Hey, Mom!

JJ and MommaWhen I had the opportunity to move from being a classroom English teacher to being our school’s instructional technology coach, one of my biggest concerns was whether or not I would be able to develop the same types of relationships with students once I no longer had my own classes.

Because, as all educators know, it’s about the helping kids!  Of course, helping kids depends on building relationships with them.  And, to be honest, it’s not just about what the kids get out of it.   Having positive relationships with kids is the fun part for us too!

While I do not have the same kinds of relationships with students that I used to, I am please to report that I have developed different types of relationships; ones that are valuable and still fun.

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I had not realized that instead of knowing mostly my students in my own classes, I would have the opportunity to know almost all of the students at school.  I might work with an honors English class one block and then see some of the same students in an art class later in the day.  I’ve had the opportunity to see students working at a variety of projects

and subjects, so I’ve had a chance learned more about them and see their different interests and talents.

In my role as “the iPad lady” for the last four years, I have had much more of a presence on campus than I ever would have imagined. I love when students I may not know very well greet me and call me by name.  I am not always great with names (especially at a school of 1700+), but I still love to talk to students and learn about them.

2016-17 iTeam

I have also loved working with students on our iTeam (worth a separate blog post).  These students are our volunteer tech team – an all around great group of kids.  In addition, participating in Shadow a Student day and being a part of our STEM program gives me more chances to get to know students.

Another way I’ve gotten to know students is through our mentoring program.  This program has varied through the years, but the first time I signed up I was skeptical about what I had gotten myself into.  “Randomly” tracking down my mentee about once a week and trying to talk him/her about school, home, or whatever the students wanted was awkward.  But those relationships grew.  One of my proudest moments was seeing a student who had been an “at risk” 10th grader when we first met walk across the stage this June. I was SO proud of her!

I will have to admit I have two favorite students at school – my own two daughters. It is one of the greatest privileges of my career to get to work where they go to school.  I love when I happen to help in one of their classes or run into them in the hall, or when my youngest hollers “Hey, mom!” across the commons as she heads for class.
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But a strange thing has happened these last few years. Besides being mom to my own daughters, I’ve found that other students have “adopted” me as a school mom.  Often when I hear “Hey, mom!” or “Momma!” in the hallway, I have to look to see which of “my” children it is.  I also think it’s funny when I can tell that other students are thinking: could those four students walking down the hall (all colors, shapes and sizes) really  be my children.

Whether they are mentees, iTeam kids, friends of my children, or any other students at our school, I know my life is better because of the relationships we have.  I am thankful my job still provides me way to develop relationships with some pretty amazing young people!


Teaching & Learning at SC Midlands Summit

Like many other teachers, I spent some of the first days of summer working.  Some was spent at my school with other teachers and administrators, but I spent Wednesday at Richland Two’s SC Midlands Summit.

Richland Two puts on a nice annual event filled with lots of “Googly” and other edtech learning.  I love seeing so many teachers, administrators, instructional coaches, and media specialists taking time out of their summers to learn and to share what they’ve learned with others.

Here are just a few of my takeaways:

1 – It’s important to share the process and the problems, not just the successes.

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This year I presented “Rethink Research with Infographics.

In this session, I shared a collaborative project we did with English 2 classes.  It was a joint effort between the classroom teachers, the media specialist and myself.


You can see the steps in our process:

Copy of 2017 Midlands Summit - Rethink Research with Infographics - AplinWhen I was putting the presentation together, I kept thinking about all of the things that did not go quite how we’d wanted them to.  The project goals were good, and the students did have to think critically to research, analyze the research and create their infographics.  However, I still was hung up on the parts that didn’t work.

That’s when I realized, it was important to share what didn’t work.  Sharing what I would change the next time around mattered as much as sharing what went well.  Teaching is a ever changing process, and we need to let people know that no teaching experience is perfect.

When I was actually presenting, I think talking about “areas to improve” was when I felt I was making the biggest impact on the educators in the room.  The attendees asked great questions about the process, the details, and about what didn’t work.

2 – You never know who you’ll help

When I was waiting for my session to start, I walked around and talked to some of the people in the room.  One woman told me she’d attended my session last year about Actively Learn.  She’s a history teacher who had used Actively Learn this past school year because of last year’s session.  It was so rewarding to hear that something I’d done had made a difference for this teacher and students I didn’t even know.

3.  People take away different ideas from the same experience.

No matter which of the sessions I was attending, I was reminded that all of us come to the sessions from different places.  I have experience with screencasting and flipped PD and classrooms, but I still gained insights from Janelle McLaughlin – @Ms_Mac4 – and Nick LaFave – @NFLaFave – and their presentations.  What I got out of the sessions was different from what someone new to these ideas would have learned even though we were in the same rooms listening to the same speakers.2017-06-07-10-04-30.jpg

This experience is exactly the same as what our students experience when they come in our rooms (our our teachers who come to PD sessions).  They come to our classes with different backgrounds and prior knowledge.  They also come wanting different things out of our time together.  It’s important to keep this in mind when planning PD sessions or classroom lessons.

It is also important to remember that we all have something to learn from each other.  Even though I knew most of what was shared, the presenters still had me thinking in new ways and reflecting on what I do and how I can improve.

District 5 at SC Midlands Summit
A few of the teachers and leaders from District Five who attended SC Midlands Summit.

4. Learning never ends

Many of us from @LexRich5 were at the Summit – all of us were there to learn and some also were there to teach.

It’s great to know that so many of us are spending time this summer doing what we love and what we know will make us better educators.  We care about making our classrooms and schools better places for our students, so we’re willing to be at a conference the first week of summer.

And it is not just this week, this conference, or these people. I have so many District 5 colleagues and others in my worldwide PLN who are attending conferences, teaching classes, taking classes, grading AP exams, working with students, writing curriculum, doing professional reading and so much more.

Learning never ends.

I can do this! Blogging for Reflection

blogging buddiesAs I’ve mentioned before, I believe in the importance of reflection and that blogging can be a great way to do that.

I’ve also mentioned that I’ve struggled with consistency when it comes to blogging.  Whether it’s feeling too busy or (more often) not feeling like I have something that others might want to read, I have not lived up to the goals I’ve set for myself.

Participating in The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC blogging challenge this spring was incredibly helpful.  But when that ended, my blogging faded again.

So I come back to the “why.” Again. Why blog?  For me, it has to be about having a place to stop, focus and reflect.  I have to get over whether or not what I have to say will be important to others.  Reflection is important for me and doing it on a public blog is a way for me to stay accountable to myself.

Three other factors helped renew my commitment:

1 – Jennifer GonzalezLetter to an Overachiever Blog Post

Capture1Jennifer’s blog is great!  I enjoy following her on Twitter and reading her posts.  This 2015 post talks about how being an overachiever (guilty!) can stop us from doing things because we only want to do them if we can do them well.  She ended the post with ” Please drop the ball on something. Just do it. You’ll realize that the world won’t end. Everyone else will make slight adjustments in their expectations of you, and those expectations will be more realistic, and they’ll see that you are human, too, and everything will get better.”

With all the craziness of the last few weeks of school, this was a message I desperately need to hear.  It also reminded me that while it’s great to set blogging goals, I need to make sure I don’t let those goals or fear of not doing things perfectly stop me from doing what I want to go.

2 – Steve Barkley’s End Of Year Coaching Reflection Post

In Steve’s blog post, he shares how he led a group of instructional coaches through an end of year reflection.   He ends this 2015 post with “Whatever reflection process you use as the school year closes out be sure that it leads to identification of future learning opportunities.”

Through an extensive Google Form, I gather end of the year data from my teachers about technology goal setting, the coaching process, and future technology support needs.  I realized that my blog can be a place for me to do my own end of the year self-reflection as well as a place to synthesize information I gather from teachers through the Google Form.  Future Post!

3 –  ISTE Ed Tech Coaches PLN – Blogging Buddies.  blogging buddies

I saw a tweet last week asking EdTech Coaches to commit to blog at least once a month and then comment on other blogs.  The timing seemed too perfect. So, I’m in!  Thank you to @Katie_M_Ritter for providing a community to help me and others grow together.

In closTwittering, I feel like I should also mention that I discovered all three of these items on Twitter.  Twitter is an essential part of my PLN.  I learn something new every time I spend time on Twitter.

I know Twitter can seem overwhelming at times, but I don’t let that stop me.  You’ll never catch everything on Twitter, and that’s ok.  The two blogs posts I’ve mentioned here both happen to be from two years ago, but I saw them now and the timing was perfect for me.  You never know when 140 character will lead you to just what you need!




The best of times . . .

The end of year at any school is a crazy time.  Any educator knows that.

When I was in my own classroom, my main concerns were my students, their grades, my classroom and looking ahead to next year.

Now that I serve as the school’s Digital Integration Specialist, my concerns are ALL students, ALL teachers, ALL grades, ALL mobile technology, and looking ahead to next year.  At a school with 1700+ students and 110 teachers, that can be a little overwhelming at times.

But I’ll tell you a secret – I love this time of year!  I really do.

The end of year allows me to check in with almost every teacher in my building.  Whether we’re touching base about teacher iPads, new teacher Chromebooks, grade changes, gradebook checks, Google Classroom questions, End of Year checkout packet, exam review activities, or anything else, I love getting to talk to teachers.  I work with so many amazing people.

I love our Media Center staff and all the work they do for our staff, students, and for me. With a new inventory program and a change in teachers’ mobile devices, they have done an incredible job jumping in – as always.  I am so impressed by them.

One of my other endiPad Collection Stations of year jobs is collecting all 1500ish student iPads.

This year, as in years past, we’ve assembled a fantastic team to help.  We have teachers who volunteer to give up part of their precious planning time to help us at collection. Yes – they give up their time to help.  It’s amazing.  Not everyone has this outpouring of IMG_2748help and I am grateful for each and every one of them.

But I think one of my favorite parts of the end of the year is the kids!  

We have our iTeam Techs, student volunteers, who work before school, during the day, and after school to help us get iPads collected.

We have seniors who could be sitting by the pool or sleeping in since they are finished with exams, but they are here, helping.

I also love talking to all of the students who come through iCare to turn in their iPads. img_2796.jpgiPad Collection






The students are polite, respectful, and appreciative of the easy process we’ve set up for them.  They understand the expectations we’ve set for them and live up to them (almost 100% of the time!).

While tensions can run high, and we’re all exhausted, I choose to look at the positive.  This really is the best of times!

#IMMOOC Week 4 – Time for Reflection


One prompt from this week’s challenge is “What elements of the “8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classrooms” exist in your professional learning? What elements are lacking?”

First, I have to admit that I am finally catching up on my reading of the book.  I have been enjoying looking at tweets, others’ blogs, and the weekly live shows, but had not spent much time with the book.  Normally, when I sit down to read, I much prefer fiction.  I value nonfiction tremendously, but have a difficult time skipping over the latest novel I’m reading to pick up nonfiction.  But I’m so glad I made the effort with The Innovator’s Mindset.

One of the “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” that I feel has been lacking for me is the time for reflection.  But this MOOC has helped me focus on reflection.

In addition, I have just completeAdobe Spark (1).jpgd a yearlong leadership program with the SC State Dept of Education.  One key component of that program was reflection.  We started each session with “Community in Silence” time – a time to stop and think about why we were there, what we had been working on and what we hoped to accomplish.
Each session also had time built in for writing reflections.  I have learned through practice how important time for reflection is.  

We often do not take the time to reflect and that’s something we must do as educators and we must help our students do.  Not just help, but provide time for it.

George Couros includes the quotation “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.”

That is a great lifelong lesson.


#IMMOOC Week 3. Post 3 – Outside our walls

This has been a busy week filled with much reflection and learning for me (more on that in other posts).  But to wrap up week three of #IMMOOC, I want to share some thoughts on innovation as it relates to communication and collaboration.

This week, I listened to several episodes from the Cool Cat Teacher Podcast Show “Every Classroom Matters” including one called “How Teachers Can Find Time to Innovate” by Annette Lang.

I was struck by Ms Lang’s “bite-sized” approach to innovation.  In order to not be overwhelmed, she decided to pick one new thing to try.  In doing so, she was able to connect her students in the US with students overseas.  The students collaborated on projects and gave each other real audiences for their work.  In just a year, she has transformed learning for her students.

Shouldn’t we all be doing this?

IMG_1981For me this connected to the example at the opening of chapter 5, when George Couros writes about how much communication has changed.  We used to worry how many minutes we talked to someone far away.  I remember being in Spain one summer during high school and having to go to the public phone several blocks away to arrange a very brief call back to my parents in the CA (and we wrote letters!).

Times have changed!  If my children can Facetime their cousins in PA & CO and their grandparents in CA for FREE with the touch of a button, shouldn’t all of us help our students reach out to other students around the world?
If we’re studying Japanese, let’s talk to people in Japan. If we’re learning about desert habitats, let’s see what they look like “first hand.”

Technology affords us limitless opportunities to communicate and collaborate outside the walls of our school.  Let’s Go!





#IMMOOC – Week 3. Post 2 – You can’t do it alone

I enjoyed listening to the weekly recording last night.  Listening to principals Amber Teamann and Matt Arend talk with Katie Martin & George Couros was inspiring.  

Although I work at the high school level and at a much larger school, the ideas each of these elementary school principals shared resonated with me.  

I loved Amber’s idea of everyone moving forward no matter what the pace.  Her clear expectations and goals help everyone at her school improve.  The discussions about how learning is never over and that we can always work to improve is something I believe in and try to practice.  I sometimes have teachers ask me why I am redoing or “tweaking” a process, activity, etc. when it already works well.  My answer:  life is constantly changing, and I want to make sure I am always trying to do my best.

I also loved the discussion about being a “school teacher” vs a “classroom teacher.”  As our school’s tech cIMMOOC 3 You cant do it aloneoach, I am a “school teacher” by default – I am responsible for and interact with all students.  But I want ALL of our teachers to be “school teachers.”

What “school teachers” refers to is the idea (and practice) that ALL teachers need to care about what happens in ALL classrooms with ALL children.  That doesn’t mean that everyone will know every minute of what goes on in another class – that’s unrealistic.  But it is also naive to think that what goes on in one class does not impact what happens in another.

We need to work to learn about others and build on each other’s work.  At our school, for example, students take 8 classes.  That’s a lot of different teachers, physical classrooms, rules, content, procedures, standards, assessments, etc.  Our students and our school as a whole can only benefit from us knowing more about what happens the other 7 blocks our students spend in other classes.

So – let’s share what we’re doing – in conversation, on social media, etc.  Ask questions of each other.  We are a community of learners – “You can’t do it alone.”




#IMMOOC – Week 3. Post 1

This week we’ve been challenged to post 3 times (shorter posts).  So, here goes.

Prompt: Share some of your best ideas for building relationships and a culture of trust in your position.

As our school’s Digital Integration Specialist, I have the privilege of working with everyone in our building – teachers, students, and staff.  I think, for me, the biggest keys to building relationships and trust are . . .

IMMOOC3Open Door – My office is in the middle of the school inside our media center.  Unless I’m on a call, my door stays open.  People stop by all the time, and we get to talk about their lives, their classrooms, and their needs.  I also like to be “out and about” in the halls and classrooms where I can have a better idea of what’s going on with people.

Listening –  Whether it’s students, teachers, or staff, I always
try to be a good listener. It’s important for me to take the time to let people talk.  Sometimes that’s all that needs to happen. Sometimes after listening, I can offer suggestions for solutions or new ideas.  But I can’t presume to have suggestions unless I understand the situation.

Respect – I truly believe that every person has value.  Everyone I work with (including students) knows more about different things than I do.  I am often told I am easy to approach and patient. I think that comes from the core belief in the value of every person.  I never know what I’ll learn from the people who cross my path.



#IMMOOC Episode 2 Reflections

Reflections & Questions from: #IMMOOC Season 2, Episode 2 – With Special Guest Sarah Thomas  After listening to this week’s episode, my thoughts sorted themselves into three general areas.  These led to one question for each area.  I hope our answer is “YES!” to each of the questions.  If not, we know where we need to grow.

Learn from anyone anywhere 

I can’t believe I’ve actually listened to two one hour “podcasts” in two weeks.  For me, that’s a new way of learning. I love that I was able to put in my blue tooth earbuds and listen to George, Katie, and Sarah from my phone while I made dinner.  I had my laptop open so I could take notes when struck with a particular line or idea.  When I sit back and think about it, this type of learning is amazing.  Learning from 3 different people who were in 3 different places  – awesome.  Learning at a time that was convenient for me – even better.  Getting to hear directly from experts – priceless.

This connection to experts and to people physically out of reach is now available to everyone with internet.  Learning like this is not just for teachers and other professionals, but also for our students.  Are we helping our students find new learning opportunities and ways to connect with experts?


Every person has a voice

“Everyone has something to share. Everyone.”

One of my favorite moments from the podcast was when George said, “Everyone has something to say.  Everyone.”  This came as a part of discussion about introverts.  I enjoyed hearing Sarah explain how she is an introvert (like me!), but she has found new ways to share.  Katie continued by pointing out that technology creates opportunities for our introverted and/or quieter students. It gives ALL students voices in (and out) of the classroom.

Leveraging technology to help our students find their voices and to give them ways to make meaningful contributions to our classrooms, schools, and communities is so very powerful.

We HAVE to make these opportunities available to all of our students.  Are we giving students ways to ask questions, ways to share ideas, ways to reflect and to grow?  


Avoid Frivolous Innovations

“If you don_t know your kids and what they need, the innovations are frivolous”Of course the focus of this MOOC is Innovation. As George says in his book, “The innovator’s mindset can be defined as the belief that the abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas” (p. 33). The discussions about innovation being something that is new AND something that makes learning better is important.  Just doing something new for the sake of doing a new thing is not what all of this is about.

When Katie said, “If you don’t know your kids and what they need, the innovations are frivolous,” she helped remind us that innovation is meaningless without connections and relationships.  George also talked about how time spent talking to a teacher is time he will get back tenfold because of the relationship he’s developing.  This applies to everyone in our school buildings – students, teachers, administrators, etc.

New ideas might be “fun” or “interesting” to people who like to try new things (like many of us in #IMMOOC), but we all must remember that if they don’t connect with our students and improve learning, then we need to rethink them.  Are we keeping our students and their goals in mind when trying new things?  Do we take time to get to know our students and teachers as people?

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!   Let’s keep at it!

Many, many great ideas in this week’s episode.  Love the sharing that’s going on in the whole #IMMOOC and getting to see glimpses into the lives of so many great educators!





Small Steps can be HUGE

One of our science teachers asked me to come into her class today to help some students who were having trouble turning assignments into Google Classroom.  I was happy to go see what I could do to assist.

When I arrived, the teacher had already created an assignment (using the schoolwide numbering protocol – yeah!) and attached a file set to “Make a copy” for each student.  She wanted them to type an answer to the question in the file and then turn it in.

The first thing I noticed was that the file was a Word file, not a Google Doc.  Since our students use iPads, files have to “hop” between the three apps: Google Classroom, Google Drive and Google Docs to be completed.  Some students were using phones and did not have Drive or Docs downloaded, so we solved that problem quickly.  I  knew that one of the issues the class was having was the Word to Doc conversion. Some had figured out how to convert, edit and submit.  Some were struggling.

But my favorite moment in the short time I was there was after explaining how creating the attachment as a Google Doc would make the process more streamlined for the students, the tea-I can fix this-cher said something to the effect of “so this is my problem, I can fix this.”  That sounds so minor, but her willingness to admit she needed to learn (and wanted to) was HUGE.  While her students were still completing the practice problem, she and I quickly walked through how to create and attach a Google Doc in Google Classroom.

I so appreciate this teacher’s decision to ask for help, her desire to want to improve the experience for her students, and her willingness to learn.  What more could you ask for from a dedicated teacher?