Sunday, November 30, 2014

Choose Love

I try not to watch the news too often, but I quickly find myself drawn in.  I'm a very empathetic person and quickly associate myself deeply with others' pain.  Because of that I've had to carefully maneuver through what I watch on the news or read online.

As I watch terrible things happening across our country and our planet and I see the responses of some it breaks my heart even more.  Over the last week I have read some of the most hateful and disgusting remarks from people regarding different things going on around our country.

I sit here, and I think 'why'?  Why do we so often feel the need to chime in on a situation with which we will never know all the details.  Why do we feel entitled to comment on something we have nothing to do with.  Why choose hate?

I remember growing up in a toxic environment.  I remember going to school and many days not knowing who I was going to sit with during lunch, wondering instead if I try and eat in the bathroom.  I can still remember almost every hateful and hurtful thing that was said to me during my Jr. High and High School years.  The off-handed remarks by kids, the mean things said by teachers, the people who really knew nothing about me, I remember every word.

You see because our brains remember emotional occurrences.  They remember the positive as well as the negative.  And those memories can stick with us for a lifetime.

There still will be instances in my day to day happenings where someone will jokingly say something, or off-handedlly say something, that triggers a memory. That brings up the pain that I thought had been dealt with.

I write this because every single day we have a choice.  We choose the words we say and the actions we make.  And we can never take back hate.

As educators, our words and actions affect generations to come.  Every single thing we say to those kids who walk into our buildings every day.  Every single action we choose while their little eyes are watching.  All of it makes a difference.  Some for the good, some for the bad.

We have to take the time to stop and think before we speak and spew hate.  Every one of us comes from a different background with different experiences and we can never fully understand the depth of each persons' upbringing.  But instead, we must choose love.  We must always choose an open heart and a kind word.

Because in the end love always conquers hate.  Always.

If you're surrounded by hate and are one of the few choosing kind, remember as Margaret Mead so famously said "Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, when indeed it's the only one that ever has".

Take the time each and every day to remind someone of their worth, of their value, of their importance.  Because we're human, and we so quickly forget.  Don't make the time for hate.  Instead take the time to choose love.

And to the person reading this right now, who wonders what their value is, remember that you matter.  I may not know you personally, I may not understand your pain, but there is one thing I know to be irrevocably true, and that is that you matter.  That you are needed on this earth.  That you bring something special and wonderful to the table, something that is irreplaceable.

In the end, choose love.

Leading and Learning with @GoSwivl

About 3 weeks ago, I attended one of the best conferences I've ever been to, Miami Device.  While presenting at the conference I had seen a Swivl robot set up in one of the rooms and was in awe by how tiny it was and what it could do.  Little did I know, just a few hours later, I would win one as part of a random drawing!

What is a Swivl?  Well it's a tiny portable machine that allows you to set an iPad, iPhone or something of the like in it, and it will record for you.  The cool part?  The person you want to be recorded wears a mic around their neck that also acts as a motion sensor device.  So wherever the mic-wearer walks, the Swivl moves and follows them!!  How cool is that?

As a teacher, and also administrator my head immediately begin thinking up ways we could use it at my school.  Because there's no way I'm going to win some tech and NOT use it!  So my instructional coach, Aaron Marvel, and I started brainstorming ideas.

As soon as we got back to our campus we began using it.  Teachers signed up for a time-slot that they wanted Aaron to come in and set the Swivl up.  Aaron would set it up and leave it for 30-45 minutes.

Then Aaron uploads the recording of the instruction to YouTube and in 3-5 days he meets with the recorded teacher to talk about things they liked that they saw, and things they want to work on!

It is incredibly reflective to watch yourself teach, but it's also very difficult because we're so hard on ourselves.  I remember the first time I watched myself teach when I recorded myself a few years ago.  I didn't even realize how many times I said the word "Um" or how I taught primarily to the right side of the room!  What an eye opener!

Another teacher also had a great idea of while her students were presenting on their social studies projects they could use the Swivl to record themselves, and it worked awesome!

We plan on teachers recording themselves once or twice each month, so they can watch their growth as teachers and continually evaluate what they're doing in class.

I absolutely love our Swivl and can't wait to continue to think of ways to use it to help our instruction get stronger!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Give Thanks, Give Back

This past week I got to do something that I've always wanted to do as a teacher but never did, for whatever reason.

I work in a district where over 85% of our students are on a free and reduced lunch.  I work with kids who come from all types of backgrounds with all types of stories.

Since we are in November, the month of giving thanks, I was thinking about all I had to be thankful for.  One of the things that kept hitting me was how much I take for granted the food that I'm able to put on my dining room table daily.

So I challenged my students.  On Monday morning I talked on the announcements that I wanted to do a little competition.  I encouraged my students to write me a letter or story about what they were thankful for.  Then I told them I would pick the best 3, and those 3 students would go home for Thanksgiving with a frozen turkey.

I wasn't sure how many students would take me up on the offer.

So, I went with my wife to the store and we bought the 3 biggest turkeys I could find.  Man they were heavy!  All I could picture was a little kid carrying this thing on a bus!

The stories had to be turned into me by 3:30pm on Thursday.  When I checked my box, I had over 250 letters turned in (that's out of about 340 students total).  I was in shock.  I couldn't believe that many kids had written letters!  I was hoping for 50!

That night I spent about an hour and a half reading through letters.  And tears just fell from my eyes with a few of them.  Students who were thankful for being a part of a school where they felt like they belonged, or students who were thankful to have a teacher care about them for the first time, or students who were thankful for cows! Yes cows! haha.  There were students who were thankful for their once a month visits with their dad, students who were thankful they were allowed to visit mom in prison once a week.  I mean just the kinds of things that absolutely break your heart.

But it was a reminder of why I am where I am.  These kids need us.  They need our understanding, our patience, our kindness, and our unconditional love.

So that night as I read I couldn't decide between three, I was instead stuck on 4.  I headed into work Friday not knowing what I was gonna do because I only had 3 frozen turkeys. Then that morning, a teacher stopped me and said, "I don't know who you chose, but if you didn't choose _____, I want you to know I bought him a turkey because I was so touched and moved by what he wrote, and he hates writing but worked so hard for that turkey".  My eyes welled up with tears.  Why?  Because that little boy WAS my 4th pick, and on the way to work I had prayed and prayed for a solution.  Then his teacher, shows up with our 4th frozen turkey, so all four of my picks could go home for Thanksgiving with a turkey.

You should have seen the joy in their eyes when I announced their names on Friday.  I had such a swell of pride in my heart for these kids.  I wish I could have sent every single child home with a turkey.

And the closing part of my day was when a staff member stopped me and said "I'm so glad ______ won the turkey.  Their grandma had just broken down to me on the phone that they weren't going to be able to afford a turkey this year for Thanksgiving"

So give.  Give freely, give often, give openly, just give.  For you never know the impact that even the smallest gift can make.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lessons Are Learned in Times of Struggle

This week was a doozy for me.  This week was the first time I began to feel like there was far more I was doing wrong, then was doing right.

I know I'm a new administrator.  I know I have a lot to learn.  I know I'm going to make mistakes.  Those are things that I am fully aware of.

Regardless of what I know, I still get extremely frustrated when things don't go as planned.

This school year has seen a lot of things thrown at me and thrown at us as a school.

One thing that I really struggle with is wanting to "fix" everything.  I want everything to go great.  There's a lot of work to be done at my school and my teachers are working so very hard to turn our ship around.

This week though, it was one thing after another that just made me feel like a failure as a leader.  I left every day, and on the ride home just sat and cried and prayed the entire way home.  I began to doubt who I was, who I am.

I have the best administrative team in the world.  Without Terry, Aaron, or Geralyn, I couldn't do what I do.

But as I think about my failures and mistakes I've made and continue to make, I'm reminded of one simple fact.  And that is that we learn the most when we are in the midst of the struggle.  We don't learn when things are going great.

And that is what I hold on to.  That through everything I'm learning.  Through everything I'm growing.

I wanted to write this post to remind so many, that we all struggle.  Things don't always go as we hoped or planned, but the road isn't designed to be easy for a reason.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

13 Educators You Should Be Following on Twitter, but Probably Aren't!

I did a list like this about a year ago, and I thought it was a great time to do another!

Listed below are 13 people I learn from quite often, that many of my blog readers probably haven't heard about!  So I've decided to introduce you to them, so that you can learn from them as much as I do!  So give them a follow, send them a tweet, and join in on learning together!

Aaron Marvel is an instructional coach at my campus in Navasota.  He is incredibly intelligent.  His post are always insightful and positive.  With two masters under his belt and working on his PHD in Educational Psychology, Aaron is a wealth of knowledge and someone who is continually trying to better others through learning all he can while also being a bright light.  He's fairly new to Twitter, but the tweets he shares out are worthy for sure.  If there's anyone you follow on this list, Aaron should definitely be at the top of your list!

Andrea Keller is an Instructional Technology Specialist in Irving, Texas.  I have never met anyone with a more sunny disposition as Andrea.  Andrea can always see the best in every situation.  But even more so than that she's incredibly intelligent and super creative when it comes to educating other teachers on technology resources!  She's all about having fun and using technology to create not consume.  She always brings a wealth of knowledge on dealing with students with learning struggles.

Ben Gilpin is an administrator in Michigan.  I have learned so much from Ben and the things he shares about what he's doing in his own career as well as the incredible things his school is doing.  Ben is always willing to give a helping hand and he is a wealth of information.  There are few administrators I admire as much as Ben.

Daisy Dyer Duerr....the administrator with the best souther accent ever!  In addition to a killer souther accent, Daisy is one of those people who shares her story and learning so well. She is always sharing about what she's doing at her rural Arkansas school to continually better a child's education.  She's an award winning administrator who is supremely worthy of a follow.

Emily Swenson, where do I even begin?  Emily has been a teacher for years now and has continually pushed the boundary of what a child's education can look like.  Now Emily is a "Explor-A-Lab" teacher at her school and the things she's doing with those kids is beyond inspiring.  If you're looking for new and innovative things to do with kids, Emily is a must follow.

Jed Dearybury is a second grade teacher in South Carolina.  Jed is full of passion and humor.  He's an award winning educator who's number one priority is doing what's best for kids.  Jed shares so many great resources and tools and tons of photos too!  Jed is a great follow to add to your lists!

JoAnn Delaney is Middle School teacher that I had the pleasure of meeting face to face recently.  She is so full of passion and joy that when you interact with her you leave with a smile on your face.  JoAnn shares so many great resources from everywhere online and is someone who's been recognized by several organizations for the innovative work she's doing.

Kimberly Goh is a force to be reckoned with.  Kimberly is always on the search for the best things going on in education.  She shares constantly and always seems to find out about things before everyone else.  I love following Kimberly's posts to learn about new and great ideas.

Melissa Butler was just recently recognized by the Bammy's as the Middle School Teacher of the Year.  She's from New Jersey and is constantly pushing the boundaries on what a classroom could look like.  I love following the many great posts that Melissa puts out that help me grow and think about things differently.

Paul Carver is a middle school teacher in Kansas.  Paul is exploring the many ways that PBL and Makerspaces can work within a classroom.  Paul is always willing to share the things that he's learning and trying with his students.  I absolutely love watching the journey that Paul is on as he figures out how to make PBL and Makerspaces work at his school.

Russ Kahle is a Director of Instructional Technology in Kansas.  Russ is a wealth of information of all things technology and music.  If there's every a technology question that I can't figure out I make sure to check with Russ because of his wealth of information or the fact that he knows where to go if he doesn't know either.

Tamara Letter is a Tech Integrator out of Virgina.  I just love the posts that Tamara shares on how she's helping teachers integrate technology into their classroom.  I feel like I'm learning all the time from the great things that Tamara tweets out.

Felix Jacomino is a Director of Technology in Miami, Florida.  But man Felix is so much more than that. Felix is probably one of the most hardworking and creative people that I know.  He recently organized an INCREDIBLE conference called, Miami Device.  Felix is a wealth of information on all things technology and improving education.  He always seems to be on the cutting edge of what is happening and what is coming in education.  I respect Felix immensely and tell everyone I know to follow him.

A Conference Unlike Any Other, @MiamiDevice

I'm not quite sure how to even put into words what an experience like #MiamiDevice was.

I was contacted a little over a year ago, by Felix Jacomino, to ask me if I would consider being a featured presenter at a brand new conference coming up.  When he told me it was in Miami, I of course said YES!  Little did I know how amazing it would be.

I have been to MANY conferences.  I have been to some really great conferences and some that I didn't enjoy quite as much.  But none compare to Miami Device.

From the moment I boarded my plane in Houston, to the moment I landed back in Houston 4 days later, there was not one negative thing that happened or one thing I would change from the entire time.

I also had the extreme pleasure of bringing one of my best friends, and my campus instructional coach, Aaron Marvel along for the ride.  He had only been to one really small conference before this, so I knew he was going to have his mind blown.

The reason that Miami Device was unlike any other conference I've been to was because of how it was all set up.  There were about only 350 people there, but the caliber of presenters was HUGE!  They had Tony Vincent, Kevin Honeycutt, Wes Fryer, Lisa Johnson, Jeremy Macdonald, Janet Corder, Jed Dearybury, Erin Klein, Brad Waid, Dave Guymon, and soooo many more.  And because the conference was so small you go to interact with people and have these amazing conversations that don't always happen when you're at those larger conferences.

Felix put together more than a conference though.  He put together and experience.  The swag was top notch, the food served for breakfast and lunch was incredible and authentic to the area, he had a Miami band play a show at the end.  He brought in YouTube star Daniel Kim (PopDanthology) and recent Bammy winner, 13 year old Joshua Williams (Joshua's Heart).  I mean he hit the nail on the head in every way with this conference.

I leave with learning so many great tools.  But I also leave with the distinct reminder that without relationship building, these conferences only mean so much.  What does that mean?  I can attend a conference and fill my head with lots of great ideas and tools.  But when I leave a conference like Miami Device, and I've chosen to spend just as much time in conversation with others, my learning increases 10 fold.  I strengthened relationships, built new ones, and learned more in small group and one on one settings than ever before.

I look back at the over 200 photos I snapped while at Miami Device, and I scan back over my countless tweets, and tears are brought to my eyes with wonderful memories.  I can't believe I had dinner with Tony Vincent or Felix Jacomino.  I can't believe I spent my Saturday with Joshua Williams and his mother touring Miami.  I can't believe I got to hang out with my buddies Paul Carver, Russell Kahle, and Jed Dearbury for a few days.  I can't believe Erin Klein, Aaron Marvel and I stumbled upon a fashion show at Miami Beach and got to walk the red carpet!  I can't believe my buddy Aaron Marvel got to experience it all with me.  There are just so many countless experience that will not be soon forgotten.

So to Felix Jacomino, I say thank you.  Thank you for working tirelessly to make this an experience to remember.  Felix is truly one of the most incredible men I've ever met and so hard working.  He put countless hours into Miami Device, and it showed.  It went off without a hitch (at least from the outside looking in haha).  But this conference wouldn't have happened without a man like Felix willing to put the work in.  He brought together a great team that helped him bring this all together.  But most of all Felix worked tirelessly to make sure each and every attendee got taken care of.  He was everywhere.  Thank you Felix, I'm not sure you'll ever understand the impact and mark you left on thousands.  You are incredible.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Family Game Night at @NavasotaInt

In a continued effort to bring families into what we're trying to do here at Navasota Intermediate, we came up with the idea to have a Family Game Night.  I had done something like this at my previous school.

We partnered with a local teacher supply store, name Jacques.  Jacques brought out about 30 different educational games and my teachers picked the game they wanted to play.

Then we invited families up to the school for an hour just to hang out and play games with the teachers.

I wasn't quite sure what the turnout would be, but we had a great little crowd!  We had about 30-40 families show up throughout the hour.

It was such a joy to listen to the laughter and watch people just having fun!  And it was a great opportunity for families to see that educational games exist and can be fun too!

I write this short little post just to remind teachers and administrators out there, that there are so many "little" things you can do to continue to break down barriers and invite families in.