Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Life-Altering Decision

I made a pretty big decision this past school year.  I left teaching in a brick and mortar school, at least for now.  It was a multifaceted decision that was not easy.  (I've wanted to be a teacher since I was in the first grade.)  I love guiding students to become passionate lifelong learners.  I love teaching students how to utilize technology in order to be globally connected and to be transparent about their deep thinking.  I love so much about teaching...

Ever since Tony Baldasaro brought Powerful Learning Practice to the school district I used to work for, I have been inspired to make positive meaningful changes to the world of education, beyond my classroom.  I spent an entire school year infused with connected learning and teaching which was the most meaningful learning experience I have ever had.

After that year, I found it difficult to cultivate all of the change I wanted to make in my classroom and into the district for which I worked. It is an excellent school district; however, it is a district very much infused with tradition, making big change was hard for “just a teacher” to make.  I was able to make some change happen; however, it wasn't enough for me.  Plus, I got tired ruffling a lot of feathers and not being able to fully implement all I was learning from my Professional Learning Network (PLN).

So I left.  Now I'm teaching Literacy at the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) so I'm still a teacher teaching a subject I'm extremely passionate about.  I'm also an educational consultant.

My friend, Jennifer Lowton and I have been consulting for the Lead Faculty at the Granite State College Education Department.  It's been extremely meaningful work.

During my first day with the Lead Faculty, Jenn and I listened to their goals. They want to better prepare their preservice teachers to be successful teachers in today's complex and ever changing world.  

I suggested that the school look at Google Apps for Education because Google offers many tools that make quality learning and teaching more efficient and meaningful.  Mary, the department head said, "Okay- let's do it!  Let's go Google before anyone tells us we can't!"  My jaw literally dropped.  

After the meeting that day, I helped her deploy Google Apps for Education.  I was mesmerized.  I had been stifled as an educator for so long and here was an administrator indicating that she was going to make her department "Go Google" right away.  Such a dichotomy!

Later, as the Lead Faculty, Jenn and I were going over the ISTE Standards and creating a rubric, the discussion of portfolios came up.  I chimed in (truly expecting to be immediately shot down) and shared that I thought the preservice teachers should start a blog during their first class at GSC so that they could record their reflections and have an authentic audience to push their thinking deeper throughout their education and beyond.  They could create their very own blog so that they can see their progress from the very start of their career.  I wish I had started blogging when I completed my full year internship for my masters program in 2002… I would have thirteen years of documentation! The department went for it!

(Disclaimer- I am a writer.  As Don Murray ingrained in me, writing is thinking.  However, most of my writing is lost on zip drives and/or computers that I can no longer access.  I love, love, love that all of my recent writing is in the cloud!)

The next day we met, I showed the lead teachers how to create a blog and they started blogging so that they can model their reflection documentation to other GSC staff members and to their pre service teachers.  Their pre service teachers can model their reflection documentation to their students…such an amazing cycle!

I also introduced the lead teachers to TweetDeck in order to help them manage and use Twitter more efficiently.  They've been tweeting away ever since.

I always felt successful when I was teaching in a brick and mortar classroom.  (Clearly I made tons of mistakes along the way, but I always reflected upon my mistakes and grew from them.)  Though, I didn't always feel successful changing the culture of the school district for which I worked.  

As a consultant, I work in the schools who want to change and that makes all the difference.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Comments of Krystalle's Educational Progress in the New Hampshire Home Education Program

Whoa.  I wish all children could have such a tremendous learning opportunity as Krystalle did this past school year.  I wholeheartedly believe that Krystalle learned more during her sixth grade year (and became a more passionate learner) than most students are able to achieve in one school year because of the fabulous opportunities she was given.  She truly benefited from not being tied to the locational and scheduling constraints of a brick and mortar school.

Krystalle Peri studied Language Arts, World Cultures, Reading and Science with the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (for a total of eight segments) in which did extremely well.  Each teacher Krystalle worked with was a certified and highly qualified teacher.   Krystalle studied spelling within her VLACS Language Arts and Reading courses and also worked to become a better speller with supplemental material that corresponded to her zone of proximal development.  For math, Krystalle worked with her mom who utilized many wonderful educational resources that extensively covered all grade level mathematical standards.

During this past school year Krystalle became a lifelong reader as she read books on subjects in which she is genuinely passionate about learning.  Her reading journal contains thirty one books including: Reiki The Healing Touch First and Second Degree Manual, LaHoChi HIgh Frequency Hands on Healing, and Emotional Release and Cellular Support Techniques as well as many “grade level” fictional books.

Krystalle took courses and became certified as a Reiki 1 & 2 practitioner.  She became certified in LaHoChi (another balancing modality).  Krystalle, with part of her family, went to Texas to learn about Emotional Release Cellular Support Technique and eDNA.  She also became a certified babysitter.

Krystalle and her family created a Gratitude Path in their backyard over Thanksgiving Weekend (pictured above).  Albert Einstein walked one hundred steps of gratitude each day of his adult life, saying “thank you” with each step.  Krystalle used her Gratitude Path during the school year to take mental health breaks and to get some exercise in fresh air.  

Krystalle and her family also constructed a dream board (pictured above) that is displayed in their living room.  Dream boards help people visualize goals and develop a plan of action so dreams and goals come to fruition.  

Art and music was a very important focus for Krystalle.  She designed her bedroom which included assisting in picking out paint colors, arranging furniture as well as preparing for and painting her walls. What an awesome and authentic art project!  Krystalle also attended many musical and artistic events throughout the school year.


During the election, Krystalle learned about the United States Government and even got to meet Mr. Vice President Biden (pictured above).

Math and science was incorporated into several cooking and baking opportunities.  

It is my professional opinion that Krystalle’s homeschool experience was ideal because of all the academic, social and emotional growth she made.  I hope that someday brick and mortar schools will become a place where these great passion based/outside the box learning opportunities regularly occur.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

My Ideal School

I was recently asked to describe my ideal school.  I had a lot of fun while composing my thoughts:

My ideal school would be filled with passionate administrators, teachers and students who believe that all humans can truly learn if they’re passionate about what and how they learn. Teachers would strive to inspire their students to become real readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, historians and _______ (fill in the blank). 

Students and teachers would be trusted and supported to become passionate learners who want to learn beyond the confines of a brick and mortar educational building.  Student and teacher learning would be self directed, rather than directed by higher authority. Students and teachers would be encouraged to make mistakes, reflect from their mistakes and to learn by doing.  They would research topics they’re passionate about and present their learnings in a limitless way that makes the most sense to them.   Students and teachers would be reflective and transparent about their learning.  

This ideal school would be a Google Apps for Education School; every student and teacher would have a connected device. Students and teachers would be given their own domain.  The school district would give each high school graduate the ownership of his/her digital portfolio/domain in order for all graduates to have a record of his/her authentic growth since Kindergarten.  

There would be constant and meaningful parent-teacher-student communication.  There would be no standardized tests.  There would be no grades. No report cards. Instead, the focus would be solely on trusting the learning process.

Beyond academic growth, there would be an emphasis on social and emotional growth as well. The school would address the whole person and strive to create an emotionally and physically safe environment as this is where true learning fully occurs.  

The focus on this school would be about fostering lifelong and passion based learning.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Don’t You Think Education Reform Could Ultimately Prevent People From Becoming Homeless?

Today was the first time I’ve helped people who are homeless since I was in a youth group. Fifteen years later, today was a pretty similar, humbling experience. Except, instead of being in San Francisco with my youth group friends, I was in Boston with my friend Caroline, her church friends, and Ecclesia Ministries.

As I was passing out potato chips to people of all ages and ethnicities, several shameful thoughts went through my head. I was FREEZING cold! Out of way too many jackets, today I chose to wear a lightweight “Spring” jacket because it’s technically Spring and I’m a California girl so that’s what I do. NOT the best choice. Throughout the couple of hours in the Boston Common, I tried to ignore the coldness because I just needed to suck it up. Many of these people slept outside during this past extremely harsh winter. I was cold because I didn’t make a good choice when selecting a jacket to wear this morning. How pathetic of me.

Deacon Ken (the organizer of the event) asked the volunteers to grab a sandwich and to spread out amongst those who were eating once finished serving food. When the chips were all gone, I had to figure out who I was going to sit with. Since I had arrived, I had often made eye contact with a man who appeared to be my age. He was wearing a royal blue ski jacket with a ski/ride lift ticket attached. He baffled me; I kept wondering why he was there. If the circumstance had been different, and we were at let’s say a bar, I would have probably wanted him to come talk to me.  

But because we weren’t at a bar, I walked over to him, though I didn’t grab a sandwich because I am experimenting with going gluten and lactose free. (Yet another aspect I felt guilty about during this experience. Why should I care about minor digestive issues when these people don’t have a place to live?) I asked the man if I could sit next to him. (My heart was rapidly beating because I was worried he would be annoyed and reject my offer.) Luckily he agreed.

I had noticed that he never got any food but I felt it would have been too motherly for me to ask him about it or to persuade him to get some. Thankfully his friend nearby told him to go get some food; Sean shrugged his shoulders and stated that he was not hungry.  

For maybe fifteen minutes, Sean and I had a great conversation. He is such a cool guy! He grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and graduated from high school the year after me. He went to college to become a software engineer but for some reason it didn’t work out. He’s an avid snowboarder and worked at the Canyons Ski Resort, in Utah, for a winter. In the past, he was a professional painter (he practically painted his whole home town) and a semi professional floor tiler. Sean convinced me I should start hiking and to specifically hike up and ski down Tuckerman’s Ravine; he couldn’t believe I had never done so since I’m an avid skier. I told him I’ve been too lazy to hike with my skis and gear but I would seriously consider doing so in the future.
For much of the conversation, I totally forgot he was homeless. I’m not sure what else I would have learned about Sean; but, because the church service started, and I had previously volunteered to hold the music up for the banshee player, I had to leave him.  

During the church service, I pondered the idea of giving Sean a room in my house and to try to help him find a job. That thought didn’t last too long because Sean and his friend left halfway through the service.  

I’ll probably never see him again. I wish he had stuck around because I would have at least liked to exchange email addresses; but then, I wonder if he even checks his email. (He MUST have an email address, right!?!)

I do not know why Sean is homeless. I do know that he is a kind, intelligent, funny, athletic, passionate and charming man.  

All day, I have continuously wondered who failed him. His parents? His teachers? His school system? His health care system? Society?  

What can we do to help people who are homeless? What can we do to prevent people from becoming homeless? I REALLY believe that by reforming education, we can help this cause. If schools set up ALL students for success, then no one should become homeless.  No one should be homeless.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is Reflecting Valued in Education?

During my first Educon, I was lured into Jennifer Orr’s, “Reflecting on Reflection” session because I am incredibly passionate about reflection.  Personal and professional reflection.   As Jen shared the follow quote from John Dewey, I suddenly unblocked my thought process when I was first introduced to John Dewey’s work during my senior year of undergrad.  “Reflection is an active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds supporting it and future conclusions to which it tends.”

When I was twenty two years old, and not yet a teacher, I loathed studying John Dewey and reflection. My desire was to teach kids.  I did not want to reflect on something I had yet to experience. I definitely did not want to reflect on reflecting when I thought I had nothing to reflect about.   I was not yet aware of the value of reflection.  

Since I had to succumb to the teaching credential requirements in order to teach, I read the mandated books, participated in the discussions and wrote my papers adequately enough to receive an A in the course.  I was still not a reflector when I left the course.  I don’t blame John Dewey or my professor; I was not ready.

I did not consciously begin to value the art of reflection until the very next year, when I started my year long internship required for the graduate program.  I was immersed with questions after observing a masterful teacher and starting to practice teaching.  Not only did I want to reflect; I felt it essential to reflect.

This made me think of a discussion during lunch at Educon one day. David Truss mentioned how much he grew as an educator while completing his masters program while he was simultaneously teaching.  He posed a great question: should teachers attend graduate school prior to teaching?   

He made me question my five year program.  I learned a lot in grad school; but, I’ve learned a lot more valuable and applicable information through the professional development programs I’ve selected to participate while teaching, like Powerful Learning Practice.  Each year I’ve become a better teacher because of my questions and self reflection.  David’s question intrigued me because of my introductory experience with John Dewey and reflection, prior to teaching.

I am who I am because of reflection.  I attribute all of my professional and personal growth to reflection.   

During Jen’s Educon discussion, a few teachers indicated that they do not reflect because they do not have time to reflect.  I understand how precious time is and that it is impossible for teachers to adequately accomplish all of the passed down requirements.  I will never give up reflecting myself or encouraging my students to reflect.

I asked the group how they got their students to reflect.  If they didn’t reflect themselves, how could they ask their students to do so?  I was astonished to find out that many teachers feared their administrators wouldn’t allow them to spend class time on reflection because it’s not in the curriculum.

One teacher even implied that she was scared that she would get into trouble with her administrator if she had her students reflect during class time.  I loved Jen’s response, “Don’t ask.  Just do it!”  

I was outraged by the teachers fear! I tweeted:

Reflection is priceless.  Reflection has made me a better person and a better teacher.  How do teachers stay sane if they do not reflect?

How do students grow without reflecting?  It is so important for teachers to model their own reflection process to their students. If my teachers had reflected and modeled their reflections to me, perhaps when I first read Dewey, I would have found initial value in his brilliant insight.  

In order for positive growth, it is essential for administrators to encourage their teachers to reflect and for teachers to encourage their students to reflect. Reflection is part of a process we must value.