I love to remodel houses. There, I said it. I am the daughter of a handyman/builder who had no sons. I learned the art of deconstruction of an abandoned house on our property, saving boards, and pulling nails so we could reuse them later. I learned the mastery of the “Adjust-O-Matic” (known to most as a sledgehammer) at the ripe old age of 10. These lessons taught me that I needed specific tools for some things, but I could make do with other things that hung on my toolbelt depending on the job.
My digital toolbelt changes depending on what my school district approves, of course. But, I have some digital tools that I use to save time. I have digital tools to be more productive. I have digital tools that just feel right to me. So what’s in your digital toolbelt?
Some of the items I use daily are productivity tools such as ClickUp – a task manager; 1Password for my 1200+ unique passwords; Calendly for ease of others scheduling with me; Grammarly to fix my sloppy typing and somehow less than accurate spelling; Emoji keyboard to enhance my work with visuals and of course the Google Workspace for just about everything.
While these aren’t the only tools I use, they are the ones in my digital toolbelt. The others I have tucked away in my toolbox for when I need them. Chrome extensions such as MyBib for citations, Screencastify for video and audio recording, and the Marvellous Suspender that works in the background and suspends my tabs when I’ve been away from them for a while.
There are many others that I use in my daily work as a Digital Learning Coordinator. Some are used by my school district and have a strict safety policy (thank goodness!) And others that I use exclusively for my home business such as multiple Filemaker databases, accounting software, and scanning software.
Is it time to clean out your digital toolbox? Have some of your tools been a fad and have now evolved or maybe not improved any over the years? I try to simplify my workflow so that I’m not so dependent on one or two tools that if they happen to crash or suddenly not work I won’t be in a panic. Right. That’s easier said than done!
How well do your tools work for you? Maybe it’s time to look for tried and true and realize that the next great thing might seem great, but your standby really gets the job done with the least amount of effort. Spring is here and digital culling might be on the agenda.
What are your favorite tools for your workflow? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts! ~B
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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. 😎
Presenting at state conferences is always so rewarding. When I accept an opportunity to present, I feel a sense of excitement and a bit of a thrill. “I can’t believe they want me!” Then as the weeks go by and work/home/family rolls along, I begin to think that maybe I shouldn’t have accepted. Maybe it just costs too much since there really isn’t any money in our budget for this trip. Maybe no one will come to my sessions. Maybe I’ll wander around aimlessly feeling lost because I only know one or two people that are in attendance.
Fast forward to the week before the conference. Oh no! I’ve hardly worked on those presentations that I started when I was first accepted. What was the description again? What have I learned about this topic since I first submitted my proposals? What has Google changed that I need to alter from where I was back then?
Even though I may have presented this very topic multiple times, I still have to customize the presentation for the audience and the venue. Some people might think the presentation part of it isn’t that important. Some of the sessions I’ve attended in my career certainly focus on content and not esthetics! But I feel that the visual part of the presentation is just as important as the content.
I recently spent several days learning about The Art and Science of Presenting from Phil Echols @PhilEchols and Chrys Brown from the Office of Professional Learning in Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh, NC. These two excellent presenters provided multiple strategies that I have since continuously employed in my presentations.
Having a consistent template for slides makes the presentation look so much more professional. Providing links to the materials either at the session or before is really important for those that use the app or website for the conference. I’m guilty of forgetting to post the links prior to the sessions!
So why am I ruminating about all of this? Because sometimes attendees think that presenters breeze in and don’t have to do much. Because sometimes presenters try their best and the WIFI doesn’t work or the slides are out of order or they have too much content for the time allotted.
Presentation is a craft and an artform. Am I great at it? No. Am I good at it? I think so, but those of you who have seen me present should tell me what I need to improve on. Your feedback – both good and bad – help me to grow my style and improve my craft. If you have ever attended a conference, please be sure to provide feedback. If you’re a conference organizer, please provide that feedback to your presenters. Assessment is a key component of the process.
So now that I’m headed home from this conference, I am so appreciative of the opportunities I had. I filled my schedule with Music Technology sessions. I heard some great music by High School and Collegiate groups. I connected with people that are actively using technology in their band rooms, classrooms and choirs. And I have met some true pioneers in the field. Thank you, TN Music Educators Association for one of the best conferences I’ve been to in an amazing city full of music. #TnMEAConference
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.
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!!
Time is precious. With so many tools available, how do you know what tools will work best for you? Here are a sampling of tools that could help you save time and hassle. Just explore to find the right ones for you.
These are some of my “Go-To” apps. Give them a few weeks and see if they improve your workflow. If they don’t, then they should not become part of your digital toolbox. Enjoy!
The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) in Raleigh, NC purchased the Lenovo L450 laptop for every certified teacher in the District. Over 13,000 teacher laptops and thousands of individual school-purchased student laptops later, an important issue keeps coming up: “Why won’t my laptop connect to the wireless internet?”
Believe it or not, the solution is simple. There is an Airplane Mode key that can easily get pushed and the wireless radios get turned off. The secret lies in the F8 key. The F8 key turns the wireless on and off. Students quickly figure this out and staff sometimes press the key and end up turning it off.
When you press the F8 Key, you see the image below if your wireless is on. Green for ON (even though the word Off is below the pictures).
Red for OFF. If your wireless is OFF, you will see this:
The On and Off designation is for your Airplane Mode. Airplane mode turns off your wireless function. Seems a bit confusing and maybe it could be a little clearer. I feel as if it’s a little like a double negative in context.
Hopefully the next time that laptop won’t connect to the internet, you’ll have a quick solution.
One of my colleagues had one of these messages pop up on her school iPad. She wondered about it, not really worried, but still had a nagging thought about the threat. These scams have been landing in our inboxes ever since email was invented, but now they are showing up as popups in our browsers and on our screens.
My advice? Never click on a link or let these things scare you into clicking OK. Always check it out by searching for what is already out there for info. Apple support communities is always a good choice for the iOS or on other platforms, just search in your browser for the message or part of the message.
Another great place to look for the authenticity of an email or error message is to go to Snopes.com – Snopes provides the answers to whether something is a rumor or truthful.