What’s In A Title?

I look at the title of my blog and realize that I have written less about tech lately than about life in general. Tech seems somehow too impersonal to write about. I can share the latest gadget, or deal on some new device. But, I find myself wandering into what I really care about: Other people.

30+ years in education has made a profound impact on my life. The teacher and person I was when I began this journey has long faded away. Thank goodness! Those early years of teaching had so many failures. (No one was permanently injured that I’m aware of…)

Now that I work mostly with adults, I hope I convey the compassion that I have for fellow teachers. I understand feeling so tired that there is literally zero left at the end of the day. I understand isolated when you are a specialist and there is no one in your building that shares your struggles.

My title is Digital Learning Coordinator. My title is also teacher, facilitator, specialist, Mom, Wife, Daughter, friend and Grandma. Notice what titles come first?!? Why do I identify with what I DO instead of who I am?

Your title brings you a sense of importance, or power, or belonging. But it still can be an empty title if you forget your real purpose. Your real purpose is to care about others and to develop strong family ties. No matter what your family looks like. No matter if your family is your four legged pet or a significant other. Or your church friends or most importantly, yourself.

Work is important. Teaching is extremely important. But living your life caring for others and self is the most important role of all.

What title guides your life? Will your friends remember you for what you did at work, or what you did in life? Or best yet, both of those!

Should I retitle my blog? The title is Vinal Tech Blog. Maybe it should be Something Else? Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Friday Night Musings

teachers at training As I reflect back on the previous week, I find myself returning to the same conclusion. Using technology and using technology well is an ongoing goal. While some might think I know a lot, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I have so much more to learn.

Maybe it’s age. But the more I work with teachers and principals, the more I realize I need to learn much more than I know.

I have never considered myself an expert. I know a lot about certain things but I have so many areas that still need so much work.

Where are you in your Digital Learning? What are you doing to build your skills?

Fortunately, those that I work for have a vision of building capacity and reaching as many teachers as possible. In our 24 schools, we have worked with more than 475 teachers since the creation of this position. We have begun building relationships that I hope will sustain the work that we have started.

After three days as part of the NCTIES Conference as a learner, partner in education and presenter, I am further convinced that I have so much to learn.

#NCTIES19

How will you sustain your excitement about your latest professional learning? Will you share your excitement when you return to the classroom? Or will you tuck your knowledge away in the “been there, done that” file?

Let me encourage you, no, implore you, to extend your experience. Step out of your comfort zone. Take a risk. Fail forward. Model this growth mindset for your students and colleagues.

Public education is an amazing place. You make it an amazing place. WE make it an amazing place!

Spread the word, the ideas and most of all the enthusiasm that you have for each child, every day. You’ve got this!!

The Power of Feedback

My new role has been challenging, exciting and full of professional learning. The more I learn the less I know. My mother always told me that I would soon find out that the older I got the more I’d need to learn something new. Wise woman.

I’ve learned to work with a colleague in a give and take situation. Our strengths are different and therefore we are very complimentary (both task wise and verbally!) to each other. We both know when to step up and when to step back. So far I have not managed to break any of her toes!

The challenge of providing professional learning to teachers in schools at multiple grade levels – Elementary, Middle and High – has begun to teach us the skill of differentiating on the fly. Educators are so very busy. When we arrive for training during their planning period or lunch, they don’t let us know that what we are offering isn’t suited to them. They haven’t learned to speak up when we’re there. But some of them definitely speak up in the follow-up survey.

I’ve previously posted about some negative feedback we received, but that was the catalyst for really analyzing what we do and how we do it. The option to get down deeper into what an educator or principal really needs can also be informative for the person leaving the comments. While some might lash out in displeasure, others leave some of the following:

” I understand that when in a training, you have people at all different learning levels but I felt that our training started in the middle and there was so much that could have been introduced, shown to us, etc, to then get us to the middle. I left feeling like I know nothing more that I did before. I did love the convenience of you coming to us instead of us having to take time off to go to a training elsewhere.” However, this same person said the most important takeaway from this session was “I still have a lot to learn”.

So how do we address this in the span of 35 minutes? It has opened our eyes to thinking outside of what typical professional learning looks like. This has started us thinking about choice and voice for our teachers. How do they choose? How do we make that work if they choose 10 different things on the same day? Where do we draw the line? How can we group our tools and offerings so that everyone gets something?

Working with professional educators at all levels makes every day different. We try not to take shortcuts, but give all of our energy every day to provide our best.

Am I still learning? You bet. Sometimes falling short of the mark? You bet. Feeling like I have the best job on the planet for me? You bet. Grateful for those I work with and for? You bet.

I’m so grateful for the feedback that helps me grow, learn and strive to make what I do better each time. I’m not there yet, but maybe I never will be. If I stop learning, then I stop growing.

Bring on the feedback!

Professional Learning: “Is this Mandatory?”

“Less ‘fun ideas and silly stories’ and more practical resources. Please use our professional time professionally” and “Is this mandatory?” were a response on a follow-up survey from a training that my colleague and I gave. The training topic was an insight into the new teaching licensure requirement in technology for our state. We focused on multiple ways and places that teachers could explore to acquire the required credits. The majority of what we presented, while readily available if someone went looking for it, wasn’t entirely easily accessed. Our thinking was that we would provide easy links and videos to save teachers time in finding the various ways to get CEUs (Continuing Education Unit). And we provided part of a credit by giving this training.teachers at training

Providing instruction where we don’t know the small group of teachers coming in to work with us means that sometimes we are going to not provide enough, provide something the teacher doesn’t feel they need or go too quickly for someone. We attempt to differentiate during every training, but sometimes we miss the mark.

We take our feedback surveys personally. We really do want to modify our training to continue to improve the content we deliver. And I know we can’t make everyone happy (as was evidenced by the teacher and another colleague at this training!) But how do you discern whether the dissatisfaction is because of the content, the trainers, job unhappiness, or personal life affecting attitude? I feel it’s our job to at least attempt to meet as many people as possible right where they are.

question marksDid I take this teacher’s comment personally? You bet. Does it mean that I’ll never give that same training in the same way again? Probably. And a few years ago, I would lose sleep over what I “did wrong”. But I am a different person today. I have an amazingly supportive colleague who collaborates to make things better each time. We will digest the feedback and will find a way to respectfully and professionally follow up with this teacher to find out how or if we can provide digital learning support in the future.

This journey of educating isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave. It’s for those that, despite the criticism, despite the challenges keep coming back into the ring every day. Whether you work with children or adults, the motivation is the same: To open the door to learning and to make that learning relative and timely.

“Is this mandatory?” Yes, yes it is. While you might not hear the message yet, we will continue to share the message. While you might think it’s a waste of your time because you know more than we do, there are valuable things that we are learning from you at the same time. Teach us and help us help you. #neverstoplearning

The Nature of Summer

Every day of summer vacation includes some professional time. I’m not one to take the summer off. Even if I could truly take the summer off, I’m sure I’d fill my time with professional development or a project of some kind. I’m not good at vacating!

While summer gives me time to regroup and change up my routine, it also allows me time to reflect on what’s truly important in my career as well as my home life. What parts of your work life spill over into your home life? If you’re an educator, then probably a lot.

beach during sunset
Photo by b. on Pexels.com

Educational professionals lead a different kind of life. There is a constant need to reinvent oneself as technology changes, curriculum changes, schools change and demands change. It can cross into your personal life in such a way that you never truly feel like you are away from your job.

So how do you balance it? Every person does it differently, but I find that I have to still teach all summer. Maybe you teach at a summer camp. Maybe you give professional development sessions to other teachers. Maybe you teach your own kids. Or maybe you teach yourself new things. I try to combine as much of that as I can but on a less demanding schedule than the traditional school year.

I teach teachers online for the New England Institute for Teacher Education. Two of my established technology classes are running concurrently right now. The summer is the only time to run two at the same time while working full-time! This adventure is full of new things every time I do it. These teachers find new angles that I hadn’t even thought of! I get a “2-fer” – I get to teach and I get to learn at the same time. Now that’s a great summer!

The nature of my summer might look a lot different than yours. Yes, sometimes I long to go take a really long walk on a beach somewhere, but my family has other demands that just don’t allow for much of that. It’s all good, though. I’m able to help them out and still get to do something I love: educate and learn.

How about you? What’s your “Nature of Summer”?

 

Learning Never Stops

Those of you that know me well know how much I love what I do. I may be well-aged, but my learning doesn’t stop. I am challenged daily by my colleagues to be better. Twitter, Professional readings, workshops, collaborative interaction and the like make me realize just how little I really know.

woman sitting on chair using black ipad
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Last week Marlo Gaddis, Interim Chief Technology Officer and Senior Director for Instructional Technology and Library Media Services for the Wake County Public School System challenged her followers to read professional articles for an hour a day. At first, I thought, I can barely find an hour to sleep! But as the enormity of what she had said sunk in, I realized that not only should I read professional material an hour a day, but I must read this way.

Education and technology change constantly. Sometimes daily or hourly. It is the responsibility of every professional educator – and especially those in coaching roles – to remain invested in expanding our knowledge base. Summer break is the perfect time to begin this new habit.

While I am not yet devoting a full hour daily while on vacation, my goal is to use technology to help me develop this habit. Daily Wunderlist and Google Calendar reminders, using Feedly to curate relative content and posting via Buffer to spread that knowledge to the greater community is now in my daily routine.

So now it’s my turn. I am challenging you to invest some time in your professional development on a daily basis. Whether you are a teacher, business professional, homeschool parent, chef, stay-at-home parent, a student or whatever your job is, you can benefit from spending some time reading about your profession and the areas that affect your situation. Dig deeper. Expand your circle of influence. Join me on the journey!

Is it Teacher Burnout?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
“superwoman” by hans van den berg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

While I like to think that I am superhuman and can go on little sleep, work multiple jobs and manage to tend adequately to my family, that just isn’t so. I TRY to make that so. But in reality, I find myself frazzled and stressed. Yes, I believe it might be Teacher Burnout.

It’s easy to write this during my summer break, even though my calendar reminds me to “Do a Blog Post” every Monday year round. (Thanks, George Couros @gcouros for the challenge!) Writing during the school year when my double full-time job, multiple piano students, and online teaching are in full swing and the reality is definitely different.

Dr. Jenny Rankin’s First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success. Taylor & Francis, 2016, provides strategies for dealing with burnout. In her book, Dr. Rankin provides some Teacher Burnout Statistics.

Teacher Burnout Statistics

The statistics listed are not current, but I can’t help but imagine that with the increased demands on teachers and administrators, that those numbers might actually be higher than Dr. Grant has communicated.

Attitude is a huge part of our burnout rate. It is a huge part of our overall health. A perfect example is my 89-year-old father. He has an incredible attitude. He rarely complains about anything, he is helpful and easy to get along with. He does things for others with a smile. But if you read his medical history and what he has “wrong” with him, you’d think he should be shouting at little children in the street and shaking his cane at every passerby! Not only does he treat everyone with respect, but he doesn’t even need a cane to go on his 3 or 4 mile walk every day!

So, how can we strive to keep ourselves sane in the ever burdened education world we live in? I believe starting with a simple, positive goal each day is helpful. The following are a few of my strategies:

  • Take a moment to reflect on why we do what we do, realizing that it’s not about the money or the fame but about lives of humans that we want to nurture and grow into productive citizens. (This includes the teachers you work with, too!)
  • Avoid the “toxic” people in your life. Find a way to remain friends, but avoid those gripe sessions that can be so prevalent especially towards the end of the year.
  • Practice your smile. Greeting people with a smile and a warm “Hello!” sets the tone for the following conversation and might even help someone change their day.

Finding time to indulge yourself, even if for a few moments at work, with something that brightens your day or lets you breathe is imperative. For me, going to bed earlier and using my lunch as a private reflection time help me. Oh, and not taking complaints and criticism personally. It’s easy to fall into that trap!

Breathe deeply. Do things purposefully. Encourage those around you to do the same things. You might be surprised at the results.

Think you might be suffering from burnout? Try taking this self-test: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_08.htm