If I Were a Wizard

The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. –Gabe Newell

 

If I were a wizard cover

I have been a day dreamer for as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of time as a child dreaming about far away places I’d like to visit, creations I’d like to invent, and people I wanted to emulate. Part of why I was such a day dreamer was because I was an avid reader. I picked up a book and began reading at age 4 and haven’t stopped since. As a child, my mother would have to force me to put down my book and go outside to play. I ruined many a library a book because I often dropped them in the tub. Yes, I read in the bathtub. I read all the time – at school when I should have been working, at church when I should have been listening to the sermon, and even in the bed when I should have been sleeping. Reading is my escape, and I never want to lose that.

This past Friday I had the opportunity to read If I Were a Wizard to two fifth grade classes at Crescent Elementary School in Griffin, Georgia. It was World Read Aloud Day, and I was so excited to be able to share my love of reading with students in our district. I had two copies of Paul Hamilton’s book (I’m not sure why I bought two) so I decided I would read his book to the students. It was the perfect choice although to me it was just a random decision. I had not read the book before, but I realized I was instantly in love with the message not long after I began reading to the first class. If you have not read the book before, I do not want to spoil the plot although I will have to tell you enough to get my point across. The plot of the book is that a teacher asks her class the usual question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The underlying concept is to teach children about coding, but the point of my post is not about coding. Of course she received the usual responses such as a doctor, lawyer, football player, and such. One young man, Ralph, responded with, “I want to be a wizard!” He goes on to tell of the things he would do as a wizard. His wizardry was not the usual hocus pocus type, but more along the lines of helping people to make their lives easier, better, and meaningful. After I finished reading the book, the students and I had a conversation about theme, helping others, and following our dreams. I read the book to the second class and went back to my office with a lot to think about all because of this children’s book.

Part of my deep self-reflection came from the experience reading to our students and part came from the training I attended/coordinated the day before. A number of years ago, I became aware of sketchnoting and saw the wonderful work by many educators including Sylvia Duckworth.  I was fascinated and wanted to try my hand at creating works like hers and many others. I did a significant amount of research (Internet stalking) and found out all I could about how Sylvia sketchnotes (her tools, methods, and anything else I could find). I quickly went out and purchased an iPad and downloaded Procreate. I’ve played around with it and tried to teach myself. I was not quite successful in teaching myself. I kept seeing sketchnotes on social media, at #ISTE, and this year at GaETC, the conference committee had sketchnoters create sketchnotes of the spotlight sessions. I knew that our teachers and students would benefit from learning the art. Many of our students are visual learners, and as educators, we know that we have to meet our students where they are. Teaching them how to connect words, symbols, and images to the content would surely help them retain the information being shared in class. Not only that, but engaging them in creating their own sketchnotes would give those students who are doodlers something to do that is productive and meaningful. Through some luck and  a partnership with our Federal Programs Director, I was able to secure some Title funding to bring Sylvia to our district. Her sessions put a fire into the participants. I’ve never seen anything like it. All day long, our participants were Tweeting,  Facebooking, and talking about how they could implement sketchnoting in their classes. One of my colleagues who attended shared her knowledge with her nine-year old son. He was instantly intrigued by the thought of being able to draw his thoughts and use them to study what his teachers shared in class. That very night, he was practicing what his mother taught him. He even tried to “permanently borrow” her copy of Sylvia’s book. I was able to give him a copy of his own, and he made his mother take him to the store to get his own sketchnoting supplies.

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Friday morning, another participant shared a picture with me via social media. She was already teaching her students how to use sketchnoting. She is a speech language pathologists and is always looking for new ways to engage her students. When I tell you, she was on fire after leaving the training, she was on FIRE!!! Here’s a quick video of her reaction after being trained by Sylvia.

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Photo Credit: @RobinHarris417

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Photo Credit: @RobinHarris417

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I think that although our teachers received a superb training and excellent tools to engage their students, and two classes of fifth grade students had the opportunity to hear a life affirming story, I received confirmation that although sometimes we expect things to go one way, they go the way they are supposed to. I never thought of myself as a wizard, but I am. I help people (teachers and students) find their way and give them the tools to be successful. This past week is the week I needed. I have applied on several different occasions to become an assistant principal. This last time I applied, I did not get an interview. That was like a punch in the gut. I felt like I was ready and would be an asset to any school in our district. I let the rejection bother me for a while. It’s not anymore. I am where I am supposed to be at this time in my career. Will I be an assistant principal later? Who knows? Will I still have the ability to be a wizard and impact lives? Of course. However, at this moment in my career and my life, I am doing what matters. I am making magic for the most important people in our district – our teachers and students. Is there anything more important? What I do know is that I am a wizard and the teachers and students will continue to get the very best wizard that they deserve.

 

Until next time…

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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…

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GSCS Prize Patrol

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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.

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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.

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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…

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