The Other Teacher Conferences

I LOVE professional learning!  Seriously.  I always have…even the boring sessions.  When I was a college student working as a beauty adviser for Aveda, I remember being so entranced by the fancy training sessions held in the meeting or conference rooms of a semi-swanky Atlanta hotel.  The materials, the knowledge, and the new friends all put a smile on my face.  It is no mystery to me these days of how I have ended up in my role as Digital Transformation Coach.  Learning from others, training others, traveling around and collaborating with my classroom colleagues is not too far removed from learning how to sell the Spring eyeshadow collection made from “pure plants and minerals.” The only difference is that the “product” is education, and that now I vacillate between the role of the travelling session facilitator and that of the student.  When I attend conferences, I relish the opportunity to become a student again.

Not only are conferences great for learning from others outside of your geographical community, but they also offer great opportunities to network with other educators.  I often find inspiration from the sessions presented.  The ideas or projects presented might not be what I wish to recreate in my District, but they may set off a spark in my brain of a divergent idea.

Conferences and professional learning summits/forums/symposiums also work like a great professional carrot on the stick of self-advancement.  If you are looking to expand your skill set and augment your resume’, conferences also offer you the opportunity to travel and build upon your credibility and influence within the education field.  If this is something of interest to you, go for it!

From personal experience, I have found that it helps to start small if you wish to become a presenter.  Attend local EdCamps (or plan one!), fellow Georgians of mine reach out to your RESA to see if they need someone to serve as a presenter, or even present to your colleagues at your school during Professional Learning sessions.  No matter what, keep your eyes open for presentation opportunities.  Yes, you may fail.  We all stumble at times.  But as we would tell our students, that is where learning occurs. Remember, mastery comes from the repetition of picking ourselves up and plowing forward.

Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year, I have been grateful to have either present at or attend the Georgia STEM Forum (Athens, Georgia), GaETC (Atlanta, Georgia), and SXSWedu (Austin, Texas).  I would have loved to have attended ASCD, which was here in Atlanta the weekend before our Spring Break, but unfortunately, already had plans.  That is quite alright though.  I was able to attend last year and was so excited to have had the opportunity to get my brain juices going.  More importantly, some of my colleagues attended and you better believe that I will be picking their brains to see what they learned.

In the next few posts I will be sharing some of my more specific observations, thoughts, and general notes that I gathered from the conferences I have been able to attend.  Hopefully you will find these as inspirational as did I.  If so, I would love to hear how they got your brain juices going.

Until next time…

Ms. W.

Collaborating on Professional Learning: Digital Tools

I know it has been a little over a month since my last post and as one of my professional resolutions, I resolve to uphold a regular posting schedule…again.  I was great about regular posts when I was in the classroom, but have fumbled around with what to say since I left the classroom.  Interestingly enough, I have more to say now, and just need to own up to it and make it happen.  So, I also resolve to follow through with unfinished posts (and various sundry projects as well).  To paraphrase Seth Godin in Poke the Box, not finishing a task doesn’t count as “shipping” (or delivering/presenting your work) and if you don’t “ship” you can’t succeed or fail.  Seth Godin is a huge proponent of failure as a means toward deeper, reflective learning.  As an educator, so am I.  It is about time that I take my own advice and just put stuff out there…good stuff of course, but there is no sense in having a bunch of ideas that never see the light of day.

In keeping with this resolution, below is a post I started some months ago (as in September 2015 to be exact…yes, I know I am running on super-slow island girl time here).  Hopefully some of these resources will be useful to you, your student(s), or your teammates.


Ms. W.

This past fall, I paired up with Wenona, one of our CCSD Title I Academic Coaches to deliver a Professional Learning session to our peers.  By bringing together both of our experiences within the classroom and as coaches, the two women were able to share ways in which digital tools can be used to help classroom teachers, streamline day-to-day work, and to aid in the presentation of Professional Learning.  Some of the digital tools referenced included, but were not limited to: Sway, Office Mix, Padlet, Voxer, Survey Monkey (Pro), Outlook, and more.  (see image below)

Using Tech to Streamline...Handout Chart Screenshot

This presentation was delivered via NearPod, which can be found here, or seen in PDF form as linked below.

Beyond the NearPod presentation, the general presentation materials can be found below.

Disrupting the Status Quo in Your Environment

As members of our greater community, we all have the opportunity to create change in the educational environment.  So, as innovators, what are the key hurdles holding us back?

  • wp-1453410873853.jpgTime
  • Money
  • Resources
  • Outside Limitations

In order to cultivate change beyond ourselves, we have to address any limitations we have imposed upon ourselves.  Do any limitations actually exist?

In order to disrupt the status quo, we have to shake up and disrupt our own.


This afternoon, I was honored to have the opportunity to present via the EdTech leadership group called Leadership Lift.  Delivered via Voxer, this presentation focused upon two key points:

  • Cultivating change within ourselves by adopting a possibility mindset, and
  • Instituting change management within your organization.


Cultivating Change Within Ourselves

Carol Dweck, the pioneer in the realm of growth mindset, uncovered that there are two general mindsets we tend to employ: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

In the fixed mindset, a person believes that he or she is predisposed to have certain abilities or skills.  In education, this connects with the concept of learned helplessness in which one is so conditioned to be averse to failing that they do not push themselves outside of their comfort zone.  The growth mindset, on the other hand, utilizes research regarding the brain’s neuroplasticity, which identifies that the brain does grow and adapt, to help one move beyond their natural aptitude. For example, a student who struggles in math could, with a growth mindset, work to employ different strategies, skills, and tools to help them augment their math skills.  The same is true for adults.

How can we use this information to help us improve ourselves in order to improve our environments?  Based upon the work of Dr. Willard R. Daggett and Susan A. Gendron, there are three key questions we can ask ourselves when we are poised to create a great change:

  1. Why?
    • Why do you want to address this road block? Why is it a challenge? Why must this be addressed to improve your environment, school, or students?
  2. What if?
    • What if there were no boundaries, rules, or hindrances?  What would you do to address the realm you wish to improve?
    • Ed Tech leaders, for example, already exist in uncharted territory and many visions for the future exist.  What is YOUR vision for the future?
    • At this point, dream without bounds.  It sounds hokey, but imagine there are no obstacles.  None.  Give yourself some time to marinate on these ideas and trust your instincts as to when you are done marinating.  Write them down, record them, make voice notes on your phone of them, and do not edit them.  That will come later.
  3. How?
    • Here is where the action happens: How can you make your idea a reality?  What is the FIRST step you can take to make that happen?  Who can you align yourself with to support you in this change?
    • Adopt an entrepreneurial approach.  Daymond John, founder of FUBU Brands and star of ABC’s “Shark Tank says to “take affordable next steps.”  This is one way entrepreneurs with minimal resources move from one level to the next.

Once you have addressed where you wish to impact your environment and inspire change, you can now guide those around you to join in your vision.


Managing Change Within Your Environment

Dobbs Ferry, New York Superintendend Dr. Lisa Brady identifies three quick ways to begin disrupting the feeling of complacency in your environment.

  1. Remodel (or re-imagine) Faculty or Department Meetings:
    • Whatever meetings or gatherings you conduct or lead, switch them up.  Not only will the participants notice the change which will hook them in, but if it is geared toward areas of their interests or needs, you will cultivate an environment for enhanced buy-in.
    • One idea is to have Genius Hour as Professional Development.  Genius Hour (a.k.a. Passion Projects) is where students can become experts in a tool or topic of their own choosing.  Why not do this with your colleagues?  Is there an ed tech tool one person wants to try?  Is there a new behavior management strategy one wishes to use?  In visiting many schools, the common thing I have heard teachers say is that they wish they had more time to explore things of interest to enhance their craft.  In taking it a step further, creating a Genius Hour-like space in Professional Development provides teachers, administrators, and other education professionals then have a safe space to apply what they have learned and a space in which they can fail without judgement or professional penalty.
  2. Reach Out to Seasoned Teachers/Colleagues:
    • “The only guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” -Jean Paul Satre
    • People like to be heard.  Tap into the observations, experience, and concerns of your seasoned colleagues or of those who have social clout within your organization.  These individuals may be more likely to present any (sometimes well-intentioned) obstacles.  Why not include them in the movement by providing them with an audience; helping them feel heard and part of the overall team.
    • Remember to provide a forum for constructive criticism and not gripes.  There is a distinct difference that will make the difference between having transparent conversations and kvetch-fests.
    • Check out this simulation where you play a game in which you work to gain support for a new initiative at a school.
  3. Model Growth Mindset and Help Others Adapt One for Themselves:
    • What does a fixed view look like in others?
      • “I’m bad at technology.”
      • “What if the students go to inappropriate websites?”
      • “Our kids shouldn’t spend all of their time in front of a device, they’ll become zombies!”
    • How would the growth approach appear?
      • I know you are a little nervous trying new technology, but here is one small tool/tip/ resource that will make your life easier.  When can I share it with you?
      • Let’s take a look at the lesson plan to make sure that it is really engaging the students.  What tiered or extension activities can be included to keep them too occupied to be off task?
      • How is the use of technology enhancing your school?  Let’s make sure that we are using it to uplift our school/district/environment.
    • Maintain your possibility mindset in your work, be transparent with your failures and your subsequent successes, and by example, others will feel as though they have permission to push themselves beyond their own perceived boundaries.


FAIL in order to SAIL

Now I know I put a lot of emphasis upon the word “failure.”  It serves as a perfect acronym for applying a Growth Mindset.wp-1453410973282.jpg

FAIL=First Attempt In Learning

so you can

SAIL=Second Attempt in Learning

Remember, “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” George Washington Carver.  Identify your vision.  Imagine big.  Create a sense of hope for the future.  Take baby steps, but don’t just create a plan, create a movement. Let’s re-imagine education by disrupting the status quo.

Recommended Reading

Below are books, articles and other resources worth exploring to prepare you to shake up the status quo in your environment.  This only scratches the surface, and I encourage you to go deeper into the rabbit hole of innovation.

  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck
    • This is the book on Growth Mindset from its creator.  Need more be said?
  • Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person” by Shonda Rhimesš
    • I recently devoured this book.  It made me chuckle, laugh, and guffaw.  Literally.  Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the TV shows “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” chronicled her year of removing imagined obstacles from her way, and how the practice of doing so changed her life. (She even lost 110 lbs.!)
  • Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hil
    • While this book focuses upon the accumulation of wealth, like many business books I have enjoyed, it mainly focuses upon shifting your mindset.  Even though it was written in the 1930s, its concepts are still applicable today.
  • Mind/Shift by KQED
    • I have a bit of a crush on the Bay Area, since it is a hotbed of innovation and just really cool people.  This blog from KQED, a public broadcasting channel, features articles, research, and showcases of ways in which the realm of education is being molded, shifted, and re-imagined.  I subscribe to it and suggest you do too.



Genius Hour Galore!

Last school year, I stumbled upon a remarkable project called Genius Hour.  What I thought would be a fun exploration of learning for my eighth grade students has turned into an innovative community-building experience.

Some of you may be furrowing your brows in confusion, asking your screen, “well what is this Genius Hour she’s talking about?”  For the yet-uninitiated, Genius Hour is a form of problem-based learning where each student chooses his or her desired topic of study.  They can start out with a burning question, an interest, or a topic they wish to explore.  Sounds like fun, right?  Well it is!  Luckily, if you choose to employ Genius Hour within your classroom or school, there is a flurry of research, articles, and resources supporting its relevance and academic purpose.  While it is fun, if you do it right (and, trust me, that’s not too hard to do), your students will learn more deeply as a result.  By providing student with the opportunity to reconnect with their sense of learning for the sake of learning, they will each grow to become experts in their areas of study.

After I did Genius Hour once in my classroom, I shared my experience at our first District-wide EdCamp in October of 2014.  Then an elementary school principal contacted me, asking for guidance with helping some of his teachers explore Genius Hour.  Then a friend of mine, and fellow teacher tried it in her classroom.  Then I presented on it to teachers at a few different in-house professional learning days catered to pre-selected cohorts of teachers wanting to develop more innovations at their schools.  The proverbial snowball effect.  How appropriate with it being winter right now.  Besides, everyone loves a good snowball.

1207151535.jpgI was recently asked to serve in support of a few super-excited and courageous educators as they presented to their principal, assistant principals, and academic coaches on their desire to do Genius Hour.  I could not have been prouder of these ladies charging forth to bring this level of self-directed instruction to their Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students.

The ladies began their presentation with opening questions and ended with those same questions, and a stylistic flourish.  The conference room erupted with applause.  They smiled, I snapped a photo of their impressive display, and offered to help them as they continue on this path.

In my district, there are two kinds of people: those who support students (teachers) and those who support teachers.  I am humbled and inspired daily by being invited to support such amazing teachers uncover their areas of innovation and genius.