Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why Attend a Blogathon?

via http://www.atasteofkoko.com/
    The fact that I have only gotten this post written and it is nearly 4 PM is irrelevant to the premise of this post.  And that premise is that it is always good to be around fun, energetic, and knowledgeable people.  Talk about fueling the creative juices!

     Blogathon ATX (as in Austin TX) is in its 4th iteration.  It is the brainstorm of Ilene Haddad.  And, in addition to all of the obvious blogging experts available, she enlists friends from the area to (gently) arm twist food vendors to provide wonderful items for breakfast, lunch and a late afternoon snack.  For example I just had some incredible sushi for the late afternoon snack from Roll On Sushi Diner.

     But it's not just about the food.  Ok, the food IS a major draw but definitely not the major draw.  The real draw for me is the energy flowing throughout the building.  So what happens at a "blogathon?"

     The obvious answer is that bloggers come to work and to share.  There are Q & A sessions, there's  tech support, there are classes, and there are people conducting site reviews.  Each of these elements varies slightly from blogathon to blogathon but here's what we had at today's event:  (1) Q & A on Branding Yourself Online, (2)  WordPress 101, (3) Q & A on Long Term Blog Maintenance, (4) Intro to WordPress Premium Themes, and (5) Blogging For Business.

     As people sit around and blog and tweet they are talking and discussing.  The conversations can be funny.  They can be technical in nature.  They can even be what I would call "off task" as a teacher - talking about politics, events, concerts, and happy hour specials.   But embedded in those conversations are little nuggets about the how and why people blog.  You can learn tips and tricks.  You can learn what things are frustrating the other bloggers.  You can find what obstacles bloggers are running into.  And you can find others with your passions, your weaknesses, your strengths, and your subject matter.

     In summary, blogathons will help you be a better blogger just be being surrounded by others experiencing the blogging world.   For example I learned today that I hadn't been able to make changes to my blog because I had updated my email address and ended up not giving administrative rights to that access point.  Thanks to Lydia from Understand Blue.com I was able to see my admin information on my blog again.  It just took one click.  I hadn't seen my stats in more than a year.  I didn't know that, behind the United States, most of my readers come from France!  Who'd-a-thunk!

     Thank you Ilene and I can't wait for the next version of BlogathonATX.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Crowd Sourcing Ideas for Getting Started in PBL

     I've been asked to present and coach teachers at the Elementary and Middle School level on how to get started with PBL.  That topic, (How to Get Started...), has been shared with me through many meaningful professional developments with the New Tech Network.  I have also read books by the Buck Institute, read great blogposts by teachers living it, and I have talked with teachers at conferences and via Twitter.

     Now I want to ask my PLN/PLC (excuse me while I make faces but the whole "Let me check my PLN" has really been overused in the last 4 years that I've been on Twitter).  So, in the comment section below, leave a comment and tell me what's different about teaching PBL at the Elementary or Middle School level.  

     Does PBL look differently at the Pre-K to 2 level than it does at the 3 - 5 level?  I think it should, but what specifically do you do?  And, is there a difference between the 6th grade and the 8th grade when it comes to PBL?  Again, having taught both 6th and 8th grade, there are big maturity differences between these two grades - so there should (I think) be differences in how you do PBL.

     When I have heard from enough people I'll write a blog post and get these ideas gathered in one spot.  Thank you, in advance, for your thoughts and comments.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What I Look For In A Coach

As I was applying for an instructional coach position a few months ago, I decided I would think about what I look for in a good coach.  When I didn't get the position I started questioning my ability to meet my own list of what it takes to be a good coach.

First on my list is teaching experience in a number of different environments.  This might be different schools, different grade levels, different ability levels, different subject areas, and a few more.

I would add to that list that there needs to be a significant number of years in the teaching profession but, time alone, is not an automatic qualifier (or dis- qualifier).  Some people are just darn good at connecting with other adults and the ability to connect trumps years of service.

Next on my list is the ability to be receptive to change.  I am reminded of those teachers I was working with in the early 90's who couldn't see how computers would be used in the classroom.  I not only had my own computer (since 1985) but I was mad that I couldn't afford the latest Apple IIe when I started teaching in 1992.   Good coaches must be able to recognize the latest "thing" that is coming to the world of education and must be ready to use their imagination as to how this can be used in the classroom.

In today's world that would mean the use of technology and the use of social media.  Good coaches should be listening to what educators are saying about how they are using technologies in their classrooms.  They should be knowledgeable in how 1:1 programs are being implemented.  They should be actively trying the latest apps and software so they are able to ask questions and make recommendations.  And, they should understand that social media means more than just Facebook and Twitter.

I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the use of Twitter though, since I find it so valuable in my own teaching world.  Coaches these days should be active on chats such as #educoach and #edchat or #ntchat (new teacher chat).  If they are an elementary coach they should be involved in one of the many chats geared at those grade levels or just #elemchat. If they are high school then they are probably course specific and they should be following chats such as #mathchat or #finedchat.  And if they are something like a PBL coach then there's #pblchat.

These chats will give answers to questions at all levels of teacher ability and will allow coaches a chance to ask others how they might handle a question that has been posed to them.   Then there are the hundreds of educators who are on at every hour of the day who might be able to answer questions on any range of topics.  Finally, with twitter, there are many teachers using twitter in the classroom and coaches need to understand how this is being done in these other schools.

Education coaches need to be pros.  As THE professional/expert in a certain area coaches must be willing to find answers and that means reading blog posts by knowledgeable educators and it means paying attention to sites like Edutopia, Discovery Education, The Buck Institute and even the Huffington Post (with an open mind).  They need to be aware of trends and fads and should be listening to what students are doing and saying about their education.

The bottom line is that coaches need to be multi-dimensional.  They need to be willing to work long hours when needed and they need to know when to say "I'm off the clock."  They must be receptive to change while recognizing those things that are tried and true (and are still VERY relevant.)   They need to know when to give a hug and when to (metaphorically) slap someone in the face.

I'll never know why I didn't get the coaching position I applied for but now I know that I need to become even better at all of these things I just listed.  And when I do I will become an even more valuable member of my school and my students will be the benefactors of my hard work.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Life Threw Me a Curveball

     In October of last year I submitted a job application and resume to the New Tech Network/Knowledge Works to become an instructional coach for some of the schools in the network.  I had been working on my PBL skills and knowledge for 3 years, I had spoken on PBL at conferences, and I was considered by many in the social media world as someone knowledgeable on the subject of PBL.

     Applying for the job just made sense.  I soon got an email thanking me for my application and stating that interviews would start in January (2012).  Going into the Holiday break in December I felt good about my chances and couldn't wait for my interview.  Towards the end of January I felt less positive when I started noticing the coaches in the network putting out feelers in emails and on facebook for people interested in applying for coaching positions.

     I contacted the New Tech Network and our school coach and there was a collective silence for about a week when all of a sudden there was an email requesting my application and resume again.  They had obviously lost my original but I turned it right around.  The next day, literally, I received an email asking if I was available at the end of the week for a phone interview.  I made sure I was there for that interview and I completed it feeling pretty good.  I was told that it would be 4 to 6 weeks before the next round of interviews and I went into waiting mode again.

     At the end of the 4th week I was contacted by email asking if I could make a phone interview in two days and I, again, made sure I was available.  I completed the interview and felt really positive about that interview and was pretty darn sure that I was going to get the job.

     As an aside here, between the original submission of my application and the final interview I had presented with students at Tech Forum Austin on how PBL was done at our school.  I had led a conversation at Educon Philly on how to get started with PBL.  I had done an impromptu session on PBL at the Texas Computer Educators Association (TCEA) conference.  I had also been asked to do a one day professional development for a neighboring school district on PBL for this summer and I had been asked to come to Edcamp Dallas next Fall to do a session on PBL.  Finally, I was incredibly active in a twitter chat that was started in the late Fall all about PBL (PBL Chat).

     Needless to say I was checked out in talking with educators about PBL.  Then came the blow.  That email thanking me for my interest in the job but that they had decided to go in a different direction.  For the next 2 or 3 weeks I was terribly bitter about everything New Tech - except for the PBL chat.  As a matter of fact I made sure I was as active as always during that chat.  Then came this past week...

     On Wednesday my principal called me in and told me that our superintendent wanted to see me the next day to offer me a job dealing with getting a 1:1 program going at our sister high school.  This is an incredible opportunity and I would be foolish to pass it up.  But I told him I had to think about it because, well, I need to think about it.

     If (when?) I take this new job I will be severing my PBL and New Tech life.  I already was feeling weird for the last two years moving into engineering and away from math - something I had been teaching since 1994.  In May I will be completing my fourth year of being a PBL teacher and teaching with PBL is something I just can't imagine being away from.   And, this summer when the New Tech teachers are meeting in Grand Rapids I won't be a part of this incredible conference.

    I can't even think of how to end this post because ending this post feels like it is putting the stamp on my leaving the New Tech world.  In my roughly 20 years of being in education I have said good bye to  schools in Newport News VA, in Sasebo, Japan, in Portsmouth RI, in Brunssum The Netherlands, in Gainesville FL, and in Round Rock Tx.  I have never felt such a loss as I am dealing with now and I haven't even taken the job.  But I know I need to take the job and move on and move on I will do.  I'm writing this to no one since very few ever read my posts but I wanted to put my thoughts down here so it can never be said that I just was chasing the greener grass.  There's grass over on the other side of the street but it isn't greener it's just different.