Better Than Last Year…My Hope

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better.  By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”  — Coach John Wooden

Baseball is my favorite sport. Okay, maybe it is my co-favorite sport. I also love swimming. I can’t swim, but I love watching it, and I loved my time as the coach of the Griffin High Swim Team – the Bearacudas. I can, however, play ball. I played on my very first organized ball team when I was in the second grade. My team was the Yankees, and I haveyankees been a fan of the New York Yankees ever since. I only played baseball for one year. The next year, girls were not allowed to play baseball. I made the All Star Team, and there were many dads who had issue with the fact that their sons lost their spots to girls. I played softball from that point on and did well. I always made the All Star Team each year I played. When it wasn’t ball season, I played baseball with the other kids in the neighborhood. We played during the summer, in the fall, after school, and even in the evenings when our dads got home from work. Baseball was my life. I collected baseball cards and spent many nights watching the Yankees on TV. I thought I knew everything there was to know about baseball. In reality, I knew very little. I knew about the game, but I didn’t know the game.

As an adult, I coached a 9-10 year old girls softball team. In two seasons, we won three games. I could give lots of reasons why we didn’t win more games, but that won’t change the fact that I was not a good softball coach. I did not focus on what I needed to do to get better as a coach. I spent a lot of time trying to make the girls better. I never looked at what I needed to do. My team probably would have had better seasons if I had worked on being a better coach. I am not sure if I will ever take on coaching a youth sports team again, but if I do, I know what I will do differently.

As an instructional technology coach, I am always thinking about how to do things differently. My how to do things differently project for this year is that I am doing a one on one coaching project with one of the teachers in my district. She teaches middle school social studies and science. I am a bit nervous because I have not taught science before. I am certified to teach middle school social studies although I never have. Science is totally new to me. I am stretching my wings which is a good thing because I am going to be asking my teacher to do the same. I expect to see a lot of growth for both of us between now and the end of the year.

We met for the first time this week. We spent an hour discussing how she is currently doing things in her classroom. We talked about data collection, assessment types, class content, digital resources available, and digital citizenship.  Our initial plan is for me to come to her c and spend a day observing her teach. I want to see how she is currently integrating technology.  I have an observation form that I will use each time I conduct a walkthrough in any of the classrooms in the schools in which I work.  I have looked at 6th grade science and social studies standards, and she sent me her lesson plans and curriculum maps. Prior to our first meeting, I set up a Google Classroom and put several tech-coaching-projectresources in it.  I also included a short video on SAMR, a graphic with a variety of Google Google Tools that can be used in her class, and several questions for her to answer to get her to start reflecting on her practice of integrating technology.  Google Classroom is going to be the method that we use to house resources and communicate with one another. One of the resources I shared with her was a self assessment on SAMR. Right now, she is saying that most of her tech integration falls within the augmentation stage.  Our goal is to get her to more of the modification activities.

I will spend an entire day with her classes next week. I will record the day’s activities so that we can review the positives and the not so positives during our next planning session.  All of our classrooms are equipped with cameras and sound systems so that teachers can record lessons and share them with their colleagues. We want teachers to be able to grow as professionals and one way they can do that is by reflecting on what works and what does not work. Working collaboratively with others gives them the chance to get feedback and suggestions. I will use the recordings from our time together to help both of us grow. Also, the recordings will be artifacts for my coaching portfolio.  Next week promises to be full of new opportunities for both of us. I will be back in the classroom helping a colleague and at the same time, I will be learning how I can be a better coach. I anticipate having a winning season.


A Card and a Hug

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and the soul of a child.”

Teachers are accustomed to not getting all the recognition we think we deserve or for that matter need.  We work, work, work, and work and oftentimes do what others consider impossible or not worthwhile. We do it because that’s what we are called to do.  However, it is nice to know that we are appreciated.  I am just like my educator colleagues.  I want someone to acknowledge what I have done.  I don’t want a parade down Taylor Street or anything like that, but some recognition would be nice.  After a lot of deep reflection, I realized that being appreciated by my students means a lot more than being recognized by the adults in the building.  Don’t get me wrong, I am truly grateful to those who voted me Teacher of the Year in 2010, but in the long run, who is really going to remember that?  I have a couple of plaques and a ring, and I have the remembrance of being speechless after my named was called for the honor, but what will carry me through the rest of my career?  Will it be the plaque and rings or will it be something else?

0913140911a (1)Surprisingly enough, it is the something else that will carry me through the days when I need a little push so I can continue to do God’s work.  I spent eleven years in the classroom, and for eleven years I knew there were students who no matter how hard I tried, I could not make a connection.  I suppose that some just didn’t get my charm.  Perhaps they didn’t like my teaching methods, or just maybe, they didn’t like me.  I hate to admit that I am bothered by the fact that I care whether or not the kids liked me.  I did and still do although I’m not teaching anymore.  In the few months since I have not been a teacher, I have been thinking a lot about being a teacher.  Why?  I don’t know.  I think I have been thinking a lot about teaching because of the card I carry in my purse.  There are a lot of things in my purse, but the card is special.  It is special because it was given to me by one of those kids I thought I was not reaching.  I taught her for three years, and each year she would tell me she wanted to be in my class the next year.  I did not believe her words.  I thought she was just saying it because kids will tell a teacher anything if they think it will help their grade.  They don’t realize that their grade is just that, THEIR grade.  I don’t randomly give grades because kids say nice things to me.

It was the end of the school year, and a lot was going on.  I was trying to get my kids ready for the End of Course Test, finish grading research papers, and hold on to my sanity.  It had been a tough year, and I was ready for summer.  The day I received the card was a normal day.  I had been speaking to the principal while in the faculty dining room.  Whe0913140912n we came out, we ran into the student and her father.  They were looking for the principal; however, she had also been looking for me.  She handed me the card, thanked me, and hugged me.  I was floored.  She had not been my student in a year although she would speak whenever she saw me.  The principal took her and her father to his office so they could speak.  I stopped in the hall and read the card.  It brought tears to my eyes.  In the time it took me to read the card, I realized I was wrong.  She didn’t dislike me, and I HAD gotten through to her.  Her words meant more to me than the Teacher of the Year plaques and the ring.  Why?  Because a student told me, Leslie Fagin, that I mattered to her and she thanked me.  She didn’t have to give me the card.  I doubt her parents told her to do so.  She did it on her own.

I carry the card in my purse as a reminder.  When I reach in to get money or medicine or even a snack, I feel the envelope, and I remember.  I remember that I mattered to at least one.  As far as accomplishments go, mattering to the students is more important than anything else.  I doubt people realize that about me.  I always cared about my students regardless of what they thought or what others said.  They mattered to me, and I suppose, for some, I mattered.

Am I Connected?

“Success seems to be connected with action.  Successful people keep moving.  They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” Conrad Hilton

Although I have been teaching for eleven years, I’ll be honest and admit that this year is the first time I’ve really heard about Connected Educators Month.  I suppose I was too busy trying to keep my head above water with everything that goes on in the life of a super busy educator.  Now that I’ve heard about it, I find myself questioning my connections.  Am I connected to my students? My fellow educators? My family? Myself?  All of these entities are important to my success as a teacher, family member, and person.

Perhaps my deeper connections are not what’s meant by the concept of Connected Educators Month, but I am going to dig deeper.  I want to know that what I am doing is enough for my students, my colleagues, my family, and of course, myself.  In my never ending quest to be a lifelong learner, I have become much more of a Twitter user.  As such, I’ve tweeted more in the professional sense than in the personal sense.  I have two accounts, and my school one is getting more use than my personal account.  I want to reach out to my students, their families, and my fellow educators both in my community and across the globe. I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to say that I am a genius or anything close, but I do feel that I have a lot of knowledge to share.  I also believe that I can learn from others, including my students, colleagues, family members, and friends.

My journey to be a connected educator is probably not unlike that of other educators.  I want to use the technology resources that are available to me to make learning more relevant to my students.  I want my students to be cognizant of colleges, universities, military branches, technical schools, jobs, and apprenticeships.  I want my students to know that they will have to make some choices about their lives after graduation.  Life is really not at all like the Game of  Life I played as a young girl.  I did not get to spin a spinner, pick college or career, and go from there.  It’s a little more complicated.  Life just happens to us, and I want to give my students the tools to be successful.  Technology can be one of those tools.  Right now, I am using Twitter to connect with my students.  I tweet assignments, announcements, motivational quotes, requests for information, college updates, and other school related events.  I’ve noticed that I get re-tweeted when I say that I am somewhere, and I see the students.  They want to know that I like the Band of Gold.  They like knowing that I’ve been to a community parade and snapped photos of the JROTC Drill Team.  They really liked it when I said my college band was not nearly as good as our high school band. Not only do they want us connected, they want us involved.  Twitter, Remind101, and Facebook allows me to be both connected and involved.

I want a give and take collaborative effort with my colleagues.  If I do this alone, I can hardly call myself a connected educator, can I?  As with my students, I want to be connected with my colleagues in my building, district, state, nation, and the world.  I firmly believe that we can all learn from each other, and I want to use social media to bridge the gap.  My new interest has been participating in Twitter chats.  I’m new to it, and not very good, but I do like lurking during the conversations.  I actually jumped in and tweeted a few times in my last chat.  I found that there are people out there who struggle with the same issues I do, and some even asked my advice.  I liked being asked questions.  I am at a point in my career where I want to know that I am still gaining useful skills that are shareable.  The students in my class require some of my knowledge, but I don’t always have a forum to share knowledge with adults outside of my immediate building.  Social media is giving me that avenue.  I admit.  I like it.  I like it a lot. I want to be connected with others who are in the same boat I am. We need each other, and events like Connected Educators Month are a stepping stone.

As I’ve pondered my connections with family and friends, I’ve realized that like my students, they need involvement.  I use social media to see pictures of my family and to share news, but the important stuff is revealed through face-to-face or phone-to-phone conversations.  Social media has its place, and I am old school enough to believe that I cannot be an effective family member of friend if I limit my contact with my people by only using social media, we are all missing out.  I cannot connect with my students using Twitter or Remind101 exclusively.  I cannot do the same with my family.  One of the questions that was asked during my Twitter chat the other night made me recall one of my favorite teachers.  I told the chat participants that he was caring, challenging, and determined to not let me quit. Students need teachers like that.  They need teachers like that who are connected to them so that they feel connected to the school.  This is my opinion, and my opinion only, but I believe some of our students drop out because they are not connected.  They are not connected to their classmates, teachers, schools, and sadly, their parents.

I know, this is supposed to be about Connected Educators Month.  It is.  It’s about an educator who is trying to maintain connections with those she comes in contact with on a somewhat regular basis.  Yes, some are about technology, but some are about life.  It’s those life connections that keep the students involved and coming back, and those students are why we are there in the first place.