This school year, I received a new position with my current school district as a Blended Learning Specialist. In this role, I serve PK-12th grade students, teachers, and campus leaders by assisting them with all things digital teaching and learning. I am passionate about the success and professional growth of teachers along with empowering them to make decisions to impact the engagement and achievement of their students. Now that the year has ended, I am spending time reflecting over my first year on the job. While I feel as if there were some successes, there were a few areas I want to improve. I am hopeful that this time next year, I will be able to say many of these things have improved. There are a few areas I want to revisit in order to better serve the students and educators of my district. However, for this post, I have limited to my big three, or the three areas I feel are most important for me to focus on next year.
I will forever be a teacher. I understand the many "things" that come along with teaching. At the end of the day, I believe the people in classrooms have the hardest jobs in the school system. My job is to partner with them to make their jobs easier. There are so many edtech tools introduced to teachers over the course of the year. At the end of the year, I feel as if I had a few teachers who were still unsure of which tools would be most effective at different points of their classroom instruction. While I feel I did a great job of sharing both collaborative and formative assessment tools for teachers, for the next school year, want to ensure teachers are better equipped with tools they can use from bell to bell to engage learners and truly provide authentic blended learning experiences for students. Communicating the effectiveness of tools and being a better resource during planning and instruction (modeling, co-teaching, and observations) will help teachers choose the best learning.
It goes without saying that standardized testing weighs heavily on the minds of all educators. We can't escape it. At the end of the year, students (and teachers) are assessed on the learning that has occurred. I have my own feelings and thoughts on this, and I might share them in a later post. However, I am not unaware of the need to teach standards. Teaching should be fun, engaging, and creative for teachers and students. Each day, teachers and students should look forward to being at school. I want to help bring more of this into the classroom. Last year I began building a mobile makerspace to assist teachers with giving students more opportunities to create and have original authentic demonstration of their learning. My goal is to give students and teachers the opportunity to have as much fun as possible as they learn. I want to help bring creativity and imagination back to the classroom. Next year, my goal is to publicize the mobile makerspace more and give teachers an opportunity to experience making as well. Then, we will be able to partner to marry classroom learning standards to creativity, exploration, and imagination, all of the things that make learning fun. I love to create!
This year will be my sixteenth year in education, and each year starts similarly for me. After spending the summer planning, reflecting, and learning, I am eager to return to my campus in order to share with others. However, there is nothing like eagerly approaching other educators about all of the amazing things going on in education and have them quickly let you know they are not interested. Talk about the wind being knocked right out of your sails! It truly stings, as I am passionate about equipping teachers to have everything they need in order to best meet the needs of students. I am not naive and understand the demands of being a teacher in a classroom with students daily. I also understand the need to diversify professional learning for the teachers I support. There are some teachers who are truly ready to soar with blended instruction in their classrooms. This year, I want to have a plan in place for teachers who are ready to "run with it", whatever IT is. Oftentimes, as educators, we plan for the middle of the road and those who will not get it. I will be intentional in standing ready to run with those who are ready to run and soar.
I'm always up for a new adventure, and my next one on the horizon is no exception. Recently, I signed up to participate in Blogging Buddies through the Edtech Coach's Network, a PLN developed through ISTE. This group promotes the development and collaboration of educational technology coaches who support the professional growth of teachers as they use technology to enhance learning.
What is Blogging Buddies?
I'm glad you asked! I love to blog. Well, basically, I love to "talk", so blogging allows me to talk to many people from the comfort of my home. It's a total win-win! However, often times, I will say, "I'm going to blog about that later", and sadly, later never comes. During the next few weeks, I am going to be more focused about posting. I have a group of supporters, or Blogging Buddies, who will be doing the same. We will support each other's efforts by blogging and giving each other feedback month. The guidelines are listed below, and they're quite simple.
Need support with your blog? Perhaps you simply want to partner up with others to grow and learn. You can easily sign up to participate here.
Wish me luck!
May is next week. Can you believe it? We are literally staring summer in the face. This is the time of the year when teachers and students are able to return to lessons and activities students want to to explore more or to look into trying new things before leaving for summer break. Coming to the conclusion of my first year as a district EdTech Coach, I have been reflecting over my year and brainstorming ways in which I can both best support teachers and continue my own learning.
During the weekly #txed chat on Twitter Wednesday, I was introduced to the #LastBell initiative by Debbie Campbell, and a light bulb went off! (You can also read her blog post about #LasBell here.) This is exactly the "thing" we want our students to have during the final weeks of school, authentic, hands on, engaging learning experiences to carry them through their summer.
I challenge you go use the month of May to join the #LastBell challenge by not only engaging students in learning experiences, but also sharing the learning using #LastBell on Twitter. New to Twitter? No worries! Here is an excellent guide to Twitter for educators. As I visit campuses, I will share the amazing learning experiences our students enjoy as well.
Need a few ideas to get going? Below are just a few. Feel free to share what you are doing in the comments.
Pillar One: Design
I am currently participating in an amazing online book study. We are reading The New Pillars of Modern Teaching by, Gayle Allen. Gayle pushes readers to move from their traditional principles of teaching and learning to the modern pillars of teaching. The first pillar, design, centers around the need to empower students to create their own learning experiences. When making the shift, the author shares four categories to consider: time, place, medium, and socialness. I will be a learner for life. Here is a closer look at my personal reflections for pillar one, Design. I may be a "hyper-learner".
Atomic Learning recently unveiled their new Ambassador Program. I don't usually get excited about these things because of the set up of similar programs in many other organizations. From what I have witnessed with some other companies, teachers are baited to join a program. Once excepted, there are little to no rewards given for agreeing to share your love for their product. As an educator, this is something I know teachers already do. We love to share what we know works. However, this program is different. Along with agreeing to spread the gospel of a good product, there are various benefits to Ambassadors. There are also opportunities to "level up" by adding on to your commitment based on what your schedule allows. I am a learning junkie, so the best part of this program is the opportunity to learn as much as I possibly can through their online learning framework.
I recently completed Effective Presentation Design. After countless presentations on various subjects over the span of my career, I can't believe how much I learned!
If this seems like something you may be interested in pursuing. Click here to learn more about The Atomic Learning Ambassador Program.
I wouldn't be able to survive without my PLN. In a recent blog post for Atomic Learning, I shared all about why I love my PLN. Read all about it here.
Disclaimer: This does not mean that I have anything against any other race. This post is dedicated to the self-discovery of the love I have for simply being me, someone who happens to be a black American. If you don't want to read all about it, feel free to close your browser now.
As odd as it may sound, I haven't always been comfortable saying the words you see above. I love being black! As I stood on the dance floor during an event at the 2016 NABSE, conference, I looked around the room, and the 3 words that came my mind were simple. I love being black! I love everything that comes with my blackness, from my smooth caramel skin to my curly hair and natural mix of intelligence and sass. I thank God that when he molded me, he decided to carve me out of African descent. As a 35-year- old woman, I can stand tall and say I am proud of my heritage. I'm proud of my rich history. I'm proud of those who have come before me, paving the way for me and my children to be great. It truly amazes me when I look back over the rich heritage of African Americans in this country and the many things they endured to enable me to be who I am today.
Growing up, my parents did what all good parents do, they worked to ensure their three children had the best. My childhood experiences were filled with all things God, academics, family, and fun. Often times, though, I found myself surrounded by people who looked different from me. You know what every single person on Earth does when they walk in a room. Well, I know what I do. I scan the room to see if there are people who look like me. I think most people do the same thing. I can remember many times when I was "the only black kid" in classrooms, at parties, in academic competitions, or simply in the room. While I am thankful for my upbringing that surrounded me with all walks of life, I can't help but to remember these events as I reflect to write this post. I remember looking at my friends and thinking, "How does she get her hair like that", or "I look so different from them". I don't have any negative memories from being surrounded with friends from every color of the rainbow, many of whom are more like family now, but it was during this time that I began to feel as if it may not be okay to be different. I began to feel a little uncomfortable in my own skin. I would stand in the mirror and look at my nose, thinking about how big and wide it was in comparison to my friends. I would look at my hair and wonder why id didn't flow and bounce like the girls I spent time with in class. At dances, I was the girl that was asked to dance to get advice on how to get "the girl". Everyone always wanted to know, "How did you get your hair to do that. "Over time, I accepted the fact that I would be the ONLY person of color in some classes. I would be the ONLY person of color at certain social events, and I would be the ONLY person of color in many of my networks. While I knew I would always be the only one, I can't say that I ever felt comfortable with this. I can't say that it ever felt okay. Over a period of time, it just became my normal. When I signed up for academic competitions, I didn't expect to see people who looked like me. When I received honors and awards along with other students, I didn't expect to stand next to other brown skinned students. Again, I was never mistreated or made to feel abnormal, but this just never felt okay.
Fast forward many years, and I was given the opportunity to work in a school district that has one of the largest African American student populations in the state of Texas. As odd as it may sound, I was in total culture shock. Yes, I knew many people of color who were professional and educated. As first generation college students, my own parents served as perfect examples of this in our home. However, as an adult, I had never been surrounded by so many people who looked like me in a professional setting. The superintendent looked like me. The assistant superintendent looked like me, as did most of upper management and my campus principal. I was surrounded by professionals who looked just like me. For the first time, I felt as if I could exhale. I felt at home. It was such an amazing feeling.
As an educator, I take great pride in uplifting each and every single student, parent, and educator I am privileged to serve, regardless of their race, religion, lifestyle, or sexual orientation.....but that's not what I am reflecting on today. (Refer to the title of this blog!) I love being black! Oh, how I wish I knew this as a little girl. I wish I could go back in time to that little fourth grade girl taping down the sides of her nose in the bathroom trying to just see how she would look with European features. I would tell her she was beautiful. I would let her know the strength that came with her dark skin and curly hair. I would remind her of her rich path and the legacy of those who paved the way for her to enjoy the life she lived. I would give her a glimpse into her future, one surrounded with many who look like her and celebrate the same heritage.
I feel as if it is my duty, my job, my mission, to ensure each child I serve always has this feeling. The pure pride that comes from uplifting and serving those who look like you is pure joy. The feeling that comes from doing it alongside others who look like you is unexplainable. In an effort to uplift those around me, and help brown children love the skin they are in, would like to offer a bit of advice. While this post was written to celebrate my love for my heritage, I feel it is good practice for anyone making connections with their past.
Today's Edumatch Tweet & Talk was FIYA! It was all about blogging, and I enjoyed it so much that I thought I would take a few minutes to dump the rest of the conversation going on in my head here.
The one question that's bouncing around in my head most is "Why do you blog?" Many people blog for many different reasons. I am sure mine will differ from others, but I blog to simply have a place to share my thoughts. There are so many things that happen in a day. Working with students, working with teachers, raising children.....I have so many meaningful experiences that I want to share with others. When something happens or an event triggers me to really think or become excited, I want to share with others, just like today's conversation. Blogging gives me space to dump my brain for others to see and connect with my experiences. It's a place for me to share my day, my life, my frustrations....sometimes all in the same post. I blog to free my mind, to connect with others who are not here with me on a daily basis, to showcase the amazing people in my life. My "why" changes often, but there is one thing that is true. I blog to to tell my own story.
During today's Edumatch episode, there was lots of discussion about how to get started and what we do to stay on track. I can remember writing my very first blog post a little over a year ago. I was fortunate to meet Shaina Glass via Twitter, and she has an amazing blog she posts on Tackk. After connecting, I knew I wanted to post too. She was kind enough to walk me through a few ins and outs using Voxer late one night, and my blog was born. That's just it! Blogging isn't rocket science for me. It's simply a journal that I get to share with the world. I don't really have a set schedule or time to post. I simply share when something in my head won't stop rattling around. Then, I open my computer and begin to type. I'm sure there is a better, more structured method to this madness, but this is what works for me. I'm afraid to place it on my calendar or set aside time for my first draft followed up by editing and revising because that will drain all of the unstructured fun of sharing for me. I have other platforms that require structure, rules, organization, and dates. My personal blog does not, and that is why I enjoy it so much. There are no rules. I simply get to share a piece of myself with others.
Perhaps you want to start a blog. Maybe you are contemplating if you should blog....or not. Do it! Do it! Do it! Yesterday, I attended the very first EduPassions Web Conference, and it was amazing! Educators from around the world shared their passions and goals as educators. The one thing that really struck me was that nothing truly starts for you until YOU start it. I know. That's pretty deep, huh. It really isn't! If you want to blog, do it! Take the first step by opening your computer and typing. Reach out to someone else who is already blogging and ask for guidance if you need to do so. However, you will never get started until you get started. Start a blog, and share it with me. I can't wait to celebrate your success!
I have been reflecting on the need for teachers to have a coach, someone in their corner to help them, show them the way, and simply be there. In a recent blog post, I recalled my first mentor, who was just happens to also be my father. Everyone Needs a Coach is a walk down memory lane to review the time, effort, and support he poured into me as a brand new teacher.
There is a need for teachers to feel supported, a need for them to have a place where they feel comfortable asking questions and sharing concerns. Out of this need, I partnered with a few of my PLN (personal learning network) friends to offer free monthly support for new teachers, New Teacher Voice, the third Saturday of each month at 10AM CST.
New Teacher Voice is a monthly conversation for "new teachers". This includes preservice teachers, teachers new to the classroom, or any educator who has been in the classroom and feels they need support. While our target audience is teachers with 0 to 5 years of experience, we are here to assist any educator who needs support. Know a teacher in need of support? Are you a new teacher looking for support? Register here for monthly support. Perhaps you cannot wait until the live monthly session for support. We also have a place for you to place questions or comments in order to receive support. The New Teacher Padlet is always available for you.
We're looking forward to supporting you! Join us the 3rd Saturday of each month at 10AM CST.
New Teacher Voice Registration
Post questions, concerns, comments
This year marks my fifteenth year in education. Fifteen years?!?!?!?! I know what you're thinking. It doesn't even feel as if I have been in this profession this long. Why? I truly love what I do. Teaching is more than a job for me. It is my calling. Being an educator is who I am. It consumes me. I carry the teachers and students I serve around in my heart and on my mind all day every single day. To wake up each morning and work with the students and teachers of my community is truly a blessing.
Monday, we will welcome about 7,000 students into our campuses for an amazing year of learning. The last five years, I have served as a campus instructional coach on a sixth grade campus, working with math, science, and various elective teachers to implement strategies and support them in their classrooms. This year, I have the honor to serve our district as a Blended Learning Specialist, or as an edtech coach. In this new role, I will have the opportunity to support teachers and students from PK through twelfth grades to seamlessly integrate technology into their classrooms. I can't express my excitement! As I reflect over my past years in education, I want to ensure I am able to support each teacher I serve in order to give students their absolute best. There is no secret sauce or magic trick to making it all work. There are no tools that can compare to the awesome wonders classroom teachers perform daily. The single greatest impact on student success is the teacher. However, I have come to realize that everything I know about teaching now was taught to me by an experienced teacher. In order to be successful, everyone needs someone helping them along the way, someone to encourage them, support them, and show them the way. Everyone needs a coach.
After graduating from college with my bachelors degree, I was able to fulfill my lifelong desire to become a teacher. Seriously, I've know I wanted to be an educator since at least second grade. Now, I'm living the dream! There have been so many great lessons I have learned along the way. The following are some of the greatest lessons I have learned along the way.
Always Make Time to Help
When I first stepped foot in a classroom, I was in an alternative certification program learning how to teach. There was so much to learn. However, I had a secret weapon, my dad. My father has been an educator for over 30 years with the same school district. In my first year of teaching, my husband and I would pack up all of my teaching materials to go to his home every Saturday morning to plan my lessons. He taught me how to understand the state standards and exactly what they meant. Then, we would look every place imaginable to find ideas to make the lesson fun and engaging for students. Once we had everything all laid out, my dad would walk me through exactly what to say and expect during the lesson as I took detailed notes that later served almost like my daily script the following week. This process took several hours from his Saturday, but he knew I needed help. He never complained but always took the time to help.
This has stuck with me. Teachers do the hard work. As a coach, my job is to support them, to help them be their best for students. When they come to me for help, I always want them to leave knowing that I have time. This is what I do. it's important to me. Their success is important to me, and I want my actions to show it.
When I first started teaching, I only knew three things.
I had some experience working with kids in the community, and I knew I loved it. It was rewarding to help others, so when the opportunity to teach presented itself, I accepted and never looked back. I knew I was green and knew nothing. I didn't even have to tell my weekly planning partner. He didn't assume that I would "find my fit". I never once heard him say "Fake it till you make it!" (I can vividly remember hearing a mentor say this to me once.) He sat me down and walked me through each lesson, each day, until I had a fail proof plan to help students. I can hear him now saying, "Kniki, what will you say if no one knows the answer?" or "How will you know when all of the students understand?" Each question was followed by a thorough conversation and systematic steps and questioning strategies to get all of my students where they needed to be. In that moment, he didn't know it, but he was showing me the power of a powerful coach. We cannot assume teachers come to our campuses equipped to meet the needs of our students. We must be a resource for them. Does this mean the coach knows everything? Of course not! However, I know that if teachers need it for students, I have to carve out time to give it to them. Now, I do realize support must be differentiated and will not look the same for the first year teacher and the rock star veteran, I am still responsible to equip teachers with everything they need in order to be successful with students.
The teacher-coach relationship often time models the teacher-student relationships for those we support. It's okay to smile. Take time to get to know who you support. Connect with them and learn their motivation for educating students each day. Of course as a tried and true "Daddy's girl", this was never an issue when I sat down to plan for hours with my father each weekend, but it goes without saying those sessions would have been very boring and probably not as beneficial if he wasn't so much fun. We would take breaks to enjoy lunch and talk. I would share stories with him about my week and my concerns as a first year teacher. Sitting down to plan from sun up to sun down most Saturdays never felt like a chore. I needed it, and he made it fun and engaging for me. I aim to do the same for those that I support. If I'm modeling a classroom lesson, I want the students and teachers to be engaged in the lesson, smile a little bit, and leave with new knowledge. If I'm meeting with a teacher or presenting professional development, I want to see a few smiles. What I do is important to me, and I enjoy it. It is my sincere desire to help those I support enjoy what they do as well.