Sisterhood of the Traveling Macs

Excitement, wonder and anticipation!  That’s what I felt the first time I got a laptop as a classroom teacher. I was involved in a grant that offered teachers the opportunity to learn new skills in using technology in the classroom.  I embraced the experience with an open mind a desire to make learning fun.  I think that’s what made my experience successful.  I learned to love teaching all over again.  I learned to look for my student’s interests and help develop them.  I also learned how to network and what an awesome skill that has been!

My early experience with networking was limited to the teachers I worked with in the building I taught.  We were all very busy and sharing resources was limited.    When I had time to discuss what I wanted to do and hear what others had done those who I looked up to didn’t have time.  How frustrating!  Then technology came into my life and the world opened up.  I literally had the world at my fingertips.  Very empowering!  I could find resources online, I became a consumer of the world wide web.  Then I discovered social networking.  I was cautious at first, then I began to add friends of friends and soon developed a network of awesome women leaders throughout the world.

That’s where the Sisterhood of the Traveling Macs came into my life.  We attended a conference called Podstock and instantly bonded.  We have experienced many life changing events in the years since we met.  We have celebrated successes,  mourned losses, held each other up in tough times, laughed at ourselves and discussed deeply how we can change the world.  We see each other once a year, maybe, if things work out. The distance, busy schedules and all the other things that can get in the way of bonding just don’t get in our way.  Our friendship is maintained by our social network and we are richer for that.

Those experiences brought me to where I am today.  I like to pay it forward.  I was fortunate to have those wonderful women leaders as guides and mentors and I still look to them for inspiration, guidance, laughter and sometimes just to vent.  I am always looking for ways to inspire the women in my life to be what they dream to be.   The beauty of technology and social networking is that those I lead and those who lead me are always available.

The next series of blog posts are inspired from:

“What Works with Women at Work” by Williams & Dempsey

20 Lessons

Lesson 3. Building and maintaining a network is an integral part of being a successful professional-particularly if you’re a woman.  Remember two important rules; One: no random acts of lunch, if you take the time to reach out to somebody, take the time to follow up.  Two; networking involves the reciprocal exchange of favors-although the favors (particularly for young women) can be as simple as giving someone else a sense of accomplishment in your success.

Are You Looking For Potential?

Being passionate about learning, I’m always looking for ways to make myself better.  Don’t get me wrong, I like who I am, it’s just I have always been a learner.  I want to know how it’s done.  I want to know what to do if it doesn’t work.  I want to know how to fix it.  That’s why I got into technology.  There’s always something broken, not working right or the updates that were automatically sent out left the application in a state where it just won’t work.  Those issues with technology can and often do leave the technology troubleshooter looking like he/she is incompetent, and to technophobes that exactly what they think.  I know, I’ve experienced it first hand.

I’ve been reading the book What Works With Women at Work by Williams & Dempsey.  One of the subtitles is named “Men Are Judged on Their Potential; Women Are Judged on Their Achievements” and I’ve found it to be painfully true.  Like I said earlier, I love to learn.  Technology is the ideal field for someone like me because it’s constantly changing, there’s always something new to figure out.  Education Technology is a great blend of both my passions.  That being said, I don’t know everything about technology and the systems that run the hardware.  Those who don’t understand technology and are in a position of leadership need to understand that.  Troubleshooting takes time.  Learning new systems takes time.

There are many women out there who are just as capable as men.  Women have just as much potential as men.  As a leader are you looking for the potential in your staff?  Or, do you treat some with the mind-set that they just got lucky and they need to prove it again and again?

Being a Luxury Item

“You’re a luxury we can’t afford.” How many times have school systems had to make decisions like that. Gym and recess? Sorry, a luxury we can’t afford. Art and Music? Sorry, luxuries we can’t afford. Computer support and technology integration? Another luxury we can’t afford?

I make a difference. I help teachers integrate technology and promote deep learning.  I help schools and districts run more efficiently and teachers teach more effectively. I make learning fun, for both teachers and students.

I’m not a luxury.  In these times when we are struggling to advance student learning, juggling tight budgets, raising test scores and bridging inequities, what I do is a necessity.  And I do it well.

Education is my passion.  Helping people learn new ways of doing things is my passion. I love Social Media and the potential it offers.  I love to travel. I love meeting new people.  I love helping people change., and I’m looking for an opportunity to make a difference.  If you know an open position that needs me, please send any opportunities my way.

 

Navigating the Digital World: #kasbcon13 Reflection

Well, I survived my first KASB conference!  Even made it to the office on time Monday, and for those who know me personally, that’s amazing!  I have to say I was impressed with the conference as well as the KASB staff.  From a newbies perspective the whole conference was smooth as silk.  The general session with Kevin Honeycutt was awesome, and as always, inspiring.  If you’ve never heard him speak you really are missing out!  Kevin and his wife Michelle are dear friends of mine.  Kevin also happens to be a school board member on the Inman school board, a former art teacher and currently is a Technology Integrationist with ESSDACK.  I met Kevin in 2008 at a conference in Wichita.  I was a first year tech director and looking for other educators who experienced the power of technology in the classroom.  Everything he said during that breakout session in 2008 was what I had experienced as classroom teacher integrating technology, meeting my students needs, differentiating instruction, and battling misperceptions.  You see, back in 2004 I had the opportunity to pilot palms in my 5th grade classroom.  Each student had a palm handheld computer of their own.  Since this was a relatively new venture in education there weren’t many resources available so I got to create my own curriculum incorporating these mobile devices (based off the approved standards of that time).   I spent planning time, lunch time, evenings and weekends online looking for ways to incorporate the devices in meaningful educationally appropriate ways and teaching to the established standards.  My students were amazing as they adapted to the new technology, helping each other out and discovering ways of their own to make the technology work for what they were doing.  I found a blog by a teacher in Nebraska who was using Palms in his classroom (Tony Vincent) and dreamed of the day I could share what I was experiencing. Today that possibility exists and there are so many wonderful blogs out there where teachers are mentoring teachers, administrators are mentoring administrators and school board members are mentoring school board members.

In my classroom I saw the technology as a tool. An awesome tool with great potential for fostering creativity, problem solving, higher order thinking skills and collaboration.  I would give my students an end result (standard based) and they would find a way to show me what they had learned using applications on their Palms.  They would share with their classmates educational appropriate games, tips and tricks for making their Palms work as they discovered that they were in charge of their own learning.  Discipline problems were very few or non existent, absenteeism was minimal, and we had fun!  We really did have fun learning!  I had high expectations of my students and treated them with respect.  We had established a culture for learning.  

As a tech director I decided to try and recreate that atmosphere and culture with a couple of fifth grade teachers.  We discussed the potential of having mobile devices in their classroom using the book Toys to Tools as a guide. Parents were asked how they felt about letting their child bring technology to school and every one of them was OK with it.  We did have a few students who didn’t have access to a mobile device so I purchased some iTouches and iPads to supplement the technology.  We worked together as team, mutually respectful, with opportunities to fail, so we could learn from those mistakes.  I would spend a day or an hour each week in the classroom so I could help troubleshoot connection issues and other unexpected problems.  But after a while I wasn’t needed.  As sad as that sounds it was exactly what I wanted.  Those teachers were empowered to make the technology work in their classroom.  They had the rights to fix issues, the knowledge to know that an issue was beyond their control and the creativity to go on to plan b, c, d…  Let’s go back to the statement “They were empowered”.  That’s the key!  Empowered, trusted, encouraged, and expected to make the technology work, to build the culture of collaboration, to engage their students in meaningful, relevant learning opportunities. That was the inspirational message Kevin conveyed.

Please visit http://www.kevinhoneycutt.com.  If you do get the opportunity to hear him speak you will be inspired! 

Asking The Right Questions

Technology is disrupting public education, and it’s a good disruption!  The promise of technology is to dramatically change the way teachers teach in order to meet the way students learn.  In some classrooms that promise is blooming, in some that promise is still growing, yet in many the seed of that promise hasn’t even germinated.  How is technology being used in your district?  Is it simply taking the paper factor out, or is it being leveraged to encourage communication, collaboration and innovation?  What is driving your technology decisions?  Is curriculum a factor in those decisions?  What about professional development?  

 

As we gear up for another school year many districts are planning for the future through strategic plans and discussions about technology should be included.  Planning for the use of technology in the classroom can be overwhelming at best and we all know that implementing technology without a plan creates chaos.  Knowing what is available now and what is being developed can help in that planning, but keep in mind that technology is an ever-changing landscape and that can sometimes be a roadblock when deciding what technology to purchase.  

 

There are four planning questions that need to be addressed as you decide what technologies fit your district needs: 1. What will students learn? 2. Which strategies will provide evidence of student learning?  3. Which strategies will help students acquire and integrate learning?  4. Which strategies will help students practice, review, and apply learning?  (“Using Technology With Classroom Instruction that Works,” McRel).   

 

One example of technology integration is the “20 percent time,” aka “Genius Hour.” This is a concept where everyone in the classroom, including the teacher, is given 20 minutes to pursue ‘pet’ projects and learning outcomes they choose.  Often students go above and beyond their learning outcomes simply because they are given a conduit for their passions and interests.

 

Being an advocate for technology is a critical role for district leaders  and board members, and being a change agent is one of the 21 Responsibilities of the School Leader (“School Leadership that Works: from Research to Results,” McRel). What does it mean to be a change agent? You consciously challenge the status quo, you lead change initiatives with uncertain outcomes, systematically consider new and better ways of doing things, and consistently attempt to operate at the edge versus the center of the district’s competence.  

 

The culture of a district and community is a key factor in dealing with the disruption that implementing technology can create. Districts using technology successfully in the classroom foster a culture of excellence, grounded in trust, compassion and respect. As a district leader you hold the keys to successfully integrate technology, provide for a culture of innovation and be an agent of change. Ask the question: What could we be doing that we are not to prepare our students for their future?

 

Bring in the Electronics System Integrator Early in your Design Project

We’ve all experienced the power strip trip hazard, the surround-sound system buzz, or the cord nightmare that happens when new technologies are installed without considering how the space will be utilized.  As an interior decorator/technology junky I expect my spaces to reflect a calm, zen feeling so I want to make sure my technology doesn’t distract from the peacfulness of those spaces.  Today’s Internet-rich environment brings many design challenges when remodeling or building a new space.  Interior Designers and Architects who partner with an electronics system integrator provide their clients with technology solutions that integrate beautifully in those new space. Working with Cablecom to seamlessly integrate all the features that the tech junky in me feels is necessary gave me the expetise and knowledge to design spaces that are tech rich and attractive.  Next time you are considering updating or remodeling your space contact the experts at Cablecom and see what their solutions can do to help you realize your dreams.

Navigating the Digital World – Everyone Matters

On March 26th I had the opportunity to hear world class speaker Kevin Honeycutt talk to students, staff and parents about digital citizenship, cyber bullying and the power of the digital world in which we live.  I had the opportunity to accompany him when he was in my district and as he spoke to our students throughout the day, the staff in the afternoon, and parents in the evening.  This newsletter is a reflection of what I learned that day and how to better prepare myself for the future.

The beginning of this school year was full of change.  Change, significant organizational change which leads to workplace relationships and systems that need time to be learned, that makes for a petri dish of bullying.    Bullying is often directed at someone a bully feels threatened by.  The target doesn’t even realize when they are being bullied because the behavior is covert, through trivial criticisms and isolating actions that occur behind closed doors.  Bullys tend to deny and perhaps misconstrue the accusations made against them, making it very hard to even realize or prove bullying is going on.  Technology can be an aid in proving that the bullying is occurring and as educators it’s our responsibility to be where our students are digitally.

New experiences are always exciting and sometimes intimidating.  Talking to a friend about her daughter’s experience brought this point home to me.  My friend, Mel, and her daughter Emily moved to Kansas during Emily’s sophomore year in high school.  Emily was very confident, outgoing, smart young lady who came to a Kansas high school with great expectations because of all the wonderful things she’d heard about the school and the great technology enhanced programs they offered.   As I helped them move into their new home and listened to Emily’s excitement about what she was looking forward to at her new high school I couldn’t help but want to go back to school with her.  My own experiences in high school weren’t empowering or uplifting, so I let her enthusiasm lead me to believe that things were different now.   A couple of weeks later I was over for a ‘thank you’ dinner and Emily was simply not the same person I’d seen the day of the move.  When I asked her what school was like she used words like “wonderful”, “fun”, “challenging in a good way”. Her Facebook posts were always positive about her new school.  But, her voice, facial expressions and body language didn’t say that at all.  They told me she was being bullied.  She was trying too hard to “be happy”.   That evening Mel and I sat on the back porch and talked about Emily.  She wasn’t joining in extracurricular activities.  She had mornings where she procrastinated going to school or would ‘forget’ something critical and have to go back home to get it. Her grades were C’s and D’s.  She had developed major headaches.  The bullying Emily was experiencing was  *‘exclusion or social isolation’, ‘being treated differently that the rest of the group’ and ‘character defamation’.   When Mel had a conference with the principal about Emily’s adjustment to the new school Emily blamed herself for the way she was feeling and her actions or lack of.  The principal listed some things that classmates were heard saying about her (trying to get Emily to talk about the bullying) and Emily agreed with them.  Mel was at a loss.  She didn’t know what to do to help so she took Emily out of that school.  I know this story is not unique as it happens all the time. As educators it’s our responsibility to be aware of the signs and take action to help others feel welcome.

During Kevin’s visit I had the privilege of sitting in on a Bullying task force meeting and am hopeful that the task force has a positive impact on the culture.  After that meeting I looked up how to handle bullying as a leader and here’s what I found: When witnessed or reported, the bullying behavior should be addressed immediately.  If bullying is entrenched in the organization, complaints need to be taken seriously and investigated promptly.  Reassignment of the bully may be necessary.  Structure the work environment to incorporate a sense of autonomy, individual challenge/mastery, and clarity of task expectations for employees – include employees in decision-making processes.  Hold awareness campaigns much like the “Blood borne Pathogens” campaigns.  Ensure management has an active part in the staff they supervise, rather than being far removed from them.  Encourage open door policies*.   Bullying was around way before the internet or technology.  It’s a cultural issue and working together is the only way to make it stop.  Knowing what to look for is a crucial step in creating a culture of empowerment in our students as well as co-workers – everyone matters!

*For more information see Facts about Bullying and Disruptive Behavior:  http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/Research/Files/Bullying.pdf