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!

Teamwork is the dreamwork

Anyone who knows me knows I like to be organized, and I like to be in charge. I think and plan WAY ahead and like systems and clear processes. I think these traits are part of what make me good at my job as a Digital Integration Specialist. But what’s made me better at my job over the last 6 years is being willing to get help and work with a larger team.

I am so fortunate to work with people in my school and in my district who are smart, passionate, and committed to making learning the best experience it can be for our students. This includes co-teaching with classroom teachers, working alongside our administrators, and helping our support staff. I also am part of a team of district Digital Integration Specialists – #FabuDIS5 . We are all incredibly dedicated to what we do and the talent in the group amazes me.

But for today’s reflections and celebration, I’d like to focus on the DFHS Technology Teacher Leaders (TTLs). These are full-time classroom teachers who also work to help train and support our teachers with all aspects of educational technology. Each year interested teachers participate in a rigorous application process (technology skills test, interview and recommendations). Once selected each TTL serves a 2 year “term.” We have 5 TTLs at our school each year.

Our first Tech Team – Kate Mewborne, Julie Vandiver, Justin Jones, Barry Lindler, Molly Dawson and me.

I started as a Technology Teacher Leader (TTL) in the 2012-13 school year. I was part of an incredible team led by Julie Vandiver. This was the year leading up to our 1:1 iPad rollout, and this team worked hard to get teachers ready to embrace this new technology. We spent a lot of time on the practical “how-to” part of iPads, but also tried to include the “whys” and help teachers what might be possible with technology.

Since then, each year, we’ve had a team of 5 classroom teachers and one Digital Integration Specialist (me) to lead our school in instructional technology planning, goal setting and training. And I have to say I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve been able to do so much more than I ever could have done as just one person. We’ve reached more content areas, more levels of students, and more teachers working together as a team.

2018-19 Technology Teacher Leaders: Rebecca Valencia, Brittany Holden, me, Kate Mewborne, Molly Dawson, and Jennifer Gray.

I wish I could put my hands on photos from each of those teams right now, but I can’t. Still, each member of this team over the years has played an important role. We have challenged each other and ourselves to BE better and DO better. We see ourselves as servant leaders dedicated to helping our teachers and students however we can.

Recently, I had the privilege of notifying the newest TTLS that they had been selected. I am SO EXCITED about our new team (as, truthfully, I am each year, since each year’s team has its own strengths and its own energy.) The new 2019-20 TTLs joined us for our final 2018-19 meeting. I can’t wait to see what this group does next year!

Inviting the “Real World” In

Friday was one of those days that makes you excited and proud to be an educator – especially at my school.  I had a chance to be a part of three different, yet important, learning opportunities. As I started to tweet about them on Friday, I realized, 280 characters would not do them justice. I needed a blog post.

Opportunity #1 – Learning from our Graduates @ClassroomMosaic @barrylindler

Ben & Tyler – Classroom Mosaic Founders

Barry Lindler, our Computer Science teacher, invited two of his former students back to Dutch Fork to talk to his Computer Programming 2 Honors students.  Ben Gustafson & Tyler Smith learned computer programming while at DFHS and started their own company right out of high school. Read their story at https://welcome.classroommosaic.com/about.  On Friday, Ben and Tyler shared their journey with our students including early drafts and iterations of the classroom observation software.  But what I liked best was learning from their experiences and the advice they gave our students. One thing Ben said really stuck with me: “There is no better way to learn to do something than to start to try to do it.”  Which leads me to opportunity #2 . . .

#2 – Skype Call with Paul Chavez @Chavez_Fndn  @Zorro_Platead0  @Skype

Sra Emily Arroyo, one of our Spanish teachers, is taking my Authentic Technology Integration and Instructional Design graduate course. As part of that class, the teachers must try some sort of video call as a way to increase communication.  Sra Arroyo decided that since today, March 31st, is Cesar Chavez Day, she would reach out to the Chavez foundation (https://chavezfoundation.org/) and ask them to talk to her Spanish 2 students about Chavez and his activism.  The foundation said yes, and even better, Sra Arroyo emailed with Cesar Chavez’s grandson and found out her class would get to Skype with Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez’s son!  Sra Arroyo was SO excited.

Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez’s son, talks to Spanish 2 students #CesarChavezDay

Before Friday, we made sure the technology was ready.  Everything went great on the day of the call. Paul Chavez spoke to the students and answered their questions for almost 30 minutes.  His message was one of hope and perseverance. Despite the incredibly different situations, I found myself noticing similarities between his words and those of Ben and Tyler.  Chavez reminded the students that every person can make a difference and that you only fail when you give up. Which leads me to opportunity #3. . .

#3 – AP Research Capstone Presentations @CollegeBoard @MrsBHolden

AP Research Practice Presentations

Tomorrow, our first group of AP Research students will present their final projects.  These presentations will be recorded and sent to College Board as the final pieces in what has been a year long process.  On Friday, Brittany Holden, their AP Research teacher, invited parents and teachers into our media center to give the students one last chance to present their ideas before the “big day.”  These students and the research they have done are amazing. Their topics are as diverse as the students themselves. A few examples include, “The Effect Of Emulsion Properties On The Delivery Of Resveratrol,” “The Madden Julian Oscillation and Eyewall Replacement Cycles,” and “The Use of Demographic Information to Predict an Individual’s Opinion on Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States.”  Wow! Besides the students’ confidence in themselves and their research, I also loved that parents and others were able to be involved, ask questions and give feedback.

When I think about Friday as a whole, I am thankful for my job and the teachers and students I get to work with everyday.  I am also thankful for the opportunities these teachers (and many others at our school) provide our students; they provide chances for them to learn from the “real world.”  And, finally, I am thankful that the message these students heard on Friday was that hard work matters and that they can make amazing things happen. This is one of the most important lessons in education.

Teamwork & Personalized PD

For our March PD, our administration asked us to offer our instructional technology professional development during teachers’ planning periods instead of on our delayed Wednesday morning time. I love to try something different, but I was concerned about teachers’ reception to meeting during planning periods. Our 110 teachers are already pulled in so many directions during this time each day, so I knew I had to make the PD meaningful and relevant. I am thankful that I have a team of 5 full-time teachers who also work as Technology Teacher Leaders (TTLs) to help create meaningful PD experiences for our teachers.

  • Step 1 – Survey our teachers. This year’s instructional tech PD sessions have offered choice and they have tied to our school focus on reflection. For March, I wanted to expand beyond reflection. So we created a Google Form with a few simple questions – some multiple choice, but also an open-ended question asking them what they’d like to learn about or a problem they’d like us to try to help solve.
  • Step 2 – Review results of our form. The TTLs and I met during the part of an in-service day to review the results. We sorted them by block and looked at what skills/tools our teachers most wanted to learn about. We also looked at whether they were more interested in taking a deep dive into a single tool/strategy or learning about several tools.
  • Step 3 – Create a schedule. It was clear that our teachers had varied needs and wanted different things out of our PD time. We chose the most popular requests for each of the 4 blocks and decided we would offer 2 “Learn” sessions each planning period – where a TTL or myself would lead a group. In a “Learn” sessions we would teach about a tool and its application with plenty of time for questions and some time for them to try the tool themselves. To meet the needs of the other teachers who really just wanted time to explore on their own, we decided to create resources for those teachers to use during our PD day.
Our Google Slides PD Resource for our Tech PD day. All of the bottom icons were linked to Google Doc resources for our teachers.
  • Step 4 – Create resources. I love to read about edtech resources and applications and have gathered many resources – mostly collected in Evernote, our school’s internal website, and Google Drive. We wanted to gather the resources into one place for this PD. Each TTL took a topic (or 2) and created a one page Google Doc of resources and suggestions. I created the remaining resources. We then made those Docs viewable inside our district. I created a one page Google Slides with the schedule for the Learn sessions and then icons for each of the Explore options. By using the “Publish to the web” option in Slides, this became a simple “flier” for our day with interactive links.
  • Step 5 – PD Day! Thanks to a donation from our pep club, we had snacks and some door prizes each block throughout the day. Teachers came to our Media Center during their 85 minute planning period for 45 minutes of tech PD time. They could chose to attend one of the Learn sessions or find a spot in the rest of the Media Center to explore resources, collaborate and create. At least one member of our instructional tech team was available to help those who chose to explore.
One teacher’s reflection via Google Drawings
  • Step 6 – Collect Feedback. At our school, we run all PD through “Zone” Google Classroom groups – teachers are divided into 4 groups based on the administrator who oversees their department. I created a simple Google Drawing for them to write about their learning: “something you learned or liked from today’s Tech PD time,” “something you plan to try to do as a result of today’s Tech PD,” and “something you’d like help with or something we could plan for a future PD.” I chose a Drawing instead of our usual forms, so they could have some experience with a new tool and see possibilities for the “make each student a copy” feature in Google Classroom.

Based on the comments during our PD and the responses in the Google Drawings, the day was mostly a success. Teachers found ways tools like Google Forms, Sites, Slides, Screencastify, and Adobe Spark could help them and their students meet their learning goals. I love being able to provide choice for teachers in their professional learning.

A day like this would not be possible without a great team of leaders who work together to create meaningful PD and teachers who are willing to learn and explore and continuously improve their teaching to meet the needs of all students.

#DFHSPride #Pridein5

From PD to Practice – SMART Suite

The first Wednesday morning of April was our monthly instructional technology professional development time.  Like we did in February, I arranged for a variety of teachers to share a tool or type of integration in short sessions (11 minutes).  We had 3 sessions in a row and teachers went to whatever sessions interested them.

Here are the sessions we offered:


I shared SMART Learning Suite Online and some of the SMART Activities teachers can use for review, assessment and/or engagement.

For these quick sessions, I created two activities for my teachers to participate in as students: “Shout it Out” and “Monster Quiz.”  Teacher joined my room and tried these two activities.


The teachers who attended commented that they could see many different ways to use these and the other activities.  We talked about how using activities like “Shout it Out” give all students a chance to offer feedback.

Today, a teacher who attended one of the sessions stopped me in the hall.  She was so excited because she used “Shout it Out” as part of a discussion, and it worked so well.  She told me that all students shared ideas in all three of her categories (including the students who do not normally participate).  She was so appreciative of having a chance to learn something during a PD session that she could quickly use in her classroom – and something that helped engage her students and get feedback from all of them.

She also shared that she’d thought about not trying SMART Suite because she wasn’t sure how it would work and it was an important lesson.  But then she pushed herself to try something new because she knew it had potential to improve her lesson.  Kudos to her!

I am thankful this teacher shared her successes with me. I appreciate her enthusiasm and her willingness to try something new!  And if it hadn’t worked well this time, that would have been okay too – she would have taken a chance to help improve her classroom.  What more can we ask for from our teachers.

PD to Practice – Just how it should be!  #PDtoPractice



PD Choice & Collegiality

In the five years I’ve been our school’s tech coach, one of my main responsibilities has been designing and implementing our instructional technology learning and professional development.

2018-02-07 08.17.23

As a part of that professional development, our administration designates one hour each month for instructional tech pd sessions.  While one hour a month is not a lot of time, by maximizing our time and providing support in between, our instructional tech pd has been able to help teachers and their students maximize instructional technology.

The format of these once a month sessions varies.  We’ve done whole staff sessions, small groups, online self-paced sessions, and everything in between.  I’ve tried to make sure our teachers have variety over the course of a year and have some choice in what they do.

2018-02-07 08.17.16

The sessions always tie to whatever our school goals are for the year –  our technology goals or other instructional goals.  This year one of our instructional technology goals is to increase the frequency with which our teachers take ISTE Standards for Students and Educators into account when planning student learning.  With all teachers have to do to keep up with their content standards, AP requirements, benchmarks, end of course tests and more, we know this is a tall order.  But our teachers are phenomenal and want to make sure their instruction helps prepare students for life beyond our walls, so they know technology standards are a part of that.

Because of this focused goal, each time we have instructional technology sessions, we make sure we’re being mindful of our choices and deliberate with how ISTE Standards tie into those choices.

Share sessions

Which brings me to what we did for our February session.  Our sessions are the first Wednesday of the month from 8-9 am.  Feb 7th our Technology Teacher Leaders and other teachers volunteered to lead “Share Sessions.”  Each session was 10 minutes long and gave participants a glimpse at a new tool or new method for using a tool.

2018-02-07 08.05.11

We started off at 7:45 with some coffee and donuts.  This time gave teachers a chance to just talk – something we often don’t have time for in our busy days.  This “soft start” also gave teachers a chance to talk about what topics/sessions they were interested in attending.

Each teacher-presenter created a slide in our shared Google Slides.  I shared these slides with all teachers the week before so they could explore what we were offering.  Teachers were able to go to whatever sessions they’d like based on their interests.  Each session was also tied to at least one ISTE Standard for Students.2018-02-07 08.17.59



At the end of the morning, each teacher completed a Google Form exit ticket.  Besides topic specific questions, they were also asked “What did you like about this morning’s format?”   Some of the responses included:

2018-02-07 08.18.12

  •  “It was nice being able to choose”
  • “I liked the flexibility; I liked the collegial sharing; I liked the relevance”
  • “I liked being able to select relevant sessions and to see practical applications”
  • “The PD choices were very open and you can use these programs in different content areas”
  • “I loved sharing with my peers!”
  • “I liked the short information format; you learn more in less time”

So, while I know our teachers learned useful information that morning, I also learned about organizing professional development.  Our teachers’ responses reinforced some important ideas:

2018-02-07 08.17.35


  • Choice is important – for teachers and for students.
  • Teachers are professionals and appreciate the chance to learn from each other.
  • Brevity is key for busy teachers.
  • Teachers want practical tips and application of ideas.

Several teachers told me they used ideas they learned in their sessions in their own classrooms that week.  Some followed up with me about additional coaching or co-planning lessons.  Success!

I love helping facilitate teacher sharing and learning.  DFHS teachers are the best!

#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.

Adobe Spark.jpg

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