When you don’t know what to do – Reset

At the beginning of the year, I came up with my one word. If you are not familiar with it, the concept is to choose one word to reflect on for the year instead of a list of “set yourself up for failure” resolutions. Since then, I have been struggling with the word I chose. RESET.

Last year, my dad passed away. I shared the story here. Losing him changed me, is still changing me. It made me look deeper at my life, personally and professionally. This event that you logically know will happen someday – but you never really believe that someday will come – has brought all the questions and contemplations of my own life and mortality, as well as a complex and deep sense of loss. However, it has also caused me to be more intentional and to make sure I am spending my time and energy doing what really matters.

That is what my one word is all about. Changing my position, resetting to the things that are most important.



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.

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?