningful and it holds me accountable. It’s okay to start small. Just start.

#YourEduStory: Favorite Edu quotation

This week’s topic: What is your favorite quotation about educaton and what does it mean to you?

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” ― E.E. Cummings

On my last day of student teaching, another teacher sent this quote my way. It’s stuck with me over 10 years later. It’s a quote I’ve shared with my students and it’s a quote I try to live by. It’s also a quote that represents education. 
Within my current field in education, there is a push to keep up with the latest trends. This is what drives us to improve education, but it is also what divides us. When I go to conferences, check Google + and Twitter, I am hit with a desire to try everything I see. I want to do it. I want to be it. This drives me to improve, but also makes me compare myself to those I should use to better myself. It also makes me lose sight of who I am what I can bring. 
As educators, most of us what to improve. Within the edtech/innovation sector, we are competitive. We drive each other to improve. But, we can also drive others to burn out. I speak from experience. You can only “keep up with the Jones” for so long until you lose some of the passion that set you on your journey. So, I remind myself of this quote to keep myself grounded. I remind myself of what my passion is. 
We need to use our network to build us up and contribute to our network with our own unique passions. We don’t need to do it all. That’s what the “world” is for. However, we do need to find what makes us, us. We need to thrive in this. We need to wear it with pride. 
This quote has changed its purpose throughout my educational career, but it is what grounds me. It’s a reminder that we each have a role to way – one that is unique to us. 
What quote – educational or not – empowers you?

#YourEduStory: Growing in a role

This week’s topic: How have you been stretched this year in your role? How has this been a blessing?

In many ways, this year has been easy – too easy. And, the ease is what has stretched me. This year has been the most challenging for me – yet the the most easy – since my first year of teaching. And, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the challenges. However, perhaps, it’s time to look at the blessings. 
Over the past few years, I’ve coined myself a Google Ninja. I was an Edmodo rockstar. I was a flipped classroom superstar. The one thing in common – these are tools (with the exception of one). I was a tool expert. When I started my current role, I realized that did not mean anything to them. Since my job no longer entailed fixing things, being an expert in tools was not a badge of honor. Instead, I had to redefine myself.. 
I’ve become someone passionate about getting girls involved in STEAM/STEM and bring Maker Ed to the classrooms. This year, I’ve refined my focus. I’ve learned it’s better to be passionate about one area than stretch myself in all areas. That’s what my network is for – to rely on for support. 
I’ve tried many programs this year. I’ve held coffee chats, after school EdCamps, coding clubs, tech clubs, Maker Nights, Family Coding Nights and so much more, many of which were either poorly attended or not attended at all. This year has been a test of my resiliency. It’s worn me down and it’s built me up. 
I feel a different educator than I was a year ago. This year has stripped me of many things, but it’s also refined my focus. For that, I am thankful. 
Last year, I was overwhelmed by being involved in too many things. This year, while I have tried a ton of things, I am not involved in a ton of things. Rather, I’m focusing on one larger objective: education. I’ve found my passion not in tools, but in bridging the gender gap in STEM through the maker movement. I’ve been able to spend time creating again. I’ve made quilts. I’ve painted. I’ve learned to play the Ukulele. I’ve taken baking classes. I’ve stretched myself creatively. 
And, I’ve remembered my base – my creativity. It’s reminded me to bring creativity into what I do. And, I’ve found I can best to that through maker programs. 
This year has been a testament to my work ethic and to my determination. It’s been challenging in ways I still cannot put into words. It’s torn down what I thought I stood for. In it’s place, though, it’s refined me as an educator. It’s allowed me to achieve balance again. It’s given me time for creativity. 
Despite reminding myself of this year’s challenges, I’m am thankful for the balance and creativity that have been restored. Without balance, we cannot persevere. We cannot make the impact we are capable of. 
What blessings have you found this year through your challenges?

#YourEduStory: #pln appreciation

This week’s topic: PLN Appreciation Week — Say “thanks” to a member (or members) of your Professional Learning Network for inspiring, encouraging, and helping make you a better educator.

You are only as successful as your network. You can only be an “expert” in so many areas. In fact, you don’t need to be an expert in any area if you are at least an expert in finding the solution. Being able to communicate and collaborate are two of the most important skills in my field. It changes routinely. The job demands are broad. It’s not plausible to be a connoisseur of all things. So, it becomes about how you can search; how you can network. 
This year has been a testament to that. I’m at a new school in a position that did not exist until I assumed it, at a school where I do not have a network. In the past, my reliance was on my network was based around information – information I could use to help my staff and students. This year, though, it has been about support and inspiration. 
We all need a PLN. And, the more diverse the better. 
I follow some to get inspiration and to keep me up to date. I follow others for encouragement. And, others – to find answers. 
My fellow GEG Texas cohort members remind me of the joy to collaborate. Though all very busy, when we collaborate, ideas flow and I am encouraged again. ( +Kasey Bell , +Kelly Fitzgerald , +Christy Cate , +Brandie Cain , +Ann Witherspoon )
My fellow GTACHI 13 alums are my inspiration to being a better educator. I thought I was doing awesome and then, I met them. I was reminded how much I can still grow and should develop. Every time I feel complacent, they challenge me to grow and evolve. 
My EdTech Women Austin co-organizers are great for encouragement. They are supportive. They are hard working. They are my work away from work. ( +Tracy Clark , +Leslie Barrett , +Lacy Bartlett )
And, the many voices on Twitter and Google + keep me energized. Some days, I rely even more heavily on them. 
Who do you appreciate? What does your PLN do for you? What do you do for your PLN?

#YourEduStory – bring #gafe to your school

This week’s topic: Google tools in Education – how do you bring extra functionality and open your students eyes up to the possibilities using Google Core Tools?

As a disclaimer – I’ve been a Google Certified Trainer for over four years and a heavy Google Apps users since the tools first entered schools. So, I’m a bit biased. 
That said, I think it’s about more than bringing GAFE to your school. It’s about bringing the 4Cs to your school (communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking). 
I used to shun Office 365 and all that it stood for. And, while I’m still loyal to GAFE, I no longer shun it. Within education, we express loyalty to different companies rather than loyalty to the ideas behind those companies. What I missed was my loyalty to creativity; my loyalty to collaboration; to critical thinking; to communication. 
So, over the past year, I’ve tried to steer away from the possibilities with Google’s core tools. Instead, I’ve moved toward the possibilities with innovative pedagogy. The tools don’t have to be Google. While Google has many tools that fit a more innovative pedagogy, it is not the only one. There are Spheros, Ollies, drones, Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, Makey Makeys, and so many more tools that engage students in innovation. 
The goals is never – how do I fit this tool into my class? It’s how can this subject best be learned? And, sometimes, that involves integrating a tool. That tool may be a GAFE tool. It may be robotics. 
For my students and teachers, I want them to think about innovation and problems before they think about tools. When they think about those concepts, the tools will follow. 

#YourEduStory: 5 things you most love about education jobs

This week’s topic: What 5 things do you love most about your job in education? (for the love of Valentine’s Day)

For everything I love about education and my job in education, it can also be a deterrent to others. 
I think there can be a difference among how you view your role in education, your actual role, and what you want your role to be. I know I face this conflict often. 
I view my role as something important, which generates my passion. However, I have to convince others of its importance frequently. And, at other times, I find myself thinking of what my role should be, but isn’t due to constraints on budgets, mindsets, and more. 
So, in thinking about what I love, I have to separate those three “jobs” because all are very different. It’s the difference in those that can lead to brownout or burnout. It’s also what can create immense growth. 
I’ve divided my five loves into my actual roles – the one I think I have, my actual one, and the one I think I should have.
My actual role:
  • I can create anything. The sky is the limit in terms of creation.
  • I can oversee change
How I view my role:
  • I can make change
What I think my role should be:
  • I can learn all day
  • I can be flexible
Some of the loves cross, but many don’t. It’s a helpful reflection piece to think about what we want out of our jobs. 
What are your loves?

#YourEduStory: Empowering student voice

This week’s topic: Empowering student voice: how to foster an environment in education to empower students voice, freedom and expression?

In my current role, I don’t feel I have as great of an impact on student voice. However, I believe maker education is one solution. But, this also involves us restructuring education. 

The idea that we are creators – we are makers – is behind maker education. It’s paired heavily with design thinking. Unfortunately, though, I have sat through design thinking workshops and, often, the focus is on the verb and not the process. This is not to say that design thinking is not beneficial, but, it should be about the process, not the words. 
Recently, I sat through a workshop on the “making of a makerspace.” The presenters tried to go through the design thinking process, but in the event, they killed all creativity and freedom of expression. 
Personally, I am at my most expressive and most creative when I am allowed to experiment and then, refine my work – not the other way around. Often, we ask students to go through the refinement before they’ve ever had the chance to create. 
As a former high school English teacher, I know the importance of storyboarding and brainstorming. But, to a point. In education, we tend to stifle creativity during this step if we are not careful. Sometimes, it’s best to get our hands dirty and then, clean up after. The focus should be on refining the process and documenting the process as we go through it – not on going through a written process and then, creating it. 
We can empower student voice when we give them the chance to create and to experiment before asking them for deeper meaning. Learning comes in playing. I watch my three-year old niece. She learns everyday through play. She learns through other measures, no doubt, but the basis of her learning is in play. 
For me, I learn and feel most free when I can create outside. For others, they like a more structured space. We need to focus on metacognition. We need to ask students to reflect on their own learning and thinking – when do they feel most creative? Then, we need to do our best to provide a similar space. We can empower students in giving them voice in their learning space.
Once we open up the creative bowl, we provide immediate access to student voice. 
The key to empowerment is through creativity and play. 
How do you empower student voice?