Using Tech as a Tool – Necessary?

The latest and greatest tech shows up. If you’re like I am, you are curious to see if it’s better than something you already use or different in the way it approaches a problem. Maybe it has lots of “bells and whistles”. Maybe the interface looks great. Whatever the reason, discovering new tech can be exciting and almost heady as we explore some great new apps or software.

What is the reason for using the new tech? Is it just because it’s shiny and new? Or does it really have a purpose that will greatly improve your life or the life of your students?

My job is the help teachers and staff learn to use technology in a way that supports their curriculum and enhances their teaching and learning. Sometimes the needs are obvious – “How do I?…” or “I can’t seem to get it to…”. These statements have simple answers (usually!) Yet how do you help someone who doesn’t even know the question to ask?

Like any sound educational practice, looking at the ‘Why?’ behind the use of technology is a great place to start. We set goals and objectives for our students. We determine a standard of what needs to be taught. Why don’t we do the same for teaching adults to integrate software into their teaching? Maybe you already do. I certainly try to do this!

Time Management
“Time Management” by danielfoster437 
is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

My “Why” for teaching teachers has many facets. Each teacher is different, yet each teacher should exhibit the same end goal. Something that is best for students. The “customers” are our students. They deserve to have an engaging education and that must involve various forms of technology. They have grown up in a tech world. They are easily bored. Rather than just throwing the tech at them for the WOW factor, we need to be encouraging them to utilize the tech as a tool. A stepping stone to get to the skills they need to get employed. And it has to start in Kindergarten. If we wait until fourth or fifth grade, we have waited too long.

Technology can open the world of creativity for students. They can use it to collaborate with others globally, to be self-motivated, to set deadlines and personal goals. But only if we teach them how to do that. We can’t ever assume that students, or teachers, have already mastered self-discipline, time management, collaboration, or communication. In other words, teaching soft skills.

While I’m not a fan of the term soft skills, it is used with regularity in the business world. What are soft skills? Will Kenton describes soft skills in this way:

Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationships with other people. In the workplace, soft skills are considered to be a complement to hard skills, which refer to a person’s knowledge and occupational skills. Sociologists may use the term soft skills to describe a person’s emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) as opposed to intelligence quotient (IQ).

Soft skills have more to do with who people are, rather than what they know. As such, they encompass the character traits that decide how well one interacts with others and usually are a definite part of an individual’s personality. In a competitive labor market, employees who demonstrate they have a good combination of hard and soft skills often see a greater demand for their services.

Soft Skills. (2021). Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/soft-skills.asp

Quarantine taught us a lot about the lack of self-discipline. Both the self-discipline of our students and the self-discipline of ourselves. I’m a scheduled person. I thrive when I have my calendar completely organized well in advance of dates. I organized calendars for my family and manage multiple calendars. I like this. Many people don’t. It makes me calm and helps me plan. I still manage to miss or arrive late to meetings, but then it’s my own fault for not allowing enough time. I do that a lot. Time fleets.

Soft skills became a necessary thing to acquire for students and teachers thrust into learning from home. Some learned it. Sadly, many did not. But don’t underestimate your students! They are quite resourceful if you let go of the control just a little bit. They become motivated when it’s something they want to learn.

So back to technology tools. Tool training is important, but not for the reason you might think. Tool training is important because it is the foundation to get to the end goal. It’s not about the tool. For example, you can’t build a house unless you know how to use a ruler, a saw, and a hammer at the very least. So learning how to use the tools matters. Over time you learn the nuances and tricks of the trade with those tools. Just like software.

Start with your “Why?”. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with someone to test things out. Build the capacity of your students and colleagues by sharing what you learn, what you create, and how you do things. No one has all of the answers, but getting some tool training can help you to be more productive, innovative and lead the way for your students to thrive. ~B

Perseverance in Trying Times

The world is certainly a precarious place these days. Working for a public school brings up a host of emotions every single day. Am I a valued employee? Is what I do making a difference? Even though I want better pay, isn’t the satisfaction of a job well done part of what I signed up for?

So many things have changed in education over the pandemic years. Online has more validity than before. Blended learning (a combination of face-to-face and “flipped learning” done at home) is better understood. Students overall have learned to navigate the digital world. But is all of that enough?

Tired. Overworked. Afraid. Anxious. Worried. Angry. Did I mention tired?!?

Caring about students and teachers doesn’t pay the bills. With rising costs of everything and no pay raises, one can’t help but wonder if this is worth it. Could I do something else? Should I take that higher paying job and step into the unknown?

Maybe. But then again, students don’t have that choice. Students in a public school come to the building with a need for support, trust, and skills. We signed up for that. I signed up for that.

Getting weary from “fighting the good fight” is normal. The external pressures in a pandemic aren’t normal. But they’re real. The negative comments, the taking of sides based on a belief, and the constant barrage of new rules can take a toll on adults. But it affects kids in a more profound way. They are looking to us to lead the way. They want reassurance that we will rise above the petty, divisive cultural mayhem that has ensued. They need us to have level heads.

Does it get to me? You bet. Do I sometimes want to quit my job and move far away and live off the land? Yes. (But only if I can take my tech with me!) Do I literally cry out with frustration at the state of things? Sadly, yes.

But hope always exists. The smile on a child’s face when they realize you care about them. The gratitude of the overworked teacher when you move alongside them and lift the burden. The realization that we are all in this together regardless of how we approach it. Those things make it worthwhile.

Find your moment. Find your smile. Never give up on the possibilities of those around you. And take time to reflect on what really matters to you. Continue to persevere.

I know I sound idealistic. Yet I can’t help but think that we can make every day better if we only choose it. Choose kindness over pettiness. Choose hope over despair. Choose the common good over selfishness. Choose to live each day with purpose.

Tired? Yup. Financially burdened? Yup. Blessed beyond belief? You bet. It’s all in your perception of what truly matters. You matter. ~ B

A Letter to Educators

Teaching is hard. Not the actual teaching part of it. The planning, designing, orchestrating, thinking and delivering is the hard part. Good teaching takes a lot of work in the background that only educators understand. Great teaching means other things get sacrificed in your life. Time with you family can be reduced. Ability to just sit and relax (what’s that?!?) can be non-existent. Often educators have a second or third part time job just to try to pay the bills.

Non-educators might have gotten a better idea of what it means to be a teacher when we shuttered our schools and students were learning from home. Many families began praising teachers and thanking them for the work they’ve always done. This is greatly appreciated. Now if only that could translate to income! Just kidding. Kind of.

Educators didn’t go into the profession to get rich, or even to earn a livable wage. While it SHOULD support a family, the reality is that it doesn’t. We became teachers because we believe in people. We believe in growing a young human into a better one. We want the best for every single one of those children and young adults. For those of us that teach adults, we want what’s best for them too.

By now you might be nodding your head and thinking, “Yes! That’s what I want!” But, you’re tired. You’re stressed. Maybe you’re even a little fearful in the environment that we find ourselves in right now. It’s hard to find joy in things when everything seems different and maybe even scary.

So, what to do? How do educators manage to survive?

I know that I don’t have all the answers. Nor do I even have the right answers for you. You need to find the right answers that fit your situation. But, I DO know that we need to provide self-care and find the good where we can. I DO know that it’s hard. I DO know that we can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change our attitude about them.

I have needed an attitude change. I have to remind myself daily to stay positive, remember the goal of education, and give my best every day. Even if it’s not 100% some days, it’s still my best for that day. Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow I might have less to give, but I’ll still give as much of me as I can. With grace, I might even be able to give 100%. But that’s never a given.

Give yourself grace. Remind yourself that you never know how you might affect someone you meet, or work with today. Shine your light brightly. Thank you for being an educator and know that you make a difference. 🎹 BV

What I’ve Learned from Teleworking

Working from home for the last 12 months has been an interesting study in resilience. My office space has become a place for huge productivity. I have learned to work with multiple devices on multiple platforms and keep a very tight schedule. Previously, I traveled locally between schools to handle my job. Now I can literally move from one school to another in 5 seconds. Efficiency has increased exponentially.

I am able to structure my workday easily now. I have alarms set to make sure I handle all of my deadlines. I rarely get off task – except when I need to in order to mentally survive the challenges I face in front of the screen.

Do I like teleworking? Yes! Mostly because I’m far more productive than before. I am spending less time driving. The relaxation of driving is something I do miss, but I am a better employee and using school district money better when my commute is 10 steps away behind a sound dampening curtain.

Virtual conferences are challenging in this environment. I’ve attended and/or presented at 4 virtual conferences this year. But, I didn’t take time off from work to do that. I continued to work and assist teachers because they are my first priority. Always. The challenge that presented was the inability to really learn well while trying to facilitate learning for others. Very stressful.

I’ve also learned that one can bake bread around a very busy work schedule. Instead of taking a lunch break, I take a baking break. (Sourdough anyone?) Doing something for others has helped me keep my sanity during this time, too.

I have worked with many more teachers and administrators this year than ever. They are willing to schedule an appointment and just jump into a Google Meet to help solve problems, answer questions and strategize the best ways to assist their staff. We have definitely learned to work smarter as well as harder.

I do love to be around real people. But, would I keep teleworking if given the option? You bet. It has been a stressful year, yet I now know that we are all able to function in an online environment if needed. Soon I’ll be back in schools – next week – so we can expect my productivity to take a huge nosedive. No extra screens. Building in time for travel that amounts to a minimum of about an hour of my workday.

Here’s to all of my fellow virtual colleagues!

Musings During Covid 19

Homemade sourdough bread
Homemade Sourdough Bread

I call these musings because, well, I don’t know what else to term them. I find myself wondering what to write about since I don’t necessarily feel I have anything worth saying. Although if it’s not interesting I guess you can stop here!

One of the things I have found myself doing is more hands-on work at home. I often find myself puttering in my garden, baking bread, and just spending time outdoors.

I don’t really know why I’m so driven to encourage myself to use my hands to create, but I assume it’s because I need to have myself in touch with real things. Not virtual education, but real, tangible things.

Going back to work almost a month earlier than I did last year, has put a different spin on what my work life looks like. I find myself so engaged with my work that the whole day will go by, and I don’t even know that it’s passed! I’m not sure if this is because there’s so much work to do, or if this is because I am enjoying my work so much. I am very blessed to be able to have a job that I love!

Being in the workforce for nearly 50 years has really taken different turns in my life. I often wonder if my life would be the same if I hadn’t been in education nearly the entire time. Well, I may not have always been doing the exact same teaching job that I’m doing now, but I’ve certainly been teaching something all of my life.

Where do you find your passion? Does your job make you feel excited to get up every day? Not that mine has always made me feel excited to get up, but it certainly makes me excited to work every day. Not a lot of people can say that. What a blessing!

I hope that you have found your passion in life. I hope that your work is fulfilling, exciting, and worth getting up for every day. While the drudgery of jobs can turn into something we dread, I feel as if finding the excitement and passion is something you must do. When we can find the excitement and the passion it’s not work at all. It becomes something that we are, something that we become, and something that fulfills us.

Finishing An Unprecedented Year

A year ago, who would have thought that teleworking would be a thing in education? The options that have presented themselves in these last few months have both propelled education forward and at the same time exposed the weaknesses in our previous systems.

My Thoughts

Holding a job as a Digital Learning Coordinator has put me, along with my colleagues, in a pivotal role in our District. Our work has been completely validated as we provide staff training, build new courses and deliver just-in-time instruction to a district with over 10k+ teachers.

What has fascinated me the most, is the willingness of even the most reluctant learner to avail themselves of tools and training that previously they had resisted or didn’t even know existed. The thirst for knowledge that seasoned teachers like myself, all the way to those teachers just beginning, have sought out in order to make learning more active for their students has been nothing short of amazing.

While I have definitely worked more hours a day in the last 3 months than I had previously, it has been so incredibly rewarding. The look on a teacher’s face in a video call when he/she “gets it” is so rewarding. The relationships built with my immediate colleagues over endless hours of collaboration and designing of materials has fueled my thirst for more knowledge. The amount of things that I’ve learned from both my team as well as the teachers and staff I have the privilege of working with has been nothing short of overwhelming.

I hope my colleagues know how much I appreciate them. If you’re reading this and I haven’t told you specifically, please know that I am very grateful for your collective knowledge, your collaboration and your grace throughout this time. If you are one of the thousands of staff members that I’ve interacted with this past school year, please know that I am very grateful for you as well. Your patience and understanding while we navigated these waters has been appreciated.

So, on this last day of the 2019-20 school year I reflect on the newness, the adaptation, and the amazing growth that we all have experienced this year. My #OneWord for this year was #GRACE. Little did I know how much I would need that this year. Stay well. ~BBV

Being an Educator During Unprecedented Times

Our current circumstances have put educators in a very difficult position. Those that are comfortable with technology have become unwitting “experts” at teaching in a virtual space. I find myself feeling confident that if I don’t know the answer, that one of my colleagues or administrators WILL know the answers. However, sometimes the answers are not easily attainable since we have never done “this” before.

My school District, with close to 192,000 students and over 10,000 teachers, requires a huge amount of careful planning, decision making and organizing by many people to pull this off in a few short weeks. I have learned SO much in the last 21 days!

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

I am so grateful that our CTO (Chief Technology Officer) Marlo Gaddis is a visionary. She saw a need for my position (Digital Learning Coordinator) and created 19 of these positions to move our District forward. She has reorganized the Tech Services Division (TSD) and provided a clear picture for leadership in the digital space for our District.

The difference that all of these people have made both for this District and personally for me is amazing. Being on the leading edge of preparing teachers and administrators for our new paradigm has been exhausting and exhilarating.

I am grateful for the chance to make a real difference in our current circumstances. I am blessed to be able to telework, often many more hours a day than I’m used to, in order to help those who need guidance, support or even just an encouraging word.

Thank you to everyone who is working many hours to be ready to deliver learning in a new virtual space, in a new way, in a new world that we are still trying to understand. You are more needed now than ever before.

Stay well. Be safe. ~Barb

The Problem With New Technology

We’ve all experienced it. The latest and greatest gets released and we think one of two things: “I HAVE to have this!” or “There’s no way they are going to get me to spend my money!”

I’m the latter kind of person. I hang onto phones, computers and cars as long as humanly possible. Does it mean I don’t long for the latest and greatest? Nope. I just am a practical, frugal teacher.

Last year, my beloved Camry that I expected to continue driving until well after I paid it off was struck from behind and totaled. I wanted to buy another Camry, but somehow the dealer convinced me to try a Kia Cadenza. “Does it fit a 10 foot board?”, I queried. “Seats don’t fold down, but there is a pass through.” I told him I’d bring it back if the boards wouldn’t fit. They fit. I was sold.

Now comes the latest dilemma: the new iPhones are out. My older iPhone 7 is acting up. Won’t install apps. Doesn’t raise to wake anymore. Refuses to do the simplest of tasks. My phone has plenty of memory. I’ve ditched a lot of apps that I just don’t use. I’ve tried everything I can think of. But still, it’s old technology. And Apple knows it.

Oh, Apple, how you know your market! The newest iPhone 11 comes in at the amazing price of $699.99. While still more money than this old Yankee really wants to spend, it’s still less than what I paid for the current phone I have. And the technology is SO much better!

Don’t even think to ask me if I’ve considered an Android. I won’t. I’m an Apple user tried and true. (Mostly!) My devices integrate seamlessly – except my work laptop which still plays well with them in the Cloud environment.

So what is my problem? My problem with new technology is that I just want my old technology to work. Just plain work. Not planned obsolescence. Not forcing me to upgrade. Not MAKING me do anything!

Alas, my job as a Digital Learning Coordinator requires me to have instant access to everything. Could I function without a phone? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be pretty! I rely on this little device that I use for just about everything. I even occasionally make phone calls. And while I’m not proud of my need for this, it truly has become part of my life. For better or for worse.

I have fought the urge. I have even talked myself out of a new phone several times. I acquiesced and went with my husband to sit at the store to look at new phones. But I didn’t make the move until today. Today the inability to download a necessary piece of financial software pushed me over the edge. I have officially caved.

My new iPhone 11 will be here shortly. Budget blown. But, problem solved. 😎

Aspirations and Inspirations

Tonight I spent two plus hours on an amazing webinar with Seth Mosley of Centricity Publishing who is “one of the most awarded and in-demand songwriters and producers in the Christian Music industry.” It struck me how important it is to teach others about our craft – no matter what that craft is – in order to fuel the world. Seth and his team were inspiring and encouraging about songwriting for people of all ages and abilities.

Why was I taking part in a webinar about songwriting? Because I’ve been a songwriter since I was a pre-teen. I have never done much with my songs, and I haven’t written much in recent years, but it is something that I have always done. A few of my songs have been performed and a couple have been recorded semi-professionally but that’s not what’s really important. What’s really important is that songwriting has always been a part of me. It is part of who I am.

I don’t think that I’ll ever become a famous songwriter. Mostly because I’m not willing to dedicate the time that it takes. At least not right now. Maybe I will feel compelled or driven or inspired to write more purposefully someday soon.

However, for some reason this week I needed a little more inspiration for my aspiration. I needed a confirmation that what I have done for joy and creativity isn’t just something to keep tucked away in multiple binders in my piano room. So I signed up for this webinar and I’m glad I did.

While I am not ready to revisit my previous songs right now, I want to think about my reasons for writing music. I want to understand why I write songs. I know I write best when there is something emotional going on. Thankfully, my life is not in emotional turmoil and hasn’t been for a number of years now. Maybe that’s why my songs are tucked away.

I love performing music. Thankfully, I have that opportunity every week by playing and singing on a Worship Team. I also love teaching private piano to my small number of students. It is somehow gratifying to know that while none of them will become a concert pianist (that’s not my style of teaching!) they will all enjoy playing for the sake of playing. Besides, they are really great kids!

Finding your inspiration for whatever it is that you may be passionate about is so crucial. Where do you find inspiration? What part of your life fulfills you beyond your job? Where do you find joy and creativity in your life? It can be something as simple as a quiet afternoon reading a great book. It can be that toddler that is a whirlwind during the day and looks so angelic asleep. Maybe it’s found in a silent look from the one you love or an amazing trip to a foreign destination.

Whatever your inspiration is, be sure to nurture it. Dream about it. Your aspiration to be or do or experience is just what your heart needs.

I hope to keep growing towards opening my tucked away pages again soon. Maybe I’ll even begin something new tonight. But this aspiration reminds me that I need to be the inspiration for all of the educators that I come in contact with. I might not need to teach them much more than to have confidence in themselves. Just as Seth really did in his webinar tonight. Maybe it’s really that simple.

Thanks for the inspiration, Seth. You have made a difference.

#SongChasers Full Circle Music

Coffee Cup Musings

Yesterday I sat in a restaurant in downtown Asheville waiting for a friend to join me for lunch. The entire vibe of this place was relaxed, yet inspiring. I listened to animated conversation between two men – one younger, one older. The young man was discussing his revelations and how it was affecting his writing. The older man nodded and concurred with the smile of a sage mentor. It was an exchange that inspired me to reflect on my own writing and who I am inspired by.

Having spent my life both doing the same thing as well as many different things, I have multiple people that influenced me previously and many that influence me currently. From my parents to my riding coaches to business mentors to educational professionals to friends. Even strangers in a coffee shop. The homeless veteran on the sidewalk that spoke of hope, faith in God and how many blessings he has. The friend that left the public school path for private music studio work and feels fulfilled and looks younger than I’ve ever seen her.

Each person inspires me. Each story adds to my story. Every interaction makes up this life, doesn’t it? While it can be easy to find myself crying or shaking my head in disbelief over events that happen or the behavior of people around me, I remind myself that each piece of this life puzzle is there for a reason. While I am not always aware of that reason, each piece is important. Each piece is part of the greater whole.

Who makes up your story? What interaction with another has molded your life today? Who will you inspire without even knowing it?

I think I’ll go get another cup of coffee and see who inspires me today.