Sunday, January 26, 2014

How Much Time For Personal Growth Do You Have?

It's Saturday. Do you: Play 18? Visit some garage sales? Go to that winery you've read about? Do yard work? Grade papers? Other?

Everybody has the same amount of hours in the week and days in the year. And, each month has 8 weekend days.

Many (most) of the teachers I have worked with keep their weekends sacred. And, on a certain level, there isn't anything wrong with that.

If you think about the hours, after the "normal" work hours, that teachers do things like lesson planning and grading of assessments, then it's bordering on "cruel" to expect them to do school-related things on the weekend.

So, as an educational leader in your school or district what are the expectations that are placed upon your weekends? Do you attend the sporting events? Do you attend the plays/musicals and the concerts? Do you get your car washed or buy baked goods at the fundraisers?

Suddenly you feel the pull of these "expectations." And this pull is, often, diametrically opposed to your own personal "expectations." Personal expectations can be from your kid's sporting events, your involvement in youth (and adult) organizations, or your spouse or other family members.

You can't possibly give up any of your weekend time - because you don't have much of "your time" left!  But what about improving yourself mentally? Do you take weekend time to make yourself smarter? When do you fit that in?

This weekend I was lucky because my diametrically opposed "expectations" didn't affect each other. Yesterday I was at my school helping to run an Academic Competition. I left home at 6:30 AM and got home just after 6 PM. My wife was out of town on business. My son? He had plans for the entire afternoon and didn't get home until right before I walked into the door. Only my cats were upset with my day away from home.

But my personal growth WAS impacted by yesterday. Yesterday was the Saturday session at Educon 2.6. It started Friday night and I wasn't around to keep track of my Twitter feed to see what I was missing (we were prepping for the academic competition that night). And yesterday I wasn't able to look at my phone (never mind my laptop) the entire day so I missed that feed. And so, most importantly, I missed the live streams from yesterday's sessions.

Ever since Educon 2.2 I have virtually (or physically) attended this conference.  In my opinion it is the one conference you shouldn't miss virtually (every year) and you shouldn't miss going to - at least once in your lifetime. It's that good!  I repeat - it's that good!

Today I wasn't able to get connected to the conference until Session 4 which went from 9:30 to 11:00 (my time). But I jumped online; selected the session I wanted to attend; checked the Twitter stream to see who else was attending virtually: and, found two of my friends, who were not only talking about the conference, but they had selected the same session I had opened!

Before you knew it, we had a Google Doc open and we were discussing the topics being presented and we even were able to submit our conversations to the session facilitators because they were prepared and had a Google Form to fill out with any discussions that were going on at the session (physically there and virtually).

Now I'm (kind of) attending a session while I write this post. There wasn't anything on the list that totally blew me away so I took the opportunity to start the feed and then work while listening. I even opened a google doc and shared with one of my earlier friends so she and I could add things we heard during this session (and all three of us will be back together for the next session).

And what is this costing me, in terms of time? I'll be hyper focused for 90 minutes for each of the sessions I tune into mentally.  This is something every educator can do. And I'm not talking about doing this every weekend. Just pick one weekend a month to focus on being a better educator.

You could select an Edcamp to attend and that will be the one day you devote to improving yourself for that month. You could select a conference to either attend physically or virtually and that could be another month's learning moment. If you can string together 12 of these (one for each month) then you can carve out the time so that everyone - your school, school district, and family - will know that this is important to you.

What do you have planned for February? Pick something now. I'll be attending TCEA in Austin TX. In March I'll be attending SXSWEdu, again in Austin. Starting the year with Educon, TCEA, and SXSWEdu each year really gets the year started in the right direction.

Remember you do NOT have to book a flight and a hotel for every conference you see on a calendar. Attend virtually. Many provide livestreams and most provide twitter feeds. And all of them will have connected educators tweeting, facebooking, snapchatting, or somehow connecting with their friends and followers.

Just dedicate one day a month to be totally involved in your own professional development. Your students and colleagues deserve this from you. Getting your family to agree to this, on the other hand, is your problem. But worth the potential headache - I promise.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Two Weeks to a Habit (Running Style)

Today's Google Search
Seems like I have always heard that it just takes two weeks of doing things for them to become a habit. So I thought I'd see who said that first. The image to the left is my attempt at answering that question.

Today is the 20th day of the year. We've just about finished 3 weeks so anything you (or I) started as a New Year's resolution could (and should) be, now, a habit. How are you doing?

Yesterday I went to the track and completed day one of the 4th week of the 5K 101 Program. I have run this program 3 times a week (Sun/Tue/Thu) for three straight weeks. I also do a couple mile run (if you can call it that) each Saturday. That run is done without stopping to walk like the schedule in the 5K 101 program and is done around our local community college campus.

It used to be that I "wouldn't lace 'em up for less than a 3 mile run." Now I'd kill to be able to run, really run, 3 miles.  I started running because of the Navy physical fitness requirement while I was in college. And, from my 19th birthday until sometime in my early 30's I did dozens of 5K's, 10k's, Half Marathons and Marathons. I wasn't fast, but I could average better than 8 minute miles for any distance less than 20 miles.

Now I'm on the long road back to running for fun. Yes for fun. I used to love running. I'd wave or nod to everyone I passed by and I'd sing to myself while listening to whatever music was coming through my headset.  Now it's more painful than fun but something interesting happened yesterday on the track. I smiled. And I didn't spend time looking down at my feet (embarrassed for being so slow and so fat). My time per lap wasn't any faster than last Thursday but there was something different about this run - I was (almost) enjoying myself.

Two weeks to a habit.  My 4 day per week running plan is now a habit. As a matter of fact I'm looking out the door at this beautiful day and wishing I didn't need to take the day off from running (my 60+ pounds of excess tonnage isn't good for my joints).  But I'll definitely go for a walk later. I need to keep those legs moving.

I hope each of you has found that one thing that you have made a habit this year. If you haven't, yet, found something to create a habit around remember - it only takes two weeks to become a habit (or is it three?....)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sometimes Slightly Bad News Can Make Your Day

Someone very close to me has cancer and, potentially, won't be around a year from now to read whatever drivel I produce on January 9, 2015.  The day I found out that news was December 29th, 2013. I know that date because that morning I had a colonoscopy and an endoscopy to see what might be ailing me.

The colonoscopy was fine but my endoscopy disclosed a hiatal hernia and signs of Barrett's Esophagus.  The erosion of the lining of the esophagus is where cancer can occur.  I was told that they were sending off tissue on the morning of the endoscopy, I found out about my friend having esophageal cancer that afternoon.  I was a nervous wreck, to say the least.

This morning I found out that I do, in fact, have Barrett's Esophagus. And, my hiatal hernia is pretty darn big. But I do NOT have the big C-word.  I hadn't said anything to anyone other than family for these 9 days and it had totally ruined my disposition. But, I kept an upbeat outer layer even though my insides were killing me.

Now that I've had my first (and, at 56 probably not my last ) scare with worrying about hearing a diagnosis of cancer I know that I will always be sympathetic to those about to get their diagnosis.  If you have someone going in for a colonoscopy or an endoscopy you can be, somewhat, assured that there will (probably) not be an issue.

But if you hear them say that the doctors have sent off tissue for further analysis, then take time to see how they are doing emotionally.  Keep the conversation positive but realize they, like me, may be scared to death.  And when they find out that everything is fine, take time to acknowledge that they have gotten some pretty darn good news and they should be encouraged to celebrate.

It's easy for us to feel sympathetic to those who get bad news.  Getting not so great news can actually be the most wonderful news in the world to someone anticipating the worse.  Feel free to take that person, who gets the "not so great" news out for a drink to celebrate. They deserve it.

Friday, January 3, 2014

It's Always the Right Time to Write

School starts up on Monday and I've started thinking about all of the January hurdles that are approaching. There's "Benchmark Week" when all of our core classes will be taking benchmarks that are designed to see where we are in our progression towards the state mandated testing. It also gives our students a feel for what it will be like during testing as we go to a full testing feel to the school. We have modified schedules and lunches and students test in their testing rooms for the 4 hour duration of the test.

We also will look at the middle of the year (MOY) tests for math and reading from online testing sites. We will look at our student progress and we'll reset our response to intervention (RTI) groups for the lead up to testing.

The last January hurdle will be our writing benchmark tests in all of our ELA classes. I, for one, am not looking forward to how we score with those because our focus this year has been on reading and most of our ELA teachers have pushed that while pushing their writing to the back burner. For the early part of December we started refocusing on the writing process and the relationship with writing and reading. If we do it right, our writing processes can help our struggling readers. That will be our theme for the remainder of the year.

Writing is NOT just an ELA thing though. We need to be doing a better job of writing in all subject areas.  That will be my personal focus as we start back next week. I think the best way to get that going is to have our teachers create one written assignment for their students each week in January. And after that, I'd like to see them assign a writing requirement into each of their project plans.

Having a writing component in a project is an easy step. We can have written proposals. We can have written journal entries. We can have written explanations for steps taken by a team. It gets a bit more difficult assigning "authentic" writing into the project. A post by Sara Hallermann, a fellow BIE National Faculty member, from last year is something I recommend to people who want to make the literacy piece more authentic.

From the New Tech Network I always fall back on the expertise of Alix Horton and her Literacy For Living blog.  There are great nuggets to found in all of the posts but this one, from last July, about literacy in the math classroom is really great. Never tell me, a former math teacher, that you can't do writing in the math classroom! Don't they need to explain to you how the steps in solving a problem? How many ways could you have them do the explaining? Hmmm????

Ever hear of the Literacy Design Collaborative?  Go to their site and click on the Tasks tab and you will see some great ideas for writing assignments. And if you just need sentence starters, go to Google and type in "sentence starters for...(math, science, social studies, english, etc.) and there's tons:

If you are not writing in your classroom every week, it's time for a resolution to do so. Yes, reading is a major issue throughout the United States. Work on the reading skills but incorporate writing into your routine and you will help those low readers become better readers. And, even though we use Google (or Bing, or..) to search for spelling, our students need to use dictionaries so that they can think through the spelling process.

So, starting next week, we will have our teachers work writing into their weekly plans. I haven't talked this through with our principal or our literacy coach but I'm not worried about getting them on board. Our students need it and it's what's best for them. That's the only argument I need to use.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

On Turning 56

Sputnik 1 via www.Nasa.Gov
Forty years ago I turned 16. On that day my father picked me up from basketball practice and he sat in the passenger seat - for the first time in my life I drove a car! The other thing I know about that day was that I was totally head-over-heels in love(?) with a girl who was attractive, funny, and smart. She just also happened to be a Senior (I was a Sophomore) and she was the senior class president! It was hard to beat that birthday, that's for sure.

Now, forty years later, I have no idea where that (now) woman is - even with the advent of things like Facebook. I haven't spent too much time looking. Unlike some of the folks I know, I don't like to track people down who might not want to be tracked down. If you are on Facebook I assume you don't mind being found. If you aren't there and I also can't find you on Twitter or LinkedIn then you must be living under a rock or are off the grid.

Forty years! My god that seems like a long time. I finished high school; finished college; did 20 years in the military (where I got my first master's degree); I got married and got another master's degree; I had two children; I've lived in South Carolina, Florida (twice), Southern California, Northern California, Washington, Virginia, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Japan, the Netherlands, and now Texas. The longest I ever lived in one house is in the house I live in now and that would be seven years.

Where will I be forty years from now and what will I have done/accomplished? (1) I want to get more educated so a PHD is desirable. I don't need another degree, I just want to have Dr. on my tombstone. (2) I want to live in a few more places and I, especially, need to move closer to the coast - I miss the ocean.  (3) I want to get a boat so my wife and I can take turns being the skipper. (4) I want to play golf (again) - between family requirements and the cost of playing the game I haven't been a regular on the golf course in about 20 years. And, (5) I want to travel. What's the sense of having a passport if you don't go to other countries? I may need to live in another country again, as well.

There's something about having a birthday when you are older than 50 that gets you feeling very nostalgic. I'm hoping that I can be writing a blog post when I'm 96. It will take a ton of luck and the odds are against me. But I have a good bloodline. My Dad made it to 92. His Mom was in her late 90's. And his Sister, my dear Aunt Pauline is 103 as of this writing. Now THAT is longevity.  Wish me luck.

{Between writing the paragraphs above and right now - my birthday, I've had some real life intrusions into my quiet and boring little existence...}

Next week will be my next hurdle as I get back information from some tissue they took from my esophagus. I wasn't too worried about that until this week when I found out a good friend got news last week (and didn't want to ruin our holidays) about having to deal with the big C-Word with his esophagus. And they decided to give him an expiration date. As my Sister and I said - how dare they give him an expiration date when they haven't even started looking at his inners. I like the saying 'There's no issue 'til they diagnose the tissue."

Forty more years. That's all I was asking when I started this post last week. When I began writing it I was pretty happy. I'll be honest, I was somewhat self-centered and concerned about my own diagnosis. But now I'd be happy with 40 months with my friend. There's lots that we haven't done because of long distance. It's time to live it up and have some fun. It may be time to start thinking about life 40 days at a time.

Here's looking to February 9th 2014, the 40th day of the year.

Tabs I Have Open (1-2-14)

New Year resolutions can take many forms and, as I said in my recent post, I just want to get myself healthier so I can take care of myself, my family, my friends, and my teachers.

But a goal I have decided to set for 2014 is to be less worried about what I put into a blog post. I have worried that my posts have to say awesome and inspiring things. Few people actually open up my posts so I shouldn't be worrying about such silly things.  This will be the first post of 2014 with stuff that you might find interesting - or you might not.

The first type of post I want to use this year is one I just made up - "Tabs I Have Open". There are days that I wake up and open my laptop and I see 15 or 20 tabs open from the night before. Today would be one of those days. After closing a bunch of tabs I now have 15 tabs open. Twitter will always be open and so I shouldn't count that one. And, of course, the tab for this post shouldn't count. Then there's the in-boxes for 2 of my GMail accounts, a Google spreadsheet I was working on, and my shared Google doc for the book I'm working on. So when the smoke clears, there are seven tabs open with things I haven't read or want to re-read to pull out stuff.

Looking left to right, I have a post from Chris Lehmann's Practical Theory on "We Still Need Arts Education."  I clicked on this link because I really like Chris and I usually agree with whatever he writes about. But I also clicked on it because I'm still getting my head around incorporating the A into STEM education - giving us STEAM education.

Next up is KQED's Mindshift blog post entitled "What's Our Vision For the Future of Learning?" I always try to keep up with the Mindshift blog.

My third is Andrew Miller's Personalized Learning Starts With Personal Relationships .  He's a great guy, a fellow BIE National Faculty member and just writes really well. If you don't already follow him on Twitter do that now with @betamiller  or look for him on #pblchat.

Fourth tab from the left? The Engaged Education blog's post (by David Price) about "Why Are We So Divided on The Purpose of Education?" Can't remember if I opened it before the KQED post or after but they are related and the KQED post mentions David Price's book, Open.

The next tab leads us to the Apps in Education post from December 19th entitled Rolling the Dice With Teacher Professional Development.  I'm always a sucker for reading about ways to engage teachers in professional development.

The next to last tab made me laugh when I clicked on it to see what it was. It is a post from last July about using Snapchat on the iPhone and Android.  My wife, Sheila, has been experimenting with ways Snapchat might be used in the tourism world and we were making sure we had all of the ins and outs of this app. She loves sending Snapchat photos and videos to our daughter testing various features. Of course I like to stay on top of it because so many of our middle schoolers (my own son included) use this app all of the time.

Last tab is a post about using the Personal Hotspot on iOS7. I'll be getting my first iPhone today and I wanted to know about whether it is worthwhile using that feature with my current data rates and if I would need to change anything with T-Mobile.

This is a very link-heavy post but you could see each of tabs I mentioned if you went to my Diigo account.  I don't save everything I read there but for this post I made sure I had saved each of them so you could go to Diigo and check it out. I love Diigo for saving things I find interesting so I can quickly reference them later.

I'll try to not write a Tabs I Have Open post more than once a month or so. But if I wake up and I see a bunch of great stuff in the tabs I've opened you can count on me whipping up a post. Of course in between posts check out my Diigo and you'll see the good stuff I've book marked.