#OneWord 2018

Embrace failure. Missteps and roadblocks are inevitable but are ultimately an opportunity to learn, pivot, and go after your goals with a new perspective. –Jenny Fleiss

2017 was a hard year for me, and I am hoping that 2018 is a whole lot better. On January 5, 2017 I had a colonoscopy because I was having GI problems, and although my primary care doctor was certain my gallbladder was not functioning, the surgeon refused to take it out until I got the colonoscopy. I had that and an endoscopy performed on the same day.  Some polyps were removed, and I was told to come back in a few weeks to get the results. That was a Thursday. The following Monday I received word that my father who was vacationing in Hawaii had a bleeding mass in his stomach. By the end of the day, we had confirmation that he had stomach cancer. Wow! What a way to start the year. On January 30, I spent eleven hours at Parkridge Hospital in Chattanooga while my dad had 2/3 of his stomach removed. About a month later, he began an aggressive treatment plan that included several rounds of chemotherapy, several rounds of daily radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and more rounds of chemotherapy. He lost nearly 100 pounds during his battle, but thank goodness he is cancer free.

I don’t think that I have ever addressed my childlessness in this blog, but I cannot have children. In 2016, I started the process of becoming a foster parent. State agencies move as fast as pond water, so it took a long time for me to get approved. I got approved right as my dad began his treatments. I decided that I could not devote my attention to my dad and a foster child so I told the agency to put me on hold. That wasn’t a good idea because I was imagining the worst possible outcome for my dad and was driving myself crazy. I realized I needed somebody to take care of so I wouldn’t continue to worry about my dad. On March 27th I got a call asking if I could provide a home for an 8-year-old boy. I immediately said yes. That was the best decision I could have made for myself. My dad was getting the care he needed, and I had someone who needed my attention. For 235 days, I had the opportunity to provide a loving, nurturing home to a child in foster care. While he was with me, we discovered he had some medical issues that needed to be addressed. We did, and then I turned my attention to my own care. Remember the bad gallbladder?  It had progressively gotten worse, so I made plans to have it taken out right after the new year. I didn’t want my foster son to have a crappy holiday season because I was recuperating from surgery.  I had my plan and expected everything would be fine. Not so.  He left right before Thanksgiving. To say that I was devastated is an understatement.  Two weeks later, I was in the back of an ambulance on my way to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t. I was dehydrated, my potassium level was pretty close to non-existent, and my gallbladder had just given up on me. I spent the weekend in the hospital and decided that since the little one was no longer with me, I would move the surgery up. My gallbladder came out on December 13th.  I spent the Christmas holidays recovering although that is not what I wanted.

Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I don’t want a repeat of 2017 because I feel like I couldn’t get my feet on firm ground. Professionally, things weren’t so bad. I did not accomplish everything that I wanted to, but in retrospect, I think I had my hands full. At the beginning of the year, the book I co-authored with 19 other phenomenal educators came out on Amazon. To see my name on the cover of #EduMatch: Snapshot in Education 2016 was a dream come true. In April, I was named the ISTE Edtech Coaches PLN Award Winner for 2017, and in June, after two failed attempts, I was accepted into the Google Innovator Academy as part of the #WDC17 cohort. Getting that email was definitely the high point of my year.

Too many heart wrenching things going on personally. Great things going on professionally. I just couldn’t figure out how to mesh my personal and professional lives. I have been at home since December 13th with lots of time to think. I still don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: I did not accomplish all that I set out to accomplish in 2017, but I will in 2018. How do I know this? I know because I come from a long line of strong people, and we are resilient.  Things were shaky last year for me. That’s not the case in 2018.  What I didn’t do in 2017 will get done in 2018. What will get done in 2018, you ask:

Ernie's STEAM bus multi color

Ernie’s STEAM-tastic Mobile School Bus

This is my Google Innovator Project.  My intention is to renovate a school bus and turn it into a mobile STEAM lab that will travel around our district providing hands on learning for our students and professional development for our teachers. I have a lot of work to do, but I look forward to the challenge.



edumatch publishing As yet to be determined book penned by Leslie R. Fagin 

I have met with my publisher and should have had the first draft of my book done in September. That didn’t happen. I am thinking of changing my initial idea so that I can write about something a little closer to my heart. My publisher and I will be meeting again in a few weeks to discuss the direction of my book.


The completion of my Google Innovator project and my first solo novel will not be the only things I work on during this year. I am on the leadership team for two of the ISTE PLNs – the Digital Storytelling Network and the Edtech Coaches Network. Both PLNs have a lot planned, and I anticipate being very busy. The Edtech Coaches Network is kicking off a book study via Twitter in just a few weeks, and I will moderate several days of the book study. Of course, since I am heavily involved with two PLNs, I will be at the conference in Chicago this June. I love going to ISTE because I am able to make connections, renew acquaintances, and gain so much new knowledge. I must admit though, ISTE 18 will be a little different for me this year. Not since ISTE 14 have I not been a presenter. I was brand spanking new to my job when I attended ISTE in Atlanta. Since then, I submitted proposals for the conference, and presented in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Antonio. In addition, I worked in PLN playgrounds and was a conference volunteer. I was worn out when I came home from San Antonio.  My fellow coach and I asked our boss if we could attend and not present. Thankfully, he agreed. I am looking forward to being able to attend more sessions and actually play in the playgrounds.

In February, I hope to be presenting at the EdTechTeam Southern Summit. I submitted two proposals and hope to hear any day whether or not they were accepted. I love attending their summits because I get to see so many wonderful educators sharing tons of Google goodness.  Our district is moving towards blended learning, so Robin and I will be in Rhode Island at the Blended Learning Conference in April.

So, for Leslie Fagin, AKA The Faginator, my #OneWord is #resilient.  I will bounce back from all that I dealt with last year and keep moving forward. I have to. In an earlier post, I was excited that I was chosen to be a Google Innovator. That means I have a project to finish. I have a book to write. I have teachers to learn with, from, inspire, and collaborate with for the benefit of our students.  We tell our kids to keep pushing through. I have to do the same.




Until Next Time,

autodraw 5-9-2017 (2)



It Takes a Village

Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self.  And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others. –Harriet Goldhor Lerner

20171014_151548_1508009810642It has been 44 days since I stopped being a mother. It has been 44 of the longest and hardest days of my life. Until November 18, 2017, I was a foster parent to a funny, intelligent, curious, precious, and loving 9-year-old boy. On November 17th, the Juvenile Court judge decided he and his siblings could return to their mother. He had been with me for 235 days.  I was totally unprepared and devastated at the thought of no longer having him at home with me. We had gotten into a routine, and I liked that routine. As a matter of fact, I LOVED our routine. I’m not a morning person, but I enjoyed waking him up every day, helping him make his bed, giving him his lunch box, and then our short ride to drop him off at school. I would continue on to work, and then at the end of the day, I would return to the school to pick him up from the after school program. We would go home, he’d ask for a snack even though he had one in the after school program. I would check his agenda, and he would begin working on homework or finishing up what had not been completed in after school. I would cook dinner, and we would sit down at the table together and talk. We talked about all sorts of things and got to know the sweet little boy who captured my heart within the first month of living in my home. After dinner, he would do Prodigy Math or something similar, read for 30 minutes, and then he had time for a little TV.  There were a lot of nights he chose not to watch TV or he would bring his book into my room and sit beside me on my bed and read to me. Before bed, he would shower, and then we would begin our bedtime ritual. Some nights, he would turn back his covers and then come tell me that the Flash had done it. Other nights, I would do it and then lay out the devotion book and Bible we would read from every night. Some nights, we both would read, and other nights I would read, and he would listen. We would take turns praying, talk a little more, and then he would quickly drift off to sleep. On Tuesday nights, we would go to Cub Scouts which he loved! He wasn’t so sure after the first meeting he attended, but he quickly fell in love with spending time with the other boys, his Den Leader, and learning new things. We even went on his first camping trip together.  Weekends were different. Every Saturday I took him to his aunt’s house so he could visit his siblings and his mother. He would come home Saturday evening, we would eat, and then we might play a game or he might watch TV. It just depended on what he wanted to do. Now, I do none of that because he is home with his family.

This post is not about being a foster parent. This post is about what teachers can do to help the children in foster care.  I am an instructional technology coach who just happened to feel called to be a foster parent. I did, and in doing so, I learned an awful lot about the foster care system, and how much the children in care need caring adults to stand in the gap while they are away from their families. These children often move from school to school for whatever reason. When that happens, they often miss instruction because no two teachers are teaching the content the exact same way at the exact same time. When they miss instruction in one school because they are moved to a different school, a learning gap begins to grow and it continues each time they change schools. How often do we stop to think about what is going on with the children in our classes?  How often do we assume that they just don’t know the content and keep moving on figuring they will catch up? They don’t catch up unless someone takes time to stop and teach them what they are missing.  How often do we assume the child doesn’t know the content because they didn’t pay attention in class the previous year? There is a lot we don’t know about the children in our classrooms, and I know that teachers are already working harder than most others, but we cannot afford to let these kids slip through the cracks. They deserve our love and attention in our classrooms just like they need love and attention in their foster homes.

Think about it this way, if these children are not getting the love, nourishment, support, and encouragement at home, where will they get it and what implications does that have on the learning that will take place in your classroom. Foster children often do not want their classmates to know they are in foster care. They feel embarrassed or ashamed because they sometimes think it’s their fault they are in the system in the first place. They also don’t want to be seen as different.  As teachers, we can do something to help them feel less self-conscious about their living situation. If you have a foster child in your classroom, unless they tell their classmates, you should not. It’s not your place.  For some foster children, unfortunately money is an issue because their foster parents are not going to give them money for field trips, book fairs, or anything extra. The state does not do an adequate job of providing financial support for foster parents, so there will be foster children who cannot afford to participate in everything that the class does nor will they be able to bring in goodies for parties.  Don’t make a big deal about what they can’t bring to school. Instead make a big deal about what they offer to the class. Give them positive reinforcement as often as possible.  Hug on them and let them know they matter. However, respect their space. If a child has been abused, they may not trust everyone, and it will take time for them to trust you.  Work with their foster parent, the counselor at your school, and anyone else who can help the child.  Although the child is only in your class for 8 hours a day and may not stay with you the entire school year, they need your love and support every day that they are with you.  My biggest takeaway from being a foster parent is this: treat your foster child just like you would treat your own child. They need normalcy, love, and stability. As trite as it may sound, it really does take a village to raise the children in our classrooms.


Ms. Fagin Went to Washington, Part II

Since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible. –George Washington Carver

I was chosen. Yes. Me. I was chosen. I was chosen to join 36 other educators to go to the mountaintop.  That mountaintop was located on the 9th floor of a nondescript building at 25 Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C.  I had already received an email message telling me that I would be part of the #WDC17 Google Innovator Cohort in June, but to be sitting in a room with the very same people who received the very same congratulatory email message was inspiring.  As a matter of fact, to hear, “We chose you.” from the people in charge of the program sent chills up my spine the very day they said it and still does today.

I am going to digress for a moment. I have mentioned before, I am a middle child. I don’t know how any other middle child feels, but this one feels like there is absolutely nothing special about being the middle child. I wasn’t the first, and I wasn’t the last. I don’t have children, and they each have a son and a daughter.  My grades were better than that of my brother and sister. I graduated from college before both of them and received my Master’s degree before they did, yet I have never felt special. I didn’t feel special the year I was selected Teacher of the Year in 2010 at the school I worked at which also happened to be my alma mater. I think it didn’t help that the principal said that from that point on, meaning after I was TOTY, it would mean something to be Teacher of the Year. It would no longer be a popularity contest, but a testament to the contributions the teacher made to the overall educational setting of the school. Wow? Really? However, for that moment in that room at the Washington, D.C. Google Office, I felt special. I was chosen out of the millions of people who applied (yes, slight exaggerations). Me. Leslie Renee Fagin was chosen to be part of a program that no doubt is going to stretch and push me more than any other thing in my professional career. That’s okay. I am up to the challenge. I hope. I do have some doubts from time to time about how I am going to turn a fully functioning school bus into a mobile STEM or STEAM lab, I am not quite sure, but I do know that I have a support group that stretches across the United States and Canada. For the three days that we were at Google, we talked, laughed, and grew together as a group. We shared our projects, our passions, our challenges, and offered solutions to one another. We shared resources and contacts and just the right amount of constructive criticism needed to keep us going in the right direction.  Now that we are back at home and knee-deep in another school year, we will work on our projects, our day jobs, our hobbies, and our families. We will send messages in our Google Hangout Chat,and we will follow each other via social media. We are a tribe. We are #WDC17. #WeAreInnovators.


This is one of the things I worked on while at the Google Innovator Academy. I laid out plans for what needed to be done, created a prototype, conducted research about my end-user, and received feedback from my fellow Innovators.

Now, back to the experience of being at Google DC. I don’t know if that’s the official name of it or not, but that’s what I am calling it. I used to be an English teacher, so I often take liberties with making up words and names. We had a tour of the Capitol prior to the first session at the Google office. It was my intention to participate, but after sitting on a plane for nearly two hours and trekking across the city to get lunch and then head to the Capitol,  my feet just didn’t cooperate. In 2008, I fell down the Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy and tore my Achilles Tendon. It hasn’t been right since. My first day in DC was painful so I opted to skip the tour and have a fan girl moment with one of our coaches. When we were sent our initial congratulatory letter with Academy details, we were told who the coaches would be. I was impressed with all of them, but secretly I wanted Jennie Magiera to be my coach. I knew I would be good with any of the coaches, but I have been a HUGE fan of Jennie’s since ISTE 2014. As referenced in an earlier post, I was hired for my current position about two weeks before ISTE 2014. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to see that Ashley Judd was going to be the opening keynote on Sunday night. She was good. Jennie Magiera was BETTER. Ashley was a celebrity who was talking to educators about relevant matters. Jennie was/is an educator talking to educators about the lives we lead and the lives we touch. Jennie is in the trenches every single day just like we are. She understands because our lives are similar.  I was so pumped by what she had to say. I knew that at some point in my life I had to meet her. I never imagined that I would be fortunate enough to meet her and have her be my coach during the Google Innovator Academy.  Jennie’s voice was the first I heard at my very first ISTE, and I have not forgotten what she said or how empowered I felt as a brand new instructional technology coach. After spending three days with her and having the opportunity to share my vision with her and get feedback, I remember why I felt so empowered. She is amazing. If by chance the other coaches are reading this, please don’t think that I think you aren’t amazing. You are. I have learned so much from all of you and am thankful for the time spent with each of you. But I think you get it. Jennie was my coach, and I spent most of my time learning from her. She was sympathetic and accommodating when I had issues arise with my foster son and a certain unnamed state child welfare agency, and she was gracious enough to take pictures with me so I could send them home to my foster son. I would like to believe that by placing us in groups with similar project themes, the Innovator program people in charge meant for the people in the groups to connect on a deeper level. The #RebelRousers did just that.  We are forever connected by the times we spent sitting at our table sharing our life experiences, our hopes, our fears, and our visions on how to change education and leave a lasting legacy.


My people. My tribe. My #RebelRousers with our amazing coach Jennie!

Yes, I was chosen. Yes, although I still struggle with the thought, I am special. Regardless of what anyone else thinks or says about me, I am special. Not because I was chosen to go to the Google Innovator Academy. I am special because of who I am, what I have done,  and what I will do. What will my legacy be? At this point in time, I have no idea. I do know that I have worked with children all of my adult life. I probably reached some of them and made a difference in their lives. I am currently working with adults. I know that some appreciate the help I provide with their technology needs. That may be part of my legacy. I have loved my family and friends, and most of the time, they know that. The love and dedication I have for my family will be part of my legacy. My Google Innovator Academy #WDC17 project will most definitely be part of my legacy.

I am still contemplating a name for the project though I know my mother’s name will be tied in somehow. My mother was a para-professional in our district for 15 years before a terminal cancer diagnosis cut short her career. She loved the children she worked with and spent way more time than she got paid for creating opportunities for them – all of them. Especially the ones who needed just a little extra love and attention. When my STEM/STEAM bus is riding around town, I want her name to be visible as part of her legacy. This bus will be for the children in our community – all of them. All of our children have dreams, and we have an obligation to give them a forum to nurture those dreams as well as the opportunity to create, collaborate, critically think, and communicate. This bus will be for the teachers in our district. They crave more although sometimes they are too tired to do more.  Guess what? They do more anyway because that’s what teachers do. They want to give our students every opportunity for success, and they want to be prepared in every way to help them. The bus will also be used for professional development so that our teachers are equipped to help the students. The bus will be for my mother because this is just the kind of thing she would have wanted. She grew up extremely poor and never had anyone to encourage her to think about a better life. Thankfully she married my father, a career Army soldier, so she got a better life. She never forgot where she came from and spent her life-giving back. Lastly, this bus will be for me. I was chosen. I am special. I want to leave a lasting legacy for the children in my community. It’s my community because this is where we moved after my dad retired from the Army. It’s my community because I was educated for the last five years of my school career. It’s my community because this is where I live and work. It’s my community because this is where I choose to make a difference. Every time I go into a school and look at our students, I see so many possibilities. Every night when I put my foster son to bed and we have our nightly chats, I see so many possibilities.  Those possibilities will become a reality as I work through the process of re-purposing the bus and turn my dream into a reality. The work began before I got to the Innovator Academy. I dug a little deeper while in Washington, D. C. It’s time to get to work and get this bus in motion.

I was chosen. I am special. I am preparing my legacy.  That’s what happened when Ms. Fagin Went to Washington. She found herself.


The possibilities are endless. I was chosen. I am special. I found myself.

Until next time…

autodraw 5-9-2017 (2)



#GoogleEI #WDC17 Some of the most amazing educators I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from.



Simple Tips on Keeping Your Educators Happy and Productive!

Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them.  If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.  –Lee Iacocca

It’s that time of year again – the beginning of another school year in districts around the country. Countless teachers are preparing classrooms, drafting unit plans, finishing summer reading lists, and spending lots and lots of money on supplies to make sure their students have all that they need to be successful.  It may be that school is starting in the next week or the next month, but regardless of the start date, there are teachers who anxiously await the beginning of the year.

We started New Teacher Orientation in my district today.  I did not have a part in today’s activities, but as I was working on getting teachers assigned to their classroom cameras, I wondered about the new people who would be joining our district.  Are they fresh out of college and eager to begin their careers as educators?  Are some coming from another district because their previous employer just didn’t measure up to their needs?  Are they moving to the area because of a job transfer for their spouse?  New teachers to my district are probably just like new teachers in the thousands of districts across the country. They want to make a difference, they want to be respected, and they want to be recognized for the hard work they do.  If you are reading this and you are not an educator, please believe me when I say, being a teacher is HARD work.  It is hard emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically.  Teaching is not for the faint-hearted.  If you are an educator, you get what I am saying because you know you have felt the exact same way yet you continue to teach.

Last spring as the school year was wrapping up, I saw many articles on social media about teachers who were good at teaching yet they are leaving the profession in large numbers.  I would read the articles, agree with some points, and wonder why can’t the powers that be understand what we (educators) need?  Yes, we are grown ups with grown up jobs.  We are also just like the students we teach.  Our students need acceptance, recognition, affirmation, encouragement, and perhaps the thing they need the most is to know that somebody is on their side.  When they don’t get those things from us, we lose them, and it’s pretty hard to get them back.  Has anyone ever thought that the same can be said of the teachers who are leaving or have already left?

As the name of this blog implies, I am an instructional technology coach. Before that, I was a classroom teacher.  I also have the credentials to be an administrator although I have not served in that capacity.  If I were an administrator, these are the things I would do for the educators on my campus:

  1. Acknowledge that they are professionals. They may be new to the world of education, but they are indeed professionals. Treat them as such.  If they have an opinion, listen.  Let them try something new.  This world is where it is because someone (okay, a lot of someones) went out on a limb and tried something new.  I am willing to bet that the first day of Ron Clark’s teaching career, he probably did not know that his teaching style would be emulated around the world. Somebody he worked for trusted his professional judgement and look at him now.
  2. Accept them for who they are.  You hired them for a reason.  Let them do their job.  It may not be the way you would do it, but maybe your way isn’t the best way. If their way doesn’t work, talk about it with them and move on.  Isn’t that what we do with our students?  We do not grow without failing from time to time.  Think about it this way.  If they do something their way, and they are successful, both of you look good.  If they fail and learn from their failure because of your help, you will still look good because you were a good enough leader to help them through the experience.  That brings us to the next point…
  3.  Recognize them for a job well done.  Believe you me, I know that schools do not have an endless supply of money to buy gift cards or whatever, but how about standing up in a faculty meeting and giving a few teachers a 100,000 Grand candy bar? A bag doesn’t cost a lot, and the teacher gets recognition in front of their peers. When teachers don’t get recognized for their hard work by the people in charge, they question their worth.  I will be the first to tell you. We don’t get immediate feedback from our students.  They usually have to grow up before they realize all that teachers have done for them.  If you have a staff newsletter, recognize teachers in the newsletter.  Show up in their classroom and do a quick thank you via YouTube Live.  The point is…Do Something! If you don’t do something long enough, you will be hiring more teachers at the end of the school year.
  4. Be on their side.  No, I do not mean that you are supposed to support your teachers when they are obviously violating the law or the Teacher Code of Ethics, but be on their side when they are coming to work to make a difference for the students and teachers on your campus.  When your teachers need you, be there for them.  It’s like being a parent. When your children need you, you are there for them regardless. Do the same for your teachers. You want them to be there for the students.  Give the professionals in your building the same courtesy.  Be there for them. All day.  Every day.

Tomorrow afternoon when I see the many faces of our new teachers in my training sessions, I will hope that they have a great year although it may be filled with a few moments of uncertainty.  Hopefully, they will know that they are appreciated, wanted, respected, and most importantly, part of our family.  I hope the same is true for teachers around the country.  We need good teachers and cannot afford for our good ones to keep leaving to do other jobs.  Our kids deserve the best.  Since our kids deserve the best, why not treat our educators like they are the best?

Until next time…

autodraw 5-9-2017 (2)

Ms. Fagin Goes to Washington, Part I

The innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people seek the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams. — W. Arthur Porter

The first time I applied for the Google Innovator Academy, I really thought that I had a good project idea. However, because of medical issues, I could not fully commit to putting together a top-notch application and video.  The day applications were due was the day I created my video. I had just been at home on medical leave for 4 weeks and not feeling my best. Needless to say, I was rejected. I was disappointed but not much.  I knew what I submitted was not my best work, so I couldn’t really be upset when I received the following email from the Innovator Program Team:

Rejection 1

The second time I applied, I loved my idea. I put together a great video and application. I eagerly awaited hearing back from the Innovator Program Team.  It wasn’t to be. Again. This time I was more than disappointed. I couldn’t figure out why I was not accepted to be part of the Boulder 16 cohort.  I remember watching the Twitter hashtag for the academy, and I was quite jealous. I felt like my time had passed, and I would never be a Google Innovator. I saved the second rejection email. I am not sure why, but I did.

Rejection 2

When I was rejected after the second application, I decided that I would take a break from applying.  I fundamentally believed that there was something wrong with how I was approaching the entire process, and I needed time to regroup. I also thought that there was something fundamentally wrong with me since I could not put together an application packet that was worthy of being accepted.  I would watch the #GoogleEI Twitter feed each time a new cohort was announced.  Each time I would see the congratulatory emails from those accepted, I was reminded of my failure.  I pretty much decided that I would not apply again.  I felt like I could make a difference without the Google Innovator label. Plus, I was tired of getting the email that said, “Sorry, we don’t want you but keep doing what you are doing.” Okay, that’s not what the email said, but that’s how I interpreted the message.

After enough time had passed, and I found other reasons to be proud of my work (I co-authored #Edumatch 16: Snapshot in Education and signed a contract with my publisher to write my next book due next year), I decided that I could try one more time. I am not a quitter, and I could not let myself not try again.  This time I didn’t spend hours trying to find a project. I let my project find me. One evening I was online and saw a bus that had been repurposed into a mobile learning center. At that moment, I knew what I had to do for my next Google Innovator application project.  I am not the instructional technology coach assigned to the elementary schools in my district, but I do visit them from time to time. I also have an eight year old foster son living with me. He loves to tinker with stuff. There are many days that he will go in his room and make things. He then will ask me to come in and play whatever game he has made up.  His games usually involve throwing things and counting things.  When my idea hit me, I knew that we needed a mobile STEM lab in our district.  Our kids need places they can tinker, create, collaborate, critically think, and communicate with one another.  Just like districts around the country, money is an issue.  We cannot put STEM labs in every school, but we can have a bus that travels around the district and expose our students to as many opportunities as possible.

From the moment I had the idea to make a mobile STEM lab, I knew that would be the project that I would do regardless of my status as an Innovator.  I want it for my foster son and the children in our district.  I now know that in my two previous attempts, I was not passionate. I cared, but those projects did not keep me up at night.  This project does. This is the project that I want to complete and share with others around the world.  This project I want to use to train teachers in using STEM in the classroom.  This project will allow me to go from school to school in my district and possibly neighboring districts and watch students be amazed as they create and communicate with students in their classrooms and around the globe.  Yes, they will be able to do Google Hangouts while in the bus.

When putting my project application together, I had to do a slide deck explaining the problem, and how I hoped to solve it.  To complement the slide deck, I had to create a video and upload it to YouTube. I spent a lot of time on both because I wanted my passion to shine so that those judging the applications could see how important this project is to me.  I even went so far as to record my video on a school bus.  I felt that atmosphere would add just the right touch.  As I completed the various parts of the application, I had trusted friends look over it and give me suggestions.  I wanted to make sure that I was not overlooking anything.  The most consistent feedback that I got was to make sure that my project was scalable meaning I needed to make sure that the mobile STEM lab idea is something that can be replicated by others.  Sounds easy enough. Right? I tweaked the application and submitted it.  I will go ahead and tell you that I am not a patient person.  Initially applicants were told that acceptance letters would be sent out on June 4, 2017.  Somewhere along the way, the date got changed to June 6th.  I was tortured every moment of every day as I waited to see if I had finally been accepted to be a Google Innovator.

I began checking my email at 12:01 AM on June 6th.  I checked, rechecked, and checked again. All day long. I watched the Twitter feed. I checked my SPAM folder. I had two training sessions on Google Classroom.  My mind was half on the  training and half on my email.  Still no answer by the end of the work day. My church had Vacation Bible School that week, and I had registered my foster son and my nephew.  Let me apologize to God for what I am about to say.  I have no idea what transpired that evening during VBS.  I was checking email.  At exactly 8:00 PM, my pastor was praying.  I did not have my eyes closed nor was I paying him any attention.  I was scanning my email and saw one from The Google for Education Innovator Program.  Before I clicked on the message, I saw, “Congratulations from the Google for Education Innovator Program Team.”  Although my pastor was praying, my church is not one that is okay with folks screaming out during the prayers.  I had to refrain.  I opened the email and saw what I had been wanting to see for so long:

Innovator Acceptance

I made it!  Finally. I was going to be an Innovator.  I, Leslie R. Fagin, was going to Washington, DC, with 36 other phenomenal educators.  The #WDC17 cohort would be tasked with something similar to our predecessors – be different, be creative, be innovative, be the driving force behind change in our educational system and our communities and our world.

Of course, being selected to attend the Innovator Academy is not the end of my journey.  It’s just the beginning.  Since my intention is to share the process with others so they can replicate it in their districts, I will blog on this site and add videos on my YouTube Channel.  Not long after our acceptance letters were sent out, we received a ton of information about what to expect as well as things that we needed to do prior to our arrival in DC.  I will continue to share my experience as I travel the road to becoming a Google Innovator.  I can’t wait until I get to the Google Office in DC, nor can I wait to see the bus in motion sometime in 2018.  I already have a name for it, and I can’t wait to unveil it at the press conference.  Yes, there will be a press conference.

Stay tuned…

autodraw 5-9-2017 (2)

WDC17 Logo BIG

What to Expect When You’re Attending…ISTE 2017

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success. –Alexander Graham Bell

The highlight of my year begins in about 3 weeks. I passed being excited a long time ago. I was excited last October when I purchased my airline ticket. It became real when I got the hotel reservation confirmation. When I first heard about ISTE, I knew it was a place I had to be. I had no idea how I was going to get there; I just knew I had to be there. My first ISTE was in Atlanta in 2014. I was unprepared. I had just been hired as an instructional technology coach, and I had no idea what to expect. I was a little better in Philadelphia for ISTE 2015. ISTE 2016 in Denver was much better. I plan to totally rock ISTE 2017 in San Antonio!

Make A Plan

Here’s how my colleague Robin Harris and I navigate ISTE. Without a plan, it is very easy to get overwhelmed and miss out on events and opportunities. Since it is such a huge financial investment, having a roadmap helps. We used Google Sheets to create

ISTE 2017 Schedule

My ISTE 2017 Schedule

schedules for ourselves and then we shared with each other. We listed everything we had to do (our presentations, volunteer obligations, and BYOD sessions) and filled in what we wanted to do (sessions, meetups, and exhibit hall time).  We also decide ahead of time what our focus will be for the conference. I am trying to learn more about STEM, and Robin is adding to her blended learning knowledge base. Once we identified our focus, it made it easier to build our conference schedules. Of course, we may change some things once we get to San Antonio, but it sure does take away a lot of anxiety knowing that for the most part, we have planned what we will do.

Limit Your Gadgets

I know. Die hard tech people love their gadgets and travel with as many as possible just in case. Who knows what you will need, and who wants to be unprepared? I have been guilty of taking too much to previous conferences. Every time I do, I regret it. Extra technology means extra scrutiny going through airport security. I understand the need for airport security, but I hate having to pull all of my devices out of my bag. In the past, I have carried a laptop, iPad, a Chromebook, and two cell phones. I used all of the devices but could have made do without some. The last day of the conference when I had to store my luggage, I did not feel comfortable leaving my devices unattended, so I carried everything in my backpack. My back was so not appreciative. I was not appreciative when I was pulled aside for extra screening on the return flight home. I even had to go to a separate area to retrieve my laptop. It’s not worth the hassle. This year I will have the cell phone, the iPad, and the Chromebook. That’s it. I don’t need more.

Protect Your Wallet

Hi, my name is Leslie, and I purchase too many t-shirts. It never fails. I say I won’t, but I do. I buy one or two conference shirts, shirts from the city, and at least one sweatshirt. I also purchase other souvenirs. Why is that bad? Well, for one thing I never have enough room in my suitcase and I also don’t need most of what I buy. I have way more t-shirts than can be worn in my lifetime. Really. Just ask Robin. Save yourself some money. If you want a shirt, go to the exhibit hall and ask. A lot of the vendors have shirts to give away. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Also, you can get a free conference one if you volunteer to help out. I am a Conference Volunteer and will get a cool shirt to add to my collection. Plus I get to talk to other attendees. That’s a win-win for me.

Might I also mention food. ISTE is a conference held at a convention center. Eating at such may require a second mortgage on your home. Seriously, plan ahead so that you don’t spend a lot of money eating at the conference. There will be a free continental breakfast in Exhibit Hall 2-4 on Monday and Tuesday. It’s usually pastries and coffee. Vendors will also have events in which they provide hors d’oeuvres. Find one or two and go. You will no doubt have to listen to a sales pitch, but free food can be worth it.

Being Mobile

The conference itself is huge. You will do a lot of walking in the convention center and outside of the convention center. To help combat foot issues, please wear comfortable shoes and stay hydrated. There will be water stations located throughout the convention center, so you can fill up your water bottle. There will also be a lot of places where you can sit and rest your feet for a bit and talk to other conference attendees. Don’t pass up the opportunity to meet new friends.

How to get around San Antonio? In the last couple of years, I have tried a couple of different options. The first year in Atlanta, I drove my car and parked it at the hotel. My hotel was not on the bus route so I had to take a cab every day. I was concerned about my safety, but my concerns were unfounded. There were other conference attendees staying at my hotel, so I was able to share a cab with someone every day. If you are staying at a hotel not on the bus route, ask around (Twitter, Voxer, ISTE 2017 Network). Somebody else is looking just like you are.

As far as getting to and from the airport, we have done it both ways. In Philadelphia, we took public transportation. It was cheap and gave us a chance to see the city while riding the train to the hotel. In Denver, we split the cost of a cab since there were five of us. It was pretty easy to grab one at the airport on the way into the city, and we had the hotel secure one for us the day we departed. We had a little extra time in Denver that Wednesday after ISTE ended, so we chipped in and rented a car. Robin, Will (our network administrator), and I wanted to go to Rocky Mountain National Park. We only spent about $25.00 each and had time to get out and explore. Make sure to leave some time to see something. I am not sure when I will be back in San Antonio, so I am taking full advantage of the time I have during ISTE.

Get Connected

Even if you are going by yourself, you are not by yourself. I am saying this as a shy person. Talk to someone. Talk to someone else. Keep talking to a new person every single day. Share whaIMG_5410t you do at your job. Ask them what they do. I know it’s hard, but it will be so worth it. I promise you will be glad you did. People talk about the power of the PLN. It’s real. It’s as real as you and me. My go to PLNs are #Edumatch and #ETCoaches. My involvement with Edumatch resulted in my becoming a published author. I did not know any of my fellow authors before I got connected with Edumatch. Now I have a global group of friends that I can go to with any question and get an immediate answer. Working with the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches has given me a group of fellow coaches who constantly push me to do better and be better. We all need someone in our corner who will help bring out the best in us. Having a PLN will help you be better at whatever you are doing. I promise.

I do not profess to be an ISTE expert. I am just someone who has been a few times and wants others to have a good experience. By no means is this list all-inclusive of what you should and should not do while at ISTE. It’s a starting point. If you have questions about anything else, please reach out. I can be found on Twitter, Voxer, or good old-fashioned email leslie.fagin@gscs.org. If you are wandering around the convention center and want to talk to someone, send me a message on Twitter. I would be glad to meet up with you and chat.

One last tip: Have fun!

autodraw 5-9-2017 (2)

GSCS Prize Patrol

17854919_1314958711874420_5046925592392150463_o (1)

Mrs. Amy Brown, staff members from the GSCS Instructional Technology Department,  and her 3rd grade students the day of our announcement!

As a child I dreamed of the day when Ed McMahon would knock on my door with a giant  check from the Publisher’s Clearing House. Once I got a job, I even bought magazines thinking that would increase my chance of winning. I know. I wasted my money on something that was never going to happen for me. All that happened was that I spent money on magazines that I am sure I never read.

I never got a visit from the Prize Patrol, but I recently had the chance to bring joy to someone’s day. At the beginning of the school year, our Instructional Technology Department decided that we wanted to give a teacher in our district the opportunity to attend the ISTE Conference. Going to ISTE is a wonderful opportunity, but the cost of registration, housing, and travel is prohibitive to many teachers.  We knew that by giving one of our teachers the chance to interact with other educational technology enthusiasts that our students would be the real winners. My colleagues, Lonny Harper and Robin Harris, and I sat down and discussed how we wanted to give away a trip to ISTE. We did not want to just give someone a free trip nor did we want to put names in a hat and do a drawing. We strongly felt that if we were going to invest nearly $3,000, we wanted to do it right.  After much discussion, we came up with a plan. We would have a competition, and the winner would be the recipient of the trip to ISTE.

Win a trip to ISTE Application top

In order to maximize our return on investment, we came up with some requirements for the scholarship recipient. Since ISTE is all about effective technology integration, we wanted to make sure that whomever won the contest already had a strong history of effectively using technology in class. We drafted a list of instructional practices that we thought should take place in class and came up with a Google Form for the applicants to fill out. We advertised the contest in our weekly Tuesday Tech Tips newsletter and made announcements during our professional learning training sessions. It was officially announced in October.

Win a trip to ISTE questions 1-3

Win a trip to ISTE questions 4-7

Win a trip to ISTE questions 8-11

Win a trip to ISTE questions 12-13

Not long after we announced the contest, we began to get a lot of interest from our teachers.  They had questions and wanted to schedule time with Robin or me so that they could knock out that requirement.  Having the teachers get excited about the contest was refreshing for both of us. We both know the power of ISTE, but our teachers do not. Knowing that one of our teachers would be at ISTE AND able to mingle with other ed tech enthusiasts AND see student presenters AND explore in some or all of the many playgrounds available at the conference gave us reason to encourage as many teachers as possible to apply. I will admit that I was a little jealous because I remember wanting to attend ISTE when I was a classroom teacher. I knew I could not afford it even when it came to Atlanta in 2014.  Looking back, I suppose I won the jackpot when I got this job because I ended up at ISTE 2014 as a brand new instructional technology coach. Going to and fully taking advantage of opportunities at ISTE can be life-changing for the attendee and the recipients of the shared knowledge.

As word got out about the contest, there were building level administrators who wanted to know if they were eligible. Although we feel that having administrators onboard with technology integration is vital to a successful endeavor, having teachers exposed to the all the educational technology offerings is a better investment for us in the long run. Teachers are the ones who are in the classroom day after day working with our students. They are the ones who need to know what is out there and how best to maximize opportunities for our students. Teachers have the biggest impact on student achievement. Sending a teacher to ISTE is part of our effort to get our teachers exposed and involved with effective technology integration which in turn will enable our students to be global learners with unlimited potential.

The contest ended and our judges had a very hard decision to make. Robin and I did not want to be the ones to make the decision because we are too close to the teachers. We were able to secure outside judges who admitted that it was a close competition, but ultimately they selected Amy Brown the winner of the Win a Trip to ISTE 2017 Competition.  On April 11, 2017, Lonny, Robin, and I paid a visit to Jackson Road Elementary School where Amy is employed as a third grade teacher. In front of her students, co-workers, and administrators, Amy was announced as the winner of the scholarship.  She was quite thrilled to find out that she would be attending the largest educational technology conference in the world.

Not long after the announcement was made, Robin and I sat down with Amy so that we could familiarize her with some tips and tricks to make her first trip to ISTE successful. Robin and I create our own schedule for the conference so that we can fit in as much as possible yet not be overwhelmed. We always share our schedule with the other. We have done that for this year and shared our schedules with Amy. Once school is out, and she has time to breathe, she will make her own and share with us. We also decided to have a shared Google folder to put documents in that will link resources from the conference. Part of winning the trip means that Amy will have to re-deliver to our teachers next school year. Having everything in once place and having a plan means that we won’t waste time replicating what someone else has done. We each have a focus for the conference. Robin is looking at blended learning, I am looking at STEM, and we aren’t yet sure of what Amy is looking at. She’s kind of busy with the end of the school year. Did I mention that she is our current district Teacher of the Year?  She is a phenomenal teacher who engages her students each and every day, so we are quite pleased and anxious to see what she will do with her new-found ISTE knowledge next school year. During ISTE, we will periodically met and share what we’ve learned.  We are also planning to take Amy to the #Edumatch Meet-up  on Sunday so that she can get involved with that awesome group of globally connected educators. Monday’s plan includes the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Meet-up. Amy has indicated that she would like to join our ranks down the road, so we want her to make connections with others in our #edtechvillage.

I hope that we are able to offer this opportunity again. I would also like to see some of our building administrators budget money for one teacher (or more!) to attend ISTE or even the Georgia Educational Technology Conference in November. Our teachers crave professional learning opportunities, so why don’t we give it to them. Stay tuned for more updates once we get Amy to San Antonio!

Until then…

autodraw 5-9-2017 (2)