The Non-Complacent Teacher

Isn’t it interesting how so many teachers are self-proclaimed nerds?  Nerd is a term that recently has become quite trendy.  That has not always been the case.  When I was in middle and high school, I can assure you it was an insult to be called a nerd.  I cringe remembering how in some cases, I did all that I could to avoid that label. However, today I wear the nerd label proudly.  It’s hard work staying on top of research, trends, conferences, and professional literature.  But the end result is so worth it.  Here are some ways I manage to be non-complacent in a career that has spanned over 18 years and will hopefully grow to 30+ years.

Get Connected!

Make sure to make connections to other educators.  Start within your own building.  Find a group of like-minded, positive people that you can learn with and from.   Then, gradually expand to others in your district, state, and across the nation.  One easy way to do this is through social media.  I joined Twitter last year and it has changed my career.  I have connected with educators across the country (and world) that have inspired and taught me how to be a better teacher.  I believe in the power of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).  But you have to go out there and get involved!

IMG_1329Another way to stay on top of trends and research in the education community is to join organizations and subscribe to professional journals.  I love receiving my “Literacy Today” magazine from the International Literacy Association.  After I read them I bring them to school to share with other teachers in my building.  It’s crucial that educators know what is happening outside of the bubble that is their district and state.

Conferences, Camps, and Collaboration…Oh My!

Hopefully you work in a district and/or school that promotes professional development.  If so, take advantage of the conferences around your state or even the nation.

I have a few big tips for attending a conference.  First, go with a team if possible.  I say this because I have attended conferences by myself as well as with a group.  The difference is amazing.  After attending solo, I would come back to my school and be so excited to change the world.  One small problem…I had to spend a lot of time creating buy in from my colleagues because they did not attend the conference, hear inspiring speakers, see the products, or get energized from being around other eager educators.   Attending a conference with a group allows you to split up and attend lots of different sessions and then come back together to collaborate.  On the flip side, you can also attend sessions together that align with your school/district vision and then debrief afterwords.  Plus, when you go with a group, they can hold you accountable for taking action after the conference.

My next tip is the “law of two feet“.  A lot of conferences have you register for specific sessions.  This is awesome because you are guaranteed a seat, you can focus on certain topics, and you can hear a variety of presenters.  However, not all sessions will be a perfect fit for you.  I have gone to presentations that, once in there, I realized I didn’t need that information or it wasn’t relevant for me.  I also have gone to sessions where I didn’t care for the speaker’s presentation style.  So, I used my “two feet” to quietly leave and find a session that did meet my needs.

There are so many great conferences out there.  Here are a few to get you started!

Staff Development for Educators or SDE is one of my favorites.  They offer conferences all over the country.  I have found that they offer a variety of topics, presenters, and locations.

IMG_1331

North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching or NCCAT is a state funded conference available for North Carolina Teachers.  Housing, meals, and conferences are free to teachers.  This is a conference every NC teacher should experience.

IMG_1336 International Society for Technology in Education or ISTE was created by educators in Oregon who asked “what if” questions about how to make teaching and learning more meaningful.  If you can’t afford to go to a national conference, find your state chapter, such as North Carolina Technology in Education Society or NCTIES.

IMG_1332EdCamps are participant driven and such a cool event to attend.  At the beginning of the camp, participants submit questions, ideas, and topics and the organizers of the camp design a schedule.  You can then go to any of the sessions that interest you.  Here is the catch…there are no presenters.  The participants engage in conversation and collaborate.  Most edcamps take place on the weekend and are FREE!  Learn more about them here.

IMG_1333

Professional Literature

My professional library started with all of my education text books from college.  Then, my school began to give me books for professional development and book studies.  Over time, my collection grew.  However, I noticed that they were all books someone else had chosen for me.  I wanted to start adding books that I selected and that helped inspire me in the classroom.  I used to borrow my colleague’s books, but found that I like to annotate the text, add post-it notes, and highlight so I began to buy my own.  Here are a few of my favorite books.

Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros is a game changer.  Couros is also a dynamic public speaker, so if you get the chance to see him, I highly suggest it.

IMG_1330Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is an inspiring book that will help impact student learning in your classroom.  Burgess explains how to engage students in your classroom.

IMG_1334
The Artisan Teacher by Mike Rutherford is a “Field Guide to Skillful Teaching” and helps teachers examine 23 Themes such as Mid-Course Corrections, Time and Timing, and Stagecraft.

Image result for the artisan teacher

 The world of education changes almost daily.  It is easy to get left behind, fall into a rut, and become complacent.  Make sure to find ways to challenge yourself.  Find ways to get inspired and stay inspired.  Get involved in your educational community and become a change agent.  In doing so, you will impact student learning in your classroom, school, district, and even state.

I would love to hear what you do to be a non-complacent teacher.  Leave a comment including your Twitter handle to connect to other educators.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @lsj914 to read other educational posts.

Wonder Woman

Anyone that knows me knew this was bound to happen…the mention of Wonder Woman. She’s my hero. I love Wonder Woman and everything she represents. I have been a fan since 1979 when I was given Wonder Woman Underoos. My parents and big sister still shower me with gifts featuring my hero. Even at 40, I pay homage to her through my Wonder Woman themed laundry room.

img_1040-2
My Wonder Woman Laundry Room

But there is a reason I admire Wonder Woman and it’s not just her fabulous tiara. She’s a superhero. I believe that everyone has the potential to be a superhero, even if just for a moment. This is a thought I remind myself of everyday when faced with a million decisions and more importantly, when faced with educating kids. They need a superhero to teach, guide, understand, and love them.  They need someone to protect them and show them how to be positive.

I also believe that students should see adults look up to people. I want to teach my students that everyone can have a hero to look up to and teach them, even grown ups.  There is no shame in admiring others. In fact, don’t you think it motivates us to be better, to become a better version of ourselves?

I will never forget a student looking at a Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) card on my desk and asking “why do you have a picture of Katy Perry?”  Fast forward 10 years and now students draw Wonder Woman pictures, give me gifts with her picture, and show me their Wonder Woman t-shirts and book bags with pride.  All because they know she is my hero.

329DA72F00000578-3512491-image-a-5_1459174795011
Lynda Carter

So why Wonder Woman? People (students included) ask me this question all the time.  Well, she’s strong, independent, brave, and let’s not forget her phenomenal red boots! These are all qualities I aspire to and hope describe my own character, even the red boots.  Who is your hero? Which inner superhero do you channel?

img_1691
Race Costume ~2015 Krispy Kreme Challenge

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @lsj914 to read more educational posts.

5 Digital Tools You Can Use Tomorrow!

Digital Tools are a hot topic in education. I have noticed that most educators have one of the following reactions when discussing technology:

  1. I don’t have enough devices or computers in my room.
  2. How am I supposed to teach technology skills on top of the curriculum and fit it all in?
  3. It’s too much work. It’ll take too much time to manage.
  4. Bring it on…I can’t wait to try this in my room!

Which category do you fit in?  Are you a tech savvy teacher or an observer on the sidelines?  Well no matter your experience, here is a list of 5 FREE amazing digital tools that are easy to use, manage, and incorporate in your instruction.  Trust me, once you try them, you’ll never go back!

img_1086Plickers is a great way to ease into the digital age. You will need a laptop hooked up to a projector and your smart phone. You write questions on the site, print out code cards for your kids and download the app on your phone or iPad. Students hold up their answer card which you scan and the results are graphed on the screen next to the question.  This is great way to quickly assess students.  I love the idea of using this as an exit ticket.

Pros:

  • Students don’t need a device to participate.
  • Answer cards can be laminated and used over and over.
  • Students love the engagement.
  • Questions are saved on the site and can be used again.

Cons:

  • You have to create a free account and enter all of your students’ first names.
  • You have to facilitate this activity it is not independent.

Recap is easy to set up and super engaging!  The students love this site.  I love this tool because students become producers instead of just consumers of technology.  They make short videos about, well, whatever you ask them to.  You can use Recap on iPads or laptops.  Students love to make videos!  They take this task seriously and you will see their inner teacher shine!

Pros:

  • It’s very engaging.
  • Students can view classmates’ videos as well.
  • Teachers can leave comments on the video.
  • A “reel” is created of your class footage for each assignment.

Cons:

  • You will have to set up a class account.
  • Your students will either need to set up passwords or use a class pin.
  • In order to make a video, students will need access to a device.

QR Codes are versatile and easy to use. You will need to visit a QR code creator site, such as QR Code Generator to create a code. Codes can be created using web addresses, pictures, music, videos and text documents.  Next download a QR code reader app on the device your students will be using. You can affix the codes to cubes, stickers, index cards, or student calendars/ agendas. These codes can be used to communicate directions, assignments, information for parents, and much more!

Pros:

  • It’s FREE! QR Codes can be used over and over.
  • The possibilities for use are endless.

Cons:

  • This takes some prep time to create.
  • Students need a device to use them.

img_1087EdPuzzle is a great way to make an activity interactive for students. Teachers upload a video and insert quizzes, questions, or comments. Students can not continue the video until they complete the activities.  This is also a great way to model and scaffold a concept for students.  This is a great tool to use when you need to be in two places at once. Using EdPuzzle enables you to teach a small group and independent center at the same time.

Pros:

  • This is a free tool.
  • You can upload YouTube videos or make your own.
  • Creating a class account allows you to monitor student work.

Cons: 

  • This process can be time-consuming.

Tackk is an awesome way to flip the classroom or create a blended learning environment. Teachers (or better yet students) can create a Tackk to house videos, documents, and links to other sites and tools. Using a Tackk is a great way to present differentiation and self-paced instruction.  Students can use Tackk in the classroom or from home as well.  Tackk is a great resource for students AND parents.  It’s an easy way for students to review and continue practicing a concept or skill.  Parents can also see what students are learning.

Pros: 

  • It is easy to set up.
  • Students are self paced.
  • Students do not need an account or code to access.
  • Access can be set as public or private.

Cons:

  • There is no way to monitor student progress unless you create links for students to create products.

So which digital tool are you going to PLEARN (play with and learn) and use your classroom? I know jumping in can be scary, but you know what’s even scarier?  Being left behind.  You will be surprised at how easy it is to enhance instruction with technology.  Students are more capable than we give them credit.  They will be so engaged and excited to learn!  Leave a comment and tell me your favorite digital tools.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @lsj914 for more educational posts.

My Tribe

If you have been in education long enough, you know that change is inevitable.  In my 18 years as an educator, I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth several times.  It can be overwhelming and confusing at times to know which philosophy to back or which soap box to stand upon.

With that in mind, I can always, always count on my tribe to guide me.  Merriam-Webster defines tribe as “a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest.”  Every educator needs a tribe.  This is your core group of people that support, challenge, inspire, and listen to you.  You know, your peeps.

Your tribe can consist of people you see everyday, your work spouse, your students, your gurus, and/or former colleagues.  My tribe is all of the above.

I depend heavily on my “work wife.”  She challenges me to be a better educator.  She is my sounding board when I have an idea and a listening ear when I’m frustrated.  On the days she is not at work, I struggle. I’m lucky in the fact that not only is she an amazing teacher and partner, but she is fun to work with.

I am fortunate to work at a school surrounded by some of the hardest working educators in the world.  The teachers, staff, and administrators I work with have one common goal: what’s best for the kids.  Day in and day out…the students come first.  It is because I work with such phenomenal teachers that I come to work everyday with my A game.  I don’t want to let them down. Even though I am the instructional coach, I learn just as much from them.  My administrators and my mentor support me in every way.  They trust my opinion and respect my experiences.  I could not be innovative or take risks without knowing they’ve got my back. They are part of my tribe.

Even though I don’t see them everyday, or near enough for that matter, my former colleagues are still part of my life.  There are certain teachers who have made huge impressions on me.  They taught me how to truly enjoy teaching.  They taught me to slow down and think things through, to look at the other side of the coin.  My supervising teacher while I did my student teaching taught me to leave my class at the end of the day as if a sub was going to walk in and teach the next day.  In other words, clear your desk of piles, have your plans perfect, and be 100% ready to go!  My two best friends in the world are former colleagues of mine and two of the BEST teachers I have ever seen!  They taught me how to love my students like a mama bear.  These educators have gone on to other schools, positions, or retired, but they made an impact on me.  They are my tribe.

I was once asked in an interview who my educational gurus were.  I faltered.  I had a bookshelf full of professional texts and magazines.  I had a read and researched many educators in grad school.  Why couldn’t I name a few in this interview?  Well, you’d better believe I can name them now! Through every phase of my educational career, I have had a professional hero or mentor.  The day I was hired for my first teaching job, I was handed the book “The First 100 Days of School” by Harry Wong.  I read it cover to cover and it still has a place of honor on my bookshelf.  Dr. Jean Feldman helped me teach kindergarten by teaching me to sing and have fun with my students.  When I became a Literacy Specialist, I studied Fontas and Pinnell and taught many kids how to read.  Just this past week, I met George Couros at a conference.  His book “The Innovator’s Mindset” has transformed my leadership style.  They are part of my tribe (and don’t even know who I am!).

Finally, the most important members of my tribe are my students.  They may change year to year, but they will always be my kids.  I’m an educator.  I’m overworked and underpaid.  But I do it for them.  I believe that I can make a difference and I will not fail them.   I’ve heard people say time and time again that teachers make lasting impressions on students.  I agree.  But what often goes unsaid is that students make lasting impressions on their teachers, too.  They are a BIG part of my tribe.

So why have I spent 30 minutes writing a blog post about My Tribe?  Well, my advice to all educators is find a tribe.  Build your tribe.  Surround yourself with people that inspire you and make you a better person.  Who are the members of your tribe?  Have you ever heard the saying “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”?  Well, show me your tribe, and I’ll show you what kind of teacher you are.

Follow me on Twitter @lsj914 and subscribe to this blog to continue reading about Teachable Moments.