Thursday, March 20, 2014

Barcelona and Beyond!

I am incredibly fortunate to have experienced my third Microsoft in Education Global Forum event in Barcelona, Spain, last week. Being able to gather with peers, education policy leaders and innovative school leaders from around the world has a direct impact not only on me but also on my students.

There are so many outstanding moments and learning experiences crammed into this amazing event that it is difficult to articulate succinctly the full effect it has on me as an educator. One of the most challenging aspects of the conference for me was the Learn-a-thon activity. I was teamed with three other teachers from Spain, the Czech Republic and Costa Rica. We were charged with developing a learning experience for our students with a central focus of poverty, gender equality or sustainability.

The process required me to employ the same 21st Century skills that I demand of my students daily: communication, collaboration, perseverance, flexibility and productivity. Initially we were excited to get to know each other’s strengths and interests and learn about our respective roles at school, but as we tried to reach consensus about the direction and content of our project, frustration levels grew due to language barriers.

It was a fantastic opportunity for me to walk in my students shoes and be reminded of the difficulties they face every day working in teams, and implement the strategies I teach them to overcome barriers and be successful. And ultimately we were successful because we found common ground: we were all passionate and invested in the project, we appreciated and utilized the diverse talents we brought to the table and we were motivated to do the best job we could. There were moments of struggle and tussle, and moments of joy and laughter and in the end we walked away feeling good about our work. More importantly we walked away as friends.

Therein lays the key to what makes the Microsoft Global Forum so powerful. It’s about bringing like-minded people together to talk and share and learn from and with each other. My personal learning network grows exponentially and I return to school supercharged with energy and ideas and the knowledge that I have a web of colleagues who I can turn to for advice and support, encouragement and inspiration. It’s about connecting and empowering people who want to make a difference in the lives of their students.

My only wish is that my students could be there with me. They also deserve to experience the exhilaration of being around like-minded peers, to share and learn and grow from collaborative learning experiences with students from all over the globe. They need to be uplifted by expert presenters and gain sustenance from building meaningful, authentic global relationships. My desire to somehow make this happen has filled me with a new sense of purpose, and I am thrilled that I can immediately start making progress towards achieving my new goal.

I am beyond excited that my students have been invited to Skype into the We Day event in Seattle tomorrow. We Day brings together students from around the nation who aspire to make a positive change in the world. Participation is earned through service and my students will be sharing the work they have done this year with Project Cope. Every time I watch the We Day video I am overwhelmed with emotion as the purpose is to empower students to redefine what is possible.

I am hopeful that the experience tomorrow will prove to my students that by working together, they can make the world a better place.
   I am hopeful that Skyping into the event is the first step towards my students attending the event in person next year so that they too can experience for themselves the power of gathering with peers, leaders and policy makers. I am determined to provide them with the opportunity to experience their own Barcelona!
                                      Image Courtesy of Partners in Learning Network

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Family

I was so excited today when my sister called to let me know that she has booked an apartment for us to share in Barcelona, Spain, in March. It’s been a long time since I got to visit with my sister, nephew and brother-in-law and it’s so important for not only me, but my own children to spend time with family: the people who love and support you, laugh and cry with you, inspire you to be the best version of yourself, and ultimately let you know that you matter.

I am fortunate enough to be visiting Barcelona at the invitation of Microsoft. As a member of the Microsoft Expert Educator Program I will be attending the Education Global Forum event. The Microsoft in Education Global Forum recognizes and celebrates the achievements of educators who are preparing students for life in the 21st century. Each year, the Microsoft in Education Global Forum brings together participants from more than 700 of the world’s most innovative educators, school leaders, and education leaders from 75 countries. Unbelievably, this will be my third time attending and I cannot express my gratitude enough.

The event provides me with the opportunity to participate in cutting edge professional development activities, learn about new and up and coming technologies, hear lectures from industry experts from around the globe, and study schools that are developing sustainable models for system change. Most importantly, it provides me with the opportunity to share and learn from my peers from every corner of the earth. Over the last three years I have developed relationships with teachers who inspire and teach me every day. They have become my family: the people who love and support me, laugh and cry with me, inspire me to be the best version of myself, and ultimately let me know that I matter. Being a member of the Partners in Learning family has not only transformed my teaching but also helped my students gain a deeper understanding of their role as global citizens.

Before I joined the PIL Network, it was difficult to find a classroom to reach out and connect with. Now, when my students need help or support, have questions or are curious to learn a new perspective, it is easy for me to look to my PIL family and find a classroom to visit. The world has been opened up to my students and we are able to Skype with classrooms in my PIL family on a weekly basis. Through these interactions they are learning to build creative, intuitive, trusting and collaborative relationships with others. Their communication and collaboration skills are growing exponentially and they are becoming more caring and thoughtful citizens, inspired to change the world. They are growing in their own global family.

The trip to Barcelona will be inspirational and restorative for me both personally and professionally. The time I spend with my families will sustain and uplift me for the following year, enabling me to be a better parent and teacher. I encourage all educators to join the Partners in Learning Network, to connect with people who will enrich both yours and your students’ lives. In doing so, you will become a member of very special global family.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Empathy

There is much educational “noise” about learning for the 21st century and the need for U.S. schools to prepare our students to compete on an international level. Talk of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is predominant, along with project/passion based learning and innovative teaching design. Many educators are making great strides in these areas but in order for them to achieve optimum success, to truly forge the global citizens we hope our students will become, it is critical that we include empathy on the list of key 21st century skills.


Empathy enables us to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. Educators are increasingly challenging students to identify real world problems and develop creative solutions to those problems but how can they do that effectively if they have no empathy for the end user? Unless we help students build creative, intuitive, trusting and collaborative relationships with others, their solutions will based upon their own perceptions of what the end user needs, not what they actually do need. Empathy enables students to integrate other people's perspectives with their own. It is the ability to identify with others; it forms bonds, develops leadership, and brings about a level of self-awareness that helps us find meaning and purpose in our lives.

So where do we begin? With active listening. Active listening is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying, but more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent. If we can learn to actively listen we leave little room for assumption, interpretation or doubt. If we can learn to remove distractions and fully focus on the speaker we will be more able to listen to content and match the verbal and non-verbal clues to understand both the content and the emotion of the person’s message. We can suspend our own frame of reference, avoid judgment and let the speaker know that they are being heard and understood.

I am fortunate enough to have a school counselor who was willing to come and teach my students and me a lesson on active listening. We all learned so much, particularly about how to create an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding. We witnessed first-hand how a speaker is more likely to be open and honest with you if he knows he is speaking to an empathetic, active listener. And that’s powerful.

I believe my job as an educator is about helping young people to become effective human beings and rounded individuals, able to make a positive contribution throughout their lives. It is about preparing them for their role in society, to be able to know and manage themselves. But doesn't that begin with me? To help my students make the necessary leap of imagination needed to walk in someone else’s shoes I need to learn how to do it too. Building empathy is my own personal goal this year, it’s the goal I have for my students, and it is my wish for everyone.

If we could all develop empathy for each other, for our students and colleagues, family and friends and for those we have yet to meet, wouldn't our world to be a happier, loving and more unified place? Empathy helps us to see and understand how others may be struggling. This can inspire us to develop solutions or a commitment to help. We are more likely to become more caring and thoughtful citizens, and this is how we change the world.

Friday, December 20, 2013

I Own my Own Brain Again!

I owe the title of this post to Sean Wheeler who wrote this on his Facebook Page. I love blogging, it helps me process and it bothers me that it has been so long since I've written a post. I have started at least ten pieces since October but never been able to complete them and Sean totally nailed why not-I haven’t owned my own brain for months.

I think that is the one notion that non educators often fail to understand or grasp. When you spend all day with kids, kids who you love and encourage to be innovative and creative you lose yourself in the process of helping them find themselves. I am by nature an introvert, I love to read, to write, to watch a good movie and noise distracts me. Yet I spend my days amidst crazy awesome noise and I love it, I encourage it, I wallow in it. I hear stories; sad stories, funny stories, inspiring stories, stories that tell me so much about the lives of my kids and help me better understand and serve them. I hear ideas; ideas about how we can learn, about what we can learn, about how we can change the world together. I hear curiosity, anxiety, enthusiasm, frustration, pride, disappointment, joy, grief, nonsense, genius! I hear questions about…everything. The cacophony batters and sustains me.

When somebody asks me during the day why I haven’t read or responded to an email it’s a clear indication to me that they have no clue what I do. I don’t sit in a quiet office, I don’t meet in a calm conference room with peers, I don’t eat lunch sitting down and I don’t go to the bathroom when the need arises. I swim in a turbulent sea of sound and between the hours of 8 am and 4 pm I am trained and employed to listen to it, hear it, feel it, and respond to it.

I received the most wonderful gift today, a beautiful hand knitted blanket and a message that restores my faith in the fact that some people truly do understand what we do: This blanket represents what you have given our children for the last four years; Love ,Warmth and Kindness.

Tonight the noise has subsided; I can own my own brain for the next two weeks. I’m looking forward to spending time making noise with my own family, snuggling up in my new blanket and relishing in my own thoughts so that I can be rested and prepared to embrace the thoughts of my amazing students in 2014.Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Digital Citizenship


As technology becomes ubiquitous in many classrooms, teachers are utilizing their tools to inspire students to become engaged learners and responsible, inspiring citizens. Having access to resources from around the globe, our students can connect, communicate and collaborate with peers, experts and leaders from across the globe. These are indeed exciting times for educators, but with these new opportunities comes the added responsibility of teaching our students about digital citizenship.

As soon as students log in in to the internet, open an email account, download an application, they have become digital citizens and we shouldn't assume that our digital natives have all the necessary skills and knowledge about how to behave online. In order to get the best out of the internet we need to teach our students how to become secure ethical users, capable of making appropriate decisions that empower them to make a positive contribution. Fortunately, there is a growing collection of resources available to guide us.

The Digital Citizen website provides students, parents and teachers with a variety of excellent games, videos and activities to promote online safety. An infographic on the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning site would stimulate a great discussion with students about the components of digital citizenship. For more videos and articles to help kids make the most of social media visit Common Sense Media. Teacher favorites include Brainpop, Edudemic, TeachThought and Edutopia. But I believe the best resources can be found in our own classrooms.

Kids will make mistakes; it’s a fact. No educator ever wants to hear the words, “The Secret Service would like to interview you right now.” I have. Being a resident alien I immediately assumed I had unwittingly committed some awful crime against the state and quaked in my boots as I headed for my interrogation…I mean…interview. Instead, it was in regard to one of my students who had made a poor choice online. As mistakes go, it was truly a doozy. It could have been dealt with surreptitiously, it could have been swept quietly under the carpet but it provided too much of a powerful learning opportunity. By sharing the mistakes they have made with their peers, and the lessons they have subsequently learned, students become the ultimate teachers of digital citizenship.

As educators, students and parents we are all exploring unfamiliar territory. We have new collective responsibilities as we experience the excitement of being a part of a global online community. Teaching digital citizenship is critical. Take the time to talk to your students about their online activities, explore the many resources available to you, and most importantly embrace mistakes and turn them into significant teachable moments.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Goosebumps!


I noticed today that I have a totally involuntary body reaction to a very specific situation. I literally get goose bumps when I am in the presence of somebody who lets their genius out! That happened at least twenty times today during my Sciracy class.

Sciracy class aims to promote scientific literacy, or the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity. Sciracy is a neologism created by my students because it rhymes with piracy- and they like pirates! Students learn to ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences, and to describe, explain, and articulate their thoughts about the world around them. During Sciracy, I want students to synthesize their learning and challenge them to generate creative solutions to real world problems.

Our current focus in Sciracy is Project Cope, a lofty mission they have embarked on to eradicate poverty in rural Zambia, and boy did they let their genius out today! An untrained eye would see chaos, commotion and tumult if they were to peek into this class. A trained eye would see project based learning in full flow. Students are on iPhones, iTouches desktops, laptops and tablets. Hammers are swinging, debates are raging, kids are on the phone, on tables, on the floor, but most importantly they on task. Having decided to take up the challenge to raise $12,000 for a two wheel tractor, they were on fire today generating ideas for fundraising. Students were making jewelry from used gift cards they have collected from local businesses. Others were calling the organizers of an upcoming local event to secure a table, some were busy writing an E-book they plan to publish and sell. Flyers and brochures were being made, letters calling for sponsorship from local businesses were being written, video interviews were being uploaded to the You Tube Channel the kids created, and genius was spilling out all over the room.

“Can I ask my pen pal in Japan to get her school to do a fundraiser?”

“Can we contact the organizer of the Birmingham Halloween Parade to see if we can join in?”

“Can we research how to make Project Cope tax exempt?”

“Can we set up a Project Cope Instagram account?”

“Can we Tweet about Project Cope?”

“Can I create a Project Cope App?”

And it goes on: Idea after idea after idea. The energy and enthusiasm is exhausting; my head spins and I can barely breathe, let alone keep up. So why do I do it? Because it makes my flesh bump!

While I often think this might just be the class that kills me, it’s also the class the makes me feel most alive. It’s the class that makes me believe I am fulfilling my calling to be a teacher. Project based learning can be hairy and scary. It requires a teacher to relinquish control, to go with the creative flow, to not know all the answers, to become a partner in learning. It’s organic and messy and so worthwhile because it empowers our kids to let their genius out.


 If the thought of embarking on PBL is too daunting, dip your toe in; invite your students to get involved in Project Cope. Ask them how they could contribute, how they would solve this problem, how they can make a difference. Then just sit back and listen and be prepared to get your goosebump on!


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I'm Grateful

As a teacher mom the first day of school can be cause for much anxiety. Not being able to walk my own children into their classrooms on their first day I worry that I have prepared them well and that they are confident and happy entering school. Being on the other end of that equation for 54 students I worry that they all leave school on the first day feeling confident and happy to return the next day.

Today the mom in me was particularly anxious as my daughter was starting in a new district in a new school knowing absolutely nobody. She has always attended school in my district and the decision to leave and return to home district has been a tortuous one because she has had such a good academic experience there. The tipping point for my 6th grade daughter was ultimately a social one. She has missed out on many after school play dates and forming those close relationships that are so important at this stage in her development. I am so proud of her for being able to articulate her thoughts and feelings and for being courageous enough to make the ultimate leap. It didn't stop me being worried sick about her today! While she put on a brave face I knew she was anxious and our parting this morning included an extra tight and lingering hug.

My little guy was oblivious to my concerns for him until we actually reached school this morning. After an unusually quite drive to school with no bickering due to the absence of his sister he began to realize for the first time that things were going to be different this year. As we approached Kids Club he told me he felt strange and nervous. The lack of big sister’s presence to guide and reassure him suddenly dawned. He didn't know where his new classroom was, he was going to be left alone to face his first day and once again, I was so proud of my child’s ability to deal with change. We checked out his classroom, shared the burden of his school supplies and walked a little slower to his destination. I was somewhat reassured that he was okay when he refused to hug me, but still my heart ached as I left.

Shifting gears into teacher mode didn't distract me as much as it usually does today. As an anxious mom I became acutely aware of the enormity of my role in welcoming and settling in my own students. Every greeting, every direction, every word was given through the lens of my own children’s eyes and anxieties. Seeing both sides of the coin I think is one of the greatest advantages of being a teacher mom.

I couldn't wait to reconnect with my own two kids at the end of the day and was thrilled to be met with bubbling tales of a great day. This evening was spent listening to every detail and, awash with relief, thank you notes were penned to both of their teachers. Tonight I feel so proud that my own two kids are growing independent and strong, and tremendously grateful that they have spent the day with amazing educators who have made them feel welcome and safe and excited to learn. I can only hope that my students are as enthusiastic about day two
.