Monday, October 10, 2011

Twitter Etiquette, Students, and You

At our school we have been using twitter as a means of connection with students.  Part of the idea is to develop the community outside the confines of the "four walls" of the school.  Students can share what's going on in the community.  Photos and scores from soccer games, interesting moments in Biology class, grad or student council spirit events and so on.  I see some students engaging the medium so successfully. They are interacting with each other, teachers and the community in a way that demonstrates school spirit and pride.  They are dialoguing with teachers and peers, sharing great moments and demonstrating why they are proud to be stars.  There are tweets I see that force me to pause in awe of what amazing leaders and positive students are in this school.  They are taking ownership of their learning and their high school in ways that can only be for the better.

And then there are students who aren't.  It seems that twitter has become their own personal venting ground.  They can be mean - to teachers, to others.  They over share private information.  They swear, and scream and vent.  They dwell on everything they dislike and "hate." Of course, they are teenagers.  This isn't abnormal.  But is twitter the place to do it?

We have encouraged students to engage a medium with such power.  But that power can sway both ways.  As I've said above, I have seen it used so well by so many amazing students who are learning and growing and taking charge of becoming positive citizens (and positive digital citizens).  But on the other side, there are those who aren't.  Have we taken the time to "teach" students how to use it responsibly?  And should we?  If students want to post things that are negative, and angry, and have the potential to hurt others, whose responsibility is that to address?  Is it freedom of speech? Is it for parents to deal with?

In a thought provoking tweet from @Ms_Horner, she asks "Regarding public/private lives for teachers and students on Twitter:  should teachers follow students?"  She follows it up by asking where the line is between on campus and off campus behaviour.  And when it comes to twitter - where is that line?  I don't follow many students.  I never really thought it was necessary.  I do follow a few though.  Students who work with me on the yearbook (in which we use twitter to communicate regularly), student leaders and coaches and those whose twitter focus is the school and the goings on in the school (which is helpful for a yearbook teacher).  It's a new era of student communication - and the answers aren't clear.  If we are wanting to teach students and mentor students in how to engage the twitter medium effectively and appropriately, should we also be engaging with them on it (and modelling this behaviour)?  Or should we be avoiding both?  Or something in between?  What do you think?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What are the ingredients of a Sullivan Star?

Bear with me - this may get a little long, but it's worth it.

I have the privilege of being the yearbook "teacher" at my school.  I use the term teacher loosely, as I really feel like it's more of a team leader or mentoring process.  I have done this job once before - and I have to be honest - it wasn't much fun.  It would be easy to blame it on a difficult group of kids or intensely steep learning curve of the management involved or software used, but the truth is that I was missing the point of why it is we make a yearbook at all.  I lacked vision.

On my way into the classroom back on that fateful day in 2009, a colleague stopped me in the hallway for conversion.  He argued that in an age of social media, maybe the yearbook was irrelevant.  It that moment I wondered if he was right.  I didn't really understand, as the teacher of the class, what it was I was trying to accomplish.  What was the point?  

But then last year I was forced to move schools.  I spent a year away from home.  And it was in this time away that I truly began to understand the idea of school culture.  And when I was lucky enough to get my dream job and return home again I was able to look at Sullivan with a new lens.  

So today, in my yearbook class, I asked my students "What are the ingredients of a Sullivan Star?"  What makes us "us"?  Why do you love being a part of this community?  What aspects of this school make you feel at home here?  What makes you belong?  If there were a recipe for Sullivan Heights, what would it be?  Because if we know this.  If we know who WE are as a community, then we can make a yearbook.  We can produce 192 glorious pages that reflects this world to which we all belong.

At first they were reluctant.  There were limited answers and kids wanted to move on.  But I pressed forward.  I asked them again.  and again.  and then it started.  The answers.  And they continued for an hour.  Pages and pages of things that made them proud to be part of this community.  People who made them feel valued.  Experiences that, to them, defined all the things they love about the school.  And I'd like to share them.  For the audience of readers to know this school - please read this and know how much you are loved by these students.  For those who do not know my school, take the time to think about your own school.  What makes you who you are?

Ingredients of the Sullivan Community (in the words of my students)
  • Quirky and Laid Back (students, teachers, environment)
  • Amazing Dance teams (that dominate) 
  • Setting records in all areas (ex. Field Hockey or History 12 Provincials)
  • Teachers who aren't afraid to have relationships with their students 
  • Teachers who aren't afraid to let their personalities show (ex. Neuf and Edwards)
  • Clubs - we could do anything.  We have the freedom
  • Amazing Artists
  • Everything related to Mr. Vaughan.  He's really inspiring.  Especially in how he cares about the environment and seeing us become good leaders
  • Our Co-ops are awesome.  And we love Mr. Hepting.  
  • There are so many opportunities.  More than I have time for
  • We get to go on great field trips, like visiting temples, grouse grind, or bard on the beach.  Teachers go out of their way for us
  • The athletic department.  everything about it.
  • The way teachers focus on student responsibility.
  • Our school has a lot of student leaders.  And a lot of them (and others) are selfless and give of their time for others
  • We care about our reputation.  We don't want to do anything to hurt the school name.
  • Our Janitors are the best.  Ian and Tony always go the extra mile for us.
  • We have big dreams.  We always aim to do the best we can.
  • Teachers encourage us to go above and beyond expectations.
  • Our VPs are the best.  They go out of the way to say hi to us and treat us with respect.  They are friendly and care about us.
  • Our school is inclusive of all people.  Students are respectful, considerate and friendly.
  • Band trips are some of the best memories from being here.  Mr. Williams goes out of his way to create amazing experiences for us
  • Mr. Mitchell's Physics class
  • The Grade 8 retreat was my standout high school experience.  Without it I wouldn't have made the great friends I have today.
  • Ms. Yahn's Dance class is my favourite place to be.  
  • Great Coaches
  • Mr. Neufeld as Taylor Swift will probably be one of my favorite high school memories. 
  • Mr. Neufeld in general
  • PE field trip to play Broomball was the BEST! (I followed this one up with what is broomball?)
  • Halloween Fashion show is the highlight of the year
  • Mr. Pederson's PE Class
  • Guitar Class
  • Being able to make amazing friends.
  • The Teachers.  
  • The Teachers.
  • The Teachers.
  • I agree.  The Teachers.
  • Totally.  The Teachers here care about us.  They want us to do our best and push us to go above and beyond.  (insert 20 nodding students).  We definitly have the best teachers of anywhere.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who has time to manage time?

I started my Masters program this past weekend.  For those of you who have been through this process I am confident you are nodding.  You can probably already see where this is going.

My course runs on weekends - 5 hours Friday nights and 8 hours on Saturdays.  After a long first week of school, getting the yearbook up and running, and navigating the waters of job action I left school (where I teach) to go to school (where I learn) [do not get too attached to the words teach/learn, as I think I do both simultaneously regardless of location].  By the end of class on Saturday I was sent out to read numerous articles, 30% of a book, write 2 critiques, prepare a written position paper for a debate and of course go through a 3 page bibliography to start thinking about topics for my essay.  At first I was slightly outraged. I mean, don't they know I have a JOB!?  How inconsiderate could they be?  I mean this is a masters in EDUCATION!  We are teachers.  WORKING TEACHERS!  Of course after my 2 minute mental temper tantrum I reminded myself that the reason I wanted to do this, and the respect I have for the school, program and level of education I was seeking would have expected no different.  So as I did my sleep deprived Zombie walk back to the car, I found myself wondering how I was going to learn to manage my time.

Fellow tweeps quickly responded to my stressful outcry's saying this was what it was like for them too.  Two years of exhaustion.  @erringreg said to me "the overwhelmed part is the uncomfortable feeling of your previous paradigms shifting :)"  And how can I argue with that - isn't it the reason I signed up for this in the first place?  So I have had to quickly accept this new state of existence - the one where I am once again busier than I thought was possible.  Balancing Science classes, a yearbook, student council, papers, readings, debates, critiques while trying to exercise, eat right, have time for my husband, friends and family.  So how do you do it?  All weekend I swore I was going to take the time to make a do to list for the week.  But one thing followed another, and it's now Tuesday.  And in between working with InDesign and ordering camera parts I have stopped, but only for a moment, to try and meet my Professional Development blogging goal (one more thing on the non-existent list).  The truth is - I don't have time.  I don't have TIME to make a LIST.  I don't have TIME to manage my TIME.  I don't have TIME to figure out how to prioritize.  For the past 10 days I feel like I have been triaging my life.  Dealing with the big things - the pressing engagements, the stuff that needs to be done for tomorrow.  Leaving the rest (you know, those "unimportant" things, like dishes and laundry).

So how do you do it?  What's the trick to managing your time?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Goal Setting Revisited

In April I was encouraged to consider setting goals. It was a first for me personally and professionally, and it took a lot to make the list found in the post below. I was worried that by setting goals, I may just be setting myself up for failure. And truthfully, who wants to do that?

Today was Pro-D at Sullivan Height; my first as a permanent member of the staff. It was run internally with teachers teaching teachers. Over a dozen staff members got up and shared their varied successes, allowing others to sample the vast array of ideas, technologies and communication tools available to the education world (and increasing at an exponential rate according to a math lesson from @bobneuf). The focus was on 21st century learners. There was a good deal on twitter, as well as the sharing of a variety of web 2.0 tools. And then there was a brief conversation about goals.

If you weren't paying attention you may have missed this part. It wasn't a lecture. It wasn't up on the screen with step by step instructions. There wasn't a long drawn out conversation. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that it quietly snuck up on us. First I didn't think must about it. As the day progressed I started to realize how significant it really was.

We were asked to fill out a sheet and set a goal. "A" goal. I mean, how difficult can that be? But as I started to go through the sheet I realized it was nothing like my experience this past April. To make things quick and painless I pulled up my blog with the intention of just pulling one from my already existing list. But this assignment wasn't just a list. I was asked about not just what my goal is, but what others could do to support it. What would success look like? How would I measure my progress? Why would i choose this particular goal? This lead to a few hours of staring at the questions broken up by moments of exploring a variety of web tools, designing a website and thinking about assessment practices.

And then it came to me. This. This blog. This dialogue and conversation. Looking at my previous list, I realized there is so much I want to do. Some of it is practical like helping out with a club. Some of it I've already done, like getting into a Masters program (start next week) and getting a permanent job (Sullivan Heights!!!). But MOST of it (maybe all of it?), I mean the REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF (and isn't it all), needs to be done in conversation. I don't have the right answers. Or the wrong answers. Or, as I am convinced some days, any answers. But I sure have a lot of questions and ideas and theories. I am ready to try new things. And succeed. And fail. And I am grateful to be in a school, community and PLN that supports and encourages all of the above.

So here it is! My goal for the 2011/2012 school year:

  • I'd like to blog, at least once a week. I am doing it because I have questions and ideas that I would like to share, and more importantly, I would like to hear from others. I know that growth often requires the willingness to make yourself vulnerable, so I am taking the leap here and now. I would measure success both by being consistent in my effort, and by the willingness of others to engage in the conversation (comments and questions). My colleagues (near and far) can support me in taking the time to read, and respond. And I hope that this blog isn't the professional development itself, but the catalyst for so much more to come.

So here I am: week one. check. Thanks to Jennifer Spain (@jennifer_spain) and Nicole Painchaud (@painchaud_n) for the idea and encouragement. Kudos to you both.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Goal Setting

A recent twitter conversation with my sister-in-law (@mrspow) prompted me to start thinking about goal-setting. I use to work hard at setting goals, though I don't really feel like I understood the purpose of them. In fact, goal-setting was more of a to-do list that anything meaningful for me. In my personal sphere I have stopped setting goals - partially due to disappointment of being unable to meet them (or control the ability to meet them) and partially due to the frustration of not being able to see into the future (both ridiculous, I know). This is obviously something I'm going to have to work through (ah yes - the burden of seeking personal growth).

But for today, i started thinking of setting goals for my professional life - that is, my teaching goals. And so I've created a list. I don't know if it's realistic, or if I will obtain them, but I wanted to put them out there publicly, if only for the sake of my own personal accountability. And I encourage you to do the same. Take all those ideas and beliefs and wishes and wants and desires and start to formulate real tangible goals. Succeeding or failing isn't the conversation. Goals are both powerful and meaningful with or without success. (For more info on goal setting, see here).

Without further ado...


Within One Year
  • Obtain a permanent position in my school district
  • Find 3 extra-curricular needs in the school community (one to meet the need of the students, one to meet the need of the staff, and one to meet my own personal passions)
  • Begin my Masters in Education or (if necessary) Apply to a Masters of Education program to begin the following year
  • Formally or informally mentor a student teacher in my school community
  • Teach all my students how to use twitter for classroom learning
  • Try 3-4 new pieces of technology in the classroom (including Pasco products)
  • Help 3 teachers develop a PLN
  • Get a class website up and running in a way that students will access
Within Five Years
  • Complete my Masters in Education
  • Take on a role of mentoring and responsibility within my department
  • Watch first class of students (from grade 8, 2008) graduate high school
  • Have students responsible for developing assignments (and accompanying grading criteria)
  • Have grade book sorted per PLO
  • Have resources available online for sharing with teaching community at large
  • Blog weekly
  • Have a student teacher
Within Ten Years
  • Remove formal grading from the classroom
  • Take a group of Biology students to Costa Rica
  • Take a group of students on a humanitarian trip in a developing nation

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My 10 Picture Tour

It's been a busy year - prepping lots of new courses and adjusting to 10 months at a different school. Every day I am still, piece by piece, learning about the school culture. Wandering through the building late last week with my camera allowed me to combine something I love (interpreting the world through my viewfinder) with something I'm just beginning to understand. Here's what I came up with: Welcome to Semiahmoo Secondary.

1. Math Hallway. Semi has a large group of students who are very strong in Mathematics - hence the numerous awards from every competition you can imagine (just getting them up). Also helps that Semi is an IB school and has students learning Math at that level.
2. Front Entryway and student art. I've been told these have been here for years.
3. After school fun - cafeteria? or pingpong tournament?
4. Home of the totems (hard to make out, but also home to a lot of banners)
5. Senior Boys Volleyball were Provincial Champions this year

6. Marketing Class runs SemiCo... "Australian for Fun" as their slogan says (not sure if that's true)

7. There is a sports theme: Cross Country and Track & Field are also strong in the school. As is Rugby (though I didn't get out to the fields to get a picture of the tournament going on).
8. Outdoor Ed is also a popular course.
9. The Courtyard - spring is in session
10. my room. I don't fee like i get out of here often enough, so truthfully i could have shot 10 pictures of my room to emphasize "a day in the life..." but i didn't think that was the point. Maybe that will have to be the next assignment.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

perceptual adaptation

Back in the late 1800's, psychologist George Stratton began an experiment in perceptual reasoning. He wore a pair of lenses that allowed his world to invert - that is - everything was upside down. After 4 days of wearing the glasses, everything started to look right side up - unless he looked closely. By day 8, his brain had fully adjusted, and everything looked upright again. When he tried to remove the glasses, the world appeared upside down. But, given some time, the brain worked it's magic. A few neurons firing here and there, a new pathway forged, and our brain was back to doing what it does, turn upsidedown images from our retina, into upright images in our mind.

This experiment is not all that unlike my current educational experience. Though I started using twitter over a year ago, I didn't incorporate it into my PLN until late November. First I was following 1 or 2 people. Then 10. Then 50. Then people were following me. By mid-December I started using Google Reader to keep up with all the ideas and information that were coming my way. By late-December I had started my own blog. January 1st I started my 365/2011 photo project to enrich creativity in my life. And by the time I went back to school on January 4 I was communicating with people world-wide. Between my laptop and iPhone I was connected to people and ideas more hours a day than I ever thought possible. Before school, during school, after school. While watching TV. My tweetdeck would be chirping through dinner and first thing in the morning right after my alarm went off. I have been accumulating and contributing information at a rate I didn't imagine possible. But in the process (and don't mistake me, because the journey is AMAZING), I feel like my world has been turned upside down. My philosophy of education has been ripped apart - in a good way - through the pushing, pulling, nudging and challenging of my peers. Articles I've read have changed my view. Different blogs have encouraged me to rethink the expected. My colleagues at work have brought forth statements that made me rethink why I do what I do. I'm still trying to find my sentence. And I'm not quite sure I am always better today than yesterday. My perception of what it is we do here in education is upside down. And then right side up. And then upside down again. Glasses on. Glasses off. repeat.

So now that semester 2 is about to start I feel like I have a clean slate. I am sitting at my desk, in an empty classroom, debating course outlines. They are full with blank spaces so I can come up we can come up with classroom expectations next Monday as a class. They tell students there will be a final assessment - but it won't necessarily be a final exam. They mention that students are expected to apply themselves, but that I won't be marking their homework. It reminds them that I am here every day for 1-on-1 support. I defines feedback and tells them how to get it. It outlines our class twitter feed, and how to use it effectively. I have so many things I want to do, and change, and everyday, with every new idea, I stop and have to completely rethink what it is I'm doing - if only for the nobel goal of doing as many right things for the best of reasons, in the interest of my students. I don't mind being challenge. Strike that. I thrive when being challenged. So thank you to those who challenge me each and every day. Please continuing doing it. Because I don't mind being turned upside down.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

the awesome things

I love books. And recently I have been reading (and re-reading) a great one, "The Book of Awesome," inspired from the website
1000 awesome things. In the introduction to the book, the author talks about the "tiny little things" and bring joy to our everyday lives. He reminds us that things like finding money in your coat pocket, snow days, listening to ice crackle in your drink, or building cushion forts - can bring a smile to your face. In fact next time you have a stressful day, I encourage you to pick up this book, or go to this website. I dare you not to smile.

And as I was thumbing through this book for the third week in a row, I couldn't help but think of the parallels to education. As Neil Pasricha reminds us, in light of global warming, financial struggles, illness, famine, war and strife, somehow the cold side of our pillow or popping bubble wrap can still make us smile. So why don't we focus on these things? Instead we can so easily become riddled with stress and misery. On a daily school day it is rare that i don't overhear a conversation complaining about "the system." Class sizes are to big, school days are too long, merit pay is ridiculous, standardized testing is unfair, I don't want to change classrooms, I don't have the resources I want, why aren't my students working the way i want it to, our model for ______ isn't working, my students are unmotivated (often the word is lazy, but I don't believe that's really true) - the list goes on. Think about it. I'm sure you could add more to the never-ending complaints that teachers concoct on a day-to-day basis. So what happened to all the good stuff. The little stuff. The moments that make you smile and think that the rest of it doesn't matter. Strangely enough, the little stuff can cast such a large shadow the those big complaints aren't even visible. So I challenge you to think of the little stuff. Make a list. Here are a few of mine this week:
  • student was excited because he was the first one to class
  • shy, struggling student got a B on a math test - gave me a high-five
  • student with autism wrote me an amazing comic about Simba going to the zoo and used it to solve the pythagorean theorem. I laughed out loud because it was brilliant. (it was also 7 pages long!)
  • 5 new students joined twitter this week to follow my class account
  • 3 of them tweeted me today
  • 1 of them used twitter to get advice on how to use an equation editor
  • 1 of them used it to share a link for a cool website he thought I/the class might like

Monday, January 3, 2011

are you a consumer or a creator?

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you can't see the whole staircase." - Martin Luther

I've got to be honest - I'm not quite sure what direction this blog is going to take. I couldn't tell you in advance its direct purpose. I don't have a specific end goal. This post is not my thesis, and I do not plan on spending the next 52 weeks trying to make any one point or convince anyone to side with me on any one issue. You may consider this short sighted - and I'm okay with that.

A year ago I read an article talking about the nature of technology to different generations. They stated that those born before 1985 are most likely to approach the internet to CONSUME. They will research hotels or flights, do their banking, read the news, check their email. The internet has become a dictionary, encyclopedia and pile of brochures. It has provided them with convenience and easy access to the things they would have d
one anyway (banking without having to drive to the store, news without paying for a paper, letters without having purchase stamps, booking travel without an agent). I doubt anyone of us would disagree - the internet has brought so much of the world to our fingertips and we have the ability to do so much more for ourselves.

Then there are those born after 1985. This generation of users have become known for their ability to CREATE. They started with creating relationships with online chatting and gaming and then sharing a bit of themselves when myspace entered the picture. They became (and are) heavy users of Facebook. They create avatars in video games, and write blogs, and share pictures. They give opinions. They create content. They put themselves out there to the world.

Now of course this is not a hard and fast rule. But it did leave me wondering, "Am I a consumer, or am I a creator?" Because I am teaching a generation of creators. At least, we'd like them to be. Creators think outside the box. They put themselves out there. They solve problems. They adapt. They possess so many of the features we would like to see our students obtain and take with them into the world after graduation. But somehow we seem to (intentionally or unintentionally) make them into consumers. We put them in chairs at desks with books full of already outdated material and ask them to repeat, remember and summarize already existing i
deas. It seems that schools have become environments that are built to beat the creators of our them. But why, when they are predisposed to being creators?

And so I say again, "Am I a consumer, or am I a creator?" Would it be fair to assume that maybe teachers who are creators are more likely to nurture a classroom full of creators? I can't say for sure. But I would like to test it. So I have decided to make 2011 a year dedicated to creativity. I am going to CREATE. I am going to contribute to the conversations others have started, and sometimes I am going to start my own. I am going to share the things that work in my classroom (and the things that don't) for the benefit of others. I am going to engage my creative passions, such as photography through the 365/2011 project and welcome all feedback. I am going to create.

How about you? Are you a consumer? Or are you a creator?