Challenge Accepted, & With My Usual Verbose Aplomb

Kristen Witt, the principal of Fairfield High School,  who was also the last principal I worked for before I left the classroom, is one of those people who, when you're dreaming about starting an Ideal school and you can hand-pick the people you want to work with, is right at the top of your list.  In addition to being one of my favorite Educators, and one of my favorite leaders, she's one of my favorite human beings on the planet.  She has issued this 1-2-3-4-5 Blog Challenge to me.  I think it's a good chance for reflection and consideration.  Plus, I never back down from a Kristen Witt challenge, they’re always a good idea and usually pretty fun.

1. What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year? 

My biggest struggle this year has been maintaining realistic expectations of myself and others.  I am an Educational Technology Specialist, a teacher-coach.  Like every coach, I expect my team to improve and have a more winning record than they did last year.  The problem with that  expectation, for me, is keeping it based in reality.  The last two years in this position, working with some amazing teachers, I feel like we have all made some great strides in terms of our Edtech integration.  But, I have a goal in mind.  I have an idea of where I want to go, where I would like to see my teachers’ practice and comfort level, and what kind of edtech-facilitated student learning and creativity I’d like to see.  At the beginning of this professional journey I knew that we weren't going to get there in 3 years, or even in 5...I’ve heard it takes 7 years minimum to change organizational culture.  Intellectually, I understand all this.

But I am a goal-oriented person and I push myself, and sometimes I let the vision of achieving that goal get ahead of reality.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit disappointed in where “we”  were in relation to the vision in my head.  However, that would completely fail to take into account the growth that all the teachers I work with and I have made professionally.  And make no mistake, the growth is real.  My struggle has been to maintain patience with myself, and then respectively with my client-teachers, on achieving what I see as important for their practice and student learning.  It's not really okay to disregard progress and growth simply because it doesn't match the chart you have in your head and the end result you’ve decided you want to see.  We spend a lot of time talking about how students learn and grow in different ways and at different rates and how we need to be okay with that as educators.  Yet, as professionals, we seldom afford ourselves or our colleagues the same consideration and acknowledgement of variety, diversity, and human differences.  Patience is, as it has been, a struggle for me.

2. Share TWO accomplishments you are proud of from this school year.

Before I answer this question I have to get on a soapbox that I am usually on with teachers. And here it is, as a profession we are terrible at singing our own praises and recognizing our own achievements and accomplishments. That has to stop. If you are not telling your story, someone else is. Part of being able to tell your story effectively is, yes, talk about the achievements of your students, but also to be able to talk about your own accomplishments. Teachers should reflect on this question more often, increased self-awareness and recognition of your own accomplishments is never a bad thing. It doesn't mean you're not humble, and it doesn't mean you're a braggart.

I would say the first accomplishment that I'm proud of  is an ongoing collaborative project with Stacie Ryan, a 3rd grade teacher at Anna Kyle Elementary.  Last year Stacie began blogging with her students. If you know anything about blogging you know that what makes it really engaging for students is having an actual audience and receiving genuine comments.  And 3rd graders, as I imagine all of us would, get bored receiving comments from the same audience members (in their class) over and over.  She was looking for a way to connect her students with other blogging students.  There was a service called Quadblogging known in edtech circles, but that service, which connected teachers and students to a regular audience for their students’ blogs, appears to be defunct. So Stacie approached me about planning a way to simplify the process for teachers to find other students to comment on her students’ blogs.  The solution we came up with was, from a technical standpoint, fairly simple.  Instead of spending any time as a service matching up teachers, we simply let them all deposit there pertinent information into a Google form and let them find their own partners, because we believe in autonomy.  The next part, what could be termed as the heavy lifting, was for the two of us to leverage our personal learning networks, and social media to get the word out to teachers all over. At this point we have empowered, over 50 teachers from all over the United States (& Canada and Dubai) to connect with other teachers and their students for mutual blogging an audience connection.

 The second accomplishment that I'm proud of is the FSUSD Google Educator Cadre.  There are several levels of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) certification.  Google Educator level 1 can be done on your own using the training center materials, but I had a different idea.  I thought it might be useful to teachers to get them together in a space where they could work at their own pace in peer groups for mutual support, learning, and collaboration.   The idea of self-pacing and collaborative learning was intrinsic to my plan.  Letting teachers who wanted to take the time and initiative see that, when given the support of like-minded peers, they are capable of achieving this certification was important in my view.

When I put out the email to the district teachers explaining what the program was, that it would involve 3 Saturdays, I expected to get no more than 20 applicants.  I got over 60.  I enlisted the help of another Ed Tech Specialist, Dawn Kasperson, and we were able give 28 teachers three  Saturdays of self-paced, collaborative, study-group style learning with our support.  So many expressed gratitude at the format of the Cadre; they seemed to really appreciate not having to march to a presenter’s drum.  Another goal I had was to get teachers out of their sight-based silos to make connections with their grade-level peers at other schools.

Overall, regardless of what metric you use, whether it's number of teachers achieving the certification, or connections between teachers at different schools formed, or people who felt like they're learning and comfort in the GAFE Suite was increased, I would definitely say there was some success, and this program has room for improvement.  But, I am not afraid of reflection and refinement.

The reason I am proud of our Google Educator Cadre is that it was something brand-new to the district, and an undertaking I had never done before.  In those senses, I feel like that it happened at all and that the response we got was generally positive, and people are still expressing interest, are enough to make me feel that it is a program worth improving; I’ll take that as a win.

3. What are THREE things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?

  1. At the start of this year, Dawn Kasperson and I, who are the main GAFE trainers in our district, set out on an ambitious plan to more-than-double the number of professional development topics we offered in our GAFE tools cycle.  We picked these topics based on teacher requests and what we saw as emerging needs.  We offered 8 topics in 2014-15 and designed 18 topics in 2015-16.  I am not sure I realized how much more difficult these higher level PDs would be to develop.  I would like to finish creating the last of the new topics and be able to offer each twice before this school years ends.
  2. For the last 2 years Warren Herrera, Dawn Kasperson and I have run a week long PD camp for district clerical staff which we call “The Classified GAFE Cycle.”  In the past we have done this in the 3rd week of June. Based on attendee feedback, we’ve moved it to the 3rd week of July, and will be revising and hopefully improving the materials.  I am hoping we can get this done before we leave for the summer.
  3. I am a Google for Education Certified Trainer, but it has always been a goal of mine to be what is now called a Google for Education Certified Innovator, commonly called a Google Certified Innovator, previously known as a Google Certified Teacher.  To achieve this, one must be accepted to a Google for Education Innovation Academy.  I suspect the application will open again before the close of the school year.  I  would like to finally get my application together and submitted.

4. Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today's rough culture.

  1. Because I believe, as King George VI of the UK said, “The highest of distinctions is service to others.”  And further, I believe, the highest kind of service to others is the education of our children.
  2. Because I firmly believe that the best way to improve everything in education is high quality, well-planned, thoughtfully made, and considerately delivered professional development, and I have discovered a deep ardor for making and delivering that professional development.
  3. Because school was my safe place growing up and I must do everything to make sure that this is still true for children today.
  4. Because I love teaching and learning with both children and adults.  I cannot imagine another career where this is possible.

5. Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?

There are a lot of people who could be on this list.  lucky for them, I am restricted to 5.  Each of the individuals is someone I consider a friend, a colleague, and a peer.  Every single one of them is on my short-list of folks who I want to come with me when I start my Ideal School.  As far as I am concerned, the people below are a “Seal Team Six” of public education.
  1. Dr. Melissa Farrar Ed.D. - Melissa is my current boss.  She has been and continues to be an outstanding mentor.  I feel like she has personified servant leadership, and Tina Fey’s thought on being a leader in her book Bossy Pants, “In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”  She has taught and teaches me as much about professional self-awareness as she has leadership.  She continues to be my role model in the area of calm, and, “Yes and...”
  2. Ariana Flewelling - EdTechAri is a friend, colleague, and creative in-putter whose acquaintance I made over twitter and through a #GAFESummit and whose friendship I was able to foster over Voxer.  She is 1 of 2 people on this list that are testaments to the amazing power of a Personal Learning Network.  Ari is an edtech coach in Riverside Unified School District, and a Google Certified Trainer and recently became a Google Certified Innovator.
  3. Susan Stewart - Susan is another person who started as a person in my PLN and has now grown to be a full-on, real-life friend.  Susan’s cheerful voice and verbal “smirk” have made her one of my go-to humans on Voxer.  She is also a Google Certified Trainer and has a Leading Edge Certification. Yeah, she’s totes legit! Susan is also an Edtech Coach and is a specialist in an area that perplexes me--primary.  Check out her website.
  4. Gayle Horsma - Gayle is a teammate of mine in FSUSD.  Like me she is an Edtech Specialist , but different to me, Gayle has a specialized focus.  In addition to being a Level 1 Google Educator and SeeSaw Ambassador, she is our Kinder-Code Specialist in our Title I kindergartens.  When I met her, she was one of my client-teachers and has quickly grown to be a trusted and amazing teammate. I feel fortunate to have her to collaborate with.
  5. Dr. Stacie Ryan Ed.D. - Stacie Ryan is a teacher in my district and has been a friend of mine for a few years.  We initially met through our local teacher’s association.  She was one of those people you meet and, although you’ve just met them you think, “I bet she’s a good teacher,” but you never get to see them teach.  Then when I became her Edtech coach and got to see her work, my thought was, “Wow! I had no idea it was going to be this amazing.”  Stacie is a dynamo, who never stops learning and is constantly trying to grow her practice and become the best teacher…anywhere, ever.  She is currently in the middle of National Board Certification. I am lucky to get to work with her.