#OneWord2018 – Positive

As New Year’s Day approached and I was scrolling through Twitter, I saw more and more educators posting their #OneWord2018.

I am not sure where the One Word concept originated (I’ve seen several websites and books on the topic), but lately I have been working to simplify my life. I was drawn to the idea of choosing a single word to guide me for the year instead of an entire “New Year’s Resolution.”  Seems easier to actually succeed.

I took a day to think about what word I might choose.  As an English teacher and avid reader, I LOVE words, and so many seemed like they would be good choices.  I looked at words other people were choosing because I didn’t want to pick something that everyone else was doing.  But then I decided I didn’t need to worry about that. I just needed to focus on me.

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So while there are at least a dozen other words I could have chosen, I settled on “POSITIVE.”

I don’t think I’m a negative person, but I wanted to be more intentional about focusing on the positive no matter what the circumstances.  This does not mean being a “Polly Anna” or ignoring truly difficult situations.  But I know I want to look for the good in people and in situations.

Who knew my decision would be tested so early in 2018?  We returned to school/work on Jan 3rd to find no wifi available to students and limited teacher access to the internet.  Over the next 2 days, as the network team worked to get us back online, it pretty much ended up that almost no teachers, staff or students had internet access or printing access.

This was definitely a time that I could have chosen to focus on the negative (and I definitely had some frustrating moments), but I tried to keep in mind #OneWord2018 #Positive.  I was able to help teachers who needed alternate plans. I was able to teach a class for a teacher who had to leave.  I was able to shop for the items for our STEM Lock-in.  I was able to prepare the items for our District Magnet Fair.

Seems like POSITIVE was just the right word for me so far this year.  I plan to maintain that approach to work and my non-work life in 2018.

What’s your #OneWord2018?

Being ok with not being the Expert

Digital Integration Specialist (DIS) – that’s my official title, but it’s always felt intimidating to me.  “Specialist” somehow implies a level of expertise I don’t always feel I have.  I do have experience and I love to learn, so I guess that’s made me a “specialist” of sorts.  Sometime as the DIS, I feel like I have to have all the answers or know how to find them.  But sometimes that’s just not the case.

Last month, a teacher new to our school, @MsDeeegar, scheduled me to work with her and her chemistry classes on a breakout activity.  I’ll admit at first I was a little nervous. I didn’t really know anything about breakout edu or breakout boxes.  I’ve seen them at conferences and seen posts on twitter, but I just didn’t get it.  What do you actually do?  What do the students do? How does it work?

So, I did what most learners these days do – I searched online.  I went to https://www.breakoutedu.com/ and read some.  But it was when I watched videos of teachers and students in action that I started to understand what it was all about.

Thankfully for me the chemistry teacher, Kat Degar, did all the work for this one, and I was just there to support.  I did the legwork of borrowing the necessary boxes from another school in our district (thanks, @ImsSpedTechno !)and helped manage the papers and locks as needed during and between classes.  Using the breakout boxes does take quite a bit of prep work and setup.

Watching the students solve the chemistry problems and get into the boxes helped me see the “soft skills” the students learn by doing breakouts such as communication, critical thinking, collaboration and perseverance.  These skills are so important!  By wrapping her chemistry test review into a breakout edu project, Ms Degar expanded what students were learning.  She was focused on the standards and content, but also realized the value of a high level of engagement and the importance of problem solving.

I’m grateful that Ms Degar reached out to me and was willing to bring me in to her classroom when it was clear I didn’t know what I was doing.  This was a chance for me to assist and learn while doing.  I’m now working on getting our own breakout boxes and sharing this with other teachers.

Sometimes it’s fine not to be the expert!


Showcase Learning: Student Portfolios with Google Sites

The school year is underway, and learning is happening everywhere everyday!

One challenge facing all students and teachers is determining how best to demonstrate that learning.   Students needs to be able to share what they’ve learned in big and small ways.  It’s also great to be able to show growth over time.

Student portfolios are great for showcasing student learning and any work students do. So far this year I’ve had the privilege of helping two different groups of students get started with portfolios:  our AP Studio Art students and Statistics students.AP Art Portfolios 1

The new (not so new anymore) Google Sites is a great platform for their yearlong portfolios. The interface is intuitive and works seamlessly with the other Google tools the students are already using as part of G Suite for Education.

In both the art and math classes, students had their sites up and running in just a few


minutes.  For now, due to domain restrictions, the students’ sites are internal only;   students are able to share their portfolios with their teachers and other students. At some point I’d love for them to be able to share beyond our district.AP Art Portfolios 2



The art students started their portfolios in their very first class on the first day of school. I love the vision the teacher, Ashley Quam, helped create right off the bat.  Students will share their portfolio art pieces, not just when they are finished, but while they are in progress.  The students are also writing about the process, their chosen media, and reflecting on their pieces and connections to the course themes.

Last week, I  had a chance to ask Mrs Quam how the portfolios were going.  She told me that it was going well, and that because she’s able to see the portfolios as the students are working, she’s able to see parts of their creative processes that she was never able to see before.  That’s awesome!




In Enevelyn Hyatt’s math class, the students will create portfolio entries where they explain the key concepts and application of those concepts.  This ranges from analyzing statistics in online articles to creating a video showing their carnival games.  Besides the math skills they are demonstrating, they also get a chance to practice reflection and clear communication.



I love that I get to be just a little part of these experiences for students.  I really do have the #BestJobEver  

#foxpride #pridein5 #foxeslearn



Week One – My thoughts

Today marks the end of the 5th day of classes for our students.   That means we’ve done ONE FULL WEEK!  Congratulations to our students, teachers, staff and parents.

In addition to 5 days of classes, we had 4 teacher days before and another day of student registration.  And on top of that, many of us have worked other days as well.

I wish I could say I have some amazing great reflection or analysis of those days, but, alas, that’s not the case.  But I can share a few observations.

  1. I love teenagers!  It really is true. 
     In the last few weeks, I’ve had students make me laugh and make me cry (in a good way).  I’ve worked with students who gave up their last days of summer to help us get ready for school.  Their commitment, energy, and enthusiasm is contagious. I love working with them!
  2. Attitude matters!  It’s amazing how two people can have vastly different experiences with the same situation.  So often that depends on their attitude.  I know we can’t always be positive all the time, but trying to be positive when you can makes such a difference.
  3. Excitement is contagious.  I love watching excitement for learning move in a school.  You can almost see it flow down the hall from child to child and room to room.  IMG_4195
  4. Communication is key.  Knowing what is happening and why it is happening makes all the difference.  Being on the same page is possible when people communicate effectively.
  5. Asking for help is essential.  I will be the first to admit I like to be in control and do things myself.  I struggle with asking for help.  But I have had to do that in the last few weeks, and what a difference it has made!  We’ve all heard the saying TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More.  I can say that asking for help and working with people is a great way to make that happen.


I am SO excited about what this school year is going to bring.  We have new administrators, new teachers, new staff, and of course, the 1780 students who show up everyday to learn.  Granted not every student (or adult) is at his/her best everyday, but we’re still there and in this together.

May 2017-18 be the best school year yet!

#foxpride  #pridein5

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!