Burning Down the House

fire

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I must have been the dumbest twelve year old on earth.

1978 was the year my parents signed a contract with God promising to torture me. They made me do chores after school! Like any self-respecting kid, I came straight home from school and ate a snack, watched tv, fought with my sister, and then tried to make it look like I did my chores. Vicky and I would divide the jobs, the kitchen and the back. She always got the part that had the least mess. But no matter, we were expected to have it spotless by the time mamma got home – 5:00. The torture of it all was trying to get all this work done in ten minutes. We never started early enough to get it done and the stress almost killed me.

One afternoon I was alone without help to get the normal jobs done plus one new one – clean out the fireplace. Oddly enough, I love fires. It’s the only thing I know that is always moving and staying in place at the same time. We’d had a fire just the night before. The colors amazed me and the warmth wasn’t artificial, like the heat blowing from vents in the floor. But on this afternoon, fire would be my enemy.

I started with this fireplace job first. I dreaded it most, so I tried to eliminate this torture right off the bat. I scooped up all the ashes into a bag, careful not to spill anything that would cause me further pain to clean. I carried them outside and put them in the corner of the garage. I wasn’t sure where to put them, so anywhere but in the fireplace seemed fine. Great – that job done.

Then I started cleaning the kitchen. It looked like we’d fed an army in there. The sink, what I could see of it, was loaded with pots, pans, dishes, plates, and cups, with food stuck to all of them. So, I started scraping. When I pulled the garbage can over to the sink, I realized I had to take it out before I could get anything done. And I did. Thank goodness I did.

When I opened the door to the garage that beautiful color and warmth turned very ugly. The entire corner of the garage was on fire! Panic swept over me. I ran back into the house and grabbed a cup of water. A cup. One cup. How I thought I could put out a fire with one cup is laughable. But I tried. When it didn’t work I came up with a better plan. I called my cousin, Kay.

Her mom answered. Should I tell Pat or ask for Kay? Remember that I am the dumbest kid in the world. I asked to speak to Kay. I told her my garage is on fire and I need her help. She said something smart like, “Why are you on the phone? Go get the hose!” So I did. I put it out. Kay came over and watched me watch the clock until my parents got home. I could hardly speak. I was sure it was my last day on earth. The stress almost killed me.

Then the family came home. I arranged my face in a sad, sorrowful expression hoping for amnesty. I couldn’t believe the response. No one was mad! Daddy said he could fix it. Mamma wanted to know when I was going to do the dishes. David and Vicky made fun of me. Nothing. After all that worry and stress. After all that work making my face look sad. Nothing.

Later that night Daddy did mention one thing to me. He said, “From now on, don’t put hot ashes in a paper bag.”

I must have been the dumbest twelve year old on the face of the earth.

Empty Can Be So Fulfilling



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Did I mention that I’ve turned an entire bedroom into a closet?

Now, if you are a woman reading this, you are super jealous. Brilliant idea, you’re thinking. You want pictures and advice on how to talk your two children into sharing a room so you can do this. If you are a man, you might be thinking about how pretentious and self-absorbing this person is and that you can’t imagine any reason to read anything else this hoarder has to say. Allow me disappoint you both. I don’t have pictures or anything so profound to say that either of you should finish this post. But, I do want to explore this issue of needing more space for things I don’t deeply love.

My closet-room is full. I suspect it would be full if it were three times larger. Though I might have to shop at thrift stores to fill it, there would be this crazy obligation I’d have to fill it up.  But, it’s everywhere else in life, too. I’m uncomfortable with empty or nearly empty things. My gas tank, my shampoo bottle, my belly, my cup, my Pinterest boards, my checking account, my pantry, and the worst, the toilet paper roll. Certainly, empty is not preferable with these things. But there are other aspects of my life that could use a little less. I need to get a grip on this “fill it up” habit. Rather, I should to establish more empty or nearly empty habits instead. My attic, my garage, my calendar, my appetite, and my weekends — they all need less. Most folks would probably agree.

I’ve read several books about organizing, controlling clutter, and such. I have some kicking boards on Pinterest, a playground for people who dream. (It’s no surprise that my largest board is Style Statements.) I’m struck by how funny these sorts of things are. The underlying message is still “collect more stuff” and “here’s what to do with it.” I’ve also read blogs of minimalists and studied the concept. The problem is finding the balance that will work in conjunction with the life that you lead. Childhood Dream: I always wanted to live like the Boxcar Children. Revised Dream: I would really prefer living like the Brady Bunch. Reality: No stay-at-home mom, no Alice, no Sam the butcher, and no way they could fit the clothes of six kids in those small closets and dressers. So, here’s the rub.

I love my closet, but I should have never allowed myself to do this. I’ve given myself permission to fill ‘er up when what I really needed was to let ‘er go. In the end, stuff clutters our physical space as much as our mental, intellectual, and spiritual space. When I’m burdened, I can’t think clearly. When I’m busy, I can’t reflect like I prefer. For me, living life to the fullest might require finding ways to empty out all the clutter in my home and in my schedule, as well as in my mind and in my heart.

Or maybe I need a room in my house with nothing but a cozy chair.

 

 

The Story That Hasn’t Been Told (Yet)

I have the classic case of blogging ADD. I think about writing.  I record loads of voice memos about what I need to write about. I even map it out in my head. But then, I get distracted. I must find a way to push through because I have a story to share and I need to be the one to share it.

So here goes.

Five years ago I developed, launched, and began leading a teacher-led  technology initiative in my school district in Talladega County, Alabama.  I was certain this would work for a number of reasons.  A culture for collaboration  existed among teachers. (Not actual collaboration , but an eagerness to learn together)  The district administration trusted teacher leaders with the future of our schools.  (And began to trust us even more as time passed) We knew what we were talking about.  (I’m always amazed how easy it is to do something when you REALLY know what you are doing)

Today, I am astounding with our results.  We’ve changed the way teachers teach in Talladega County.  We have personally trained and mentored  over 65% of the teachers in our district. Those teachers have reached 100% of our teachers each year.  When you come to our district to teach, it is not only the expectation at you will integrate technology into your instruction, but that you will be provided (soon, if not immediately) with what you need to do it.  Teacher-led training and mentoring, equipment, support and vision is part of the package.  We have 553 certified staff and 7650 students, an average sized district in Alabama. We have 17 schools and serve seven distinct communities, each unique in needs, resources, and challenges. Yet, our result amaze me thus far.  Over the last five years our district math proficiency scores  have increased 20.75% and science proficiency scores have increased 27.5%. Last year’s graduation cohort increased 23% over the previous year’s cohort.  We have transformed two high schools into a 1:1, another slated to transition in January and fourth school in the fall.  We have many pockets of 1:1 by grade levels in other schools. Visit any Talladega County School and you’ll see equipment.  But that’s not what astounds me. As flashy and cool as it is, the technology is NOT center stage.  Learning is.  (Can’t wait to tell that story!  You’ll love it!)

Now understand, we are NOT a wealthy district.  In fact, we’d be pushing it to claim to be a “middle class” district. But the commitment is there. I plan to write more about our efforts in hopes that these reflections will help others while providing clarity as we grow.  I’d love to know your thoughts, as well.

There are many lessons in this story.  Something to chew on for now…. Teacher leaders CAN transform schools.  I look forward to sharing more about how this has happened in my world!

 

My Year as a Top Ten List

Ten Things That Have Happened Since My Last Post

  1. I spent a year in a 1:1 classroom teaching World History (9th grade), 9th grade English, and 11th grade English.
  2. I practiced many of the things I preach.
  3. I failed to practice many more of the things I preach.
  4. I’ve co-moderated monthly Twitter chats on the #teaching2030 hashtag.  It has quickly grown quite popular! (#8 on Edudemic’s 20 Twitter Hashtags Every Teacher Should Know)
  5. My husband spent this entire school year sick.  Who knew that mono was so rough on us older folks?  Thankfully, he is much better now.  Although weak and tired, my precious husband surprised me with a post-Christmas trip to San Antonio.  Awesome.
  6. I wrote a little bit this year.  SEEN magazine, Future of Teaching blogEdWeek TeacherEd Week Teacher Follow-up
  7. My oldest son got his driver’s license.  I don’t suppose I’ll ever truly rest again.
  8. I was hired as the Technology Integration Specialist at Childersburg High School for next school year.  I will help lead the transition at this school to a 1:1, college and career ready/PBL curriculum, which I have been doing since March.
  9. I’ve travelled to Arizona, Denver, and North Carolina to speak to groups of educators and work with other teacher leaders through my work with the Center for Teaching Quality.
  10. I hosted the best post-graduation party for my nephew, Jacob.  It wasn’t the best because the food, decorations, attendance, and details were perfect.  It was the best because of how it made me feel to do it.  It’s up there on my list of “Things I’ll Never Regret Doing.”  (a list I really must write someday)
I’m not sure these ten things are my “top ten” of the year but it is a bit of what’s been happening in my life.   I didn’t write much at all for myself.  It turns out that I really missed that.  So, here’s to trying to shake things up a bit next year!

My Short List

Batteries.  A lightbulb.  A black tablecloth.  Some ink pens.  And a small trashcan.

That’s my first list of this school year.  Those are the supplies I need to get things off to the start I want.  I’m impressed that the list is so short.  I’m also impressed that I’ve managed to work in my classroom several days before I made the list.  That means I remembered to bring most of the stuff I needed to my classroom before making the list.   There’s a science to getting a classroom ready to open school.  And lists are definitely a part of it.  So, having such a short one has to mean something.  I just wonder what that is.  Let me give it a guess, in list form, of course!

  1. I’ve improved my memory.  I no longer need lists because I remember most of what I need to know.
  2. I’m so rested and relaxed from my summer break that I can accomplish 10 times as much in a day as I could back in May.
  3. I’ve prepared a classroom for the start of school 21 times.  That special brand of experience finally pays off.
  4. I’ve collected so much junk over the years that I couldn’t possibly need anything else.
  5. It’s a sign.  This year will be the very best school year of my career.
I’m going to leave it at that.  Whatever the reason for my short list I’m going to take it and celebrate it while I can.  My new year’s resolution to simplify life seems to be in a nice little holding pattern.  Wonder if that peace and tranquility will endure?

 

If the Deathly Hallows Were Real…

BQcDAAAAAwoDanBnAAAABC5vdXQKFnVsRnJvWVAyM2hHTVVXdHZKNXFFS0EAAAACaWQKAXgAAAAEc2l6ZQWell, the end is near.

OK – so not a real end, but one that has wizards and muggles drowning their sorrows in their butterbeer.  Harry Potter fans have looked forward to this week as much as they’ve dreaded it. All of us mark the bittersweetness of the end of the Potter films in different ways.  I wanted to throw a big Harry Potter party but never seemed to pull it together.  Thus, I will have to settle on celebrating the Deathly Hallows.

The story of the Deathly Hallows was truly brilliant. Each time I reread the books I appreciate the many layers to this fantastic story. Everyone would agree that the Harry vs. Voldemort story is epic. But I believe there is a timeless appeal of the deathly hallows storyline.  Thus, I’d like to mark the end of the films by considering how I might use each of the hallows, both for personal gain and for the good of others.  (I know, I know.  Someone worthy of the hallows wouldn’t use them for personal gain.  But this is my blog post and I am giving myself permission to be greedy.)

The Wand of Destiny

Personal – If the “Death Stick” was in my possession, I’d use it to cook and clean.  I know the wand is intended to be so powerful that it could defeat any enemy.  Well, that’s my enemy.  I don’t think my family would argue with this one at all!

Good of Others – I’d wave it around the world Teddy Roosevelt style.  I really think the dark world needs a big bad dog to scare them into acting less like bulldogs and more like poodles.

The Resurrection Stone

Personal – This is easy.  I’d bring my mom back long enough for a good chat.  She died last July 23rd and there’s so much I should have said.  While she knows everything I’d say, it would be so great if I could just see her face when I say it.

Good of Others – I could bring back Teddy Roosevelt to wave the big stick around.  But I think I’d rather bring back Thomas Jefferson.  I think he’d have a lot to say about today’s state of affairs and might offer just the suggestions we need to get ourselves heading toward the best possible future – both as individuals and a nation.  Plus, it would be a hoot to see him play with an iPhone.

The Cloak of Invisibility

Personal – I’d use it to scare folks who like to scare kids on Halloween.  That would be funny.

Good of Others – Talk about the best use ever.  I’d go to Washington and do my rounds.  I’d start with Congress and make my way all around town.  My mission would be to inform the public what is really going on behind closed doors.  I’d be the most mysterious whistleblower ever.  I’d be like Spiderman and Superman – always there BUT no one would ever see me.  They’d count on me to keep the suits in line.  And somehow I wouldn’t allow myself to get drunk with the power.  Wow…. No wonder Harry kept the cloak.

So what might you do with the Deathly Hallows?  Would love to hear from my fellow Potter fans also celebrating the end.

The Attack of the Killer Bees

angrybeeYesterday I finally got in the pool. I was determined to relax and enjoy myself.  Who knows…  A state of nirvana might bring me ideas and inspiration for writing, teaching, leading or something.  Even better, I could work on my tan, something the modern southern belle values even more than sweet tea.  But as I floated around I kept staring at this vine that was climbing up some lattice that I intended to be free of this traveling foliage and knew I couldn’t relax until I got out of the pool and dismantled the little jungle.  I climbed on a low brick wall, leaned over, and went to work.  Most of the vines came down easily, which was great.  I’d be back in the pool quickly.  Not so fast.

A giant blood-sucking, demon-looking, flying creature attacked me! Initially, I thought I’d been hit by a poisonous dart.  I yelped.  And in no time at all that creature’s evil twin sucked every bit of goodness out of my right wrist.  Yeah- I got back in the pool.  Silly, I actually thought that it might help.  At least it didn’t make it worse.  We had company coming for lunch.   My husband is pretty good at throwing a fish fry.  I put on a good face and said, “Aw, no big deal.  I’m fine!”  Yeah right.  My entire arm was red and swollen and my back was numb.  The allergy and pain medicine helped me get what was just a terrible night’s sleep and complaining about the pain to my family has made them quite sick of hearing about it.  (Which helps – families should be sick together)  But after a day, I’m trying to find something positive about the experience.  I started thinking about how many “blood-sucking, demon-looking, creatures” impede my progress every day.  Most days I find it’s my attitude that causes me to stumble.  Other days it’s any number of things.  Teachers find a variety of poisonous creatures stinging them every day:  mandated and foolhardy policies, belligerent co-workers, unsupportive administrators, low expectations, unmet needs, and disengaged students and parents.  

I really hate to say it, but the demon creatures are out there.  It will do us positive folks good to take note – walking into the jungle unprepared is foolish. So, what can we do to avoid being stung.  How do you avoid the killer bees?  Here are a couple of things I’ve learned.

  1. Don’t go where you don’t belong.  And if you HAVE to go there, go with protection.
    Application – If the lunch table or faculty workroom stings you, try to avoid it.  If you can’t avoid it, try to sit near the most positive person you can find or avoid the workroom during peak hours.  Don’t be afraid to make a change, if you need it.  Remember – look out for and protect your positive outlook.  When it goes, it takes much of your potential with it.
  2. Have the medicine you need on hand.
    Application – If you get stung (and you will), use you own personal medicine for relief.   Develop strong relationships with other positive, supportive teachers.  Go to your mentor, friend, or advocate.  Go to your personal learning network on Twitter, Ning, Tumblr, or other networking sites.  If you wait until you need this medicine to create it, it won’t help.  You must develop it today so that it will be there for you when you need it.
  3. Move on.
    Application – Go back into the jungle.  It’s so easy to become discouraged when difficult circumstances arise.  Defer to your stubborn streak that your spouse claims you have.  Focus on what you are trying to accomplish not on the creatures blocking your progress.  Don’t allow the killer bees to win!

I bought some paint today to make a few improvements around the house.  The first place to tackle is the bee-infested lattice area (a.k.a. former vine jungle).  Protecting myself with a nice, thick pair of gloves, I will use my new can of hornet/wasp spray for protection.  I’m hoping I can do enough work around the house so that when I relax in the pool again, I can resist the temptation to step out of paradise and into a hive of angry bees.

Teachers have to be more prepared for today’s classroom than at any other time in history.  With so many obstacles and challenges to face, what do you do to prevent being stung?  Thanks for sharing!




The 187 Day Dream Vacation

Relaxing on remote beachLast summer my pool was somewhat useless.  We couldn’t get the chemicals to cooperate, forcing us to look at a really giant green lake.  Then there was the pool turtle.  This creature stayed so long we should have collected rent.  By the time we got the pool suitable for summer fun, it was time for school to start again.  (It’s totally insane that Alabama schools started back the first week of August.  At least kids have two more weeks this summer!)  One of the reasons this house appealed to me when we bought it was how wonderful it would be to take a little “vacation” to the backyard every day in the summer.

This summer the pool is totally ready for action.  The water is clear and has been since before school was out.  No creatures have invaded our crystal lake causing us to run and take cover.  The weather has been blistering hot and hardly any rain has threatened to spoil the vacation to the backyard.  I have new pool toys, a new swimsuit, and virtually no distractions to keep  me from jumping in.  And I haven’t step foot in the pool yet. What’s up with that?

Is this true?  The more we have, the less we appreciate and use what we have.  Is it human nature to take special things for granted?  All of us have something that we begged for, longed for, saved for, and promised ourselves we’d use everyday.  Those things end up collecting dust, pushed in the corner of the attic, or worse – sold at a yard sale.  (My list includes a treadmill, air hockey table, various kitchen electrics, and the fish aquarium.)  Each item experienced at least one day of exceptional value.  The desire to own and use it WAS great.  This frightens me.  And here’s why.

The coming school year I will have my dream classroom.  I will have a 1:1 classroom with desktops, a projection system with Smart® technologies (Board, Document Camera, and Slate), and a giant multimedia display.  New furniture – excellent computer tables and chairs, and round tables for group work – await me and my students.  I am in a “non-traffic” area of the building.  And I’m teaching 9th grade English and history and 11th English – which is really perfect for me.  I’ve spent twenty years longing for this and now I have it.  WOW!  So, how to I keep from letting a single day go to waste?  How do I maintain my enthusiasm and sheer joy for living what I swore was my dream?  How do I make sure that absolutely NONE of this equipment ends up dusty, unused, and ready for the next trash pick-up?  Here are a few commitments I will make to myself:

  1. Prepare myself.  Plan, plan, and plan some more.  Stay out of the pool this summer and get prepared to have vacation all year around in my dream space.
  2. Stay deeply involved with those who do not have what I have.  Constantly see what it is like to be without your dream in order to appreciate being with your dream.
  3. Allow students to get from my class what I get from teaching it.  I want autonomy in planning and teaching.  I want challenging, exciting work.  I want a strong relationship between my efforts and my rewards.  Focus on making sure students have that as well.  If that happens, this 21st Century classroom will naturally become extraordinarily useful for them.

So, now I’m looking for your suggestions.  How do you avoid taking something for granted?  What have you done to make the most of having your ideal classroom?  Can’t wait to hear from you!

Back to the Future

backtofutureAfter serving two years as a school based Technology Integration Specialist, I have decided to return to the classroom full time.  This decision was difficult to make but I am certain that it is the best move for me at this time.

Several years ago I began to think that working with teachers in the area of technology integration  would be  ideal work for me.  I pursued and was granted a position as a Technology Integration Specialist and took the bull my the horns.  But the bull threw me in a million other directions.  As the school Title I coordinator as well, my days were filled with federal programs paperwork, documentation collection to satisfy school improvement requirements, and other such tasks.  I felt like I had to fight to do the work I longed to do.  I realized something very important.  It’s what I have to offer teachers and students that is important.  It’s not important WHERE I am when I offer it.  If I can be more effective someplace else doing the work I love, I should go there.  And so I did.

A few people have asked me about the position I left.  It’s similar to a classroom teacher’s role in that there are dozens of tasks that must be completed that you never dreamed had to be done or have any idea how to do.  But it’s not similar to a teacher in that you assume varying degrees of responsibility for other teachers growth and performance.  I actually liked all of that.  As Malcolm Gladwell says, satisfying work must be autonomous, complex, and involve a relationship between effort and reward for work well done.  Unfortunately, the great majority of my work was quite tedious, straightforward and simple, with virtually no feedback or reward at all.  In fact, most days I wondered why I was doing what I was doing other than being told that I “have to.”  I never felt that way in the classroom.

Teaching is autonomous, complex, and filled with the most amazing relationship between effort and reward of any work I know.  I am so grateful for a renewed energy and commitment to the work I love and can’t wait for the challenges it provides.  Teachers are the architects of tomorrow’s progress.  I’m so glad I am going back to the future to help build a better one!

Too Many Ways OUT – Not Enough Ways UP

My name is Jennifer Barnett and I am a teacherpreneur.

My teaching career began twenty years ago and almost immediately I began leading.   I suppose one might have called me a teacher leader.  Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, the leader of Alabama Best Practices Center’s 21st Century Learning initiative, explains her view of teacher leadership on her blog, 21st Century Collaborative. “Teacher leadership is about reaching out past the four walls of your classroom and leading other teachers.” I totally agree with Sheryl.  In fact, I spent the first ten years of my career reaching out as much as I could.  Chairing departments and vertical teams, developing curriculum, leading professional development, teaching higher education courses, mentoring new teachers, and supervising the internships of teacher candidates were the types of outreach that characterized my early career.   Over the last ten years I’ve been working to extend my reach. Establishing new community traditions by connecting the school to its community, inspiring new teacher leaders in my district through our teacher-led technology training initiative and working to foster change in system thinking have characterized the last ten years.   These actions differ from my earlier ones.  To fully understand today’s teacher leader, we need a new way to think about these new pathways and opportunities.  A new framework now exists for thinking about this emerging subset of teacher leaders.  It is called teacherpreneurism.

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Over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of studying and writing about teaching with twelve amazing colleagues from across the nation.  The results of our efforts can be found in our book recently published by Teachers College Press, Teaching 2030 – What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools – Now and in the Future. Laying out a vision for our profession in 2030 was the sort of challenge suited for this group. Our intense debates and focused discussions forced us to accept difficult truths about our profession, while creating and recommending solutions for radical change by 2030.  One of the truths about our profession we addressed in our book concerns teacher talent pathways and opportunities.  In other words, why should I enter a classroom to teach and why should I stay?

Too Many Ways OUT and Not Enough Ways UP

One out of five teachers leave the classroom by their third year.  Three out of every five teachers leave the classroom by their fifth year.  The effects this statistic has on our students are staggering.  Everyone agrees on that.  Unfortunately, consensus on the best methods for recruiting and retaining teachers is more difficult to attain.  I believe we must address the teacher’s role to radically change this statistic.  There are too many ways out of the classroom and not enough ways up.  Many teachers feel deflated that the perceived manner of “moving up” in education involves becoming an administrator.  While schools need administrators of the highest caliber, not all teachers wish to pursue such a course.  Then what can we do to provide a system supporting a teacher seeking multiple talent pathways and opportunities while remaining a classroom teacher?   Creating a nation of teacherpreneurs can change our profession.

The Teacherpreneur

The term teacherpreneur is defined as “teacher-leaders of proven accomplishment who have a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to make schools highly successful, and the skills and commitment to spread their expertise to others – all while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom.”  (Teaching 2030)

We outlined four types of teacherpreneurism – Connected learning, Research, Best Practice, and Policy – in our book.  If an accommodating structure existed, a teacher could spend a portion of the day with students and a portion of the day mentoring teachers, connecting students and teachers to pathways for success both within the school and community and on a global scale, drafting and implementing policy for solving local issues, or conducting and sharing action research.  The needs of our students and teachers can be met by teacherpreneurs.  These highly motivated professionals seek the opportunity to share their experience and expertise in a more systematic way.  It’s time we consider how we can make this happen.

To deepen the discussion, we have presented our ideas to various groups and organizations over the last year.   I had the privilege of joining Barnett Berry, the main voice of our book, to share our ideas at the Summer Institute of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the September meeting of the Alliance for Excellent Education.  My colleague Ariel Sacks presented a creative interpretation of a teacherpreneur at the Big Ideas Fest.  Other colleagues have presented at conferences, conducted interviews and book signings/book talks, and written extensively on their blogs about teacherpreneurism.  In fact, we are currently enjoying a spirited discussion on our Teaching 2030 blog on teacherpreneurism with educators across the nation.  I mention these events to say this.  This concept has traction. A curiosity exists about teacherpreneurism.  I point to the evidence in the questions we are being asked.  Do we really need 600,000 teacherpreneurs to lift our schools to their potential?  How do we identify them?  How do we change the system to support this new talent pathway and opportunity for teachers?

My colleague, Renee Moore captures our sentiments so well. “We stand on the cusp of a great opportunity to end generations of educational discrimination and inequity, finally to fulfill the promises of our democratic republic. I believe the noblest teachers, students, and leaders of 2030 will be remembered by future generations as those who surged over the barriers to true public education and a fully realized teaching profession—while myopic former gatekeepers staggered to the sidelines of history.”

It is time for all teachers to add their voice to the conversations that shape our profession.   Join the conversation at The Future of Teaching blog.  Your voice matters and needs to be heard today to affect the change we expect in the future.

teaching 2030 videoA Look at Teaching 2030

A four-minute visual story of Teaching 2030

21st Century Technology Showcase

puzzleTalladega County Presents its Fourth Annual
21st Century Interactive Technology Showcase
Putting it All Together
Thursday, April 14, 2011
8:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

 

Technology Showcase

Teachers from every school in the district participate in technology training designed by other Talladega County teachers and administrators. These teachers choose three students to help demonstrate how technology has impacted learning in their classroom at the April Showcase. These teachers and their students will demonstrate how they have used technology to learn. Sample lessons, projects, photos, and other artifacts help guests see what learning with technology is like in today’s classrooms in Talladega County.

Project Based Learning Showcase

Schools throughout Talladega County have embraced project based learning (PBL) – a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks. Superior PBL projects will be on display at this year’s showcase. Students will be on hand to explain how the PBL process impacts their learning.

21st Century Learning Lab

Talladega County’s 21st Century Technology Initiative leaders and mentors will present a “Learning Lab” for guests and students at this year’s showcase. Students will assume the role of “teacher” in the learning lab, demonstrating and guiding others in the use of dozens of exciting web tools. The Learning Lab will be located under the tent in the very middle of the showcase floor.

Fitness Arcade

Does physical education have a role in a Technology Showcase? “Wii” believe the answer is YES! Learn more about how digital games are impacting wellness training and physical education. The Fitness Arcade will be located on the stage in the CHS Performing Arts and Sports Arena.

Presentation Competition

Students from each school will have an opportunity compete in a 21st competition focused on presentation skills. Divisions are Grades 3-5; Grades 6-8; Grades 9-10; Grades 11-12. Students will prepare a 4-8 minute presentation answering one or all of the following questions: What do I learn? How do I learn? Why do I learn? Each school team may consist of 3 or 4 members and scored based on a presentation rubric. The competition will take place at CHS on the day of the showcase and be closed to the public, but winners will be announced at the Awards Ceremony at 1:00 p.m.

To learn more about Talladega County’s technology initative, visit their TCBOE wiki.

Where Should the Journey Begin?



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wolf_logoWhen I first began my journey to the center of the web, I didn’t have much in my backpack.  I started with a wiki.  It turned out to be something of a Swiss Army Knife for me.  I still feel much the same about my wiki as I did years ago.  It was such a natural web tool for me and my students.   We worked together to create an online representation of what we were learning in the classroom.  To see a bit of what we did together, visit the FHS Wolves Den wiki.

I learned so much about all other web tools trying to master the use of a wiki.  People ask me often where to begin learning web tools.  I still believe using a wiki is one of the best possible places a teacher can begin.  It really is the coolest tool.

When I became a Technology Integration Specialist a couple of years ago, I shifted my attention to a different wiki.  This wiki bearing my name (Jennifer Barnett) houses examples of technology integration, presentations, links to sites, tutorials, and other information.  But, this one isn’t nearly as fun.  It doesn’t function like a wiki where a group of people own the site and create content together.  I add things to this wiki almost every day, but I’d love to have other contributors.  I think my mistake was naming it after myself.  It is easy for teachers to find, but not very inviting for them to participate in creating content when it bears someone else’s name.  So, lesson learned.  If I really want a true wiki, I should have approached this differently.  But, the wiki is full of good information.  Here’s a little taste.

Wiki Hot Spots

Wiki Updated

Links to the Pages in the Chart Above:

My Web Wardrobe;  My Digital Sewing Kit;  Tutorials and Tip Sheets;  Integration Pages: Students Using Their Voice;  More Integration Examples;  Character Metaphors;  Active Learning Strategies Consider this your invitation to join this wiki and become a contributor.

Where to Begin?

Where did your journey to the center of the web begin?  How did you become an advocate for using web tools with your students?  Did you teach yourself or learn from a trusted colleague or other professional development experience?  Share with me your thoughts on the best beginner web tool for a teacher. I’m very curious as to your opinion on the best tool for a teacher to use to begin his or her own journey to the center of the web!  Thank you so much for taking time to share your experiences and opinions.

Education Week’s 21st Century Teaching Series



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edweek webinar21st Century Teaching Series: Use Digital Tools Effectively to Enhance Student Learning

Technology is transforming the way we approach everything, including how we teach. This 21st Century Teaching webinar series will help you integrate innovative skills with critical subject matter—writing and math—and provide ways to create effective assessments under this new paradigm.

New Directions in Classroom Assessment

It’s a common adage that assessment drives learning. But for educators striving to integrate skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and digital communication into their instruction, how should assessment change? In this webinar, two recognized authorities on 21st-century teaching will discuss best practices on how teachers can create assessments that both reinforce and evaluate students’ learning in abstract and transformative academic skills. Presentations will explore advancements in assessment tools as well as offer practical examples of evaluations of student projects.

Join us for this Education Week webinar on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, 4 p.m. E.T.

When Harry Met John David



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John David will compete in his first technology competition on Friday at Jacksonville State University. He is a 3rd grader at Watwood Elementary School and is extremely blessed to have Kim Broadhead as his teacher. He is so excited about this competition. I am so proud that he has worked so hard to make his project exactly what he wanted. John David’s wiki houses all of his work. John David’s love of all things Harry Potter has actually proved very useful for a school project. Hopefully, his first technology competition will be a magical experience for my little buddy!

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Character Metaphors



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Several years ago I was searching for an activity to help students think metaphorically.  For their writing to reflect a deeper understanding of characters in literature and people in history, students needed to grasp the background, motivations, attitudes, concerns, and general characteristics of them.  Thus, I created the Character Metaphor project.

gingerbread_man2.jpg

Materials needed to complete this project:

  1. Unused recycled paper book covers
  2. Gingerbread Man template
  3. Couple of boxes of old magazines (ones with lots of pictures)
  4. Glue

Project Description for English and History

Metaphors are comparisons that show how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in one important way. Metaphors are a way to describe something. Authors use them to make their writing more interesting or entertaining.  Unlike similes that use the words “as” or “like” to make a comparison, metaphors state that something is something else.

In this project, students will create a Character/Person Metaphor using a large gingerbread template and photos from magazines.  Have students choose a character from the novel you are reading or a period of history you are studying.  This character/person should be one that is so fascinating that they’d enjoy learning a bit more about him or her. Be sure to provide a sign up list for the characters/persons, trying to avoid lots of duplication.  Then follow the steps below:

  1. Research this character. Using sites like Spark Notes or Cliff Notes and other traditional searches, learn as much as you can about your character.  Use similar sites to research information about the historic person.
  2. Take notes on anything you find unusual, entertaining, or interesting. Notes can be taken in outline form, bulleted lists, or paragraph form.  Notes can be divided into categories, as well.  Consider categories such as childhood and ancestry, formative years, goals and dreams, significant accomplishments, important people in his/her life, and later years.  Look for nouns that explain more about your character as you conduct your research.  Integrate the two subjects together to have students highlight all nouns in two colors – one for concrete nouns, one for abstract nouns.
  3. Using old magazines, pictures, greeting cards, drawings, or clip art, choose pictures of objects or things that describe something interesting about your character. At first, collect all pictures that have any meaning at all for your character/person.  Sorting through lots of pictures will make it easier to put together a good project later. Consider body parts as you do this.
  4. Glue the pictures in collage form on the area that best suits that picture. If the character/historic person is stubborn, glue pictures of rocks on their head. And so on.
  5. On the back of the gingerbread person, have students write a description of why you chose that metaphor for your character and why you put it in that particular place. Again, the rock is a metaphor used to describe the character’s stubbornness.OPTIONAL:  Have students write these descriptions on a blog with a scanned photo of their completed character/historic person metaphor.  Students could be required to comment on one another’s metaphor to increase understanding of the characters/persons.  Also, consider using technology tools such as Gliffy to create the “gingerbread-style man” online.Ceiling_literature_088

Here are a few suggestions/tips to get you thinking about characters/historic people for this project:

  • Head/Face/Mouth – Think about their intellect, beauty, and other mental and physical descriptions.  What do they think about often?  (Donald Trump, pics of money)
  • Hands – How do they use their hands? (Thomas Jefferson, pic of Declaration of Independence or Monticello)
  • Heart – What are their feelings, attitudes, and concerns for other things or people? (Atticus Finch, pic of something equally black and white)
  • Feet – Where do they go? What do they do?  (Mother Theresa, pic of India)

Here are a couple of examples from The Great Gatsby.  Of course, these use old-fashioned cut and paste skills.  But this activity made a huge difference in helping students to think more metaphorically.

Ceiling_literature_090

Notice in one of my student’s character metaphors, Jay Gatsby’s head is full of “Daisy”, heart and hands are filled with large homes and money, and his feet are swift to provide alcohol to those with such a desire.  One of my favorite metaphors from this class (not pictured) was a picture of a snow globe of a family glued on the head of Jay Gatsby.  This student explained this how the snow globe was a metaphor for Gatsby’s life’s ambition.  But his was a wish for a moment in time and that it was only perfect from the outside looking in.  This student explained that such places only exist in snow globes and upon actually discovering this, Gatsby’s world was destroyed and thus his reason for existing, as well.

Wow!  Students will love this activity.  You’ll be thrilled with the results!

Hogwarts – A Study in Project Based Learning



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homeMillions of school-age children throughout the world would do most anything for the chance to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The school has some pretty awesome selling features: “Houses” that are like families, feasts and food to satisfy every appetite, dungeons, corridors, staircases, and bathrooms with mystery and intrigue, and quidditch.  Life at Hogwarts is never dull.  Any school-age boy or girl could appreciate that.  But what about the school part? Kids at Hogwarts seem to be engaged in learning.  They are motivated and seem to enjoy (or at least accept the challenge of) solving complex problems.  They almost always work in pairs or groups.  It’s social learning at the highest level – in the classroom, on the Quidditch pitch, for the House Cup, and in life.  When Hogwarts was created in Orlando, Florida, kids everywhere were thrilled they could actually visit this magical place.  But I have a better idea. Why don’t we bring some of this magic to our kids?  What if schools took a page from the Harry Potter books and reinvented themselves with the best features of this magical learning environment?  What sort of schools might we have then? Let’s imagine such a place…..

Classes at Hogwarts are different

  • Herbology is taught in one of the many school greenhouses – among the plants.
  • Care of Magical Creatures and Flying lessons are taught outdoors – on the school grounds.
  • Astronomy class meets at midnight in the topmost tower at Hogwarts.
  • Classes vary in structure and length.  Some classes are larger with students from varying houses and some are “doubles,” which means the class lasts twice as long as a normal class.  Some classes have a “theory” portion, with the “practical” portion at another scheduled time.
  • Some “classes” are offered to learn skills needed in life.  (i.e. apparition)
  • Students might not have a scheduled place to be at certain times during the day.

The methods used at Hogwarts for learning

  • Create potions in the dungeon.
  • Perform spells after learning the theory behind how the spell should work.
  • Students are tested with “anti-cheating” quills.  Thus, students know there is no way around actually learning material.
  • Students are given tests (theory and practical) throughout each course.  They are also tested twice toward the end of their school career. (O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s)
  • Memorizing the properties of various potion ingredients, the composition of specific potions, and practice preparing them.
  • Essays on the properties of potion ingredients. (and occasionally analyzing how a student’s practical assignment specifically went wrong and how to correct it)
  • When teachers insist on using old fashioned methods for learning, students create groups for teaching one another lessons and practice performing skills until proficient.  (i.e. Dumbledore’s Army and Defense Against the Dark Arts)

Sounds Like PBL to Me…

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking). (Buck Institute for Education)  While at Hogwarts, Harry and his friends were guided through this process in virtually every area of their development.  Complex questions, problems, and challenges were embedded in their learning targets.  The Hogwarts professors would probably laugh that we think collaboration, communication and critical thinking are “21st century” skills.  Certainly, these are not new to schools focused on an inquiry model.  So, why aren’t more schools trying this?

Project learning is very difficult.  Superior leadership and support are non-negotiables for creating such a school.  It takes amazing skill, determination, and dedication from the teachers.  The amount of training and development necessary for such a transformation can be costly.  But, the results are truly magical.  I’ve witnessed (and played a small role in) the transformation of a such a school.  Winterboro School has really gone from mundane to magical. I can’t wait to share more about what we’ve done in future posts.  But for now, chew on this.  What will happen to the students of our future if we don’t provide them with a meaningful purpose for learning?  If the Harry Potter books could impact young readers in such a profound way, could the same books inspire leaders to give students what they crave?

Maybe one day Hogwarts won’t be so special.   Our kids deserve to attend a school of magic every day.  Anyone know a spell for creating such a place?


The Process of Integrating Technology – Teacher Development

netp2010_img_3_smlThe National Educational Technology Plan (2010) outlines a very specific path for supporting teachers in the difficult process of integrating technology into their practice. I especially like the visual to the right. This nice graphic from the Teaching: Prepare and Connect section of the plan demonstrates the complexity of just this aspect of the process. I’d like to briefly address each part of the graphic, examining each role with respect to technology integration.

Teacher
The teacher must see the need. Without a sense of responsibility for providing students with rich experiences using technology to learn, a teacher will not move forward with his or her own development and learning to integrate technology into their curriculum. It cannot be sold simply as a way to make their job easier. Teachers must believe that students need to use technology in the learning process. Also, teachers who lack confidence in learning new technologies must be adequately supported. This delicate situation must be handled carefully, always showing great respect for others and the challenges they face learning something so difficult for them.
How?
All levels of administrators must set the agenda. Superintendents must speak to the need. Principals must set the expectations. District and school based technology experts must provide resources, information, and hands-on support on a daily basis. Department leaders and teacher leaders must demonstrate their successes. Time for structured conversations must be made. A virtual onslaught of expectations and information will help prepare teachers to clearly see the need and develop the confidence needed to learn something new.


Other Teachers
Colleagues are truly the single most important force in pushing along the process of technology integration. Teachers love to talk and share and will do this no matter what. To take advantage of this happy situation, leaders must structure even more opportunity for teachers to share with teachers.
How?
Here’s a simple list of ideas: Common Planning (report the conversations back to an administrator); “Tech Tuesdays” or “Tech Thursdays” (informal share time after school for 30 minutes to an hour – I do know of schools that make this formal providing PD credit, with different teachers leading each session and announcing the tool/technology to be presented to generate interest each week); Lunch Meetings; Create a group blog or wiki to share; Open House or Technology Showcase for parents or community or just each other


Students
Let’s face it. Sometimes students know more than we do about certain technologies. USE their expertise. There’s no better way to engage students in the learning process than to relinquish some of the responsibility for success to them. Be sure to prepare them ahead of this. They should have a quick lesson in working with other students. Also, make your expectations for them very clear. Don’t just turn them loose. Be very explicit with what you want. Also, take time to talk to students about technology and tools they are using in their lives. You may get some great ideas for you using those tools in your instruction.

How?
Try creating a Tech Team (SWAT (students willing to assist w/ technology). Have a group of Tech Tutors to farm out to teachers just beginning to use technology as student assistants. Have share sessions with Tech Teams or Student Advisory groups. (Our use the school’s SGA or other organization to connect with them if you aren’t ready for a tech team.) It’s important to learn from them – wherever they are.


Parents
Parents in every school are willing to share – they just need to be asked. Sometimes teachers aren’t sure about what to ask of parents. (Sometimes we don’t exactly know what we need) In the case of technology integration, you might simply need for parents to comment on student work posted online. Maybe you need a guest speaker willing to skype with your class. Or maybe you need a parent to help build a website for your class. The list is endless. You may be surprised how many would love to help!

How?
Newsletters, email, and other formal communications can be utilized to get your parents involved. But don’t forget to talk to them in Wal-Mart or the grocery store about what you need as well. Those less formal requests are personal and meaningful. There are loads of parents ready to be that involved in your child’s class if you’d ask.


Youth Development Workers
There are advocates for our children throughout our society. These youth development workers share in the responsibility of students and want to be connected and involved. Using technology can make this happen seamlessly. To identify who the specific youth development workers might be, talk with your school counselor. He or she can point to groups and individuals with special interest and capabilities for serving certain students. (Some examples are government social service organizations, churches and religious groups, retired educators and other retired groups, non-profit service groups, literacy organizations, and much more.)

How?
Invite these individuals to be a part of your class, especially virtually. Invite them to visit in person and allow the students to teach them how to be connected using technology.


Data

Data is your most dependable resource for identifying the needs of your students. Using technology to organize data to more clearly understand your students’ needs is happening more and more throughout the country. Identifying the methods that technology can help you meet student needs can be a little bit more difficult. Teams of teachers and administrators must address these issues together.

How?
Frequent discussion of student data is necessary to create an authentic learning plan for each learner. Data discussions should become an integral part of every meeting.


Personal Learning Networks
Early in my learning, the teachers in my school provided the most significant nudge into true tech integration in my classroom. When I began to itch for more, I began building a wider network for learning. You can see my PLN here. Today, this network impacts my development in profound ways. I’ve grown and learned beyond my own intentions and expectations.
How?
Connect with others in educational technology. I use Twitter. Participating in #edchat, #edtech and other such discussions has been phenomenal. I offer help and ask for help often on Twitter. Also, I read what influential ed tech folks write – both in blogs, books, and other articles. I use my RSS feed on iGoogle to keep up efficiently. Commenting on blogs and articles will help you develop a presence and a network. I use other social networks – Facebook and Ning – for connecting to educators. I use social bookmarking and participate in a variety of webinars and other discussions available to interested teachers for free. The more you begin to search, the more you find. Ask for help if you get stumped. It’s the point of developing a PLN.


Online Courses
In Alabama we have fantastic eLearning online courses, available several times during the year for free. These wonderful courses earn valuable CEUs and provide excellent training in dozens of areas of educational technology. I also love the free K-12 Online Conference. It’s an asynchronous conference allowing you to participate when you can. Another excellent opportunity for online learning is to look into Education Week’s webinars. These webinars are fantastic! (most recorded and available later)

How?
Register for eLearning. (Alabama State Department site for eLearning) Learn more a K-12 Online. Learn more about Education Week’s webinars.


Technical Assistance Providers

The nuts and bolts of a new piece of equipment can frustrate even the best of us. Make certain the vendor of your technical devices provides training for using the equipment. If possible, give teachers enough information to get them started with the equipment and have them use it a bit before the training. You want them to ask the most sophisticated questions possible while you have experts on site. If you have one teacher that really goes that extra miles, see if your outside trainer will spend an extra half hour with that teacher, creating a “semi-expert” at your school site.

How?
Negotiate this assistance as a part of your purchase. Always push for follow up training. If additional equipment is purchased, ask if the training for the new teachers can include some of the other teachers as well. Get as much as you can from this valuable training.


Tutorials
Providing simple tutorials for teachers is really very simple. Video tutorials already exist in abundance on a variety of websites. Short step-by-step written guides can be useful for teachers interested in learning to use new equipment or new web tools as well. These resources are also available on the web. Important Advice: Choose the tutorial and give it a trail run with a couple of teachers. Then ask for some feedback on the tutorial’s usefulness. Too much detail can scare teachers away and not enough detail might frustrate them so much that they give up.

How?
Go to the websites of the vendors for the equipment purchased and search for video tutorials. PDFs may also be available. Use your Personal Learning Network to ask for other great tutorials. Many technology specialists have created some of these types of tutorials themselves and may be willing to share. Just ask!


Experts
Research the field of educational technology integration. You will find certain names and organizations appear over and over. Make it part of your week to read what they are writing and publishing. Don’t forget to subscribe to online periodicals, blogs, and other media sources by the leaders in the field. If you aren’t sure who you’d like to include in your “reading list” don’t worry. Find one organization or person and get started. They all seem to reference one another and soon you will be bouncing around reading what lots of different people are saying about how to effectively integrate technology.

How?
Learn to use RSS feeds. A good place to start is with iGoogle, Google Reader, or Pageflakes. You can organize everything you’d like to read on one page and simply click to read the latest blog entry or article. Easy as pie!


Content
Sometimes the content we teach can be the best source of inspiration for how we might use technology to teach it. Thousands of sites exist in every field on every grade level for actively engaging students with content.

How?
If you’ve made it through all of the resources listed above, you’ve already found some amazing resources for integrating technology with your content standards. If you haven’t made it through all of the steps above, use your technology specialist to help you locate these resources. It’s his or her job to find them and assist you and your students with using the resources to make learning authentic. Enjoy!

Making My Life Easier – Less Can Be More

easy-button

In an effort to simplify life, I’ve started thinking about the small things.  Lots of folks say “don’t sweat the small stuff.”  But I’m actually totally focused on the small stuff, trying to make sure none of it grows into something bigger and difficult to manage.  I’ve learned that stress and frustration rarely grows from one particular thing.  Often lots of things build up and then one medium-sized thing just sends you over the edge.  (maybe not even a medium thing)  So, I’m not going to allow small things to crowd out my enjoyment of life.  Here are a few things I’ve done to make life easier to live.

Thing #362No need to obsess about stuff – things generally go pretty well without the drama. Today I lead a bit of technology PD for the faculty at Winterboro that seemed to go fairly smoothly.  Normally, I’d go into overdrive planning something like today’s PD, but I didn’t this time.  I prepared a few things before the Christmas break and put a little bit of thought time into the planning (basically reflecting on the things I’d been thinking about that need to be done) and pulled together a tight agenda rather quickly.  I felt good about doing this since I’d done lots of this type of PD.  I have to trust what I know about technology and how teachers learn to use it.  I have to trust how well I know teachers (as a whole and individually).  I have to trust myself to think on my feet.  Sometimes, being too prepared is a turnoff for folks and causes you to miss those amazing teachable moments.  All in all, less can definitely be more!

Thing #361Teachers should eat out whenever possible. Though lunchrooms across America are trying to reinvent themselves, most school dining choices leave teachers unsatisfied.  We enjoyed a wonderful little lunch at Cafe Royale in Talladega today.  Good food and good friends help to make this first “school” meal of the year a very satisfying experience.

Thing #360Clean for 10 minutes, enjoy the rest of the evening. When I got home from school, my boys had managed to demolish much of the tidy housework I did over the break.  (They don’t go back to school until Wednesday.)  So I forced a ten minute clean sweep on the place.  I immediately felt my blood pressure slow its pace.  Now I can relax and enjoy a quiet evening.  Oh what a great feeling!

Thing #359Ignore your “to do” list. I totally accomplished some things at work today and none of them were on my list.  Actually, I didn’t even make a list – I’m mostly referring to the one in my head.  But I accomplished things that needed to get done and I’ll get to the rest when I get to it.  No big deal.  BTW, this one is pretty funny considering my obsession with list-making.