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.
Friday, July 8th, I was able to attend Edcamp DOED (Department of Education) at Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) Department of Education Building in Washington, D.C. If you know the slightest bit of information about me, you know I absolutely love Edcamp! The opportunity to gather with educators from across the Unites States along with the United States Department of Education was an amazing experience. Along with sitting through some amazing sessions, I was able to connect with other organizers from across the country to learn about ways to improve Edcamp experiences I am able to help plan.
Feel free to look over our session notes from the day found here.
Wife. Mother. Sister. Teacher. Coach. Student. Friend. I wear many different hats. Each one of these awesome roles fuel me each day. They make me work to be the best me that I possibly can. They keep me up at night and wake me up early each morning, often before my alarm sounds, eager to start a new day. Amazingly, the characteristics of most of them overlap daily. As a wife and mother, I have learned patience, how to have empathy, how to listen, how to build meaningful relationships with others. These skills have helped me in every single area of my life. As a classroom teacher and campus coach, it is much easier to build relationships with others once they know you genuinely care for them as humans first. Students from kindergarten through adulthood have given me ample opportunity to fine tune the skills listed above, working together in classrooms and professional learning sessions over the past fourteen years.
As I type this reflection from another one of my oldest son's weekend tournaments, I am thinking about how fortunate I am to help others daily. I am fortunate to partner with others to assist them each day in being their best. I partner with students to show them how much they mean to their community, how important their voices are, and the importance of their education. I partner with teachers to help them be their best and bring their best to students daily. I partner with administration to ensure district and campus vision statements are realized in classrooms. Lastly, but most importantly, I partner with my husband on a daily basis to help shape and develop three little humans, Paul (12), Kaden (5), and Kaleigh (5). This, by far, is the role I most enjoy.
Growing up, I can remember my parents always being there for me. Without a doubt, they loved me, protected me, and provided the best for me and my siblings. As an adult, they are still there for me. When I have good news, a bad day, or simply need advice, they are always a phone call away, and I consider them two of my closest friends. Both of my parents are first generation college students turned professionals who instilled a strong work ethic into all three of their children. My mother has a career in finance, and my father is an educator. This should explain why my undergraduate degree is in finance, and I have been a teacher for 14 years. Everything that I am can be traced back to them. I owe them much more than I can ever repay them. However, as much as I know I have always been loved and cared for by them, I cannot remember a single classroom party, field trip, or school event during the day where my parents were there. Yes, they always sent money, treats, dressed me for various campus occasions, and spent countless hours helping me memorize and rehearse for many different things, but I cannot remember having their presence at these events. I wanted them there. I wanted them to experience my school day and school events with me and my peers. Those moments are so important to kids. They were important to me.
Friday, I took a few hours off from everything else in life to simply be mom. I am fortunate enough to work for an amazing school district and an amazing principal who value families. My campus took a field trip Friday to Six Flags, and I was not going to miss that. However, my youngest two also took a field trip to the zoo. Somehow, the stars aligned, and I was able to make both events. Most importantly, Kaden & Kaleigh wanted me there, and in the hustle and bustle of the school year, I realized I had not attended one single outing with them this school year.
Upon arrival at the zoo, Kaden & Kaleigh lit up when they saw me at the gate. As soon as they entered the zoo, their teacher, Mrs. Coleman, reviewed her expectations for the day and quickly assigned each student a buddy to hold hands with as they walked around learning about the animals. Although each one of my kids had their own buddy, every now and then, they would ease up to me, grab my hand, and make their pair a trio. At one point, both of them were on either side of me, and we were a huge group of five. They needed me there, and to be honest, I needed to be there for them. I needed to be there. I was unable to stay the entire day, but the few hours I was able to spend with them meant far more to me than it did to them. Just as much as they need me, I need them. I'm thankful for the time we were able to spend together.
I am a teacher. My husband and children realize that teaching is more than simply a job for me. It is my calling. It is why I was created. It is why I exist. For the past few years, I have served as a teacher leader for my campus, but my true heart is for teaching and learning. I want to help people be their best in order for students to succeed. As an educator, there are many times when I've had to make choices. There are many times when I have had to choose my calling, my passion, and my job over fieldtrips or classroom events. This does not negate the fact that my favorite role is that of mother to the most perfect three little people on Earth. When the three of them look back over life and reflect on their childhood memories, I pray they know how important they are to me. I pray they find my work, my calling, my passion honorable and an extension of who I am. I pray they know exactly how much they mean to me. Being there for them is my greatest joy.
Teach. Review. Test. This is the current cycle of instruction in many schools from the beginning of the school year until they take their annual state mandated assessments. As of today, we are in the third week of our four week review for state testing. I understand that testing is a necessary evil to ensure academic growth for students. However, over the past few weeks, I’ve asked myself time and time again if we are truly helping students by demanding they sit for hours each day to regurgitate facts and processes they should have learned weeks before now. There has to be a better way. There must be a way to meet high academic demands and expectations for each students while taking time to see them and hear them daily. We must not let testing sap the joy from education. We must not let testing make school unenjoyable for teachers or students..
Yesterday, I did something I haven't been able to do in a very long time. I sat down and had lunch with students. I didn't mean to have lunch with them. It just kind of happened. I went into a room to get something, and a few students followed me. As I sat down with my guacamole and chips, I was drawn into conversations that ranged from previous elementary school stories to plans for the weekend, and I loved each and every single moment. I was drawn into each conversation simultaneously as the students excitedly took turns talking ninety miles per hour. I kept saying, “Wait! Don’t forget. You can tell me your story next.” They wanted me to hear them. They wanted me to connect with them.
As the conversations came to an end right before the bell, I asked two girls if I had their names correctly. They giggled and each had the same reply for about the fourth time, “Yes, Ms. Taylor. It’s really me.” You see, I have been teaching test preparation classes for the last three weeks, and both of these girls are in my groups at different times, and until yesterday, I had never had a conversation with either one of them. In three weeks, I had not taken the time to see them or hear their stories.
I know. I know. I know what you’re thinking as you read this. “How did you let this happen?” Yes, I greet everyone at the door daily. I call on students who volunteer to answer questions as well as students who try to silently blend in and avoid interaction with me and their classrooms. I work to facilitate a learning environment where all students make a connection with the content. However, I have allowed testing and test preparations keep us from seeing students. We must take time to see them and hear them daily.
There are only 23 more school days. That’s 23 more times to make a difference. That’s 23 more times to let students know I see them. That’s 23 more times to let students know they are important to me. I plan to take every minute to do exactly that. Students are so much more than a test score. Teachers are so much more than test scores.
Wednesday, February 17th was Digital Learning Day. This is a day for educators to celebrate effective technology usage to strengthen teaching and learning. Through innovative practices, educators and students are able to use many different tools to bring learning to life for students. While digital practices are woven into many aspects of daily teaching and learning at G.W. Carver 6th Grade STEM Learning Center, this is the first year that we celebrated Digital Learning Day. Below is a snapshot of a few activities we completed
Students in mathematics used technology to learn about various methods to pay for college. Students learned about college funding options as they took notes and worked with their peers. Then their teacher used the information to guide students through completing a triple Venn diagram to compare and contrast different ways to fund their college degrees. This lesson correlates with sixth grade mathematics standard 15(G), explain various methods to pay for college, including through savings, grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study.
Mrs. King also shared her experience with earning a full scholarship to attend Texas Tech University.
Ms. Preston's science classes are building roller coasters as they study force, motion and energy. After a few days of exploring different roller coasters, working in small groups to generate ideas and develop a plan of action, students began to build. For #DLDay , students went online to playa game that allowed them to build virtual roller coasters and test them out together. Students gained knowledge to improve their original roller coaster models. I'm looking forward to seeing their finished products!
Webster defines catalyst as "a person or event that quickly causes change or action". This word and the definition embodies everything I want for myself and those around me this year. I want to BE change. I want to spark ideas, actions, and steps that bring about change or action for others and those around them.
Try Something New
After a monthly chat in February, #TABSEchat, I knew it was time for me to branch out and try new things. I love being an educator and know that it is more than a job, but a calling for me. It is my life's work. I love everything about being around children and watching them grow right before my eyes. I love having an impact on those who directly impact students daily through classroom instruction. I love casual conversations with students and learning about their lives, hopes, dreams, and desires. I was made to teach.
After the chat, it wasn't until almost halfway through 2015 that I decided to venture out from my safety net, or Leave My Island to Try Something New. I have written other posts to describe the awakening I have experienced in my own personal career and calling as an educator. However, once I did venture into the "great learning unknown", it opened a world of new possibilities and learning for me inclusive of organizing an Edcamp, attending and speaking at local, statewide, and national conferences, launching and growing my own Personal Learning Network and starting #webochat as a model for others in my school district. Last year was a wonderful year of growth and discovery for me!
While I have electrified my own personal learning, I feel as if others around me need this feeling too. I will BE a catalyst. It is not enough to simply grow on your own. As I think over the things that I have been able to learn, share, and experience over the past year, I think to myself, "What if others in my school were experiencing this with me?" What would happen if everyone took charge of their own learning and found opportunities to learn new things for our students? The result will be teachers who are excited about learning new things and exposing their students to innovative teaching and learning. How might I do this? It's simple. I will share all of my learning with others and invite them to take this journey with me.
Over the next 30 days, there are specific things I will do to BE a catalyst in my little corner of the educational world to help others grow and learn.
1. Invite others to participate in weekly Twitter chats.
Twitter is my 24 hour professional development spot. While I frequent a few chats
weekly, I have stumbled upon a few that I didn't even know about until I logged into my account. Twitter has been the gateway for me to learn about Edcamp along with many other conferences, edtech tools, and educational resources.
2. Use Voxer with teachers to share our learning.
Voxer is a walkie talkie app used to send and receive messages with others. There are several groups I am in that sharpen my learning sword all day long. From
educational technology to academic coaching, there is a place to grow with other like
minded educators. I will use the app with teachers I support in order to start
conversations in our building centered around sharing innovative teaching ideas.
3. Share my learning and encourage others to share theirs.
During Edcamp Voxer, Randall Sampson spoke about a three step process to share your professional learning. First, capture your learning. What did you learn? How did you apply it? What was the outcome? Next, curate your process. Organize what you
did through aritifacts collected along the way. This may include photos, videos,
pictures, or anything else that shows what happened during the process. T'hen,
share it with others. I am playing around with a new Pinterest board to capture,
curate, and share my learning from Edcamp Voxer.
My guest blog post for EduMatch can be found here.
In 2015, I hit the ground running, and I haven't looked back. Professionally, personally, and educationally, this has been a phenomenal time of awakening and learning. This post explains what I did, why I did it, and how you can do the same. I hope you enjoy it!
Lessons Learned from My 1st Edcamp
Saturday, October 3rd, I was fortunate to host the very first Edcamp in my area, Edcamp SW Dallas. As I reflect on this journey that began in February of this year, I can say that I am proud of the team of educators who worked with me to ensure this event was a success. Many of them had never experienced an Edcamp, but they were more than willing to bring a new type of professional development experience to Southwest Dallas. There were many lessons learned, and I already have a few ideas of how we can do things even better next year.
1. Start Early
All of the literature I have read suggest that you take at least 3 to 6 months to plan Edcamp. I was first introduced to the Edcamp movement in a Twitter chat, #TabseChat, one Sunday evening. I hadn't even attended an Edcamp, but I knew it was something that would benefit educators in my area who are full of great ideas and resources but don't have the time or space to share what they want to share often. After attending my first Edcamp in April, I was hooked, and I began to reach out to other innovators in my district who I knew would assist me in bringing this to our area. We took exaclty 6 months to plan our event. Starting early ensured that we had time to attend other Edcamps to continue learning as well as to see great ideas already in use by Edcamp pros. This time period also allowed us to secure some awesome swag and donations from many sponsors. I was surprised by the amount of support many companies freely gave to us. Our sponsors truly helped to make our even a success.
2. Everyone won't get it. That's okay!
When I first began to plan this event, I was on cloud nine. I just knew that everyone would thing this was a great idea. I knew that everyone I reached out to would say, "Awesome! What can we do to help you!" Then, I began to reach out in my community, and reality set in really fast. Many people that I thought would be supportive of this event, simply were not, and that is okay. It's often hard for people to support things they don't know anything about. In the beginning, it was a bit discouraging that I was unable to count on support from organizations and people that I truly believe in, but I quickly changed that tune. I became determined to introduce them to an event they can support in the future. I believe we were able to do just that. I am extremely proud of what our Edcamp SW Dallas team was able to accomplish. We were able to bring the Edcamp movment to a group of teachers and introduce them to the "unconference" model.
3. Not everyone attending Edcamp is tech savy.
The morning of Edcamp, we went around to each classroom that we might need and posted 3 things, an Edcamp SW Dallas log, a QR code, and a tinyurl. The QR code was linked to the tinyurl for the day, a place to see the schedule and all of the session notes. We also gave attendees a scavenger hunt to help them Tweet and share about the day. During the general session, it was quiet apparent that many people in the room did not have QR readers, know how to use GoogleDocs, or have Twitter accounts. During the first session block, there was a session to discuss Twitter. While I do believe Edcamp is an excellent way to help teachers become connected outside of their four walls, in the future, I will take low tech attendees into consideration also. We will have at least one paper copy of the sessions posted to ensure they at least know where to go. We may also take a few minutes to discuss Twitter and GoogleDocs during the first session by having mini "unconference" conversations as we build the session board and share out before the day begins.
4. Plan with others outside of your "four walls"
When I first learned about the Edcamp movement earlier this year, I was blown away by this form of personalized professional development. For a self proclaimed nerd, or life long learner, the idea of sitting around for an entire day with other forward thinking educators willing to allow you to pick their brains and share your knowledge on various educational related areas, I was head over heels in love! Even before I attended my first Edcamp, I knew this was something I wanted to experience. After my first Edcamp, I returned to my district and began to ask them who wanted to help me bring it to our area. While this was a great idea, I should have also reached out to other educators in my area and others in my PLN to see who would be interested in helping me plan this event. Reaching outside of my district for planning help and ideas would have helped to spread the word a lot better and boosted attendance. At the end of the event, one of the survey questions asked who would like to help plan next year. I am sure there will be grater ideas at the planning table next year with even better ideas.
I. Worked. Out. I promise that it really happened. Jay Joiner Fitness offered a free workout week, and I can say that I survived one session. While it was a test, I was able to start and finish the workout. Was it easy? Not at all. As I pushed through the workout, I reflected on why I wanted to keep going. The coach, the leader, the personal trainer pushed me to finish. There were several "aha-ha" moments as I worked alongside die hard workout enthusiasts to complete my workout that lead me to compare and contrast my role as a math and science coach. I am planning to share the lessons learned to help my teachers simply "keep going" this year in order to do better, stay the course, and finish strong.
Jay knows that I am a teacher, so he made several references to school which included lesson plans and his former life as an elementary school teacher. It was nice to know that he was in tune with my passion, education. Each time he referenced what I love, I tuned in a little more, listened a little harder, and found a little more enjoyment in the session. This really made me think. Have I gone out of my way to make connections with each and every single teacher that I support? Do I have any idea of what drives them to be better daily? There is so much power in simply taking the time to truly get to know others. It served as fuel to help me through my workout. Surely, strong connections will help me to push teachers from August through June.
I like to workout early in the morning. Well, I did today. That is generally my "time to shine" because I am a morning person. My session with Jay began at 5:30AM, so I arrived at about 5:20AM. As early as it was, when I arrived my trainer was there with open arms and a smile. For the remainder of the hour of healthy fun, his smile remained. No matter how wobbly we became, how tired our legs grew, or how many times I needed a break, the trainer remained positive. Just when I felt like giving up, I would hear, "Good job, Kniki!" or "You're doing so well, Kniki!" It gave me a little added push and made me feel as if I could make it to the end. I knew the coach believed in me. Although he couldn't do the job for me, it meant so much to know that he felt I could do it. The same holds true as a coach. While I am generally positive person, I am making a conscience effort to praise those that I support. I want them to know that I see them giving their all. I want my teachers to see me as their support.
It's Okay to Upset the Crowd
A few times during the workout, Jay would say, "Oh, she just rolled her eyes at me!" Each time, we would laugh, but inside, I truly wanted to punch him. During the workout, I became winded, grew tired, and simply wanted to run each time he would introduce a new exercise or say, "...just 1 more set!" Really?!?!?! However, regardless of the looks, eye rolls, really hard high fives, and whatever else thrown his way, he continued to give us things that we needed. Why? We all have goals, and it's his job to help us get there. It is so easy to take the easy road in order to keep everyone happy. We have to remain focused on our goal, student achievement. If there is anything that hinders student achievement, our goal is to guide teachers to make them better. Not everyone will like it, but our goal is to help students meet their goals.
In the end, I liked it so much that I decided to go BOLD. I made a 6 month commitment because I appreciate good coaching. I know the power that comes from someone taking your "I can't" and turning into a "This is how I did it." I'm excited to work on myself and to use the tools gained to make myself a better teacher leader.
The last six weeks of the year always lends teachers time to try new things. Without the anxiety of testing and trying to "get it all in", we sometimes feel more free to explore with students and spend time learning and sharing more things with each other. This year, I decided to try a few new things. With the school year winding down, perhaps you will find the time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. I'm going to share a few of my personal experiences with you.
I have learned so much with Twitter this school year. My PLN has also grown faster than it ever has in previous years. This is my thirteenth year in education, and it amazes me that there is still so much to learn and do. With Twitter, I am able to login and join various educational discussions, or chats, anytime of the day. I can also go back and read chats that I missed. Through chats, I have learned about many ideas and activities to try and share with students this school year. I have been able to sharpen my skills as a campus leader, and I have met some amazingly talented educators from all over the world.
Through Twitter, I met an amazingly talented and enthusiastic group of teachers from Aldine ISD. (I didn't even know the school district existed.) Who challenged me to blog for 30 days. Blogging is something I have always wanted to dive into, but I never did. It simply sat on the back burner. I was surprised at how easy it was to simply start.
This is another idea I received via Twitter. While participating in a monthly Twitter chat with TABSE, I was introduced to this idea. After researching what it was, I knew I would enjoy it. The idea of sitting with other teachers to share ideas and resources will never get old. Edcamp is an "unconference" experience for educators. There is no preplanned schedule, no preset agenda, and no vendors on site. Everything that will be learned is decided the day of the event by the attendees. I drove to Houston for Edcamp Houston, and I was hooked. Now, along with others in my area, we are gearing up for Edcamp Southwest Dallas. I love all things Edcamp!
There's still time to try something new. What are you waiting for?