Digital Parenting

One of my favorite resources as a teacher and as a mom is Common Sense Media. I started using it years ago to learn more about movies and video games for my own children. They give straightforward information about why a movie or game has a particular rating and what is in the movie that might be objectionable. Then you can decide if it is okay for your child or not. You can imagine how thrilled I was to find out they were launching an educational side to their services in 2009. Common Sense Media has continued to grow and provide quality resources to teachers and parents. I would highly recommend that you include them in your thinking as you parent in this digital age. This week, 1st and 2nd grade classes watched and discussed this video from Common Sense. It provides a good analogy about how we interact online and in our neighborhood, and it gives three straightforward rules to follow when using the Internet. 

1. Ask your parents first.
2. Only talk to people you know.
3. Stick to places just right for you.

Don’t Go Changing To Try and Please Me

It’s one of those things you think you’ll grow out of. But you don’t. Trying to please others.

Most of my disappointing relationships, poor choices and even bad teaching experiences have been borne out of my trying to meet the expectations of others. It is one of those things that you don’t even realize you are doing until its done. You say something you really don’t mean because it fits into the conversation, or you want so bad for a relationship to work that you try to be everything you think the other person could ever want or need. Or you try to conduct your class the way you anticipate that your administrator wants, even when it feels wrong down to your bones. Pleasing others. Do our efforts ever accomplish their desired outcome? In my experiences, it has just made me miserable and caused me to fall flat on my face.

I have been thinking a lot about how this relates to the classroom. We fear trying something new because we know the other grade level teachers won’t be on board. We make decisions about how to conduct our classrooms based on what the next grade level will expect. We ask students to do things, sometimes beyond their developmental ability, because we look at expectations of middle school, high school or colleges to guide us. And what is the outcome? There will always be those students who do well at school, because they fit the mold. I wonder how many of them become teachers because school is what they are good at and expect the same from their students? However, I believe most students become disillusioned with the institution of learning and define themselves by their failure to meet our expectations, which are not really our expectations to begin with.  Are we making decisions based on what is best for the students or what is best for the teachers above us?

I almost always have more questions than answers, but here are a few things that I think would help.

  • Build confidence in teachers that they are the professionals in their classroom.
  • Develop a culture of appreciation for every level of education at your school.
  • Align standards, but encourage teachers to be creative in their instruction.
  • We focus a lot on telling students that being different is okay, but show them by giving them choices in learning and assessment.
  • Make time to allow for students and teachers to reflect. In my opinion, the process of reflecting and having conversations about our reflections will help all of us learn exponentially more about teaching, learning, and ourselves.

We talk a lot about change, but real change never comes until we individually take the journey ourselves to know who we are, be who we are, and understand where we want to go.

What do you think?

On Blogging and Putting Myself Out There

“There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart...pursue those.”~Michael Nolan

“There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart…pursue those.”~Michael Nolan

Blogging should be the perfect platform for me.  Since childhood, I have always liked to write.  Not necessarily because I am crazy good at it, but because it is often the only way I can process my thoughts.  In my introverted nature, writing has at times been a way for me to communicate… to share my voice when I felt like I had no other way.  Maybe I should say, I have always needed to write.  With every ounce of my fiber, I believe all people would do better to spend time reflecting on what they are learning.  This is precisely the purpose and meaning behind “In the White Space.”

So, why are there 123 notes in my Evernote notebook called “Thoughts to Blog” and only five on my actual blog space?

This isn’t the first time I have written about the difficulty of blogging.  My first post was about taking baby steps toward the blogging life.  At first, my biggest barrier was myself, and the fear of putting myself out there.  I was dealing with those and then was faced with something new.  Without going into details, I experienced an attitude about blogs that I wasn’t prepared for.  One that asserted blogging was inconsequential because it wasn’t professionally edited or backed by research.  Hmm. This first made me mad because it demeaned, without knowing it, the incredible professional growth I have experienced over the last few years as I have learned from countless education bloggers.  Then it made me think.  What if putting myself out there caused others to see me in a light that was less than professional?

From the time I can remember, my mom has used the phrase, “You wear your heart on your sleeve” to describe me.  Most of the time, I am okay with that and see it as a mark of being a passionate person.  However, when negative opinions about things that have changed who I am as a teacher and even as a person, cause me to pull back – I really dislike that heart wearing sleeve girl.

In the end, I am okay with putting myself out there and even making mistakes.  I have a voice, no matter how small (did you just hear Dr. Seuss?) that might help another small voice somewhere.  At the very least, I will have learned more by reflecting and writing about my experiences and readings – books, journal articles, and yes… even blogs.

So, whomever may be reading this, it is what it is.  A place…

To reflect, process and share my journey.

Where I might make grammatical mistakes or click publish before my writing has been proofread three times.

To share what I have learned in the classroom with real students.

That welcomes responses and refinement on ideas or practices.

Where I can grow.

To make you think or even blog.

Failure Is Optional

Our elementary staff meets weekly on Monday afternoons.  The time is set aside to discuss upcoming events, new initiatives or professional development.  Two weeks ago, my principal and I tag-teamed to share the overview and expectations of technology integration this year.  In my eagerness to share the overflow of all that I have learned in the past two years, I talked a little too long and shared a little too much.

While my passion for learning and using technology was received well enough, in my mind I knew,

I had blown it.

My goal this year is simple.  Begin building the culture needed to experiment, explore, and equip teachers in selecting and using technology purposefully in the classroom.  Knowing culture is borne from relationships and environment my intention has been to listen to teachers, to build trust, and to meet them where they are in their learning.  Talking at people and overwhelming people does nothing to build relationships.  I was upset with myself because I had been so intentional until this point.

So, what now?

I knew I had messed up.  The perfectionist in me beat myself up and moped about it for a couple of days, and then the learner took over. I could learn from this and make it right.  Failure is temporary and is based on perception.  Failure is optional.  I hadn’t failed.

With this realization, I began planning for the next week.  Many things came up during the week that threatened to deter my “do-over.”  I chose multiple times to not go with what would be easiest or most comfortable, but pushed for what I knew would be most helpful.  The plan was for staff to learn new ways to use the technology we already have.  The directive was simple, “Share what you know.”  Our preK – 5 teachers were divided into groups and assigned a facilitator.  These are the comments I received the following day.

“Yesterday afternoon was great. We need to do this on a regular basis.”

“It helped me realize how much I really know and can share.”

“That was very helpful for me.”

“I learned things I could come back the next day and put into practice.”

As teachers, we need to acknowledge that the very thing we find a waste of our time is what we so often do or go back to doing in our classroom.  Our classrooms should be guided conversations with all members encouraged to participate.  Students should have time to practice, make mistakes, and be allowed to make it right or “do over.”

I can already hear pushback in my own head. Having taught middle school students and raising two of my own, I know failure can be a real thing.  We can not make choices for others no matter how much we want to, and we can not make anyone want to do something.  So yes failure can be real, but it is optional.

What do you think? Agree, disagree? Leave a comment.

What I Know

For the past few months my mind has been in perpetual motion.  Wrapping my mind around this new position has been impossible.  I have so much to learn!  How do you effectively integrate technology into classrooms where teachers often find it intimidating, unnecessary and another “thing” to do?

And ISTE, oh ISTE.  It is so exciting just being in the same city as so many great thinkers of education!  There is so much to learn here.  Where do I even begin?  How will I take the energy and ideas that run so rampant here and infuse them into a defined plan of action to make my school a better place to learn?

Instead of focusing on what I don’t know, I have decided I should start with what I do know.  So, this is where I will begin…

What I know:

I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives. I still do.

Everything done in the classroom should have a purpose.

Culture plays an integral part in learning.

In order for learning to take place, connections must be made. Since we all have different schema, learning should be personal.

Kids need to learn how to decipher, filter, discern and assimilate the influx of information coming at them.

Students need and want to know we really care about who they are. We have to do more than tell them, we have to show them by building relationships with them.

A safe environment is conducive to learning.

Boundaries must be in place, expectations made clear and room has to be given to allow kids to be responsible or fall on their face.

When students fall on their face as we all have done, and will do again;  we need to pick them up, give them a big hug (literally or figuratively), dust them off and redirect them back onto their path.

We cannot fit all students into the same compact square box. We say this and we know this, but we still keep doing it with every comparison we make and expectation we have. This goes back to relationship. If we truly learn who our students are, we will be less likely to try stuffing them into a mold.

Off now to enjoy San Diego and find a cup of coffee!

The only thing constant is…

My dream job until a few months ago was teaching Language Arts, specifically in Middle School. For the past two years, I have been living my dream as a 6th grade English teacher. Then everything changed…

Looking back over the past year, I can see that the change began happening when I started actively using Twitter as a network to connect to other educators. They even had a name for it! I was developing a Professional/Personal Learning Network (PLN). As I connected to teachers and administrators all over the world, watched and participated in #edchat, and read numerous blogs; I began to realize that while technology can have some pitfalls, if used well, it can afford us the ability to do all that we want and need to do as educators. Learning can become more personalized according to a student’s learning needs, styles and passions. While I began making changes in my own classroom, I also became aware of how difficult it was to make changes without the kind of support I had discovered and embraced in my PLN. That is when an opportunity came up that would allow me to help others navigate the use of technology within the curriculum as the PK-5 Technology Integration Leader/Teacher. I have always had trouble letting go of things… relationships, mementos, and dreams. After many conversations and some time of reflection, I began to realize my dream had changed and that it was ok to let go of what I thought I had always wanted. When this dream had first formed, I had no idea technology would be such an integral part of our lives. All of this made me think of a building. Just stay with me… Old Chicago Main Post Office
Occasionally something will pique my curiosity and I find myself obsessing over it for days, looking for any and all information I can find. That is the way it was with the Old Chicago Main Post Office building. My family and I had visited Chicago multiple times while accompanying my husband on business trips, but a few summers ago we decided to take the river tour. It was on that tour that I learned of the massive building featured in this August 1931 article in Popular Mechanics. Among its many features, it boasts 2.7 million square feet, an intricate system of conveyor belts and elevators to process mail, not to mention it has a six-lane expressway passing through it. It has been sitting empty since 1996 with brief interludes of activity while films such as Batman Returns, The Dark Knight series and Transformers series used it to create surreal settings for their movies. That summer it was being put up for auction with a starting bid of $300,000. You can read more of the sad and seemingly never-ending story of this colossal building here and here. The following is a quote from the New York Times Real Estate section in August 2009.

Gradually, however, the building became obsolete as the mail-sorting process was automated. “The column spacing and the ceiling height do not work for automated operations…”

This amazing marvel was so irrelevant that it was practically being given away. Today, after ultimately being purchased and fanciful plans laid out, it sits unchanged. The mail has moved on, but the building still stands. Cars still travel through the building each day, but nothing is happening inside. No one can quite figure out how to make this historic building relevant again.

Sound familiar? Like this building, I believe our education system, in many ways, has become obsolete. Technology has afforded us the ability to break away from the factory model of education. The same factory model that became obsolete in mail processing. We have to let go of some of the things we have always known, while still holding tightly to the things that matter. Change is hard. I get that. As a new PK-5 Technology Integration Leader-Teacher, I am sure I will encounter some who will resist change. As long as we can keep having the conversations, keep learning from each other, and keep in mind what really matters; I am ok with that. I know things can change.

Questions bouncing around in my head…

  • What is obsolete in our educational system? What doesn’t work?
  • How do we successfully let go of those things?
  • Can technology help us make those changes? How?
  • Have you used successfully used technology to support curriculum in your classroom? How?
  • What do you think is the most difficult thing to let go of as a teacher?
  • What are things we need to hold onto as we make changes?

Your feedback is always helpful and appreciated as we learn together!

Igniting the Passion to Learn


Update 6 years later: The following post was given to my sixth grade students as their assignment and as a mentor text. Student blogging was new at the time. This is one of the defining moments of my teaching career for multiple reasons. I will never forget the student who never turned anything in emailing me after school to get his password. He finally had a voice! I will also never forget the severe pushback I received from a small group of parents. It was disheartening as well to hear comments being parroted by students. I learned no matter how cautious and conscientious you are, when you try something new and different… you will always get negative feedback from someone. This was also where my reputation of being tech-y began. It has always been about the learning for me. Technology is just a tool to go about the learning in new and exciting ways!

My students are blogging! Iam fortunate to be at a small PK-12 school where we see kids grow up through the years, but it is fascinating to read what they say about themselves especially at this critical and formative stage in their lives.

Your first paragraph should tell the reader a little about yourself. For example:

My name is Mrs. Whittington and I teach 6th grade. I have an awesome husband and two fabulous children. My favorite thing to do is to spend time with my family. Conversations around the dinner table, being snowed in at home together and vacations are some of my most precious memories. My favorite sound is hearing my kids laugh together in the other room. I also love to read and listen to music. One thing I like to do that you might not know is that I like to create things. I have made everything from cakes that look like a forest to newsletters and decoupaged furniture.

In From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Claudia wanted to learn everything about everything. Later, she decided to focus just on one thing and become an expert on the mysterious statue. She developed a passion for the statue called “Angel” and the mystery surrounding it. Passion is defined as a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something. When people have a passion for something, they want to learn more about it and often become an expert at it. What do you have a passion for that you would want to learn “everything” about and become an expert? Your second paragraph should tell about your passion. How long have you loved this thing? What do you already know, and how will you learn more about this passion?

My passion is learning and helping others find the excitement in learning. I know that might sound a little strange to you, or maybe not since I am “the teacher.” What I have found is that no matter what sparks my interest from time to time; I love researching, reading and learning more about it. More than that, I love to see students excited about learning. Learning does not always have to be monotonous and boring, it can be an exciting journey. I am passionate about helping others see that as well.

My hope in blogging is to learn more by thinking about and writing about what we are learning. I also hope we will be able to connect with other classrooms around the country and the world to help us ignite the passion of learning!

Teachers: How do you help students continue to love learning or reignite the love of learning? What about those necessary, but somewhat monotonous things that they need to learn. Are there benefits in learning that not everything is fun?