Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Being willing to take risks is scary, but trying new things can be the best learning we ever do.

I’m currently teaching a section of a graduate course called “Social Media and the Connected Educator.”  #Connectin5 We offer this course through our school district instructional technology department in conjunction with the College of Charleston.  This fall, I teach a section for middle and high school teachers and my colleague Heather Reit (@hreitDIS) teaches the elementary/intermediate group.

Heather and I at FETC 2014 or 2015!

Working with Heather has been a joy and a challenge (like most good work should be).  I have learned so much from Heather. She has taught the course before and developed much of the content in conjunction with our colleagues who have taught it in the past.  

The joy has come from working with someone who is dedicated and works hard to serve all of her students and teachers.  We both like to focus on what will help our teachers move their learning forward. We also love working one-on-one with those taking the class to see what we can do to help them.

The challenge has come from how different Heather and I are.  I am what many would call overly organized, type A.  It’s just how my brain works; I have to have a clear system and process for everything I do.  Heather is full of passion and energy that flows through everything she does. Heather pushes me to think differently and do more — and I need that.

This fall we have worked side-by-side to blend our styles of teaching and learning, always keeping in mind our learners: the educators in our district.  I think the course and the teachers we work with are better for it.

Midway through the course Heather and I decided to take a leap and create a podcast.  In the course, we require teachers to explore podcasting by listening to a few and creating a single short podcast via screencast or other tool of their choice.  So Heather and I decide we need to put ourselves out there.

We met one evening and brainstormed what we wanted from the podcast.  We talked about many possibilities, but eventually came to the conclusion that we want to share the wonderful things going on in our district and help educators connect with each other.  

We played with a name and tagline and came up with:

Listen in 5 – A short sweet podcast to connect and inspire Lexington Richland 5 educators.

Our #Listenin5 logo – made with Adobe Spark. Love Spark!

Since we work in District 5 and much of our social media presence revolves around “5” ( #Pridein5 #Connectin5 #Teachin5 #FabuDIS5 ), the name seemed to fit. The podcast is meant to be quick to listen to. For now we’re aiming for 5 minutes and can adapt later if needed. We’re using Anchor to record and broadcast and have recorded three episodes so far.  

We came up with five questions that would be the basis for each episode:

  1. What is your role in education?
  2. What makes your school great or special?
  3. What is one project or activity you’d like to share?
  4. What is a favorite tech tool or tip you’d like others to know about?
  5. What suggestions do you have for educators looking to grow via social media?  This could be a tip, a hashtag, or another educator to follow.

We hope that many of our @LexRich5Schools colleagues will be willing to share.  And who knows where we’ll go from here. We believe that our LexRich 5 educators have a lot to offer the world.

I am so thankful for Heather and our collaboration!  

If we had not worked together this semester I do not think I would have ever been willing to put a podcast out to the world. I would have needed to know every detail about where we were going, how many episodes there would be, frequency of publishing, etc. 

But Heather has reminded me that sometimes it’s good to share and move forward even if I don’t know where I’ll end up.  That’s a big step out of my comfort zone, and I need to do that more often. Thank you, Heather!

FYI: Link to the podcast:


I’ve Found my People – Podcasts!

The online educational community is jam-packed with podcasts. A year ago, I’d listened to a few episodes here and there, but had not really been bit by the podcast bug.

I consider myself a visual learner who would much rather learn by reading than by listening. I like to take notes while learning and often mark up passages when reading informational text. I want to be able to go back and pull out the quotes or ideas that spoke to me.

But this past February, that changed. I had an almost 3 hour drive to Myrtle Beach to go to a conference. And I can’t remember why, but I decided I was going to queue up the latest #eduducttape podcasts by Jake Miller (@JakeMillerTech) and away I went.

As I drove, I remember thinking – I’ve found my people: educators who think about the “why” before the “what” of edtech.

I listened to guests Sean Fahey (@SEANJFAHEY), Alex Oris (@mrORIStech) and Karly Moura (@KarlyMoura) talk to Jake about student choice, student voice and so much more.

And despite missing one turn because I was listening so intently, I found that I could listen and learn because I felt connected to these people.

Listening to educators who are so passionate about what they do is refreshing and gives me hope for the future of teaching.

Since that “fateful” drive 8 months ago, I’ve discovered even more podcasts that I enjoy and rediscovered a few that I’d tried before. Some of my favorites are:

I’ve decided it’s ok if I listen purely for the enjoyment and the “collegiality” I feel while listening – much the same way I enjoy talking with educators in my school and district.

I also love being able to connect to these podcasters via Twitter – whether it’s a shout-out to let them know I loved an episode or sharing something I do that relates to the topic.

The connections that podcasts and social media provide are amazing!

#LeaD5 professional development day

I’ve enjoyed listening so much that I’ve made listening to podcasts a part of the district-wide #LeaD5 professional development I lead and the graduate courses I teach. I want to help others discover the joy I’ve found in listening. There are so many education podcasts out there that I’m sure all educators could find ones to enjoy.

There are still many times when I’m driving and listening or walking and listening and I wish I were taking notes. Sometimes I’ll try repeating something in my head hoping I’ll remember it when I get home or to work so I can write it down. But if I don’t, it’s ok. I’ve enjoyed the listening and know that the important ideas will also come back around.

Mom, Did you ever think?

It’s wonderful to have a daughter who goes to school where you teach.  It’s even better to have a daughter who cares about what you do during the day and asks you about it.

Last Friday while eating dinner, my daughter asked what I’d done that day (as she does most days).  I told her how I’d helped five biology classes use our Class VR virtual reality goggles to look inside a eukaryotic cell and helped world history students build “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories to demonstrate their knowledge of trade routes.  We talked about how interesting it is to work with students at all levels and with a variety of teachers.

Her next question has stuck with me all weekend: “Mom, a few years ago did you ever think you’d be showing students virtual reality tours of the cell?”

The truthful answer is no. 

When working with seniors in English classes, public speaking classes, and ACT/SAT prep, I never could have imagined all of the different types of teaching and learning I’d be involved in just a few years later.

What my role has allowed me to do with technology is awesome! From virtual reality and digital breakout boxes to student portfolios and live video calls, my role as the school’s Digital Integration Specialist allows me to explore more than I ever thought possible.  

But it’s not just the technology tools that encourage me to grow and change. In my role I observe phenomenal teachers throughout our building and learn from them every day. I have endless opportunities to collaborate with teachers in all departments and in many different subjects.  Through co-planning and co-teaching lessons, I’m able to explore statistics, economics, German, music, chemistry, art, creative writing, engineering, and so much more.  

The variety of students I get to work with is also amazing. I work with students in our highest AP courses and in our honors STEM magnet program as well as with students in our life skills and special services classes.  I have always believed that everyone has something to offer the world and working with our students only confirms this belief.

So, did I ever imagine I’d be showing VR videos of human cells and talking to students about Golgi apparatus and organelles?  No, no I didn’t. But I’m so glad I have a job that not only allows but encourages me to try new things.

I am grateful for the daily opportunities I have not only to teach, but to be a learner as well.

What is an Instructional Coach?

While my official job title is Digital Integration Specialist, I often refer to myself as an Instructional Coach.  I strive to be someone who helps teachers as a collaborator rather than as an expert in technology.  

But what really is an Instructional Coach?  Turns out that’s not such an easy term to define.

Today I had two different learning experiences both tied to defining the role of a coach:  

I discovered the Teaching Keating podcast last school year and find myself listening to random episodes on my way to and from work.  It was such a coincidence that the one I listened to today was about Coaching.  

Wes & Molly talked about how it’s important that coaches have something to bring to the table and the person being coached needs to be willing to learn.  They also talked about how difficult it can be to let someone in and allow them to critique our teaching – so true!

I enjoyed listening to their conversation and thinking about how it applies to what I do with my teachers.  This drive to school listening served as a primer of sorts for the rest of the learning I did today.

Thanks to our amazing district Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Carol Lunsford, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the first day of Cognitive Coaching Seminars with the rest of the district Digital Integration Specialists and a few other district instructional leaders.  I was not sure what to expect, but I loved it. It was just what I needed to help me work towards creating a clear purpose for my role.

For reference, here is some brief information from their website:

From: https://www.thinkingcollaborative.com/seminars/cognitive-coaching-seminars/

Our day was SO FULL that I can’t include it all here, but I want to record a few of my many takeaways.  Most were helpful because they help frame and give language or structure to ideas I was familiar with but had not formalized.

  • Relationships and trust are the foundation for everything!  (I did already strongly believe this one!)
  • Coaching is not the same as collaborating.  Both have their place and are valuable, but they are not the same.  And neither are the same as consulting. Being aware of what role I’m in at any given time will help me help others get the most out of our interactions. 
  • Coaches need to be great listeners.  We need to be patient and not jump in with “answers.”  We also need to ask good questions.
  • There are five States of Mind that work together: efficacy, flexibility, craftsmanship, consciousness & interdependence.  Our “level” in each of these areas can depend on our roles and our circumstances and can change from situation to situation.
  • Your identity (your role & how you see yourself) affects your actions and how you interact with others.  If you want to make changes, you have to work to change your identity before you change behaviors or your environment.

So, what is a Coach?  I don’t think I’m ready to finalize my own definition yet.  I’ll continue to work on that this school year under the guidance of our Cognitive Coaching seminars.  I look forward to the growth that comes with this (and all my other) learning experiences.

2019-20: Creating and Sharing Instructional Technology Professional Learning Goals

CREATING THE GOAL/PLAN:

In my role as Digital Integration Specialist at a large high school, one of my responsibilities (and privileges) is helping to set goals for the school and a professional development plan for our 108 teachers.  This process is always a little daunting. It also varies each year depending on our administrators, district goals, number of new teachers, my Technology Teacher Leaders and the amount of time we are given for instructional technology professional development.

Creating these goals and plan is something I start thinking in the spring each year.  This spring, our teachers had three opportunities to give feedback related to instructional technology.  One was a district-wide survey through BrightBytes. Students and parents also took this survey, so it gave us a lot of good data.  Teachers completed Google Docs reflections on their 2018-19 instructional technology work as part of our April technology day. They also completed an End of the Year Instructional Technology Google Form to share what worked best for them, how they chose to get help and what they’d like to see for next year (along with other questions).

So this summer, I sat down with all of that data and just read through it (a few times). I looked for common themes and places to start when planning.  2019-20 will be our 7th year as a 1:1 school (4 years with iPads and now our 3rd year of Chromebooks). Many of our teachers are strong in their implementation of instructional technology to help meet their standards and help students learn.  We have had approximately 40 new teachers in the last 3 years. Some come to us with a strong foundation in instructional technology while others are brand new to a 1:1 environment.   

As for time, we will be working with a little less time for PD than we have had in the past.  Since I started this job in the 2013-14 school year we have been fortunate to have 7-8 hours of dedicated instructional tech PD each year (usually once a month on our delayed Wednesday mornings).  This year in an effort to provide more common planning time for teachers, we’ve cut back on sessions dedicated to instructional technology professional learning.

As I was planning for 2019-20 I also thought about the teacher technology course I taught last year:  Authentic Technology Integration and Instructional Design ( #D5AuthTech ). Each semester I had a group of teachers from throughout the district take this intermediate/advanced course for graduate credit and/or technology proficiency.  Teachers shared amazing lessons and ideas during this course, and I knew I wanted to take some of those ideas and apply them to our general instructional tech PD.

My main takeaway from both BrightBytes and my #D5AuthTech course was a focus on the 4 Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  We have talked about these in our PD the past, but they have not been the central focus of our PD. When I talked to my new Assistant Principal for Instruction, this idea fit right in with other school and district goals – she was excited.  When the Technology Teacher Leaders and I met for back to school planning I shared my ideas with them and we figured out some of the details. I love working with a dedicated team!

So for 19-20 our instructional technology PD goal is to provide all teachers with professional learning opportunities tied to the 4 Cs.   

SHARING THE PLAN:

I was excited to share this idea with our teachers. I knew I needed to introduce our plan in a way that would model and reinforce communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  I had 30 minutes at a faculty meeting this past week and wanted to make it count.

I create a Pear Deck with some quick information for our teachers.  I wanted to let them know where this idea had come from and that we had listened to their suggestions.  Our plan is designed to:

  • Support & improve teaching and learning
  • Connect with standards, data teams, SLOs, etc.
  • Recognize best practices & teacher knowledge
  • Respect individuals
  • Provide choice
  • Build on last 7 years

I shared a lightning-fast look back at our some of our focal points over the last seven years including:

  • ISTE Standards for Students & Educators
  • TPACK & SAMR
  • Profile of the SC Graduate
  • Bloom’s & Webb’s DOK
  • Google Classroom for communication
  • Using technology to support reflection

Then I rolled out our new 4 Cs logos and asked teachers to choose one area where they felt most confident (star) and one where they wanted to grow (heart).  They were to think about the 4 Cs in relation their students needs and how instructional technology can help meet these needs. With Pear Deck they simply “dragged their icons” and then I was able to show their responses to the whole group.  It did not surprise me that their icons were all over the place. That fits right in with our faculty and their great breadth of knowledge and the strength that comes from recognizing their differences.

Then it was time for action!  Instead of telling them about which days we’d be doing which activities and what resources are available to them for professional learning, I created a digital BreakoutEDU game.  They were in groups of 3-4 and had 10 minutes to complete 6 locks. All of the locks were tied to a new Instructional Technology website I’d created this summer. The site is full of resources for teachers and also has pages dedicated to our PD goals, the 4 Cs and our professional learning opportunities.

This was our first faculty breakout, and I was not sure what to expect.  I have taught about digital breakouts at conferences and had large group participate, but I was not sure how it would go over at 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon after a full day of teaching.  But our teachers were great and they jumped right in. Most groups broke out in the 10 minutes.

I’m glad our teachers were able to experience a digital breakout and see how it’s great for introducing new information or reviewing material already learned. And talk about needing the 4 Cs! All 4 were evident as teams worked together.

So, what’s next?  We’ll focus over the next two months on resources related to communication and collaboration.  Then we’ll move to creativity and critical thinking (although they are, of course, often intertwined).  In the spring, teachers will have even more ways to learn – podcasts, e-learning, in person PD, #Comeseemeteach and more.  Then they’ll get to decide how they want to share what they’ve learned. Teachers will get to earn badges for each of the 4 Cs by sharing how they used instructional technology to help their students.  

I can’t wait to see what great teaching and learning happens in 2019-20 at Dutch Fork High!

☀️ Summer Teaching and Learning ☀️

Although summer is coming to an end and we are busy with back to school work, I wanted to take a little time to think about the professional learning opportunities I had this summer.  I’m thankful to have had such variety in my summer.

In June I was able to share what I love at two conferences:  SC Midlands Summit hosted by Richland Two and SC Education Business Summit.  

Held the second week of June, SC Midlands Summit is a conference filled with SC educators who have just wrapped up the school year but are already looking ahead.  I have presented at this conference several years and always appreciate the people who attend my sessions. This year was no different. I led a session about Digital Breakouts and the educators came ready to participate and learn.  

I also was able to attend other sessions and meet a few of my Twitter PLN in person. Making in-person connections with people I follow and respect online is a great part of summer conferences.

At SC Education and Business Summit (EBS) I presented the Digital Breakouts session twice and a session on maximizing Google Chrome.  It was my first year at EBS and a nice opportunity to connect with new educators as well as see a few familiar faces. I am impressed that these educators are committed to preparing our students for the workforce.  My session attendees were full of energy (and a little competitive with those breakouts!). It makes me so happy to think that something I shared might help others this coming school year and beyond.

In July I was part of our District 5 LeaD5 professional development days.  These days deserve their own blog post because they were an incredible chance to learn, grow and plan together.  I appreciate that our district invests in its own people and recognizes the talent and skills our teachers have to share.  I also appreciate the staff in my own school who I met with in the last few weeks to plan for this coming school year.

Besides conferences or in person opportunities, the summer was also filled with professional reading, listening and online learning.  

I had a chance to read Tech with Heart and EdRenaline Rush and re-read Learning Transformed – all of which I’d recommend!  I also have more great education books to finish (the list keeps growing).

I also caught up on some podcasts. Teaching with Keating and Shukes & Giff were probably my summer favorites, but there are so many good ones out there.  Check out http://www.edupodcastnetwork.com/ for suggestions.  

I also enjoyed the online Teach with Tech conference – 3 days packed full of mini-sessions on a variety of edtech topics.  I’m glad I paid to have the option to go back and watch the videos since there were more sessions than I could keep up with.  

And on top of the more “formal” types of learning, following dedicated educators on Twitter allows for numerous opportunities to grow.  I learn so much from the little and big things people share on Twitter.

While I technically did not “work” from June 10-August 13 this summer, I don’t think I could ever truly take a summer “off.”  When you love learning like educators do, learning goes on all year round. I always want to learn more so I can be better at my job and help more people. 

I’m even more ready to start 2019-20 school year because of the opportunities I’ve had this summer.

Leading with Purpose: What is your WHY? Keynote by Thomas Murray

Last week I attended and presented at the South Carolina Midlands Summit (@SCMSummit) hosted by the fabulous instructional technology team in Richland District Two.  I loved the sessions I attended (and probably need a separate post about them), but I think my best decision at the conference was to attend an extended 2 hour session with Tom Murray called “Leading with Purpose.”

6/12/19 with Tom Murray @SCMSummit


I met Tom in 2017 when he came to our school district as a part of Future Ready Schools (read more about Future Ready at https://futureready.org/).  After that visit, I also bought his book co-authored with Eric SheningerLearning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools Today. I already knew and loved Eric’s work from FETC.  Learning Transformed is an awesome read for any educator. I also love connecting with both of these educators on Twitter – @Thomascmurray  and @E_Sheninger .

But back to last week.  

Like many educators, I was tired and overwhelmed. Tired after a busy school year that ended the Friday before.  Overwhelmed thinking about all I need to do this summer to make sure my teachers, staff and students have a great 2019-20 school year. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get out of Tom’s session, but I knew I’d enjoy it.  And did I ever. It was JUST what this tired and overwhelmed educator needed the first week of summer break.

Tom started us with the most important question of all – WHY?  What drives you? What is your why?

He gave us time to think, reflect, and write about this.  As I sat writing for several minutes I found that I could feel some of the tension leave me.  Just spending time refocusing on my why helped me drown out some of the noise I often let overwhelm me when I think about my role in my school.

My stream of consciousness writing included:

  • Make a difference
  • Be a person who makes something (anything) better for someone else: easier, more meaningful, more engaging, more fun
  • Help people feel success and create new things
  • Help people be their best selves
  • Keep growing and challenging myself
  • Encourage others to grow
  • Reach new people

What a gift it was to have the time to stop and think.  Thank you, Tom.

The rest of his session was just as amazing.  Tom talked about leaders vs managers and how both are important.  He encouraged us to balance the time we spend working in each of these roles.  As someone who can immerse myself in the managerial part of my job, I needed the reminder.

Throughout the session, Tom built in intentional time for reflection and for talking to others.  I was able to meet and share with a few assistant principals and teachers attending from other districts.  

Tom also focused on relationships and how we build them in our schools.  He challenged us to reach out to someone in our school building and thank them for the work they do every day (PS – Tom – I sent my note today!).  Tom also talked about how every faculty meeting is an opportunity to model your expectations and build relationships. We did two brief get to know each other activities that I look forward to bringing back to my school.  

The last thing from Tom’s session that I want to mention here is Tom’s discussion about fear.  He reminded us that the best things in life are on the other side of fear. He shared a video of Will Smith telling a story about the fear he had leading up to the first time he went skydiving.  That story stuck with me. Why are we more afraid before the scary thing than we are after or during? What could we accomplish if we faced our fears? And no – no skydiving for me any time soon!

If we are clear in our WHY, we can Face Everything And Rise.

Thank you, Tom, for an inspiring morning that was just what this tired and overwhelmed educator needed!