Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Embracing an Innovation Ecosystem

"Educators in diverse contexts choose to find ways to change how they lead, teach, and learn. And you can too."

This quote in chapter 2 of Katie Martin's Learner Centered Innovation hits home for me. I am fortunate to teach at a school where teachers have the freedom to teach in whatever fashion most helps their students learn. I'm constantly working to find new ways to help my students become innovators, and the ultimate goal is to have a fully functioning innovation ecosystem.

Before attempting to use any tech, and even before creating lessons and projects, the best use of our classroom space, I feel, is to build a culture of respect. Getting to know my learners personally gives me a better chance of finding what works for them in the classroom. Once I learn their names, their likes and dislikes, and their dreams (and sometimes even their fears), I can facilitate my classroom so that it becomes an innovation incubator.

I am fortunate to be attending grad school at a university that preaches cura personalis, or care for the whole person. That has been my guiding virtue in teaching lately. What matters more than tests, projects, and grades is how my learners are growing as people and how I might better guide them along their journeys. The content will be delivered; the novels read and analyzed. But I first and foremost want my students to know how much I care for them.

On page 86 of her book, Martin writes, "If you know that there is a better way to meet the needs of learners, you owe it to them and yourself to try it." I've found that the best way to understand their needs, and to be the best teacher I can be, is to know my students as much as possible. Once we all know, understand, and respect each other, it is easier to creative that innovation ecosystem where we will all thrive together. We will work better collaboratively, and we will be more likely to take risks because we won't be afraid of failing around people we trust.

I've begun trying a #FailureFriday, where I try something new, scary, or crazy every Friday to push myself and my students to new and sometimes uncomfortable places. It's my way of letting my students know I trust them and am open to them critiquing me. If something doesn't work, it's my way of modeling that it's ok if things go awry. I hope it inspires them to try new things and use failure as a launching pad for future greatness.

So how about you? How do you create your innovation ecosystem? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

This One Edcamp…

For the past several months, I have had the privilege of working with a talented group of educators at Loyola University Maryland. Our team had a big dream: we wanted to put on an edcamp, but not just any edcamp. We decided we wanted our edcamp to focus on educational technology and its applications in the classroom. As a member of the Howard County cohort of Loyola’s Educational Technology Master’s Program, this idea appealed greatly to me. It was a different angle that we hoped would attract a group of passionate educators -- and Edcamp Loyola (#EdcampLoyola17) achieved just that.

Attending an edcamp as both a volunteer and an eager participant is not easy. While the Big Board quickly filled with topics from Green Screen Training to Video Conferencing, I was working the registration tables and helping to set up the green screen area. While I wasn’t able to have direct input in Big Board sessions, there was definitely a wide variety of exceptional edtech topics. As official Tweeter of the day, I got to see most of the sessions underway, and I am not sure I have ever seen a more active group of edcampers. In the majority of the rooms I visited, there were spirited discussions with multiple educators participating and sharing experiences. I paused to listen to as many of these as I could, and I was blown away by the depth of experiences being shared.

The one session I spent the entire time in was Breakout EDU. I had always wanted to try a session like this, but I had never had the chance. While I understood the basic concept, actually participating in one showed me how amazingly complex it was and how much collaboration and teamwork was necessary to complete it successfully -- which we sadly did not. I left, however, with ideas swimming in my brain about how I could incorporate a Breakout session in my own classroom. And I’m not the only one who had visions of classroom applications dancing through his head. The chorus I kept hearing from participants all day was how excited they were to try a new lesson, a new tool, or a new platform in their classroom. This vibe fueled us all day, and before we knew it, the day was coming to a close.

Of course, the end of the day is one of the most exciting parts of the day for many edcampers. With a number of generous sponsors, participants had the chance to win opportunities to try tools donated to us. I want to take a moment to list all the fantastic sponsors we had on the day. We couldn’t have done it without you! Follow these fantastic folks on Twitter for the latest updates:

Loyola’s School of Education and Educational Technology Program deserve huge props for putting on such a fabulous edcamp experiences, and Dr. David Marcovitz (@DavidMarcovitz), Dr. Kelly Keane (@kellyjanekeane), and Ms. Irene Bal (@ireneamelia1) deserve a standing ovation for pioneering this day. I cannot wait until next year to see how they expand it and make it even better (which is hard to imagine). For pictures from the day, check out our Storify and search #EdcampLoyola17 on Twitter.

EdcampLoyola Planning Committee. Photo Credit: Dr. Kelly Jane Keane.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Blogging Buddies

One part of my personal PD that I am always attempting to improve is my blogging. I don't seem to have any trouble tweeting, e-mailing, or talking with my PLN, but sitting down to blog seems to be something I excel at making excuses about and forgetting.

So I decided to do something about it to become more consistent. Enter ISTE's Blogging Buddies. Early in May, I saw a tweet from Katie Siemer announcing that ISTE's #ETCoaches were hosting this group-based blogging challenge. I would be grouped with four other educators, and the goal was to blog at least once a month while also providing encouraging feedback on our group members' blogs. My teammates in this endeavor are Keith Hannah, Lorena Esper, Carrie Lowery, and Shaina Glass. Check out their burgeoning blogs, as well!

The real test now is to remain consistent with blogging. My next post will be a recap of last week's TxGoo conference in Spring, Tx. I love this conference, and this year marked my first presentation at an EdTech conference, so it was especially memorable and enjoyable.

Until then, if you think you'd like to join ISTE's #ETCoaches in Blogging Buddles, read through this Doc and register!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Not on Twitter?!?! Let's Get Started with Twitter 101!

I find Twitter to be one of the best communication and collaboration tools out there. My PLN has grown to hundreds of educators around the world, and they share with me, on a daily basis, new ideas, articles, and thoughts on education. While I feel comfortable on Twitter, I know many people do not, so I created a video with Screencast-o-Matic and EDPuzzle to help people get started with the mechanics of Twitter and reflect on how they will use this incredible social media platform. If you have questions, I'd be glad to share what I love about Twitter, so follow me on Twitter and let's engage in some EdTalk!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On Being a 21st Century Educator

Teaching in the 21st century has many advantages. Multiple technologies make possible what was impossible twenty-five years ago, when I was a student at the same school where I now teach. Although the technology is faster, better, and more innovative than when I roamed the halls of Mt. St. Joseph, teaching itself is not incredibly different. To me, being a 21st century educator and innovator means a focus on one thing: choice.

In the above clip from Jurassic Park, Dr. Malcolm laments over technology becoming blinding to the point that scientists do things just because they can instead of asking whether they should. If we replace the word "scientists" with "teachers," my views on 21st century education are perfectly summed up by Dr. Malcolm. There is so much technology at our disposal as teachers that many teachers use tech just because it is there and they can. These teachers do not exercise their ability to choose.

Teaching, as always, relies on pedagogy and content. What you want your students to learn, understand, and synthesize is still paramount. True, there are many tech tools that can help streamline material and make it more flavorful for our students. There is tech that makes teachers' lives easier and more efficient. But it is incumbent upon each teacher to choose only that tech that complements a lesson, a unit, or a project. Using a Google product, or YouTube, or an app simply to flout one's use of technology can be damaging and self-defeating. 

Being the best 21st century educator possible means knowing your content, understanding the myriad ways your students best learn, and then applying thoughtful, appropriate technologies, when it best serves the educator and, most importantly, the students. Educators have powerful tools at their disposal, but the most important technology choice is whether to use it at all or not. Only when the technology supports and facilitates learning should it be applied.

In this respect, teaching has not changed much since I was a student. What has changed is what technology is available -- and on a grand scale. More than ever, a teacher must understand his students and his courses and understand what technology helps make his students better learners. With this mentality, focusing on choice, a teacher can wield technology confidently, helping students become more collaborative, allowing students the freedom to express themselves more creative, guiding students to think more critically, and have students communicate more effectively.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

#ETCoaches Blog Challenge Post #1: Reflection & Connection

The Awakening

I began the school year with a hope not to just innovate in the classroom, but to share what I was doing with as many people as possible. I restarted an old blog; THIS was going to be the year I was consistent with it!

School began; I began trying new lessons, assessments, and projects. I began a grad school program in EdTech. And my blog began collecting cobwebs. Then, on September 8, I woke up and saw this on Twitter:

That simple question re-energized the passion with which I began my blog. So here it goes again. I don't want perfection. I do want to share with others, receive feedback, and collaborate. I have two main goals for reflection and connection.

I want to use the blog to reflect on my own practice, not just through relating my successes and failures but through communicating with others who read it. My own reflection hits walls without the fresh perspective of my PLN members. I'm hoping they help me break through these walls to take my practices higher and higher. 

This is where connection comes into play. I hope my blog reaches as many other educators as possible so they can share their wisdom, experience, and suggestions with me. I'm hoping I can help others learn something new as I learn from others.

As I begin my EdTech grad program, I also hope I can collect many thoughts here about EdTech in education, my philosophies on EdTech, and reviews of products, apps, and information related to my program. I hope I can connect with other EdTech educators who will be able to help me learn new technologies in an effort to help my students reach their potentials.

Beyond EdTech readers, I hope to connect with other English instructors who, like me, introduce EdTech into their lessons, where applicable and innovative. I teach British Lit, World Lit, and African American Lit, and I love the creativity and passion with which my students approach the stories, novels, poems, and essays that we study.

The Bottom Line

Simply put, I want to reflect and connect in an attempt to better myself, to learn and grow throughout the year with the help of others. Thanks to Penny Christensen and the #ETCoaches group, I hope to discover many like-minded educators and make this a terrific year!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cherishing Simplicity

The summer before I left for college, I celebrated my eighteenth birthday. Like most 18-year-olds, I am almost certain I thought I was the biggest deal on earth. Becoming an adult, leaving for college...I had it all. After the family and friends had been welcomed, the hot dogs and burgers (so skillfully prepared by my dad; a different done-ness for each person, just as they preferred it) consumed, the ice cream and cake demolished, it was time for opening gifts.

When it was time for my sister Christine, age 9, to give me her gift, she walked up to me, an air of anticipation and love around her. She presented me a small box, clearly and painstakingly wrapped by her, and she just watched me as I opened it. I discovered this:

I had no clue what it was. 

She then told me she had spent her own money and bought it for me at the yearly neighborhood yard sale down the street from our house. 

"It's for you to put your paper clips in at school."

To this day, I hope I didn't display any facial expressions that exposed my confusion or skepticism. True to form (even to this day), Christine had chosen for me a gift from the heart and given it to me full of confidence that I could use it exactly as she foresaw. It didn't matter that it only cost five cents; what mattered was the love flowing from her face.

I bring up this anecdote because school begins in full force tomorrow. Too often I (and I would assume countless other teachers) feel like I need to be perfect in what I offer my students. Yet, inevitably, I will fail. I will forget to attach a document to Google Classroom; I will spend an extra day grading when I wanted to have their work back ASAP; I will get sick and miss a day of school. 

At our school, we follow five Xaverian charisms: Trust; Compassion; Zeal; Humility; and Simplicity.
Christine's gift was a perfect model of Simplicity. She gave me a gift from her heart, paid for from her own money, because she was certain her gift would aid me in my studies at college. She didn't worry about what I or others would think; she didn't compare her gift to others. She just gave what she could, based on a hopeful idea that it would make me happy.

This mentality is what I want to give my students this year. One of my goals for the year is to improve communication and relationships with students. While I might not always be perfect for them, I can always strive to give them all I can in the hopes that it will make their day. If I adhere to this mentality, I think I will have an edu-win on my hands. I don't need to be perfect to give all I have in my heart to my students.

And to always keep Christine's lesson in mind, I'll just have to look at my desk to see this, a wonderfully simple reminder of a young sister's love for her brother: