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.
I began writing this post September 22, 2016 after many conversations and an email sent from the former superentendent of a district I hold dear to my heart, the place where I received my primary and secondary education and first knew I wanted to be a teacher. Fear of failure has kept me from posting this along with many other ideas and thoughts that have been swirling in my head. This has been sitting in my drafts folder for almost a year, and I just decided to place post today. I am striving to live without fear, choosing to spread my wings and tell my story, my way, on my own terms. I know that if I fall, I have so many who are there to catch me, give me feedback, support me, and help me get up again. I am also excited to post this because the person who ignited the anger that pushed me to first post this is no longer leading this district. They now have their second superentendent of color, and I am hopeful for the school district that shaped me into the educator I am today, first as a student and many years later as a new teacher. The lessons I learned there will remain with me forever. Seeing the direction they are heading in today gives me hope, and for that, I am proud.
Over the past few months, many events have taken place to cause me to pause and reflect. Turning on the television to see violence isn't new. Seeing bad news nightly isn't new. Racial profiling and mistreatment because the color of one's skin, personal beliefs, sexual orientation, or religion isn't new. However, the images and events I have witnessed in the last few months have hit close to home. The images of men and women being slaughtered by those sworn to protect and serve have caused me physical and emotional anguish. Before anyone says a word, I understand every policeman isn't prejudice. I respect their authority and believe their jobs are some of the hardest on Earth. Although I do, this post is not to "back the blue", but rather to think through how I can use my voice to make a difference.
Today, I received word that a person in authority and making decisions in my former school district gave injudicious advice to the students, faculty, and staff. There was talk that students in the district were thinking of using their united voices to stand for what they believed in, and the response was meant to stifle them, encouraging educators in the district not to support their efforts to exercise their first amendment rights. This person said the students "do not have a clue about all the implications of their actions". He then went on to say it was our job to ensure students understand why we respect "public servants, our flag, and other national symbols of freedom" as privileges we have in this country. As educators, we should teach students how to reach out to those in authority to build relationships and to "withhold judgement about public and private events until they have all the facts" because "positive change comes from proactive behaviors, not looting and protesting". As in this instance, people often do and say things that make me say, "What were you thinking?!?!?!" When this happens, I try to look through the lens of "They just didn't know." I can't say that I am an expert in the subject matter of helping students organize and use their voices. However, I am a member of EduColor, a movement dedicated to "elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice". This group is full of experts in this area. In times like these, we need a source, a group, someone to lean on and ask questions when things are just too out of whack for us to make sense of them on our own. Connect with them. You won't regret it.
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.
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.