education, ITRT, reflection

Coding is My Jam

As a technology integrator and instructional coach, much of my interaction with teachers is supporting them in their efforts to use technology in their day-to-day work with students. Their technological expertise ranges from novice to advanced, so each collaboration is personalized to take them from whatever level they are currently at to helping them reach the next level. The goal is to push up a notch, not push off a cliff!

Many subjects align nicely with technology. Digital writing is a great way to reinforce grammar and composition skills. Recording reading makes oral fluency more relevant and easier to assess. Interactive activities that layer text, photo, and more provide students an opportunity to create products to showcase their learning in ways that didn’t exist before.

There are times, however, when we need students to engage in learning experiences that may not be directly tied to testing standards. That’s when it gets a little tricky, because we all know how limited that precious commodity of time is with jam-packed schedules and multiple pacing guides to follow.

In Virginia, we do not follow the Common Core curriculum. Instead, we have our own state guidelines called the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). In November 2017, our state approved Computer Science Standards of Learning for all grades K-8 with specific course standards for the high school level. A quick glance of these standards might give a general classroom teacher heart palpitations as the verbiage is tough to deconstruct if you are not familiar with technical computing language.

Understanding these challenges, coupled with the reality that I am only available in one school 2 days a week (with an occasional 3 day week here and there), I have to get a little creative to find ways to support teachers for their requests while also providing additional experiences that bring non-tested curriculum directly to the students.

Enter the world of collaborative coaching.

Several times a month I sit down with the gifted-talented teacher at my school, Maureen Ambrose, to compare notes on lessons we are doing with teachers and students. When we first began our collaborative planning sessions last year, we mainly touched base to make sure we were on the right track and brainstormed ideas; now we use the time to extend our conversation to creating unique learning experiences for individual classes and grade levels as a whole.

It started with Pirate Day in the fall, where we used a common theme to focus on three learning experiences using technology, one of which was coding with Ozobot robots. Each station was led by either me, Maureen, or the classroom teacher. We offered Pirate Day two days with flexible signup and it was so popular we will offer it again for another two days this spring!

This month, we focused specifically on third grade classes, inviting them to a “Coding is My Jam” learning experience with each station focused on various coding skills. As Brian Aspinall, author of Code Breaker states, “I don’t want all kids to code, but I do want all kids exposed to coding.” (His blog post about going beyond the Hour of Code reminded us of the importance for students to have these experiences all year long, not just in December!)

For Coding is My Jam Day, we transformed our Innovation Lab into a coding studio with three designated areas for each of our activities:

  • Robot Coding – Create a sequence code using designated cards, then input the directions into a remote control and watch the Botley robot move from start to finish. If the output doesn’t work the first time, analyze the code and debug to try again!
  • Coding is My Jam – Using the Osmo “Coding Jam” block coding kit, work with a partner to create unique beats for various instruments to design a new musical soundtrack!
  • Binary Bracelets – Discover the wonderful world of binary code! After a brief overview of the history and purpose of binary code, use a basic binary coding sheet to create an 8-bit code identifying your initials. Then, after planning out your design using a basic storyboard, replace the code with colored beads to string on a pipe cleaner, creating a “readable” coding bracelet. If time allows, you can complete extension activities to create a secret message for a friend using binary code or answer riddles by deciphering the coded answers.
Items used for coding lessons
Botley Robot materials
We created squares on our tile floor for Botley to maneuver through.
Binary Bracelet station
Materials used to create Binary Bracelets
Coding Jam Osmo kit with iPad on display
Osmo Coding Jam station
Coding sheets
Extension activities (with Table Talk Math mats below!)
A quick photo of Maureen and I before all the fun begins!

Prior to our coding day, Maureen visited each third grade classroom to read the book, How to Code a Sandcastle, and play an unplugged coding game called “Let’s Go Code” to build a bit of coding background knowledge. It was a quick interactive intro to hook them in for what was to come!

When Coding is My Jam Day arrived, students entered our coding studio and sat on the floor as Maureen provided a brief overview of each station. During that time, I took the classroom teacher to her station and shared details in how to guide students in their learning. We then began the rotations, using a timer on our cell phone to notify us when it was time to switch stations. We made sure to include a brief discussion at the end, emphasizing the challenges and lessons learned in coding.

What I love about this three station model for learning is that every single student in the class gets to experience every activity in a way that encourages communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and even creativity. There is equity in access to the technology and having three adults in the room helps to guide conversations and pitfalls that inevitably occur.

“See? Coding works!”
Testing the output to see if there are any bugs in the code.
Students work together to create a block code.
Lots of critical thinking when the levels get harder!
Students coding with block coding tiles from Osmo.
Collaboration makes block coding fun!
Student mapping out her initials using binary code and a planning page.
Creating the binary code as a story board before creating the bracelet.
Student creating a Binary Bracelet using beads and a pipe cleaner.
Binary bracelet success!
“We love our Binary Code bracelets!”

For the classroom teacher, it was a 75 minute commitment (30 minute pre-lesson one day and 45 minutes on the Coding is My Jam day), but hit on several of the Computer Science SOLs which actually maximized the time spent. Best of all, we had no behavior issues for either experience, as all students were actively engaged exploring unique tasks that challenged their thinking in a non-threatening way. We even saw several students wearing their binary code bracelets throughout the week!

While there was a bit of work on the pre-planning side (you don’t host an adventure like this without having a strong plan of action!), the actual day of implementation was relatively easy and provided flexibility for Maureen and I to rotate through the other stations offering additional support. We also captured the learning with quick videos to a Flipgrid grid with three topics for the stations we used.

Overview of our Flipgrid topics
Flipgrid Topics for capturing learning

We look forward to offering additional learning opportunities like this throughout the year and encourage others to give it a go, too. You might be surprised how much joy can arise from three little stations in your day! We also want to give a huge “Thank You” to the Virginia Professional Educators for supporting creating learning experiences such as this and providing funding for us to purchase materials to make this day a success!

Used with permission from Sylvia Duckworth

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Innovative Kindness

In our Passion for Kindness Facebook group, we share uplifting posts and videos we see online. Often, it’s kindness given, received, or witnessed. Sometimes it’s a quote of inspiration. I love to see which posts resonate with others. I find that surrounding myself with positive people, even on digital platforms, helps to focus on the good instead of the bad.

About a month ago, I came across a video of a color-blind man receiving a gift from his family: specially crafted glasses that would allow him to see the world around him in vibrant hues of brilliance. As he eagerly unwrapped the glasses and put them on his face, his demeanor completely changed, the drastic change to his sight rendering him speechless, in tears.

The video tugged my heartstrings and made me ponder the impact of empathy and compassion as it relates to innovation. According to the Institute of Design at Stanford, known as Stanford d.school, empathy is not only an integral part of the design thinking process, it’s the very first step. “To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.” (Download “An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE” to learn more.)

I wanted to bring this concept of Innovative Kindness into the classroom, so I created a lesson that would showcase examples of innovations sparked by the kindness of others then lead into a discussion of empathy and compassion.

With students in Mrs. Cross’, Mrs. Miller’s, and Ms. Miller’s classes, we viewed the video of the color-blind man then watched another video of a cat whose owners created a wheeled attachment for his paralyzed hind legs, adding ramps throughout their house to overcome climbing steps. His owners even adapted their innovation to include a handle, so they could assist their feline when he had to climb multiple steps in a row.

We discussed those key words: empathy and compassion. For nine and ten year olds (and even adults!) the words are sometimes used interchangeably. We spent several minutes showing how empathy – that feeling of relating to someone else’s struggle or pain – can lead to compassion, which is empathy in action. We then related those words to the design process, how kindness in action sparks innovation.

Katie Martin reinforces this concept in her book, Learner Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion, and Unleash Genius: “When we empower learners to explore and learn how to make an impact on the world, we inspire problem-solvers and innovators.”

Our classroom conversations shifted to the power of innovation in making the world a better place for others. I shared the graphic below as an introduction to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

SDG poster courtesy of https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs

We discussed world problems and their impact on humanity. We shined a light on our lives in the United States and the many things we might assume others have like water fountains and quality education. We pondered the challenges that children in other countries face daily.

We then decided that we wanted to change the world, too.

Offering students the choice to work independently, in pairs, or with a small group, we challenged them to identify a problem and create a solution, focusing on the who before the what.

We provided Design Crews with a note sheet to record their planning, then we set them loose in our Innovation Lab’s makerspace – free to use any materials for any purpose. The greatest constraint they faced was time; they only had 20 minutes to create a plan of action and design a prototype.

To download this FREE template, visit http://bit.ly/KindTempShare.

It was incredible to see how quickly our students dove into this activity. They were so engaged! Their collaborative efforts quickly came together as they communicated with the group, one person often refining the ideas of another after testing out their prototype.

Pondering the possibilities
Deep in discussion
Makerspace supplies
Crafting the prototype

Their excitement was contagious! They all wanted to share their innovations that would improve lives of people, land animals, and aquatic life. With the remaining time in class, we guided students in using Flipgrid (many for the very first time!) to capture their creations with voice and video.

Recording their innovations on Flipgrid
They loved seeing each other’s videos!
To view student videos, visit https://flipgrid.com/0a92a047

Many times teachers are hesitant to dive into hands-on projects citing lack of time or availability of resources. However, to transform learning experiences for students, we must make student agency a priority. In Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger challenge us to “empower kids to own their learning (and school) through greater autonomy. It is driven by choice, voice, and advocacy.” When you find value in designing lessons with this purpose, you find a way to make it happen.

Through our Innovative Kindness lesson, students had an opportunity to take grade-level state standards and apply them in new, unique ways. They made connections to prior content regarding conservation, natural resources, and recycling. They also practiced the 5 C’s of communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship, all within the confines of one sixty-minute class period.

There are many creative ways to shine a light on kindness with your students. You might design a Kindness Scavenger Hunt like Laurie McIntosh in Canada or create a month-long virtual Kindness Read-Aloud like Karen Caswell in Australia. You could even introduce kind acts to your students by having them participate in The Great Kindness Challenge January 28 – February 1 by signing up your school and downloading a printable checklist to complete at school or home. (Many more kindness ideas to come when A Passion for Kindness is released next month!)

I would love to know ways you are shifting the focus towards student agency and innovation in your lessons. Comment below and share your inspirations! Together we can transform learning, one lesson at a time!

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One Word 2019

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? How does that work out for you? Do you make it to the end of the year with completed checkboxes? Are all your line items marked off the list?

For me, New Year’s Resolutions result in failure.

Every.

Single.

Time.

I used to create a long list of goals I wanted to accomplish, my Pollyanna optimism confident in my ability to complete each one. January would start off with a bang. February would bring about some challenges. By March and April I was drowning from the riptide and by June and July I couldn’t even tell you what my initial goals were, they were so long sunk to the bottom.

When I made New Year’s Resolutions, I created a year of frustration with unfulfilled, unrealistic expectations. It impacted my self-esteem and did absolutely nothing to help me become a better version of myself.

Then, the eureka moment. As 2015 came to a close with 2016 around the bend, I embraced the concept of choosing one word to focus on for an entire year. It completely changed my perspective of resolutions.

Here are the words I have chosen the past few years:

What’s fascinating in choosing a word to focus on is that is really does become a part of your soul. When I selected “joy” for 2016, I embraced it in every way possible. I became an honorary Joy Ambassador, following the examples set by Akilah Ellison and Theresa Holloran. I referenced joy in my blog posts. I was drawn to all things joyful and it really helped me get through a tough year.

In 2017, “resilience” reminded me that I could survive the lowest of lows. I held my mother’s hand as she took her final breath, then found a way to keep moving forward.

And then, it was 2018. I wanted a word that was filled with hope for good things to come. I wanted a word that embodied the gift I wanted to share with others. There was only one word that came to mind:

Inspire.

As I reflect on 2018, I am in awe of how the word “inspire” materialized like a self-fulfilling prophecy. My boss called it “The Year of Tamara” which made me laugh every time she said it, but now looking back, I have to admit it was a crazy, incredible year. Even in my reflections, I find myself shaking my head asking, “Did all this really happen to ME?”

In 2018…

I signed my first book contract with Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. to write a book about kindness. (A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn will be released in February 2019 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble! Sign up for freebies, notifications, and more here!)

I celebrated a second year of Kindness Passion Projects at our Kindness Share Fair with forty students and their teachers, Lori Cross and Jennifer Madison, then presented with Lori and Jennifer at our district’s first Inspire conference.

Visitors at our Kindness Share Fair completed a Call to Action leaving notes of how they will scatter seeds of kindness in the world.

I was awarded Teacher of the Year for Mechanicsville Elementary School and advanced to the finalist round for our district, a first for a technology integrator in our school system.

I was interviewed by the local news not once, not twice, but three times to scatter seeds of kindness in our community. (Many thanks to Amanda McDaniel, our district’s Communication Specialist, who always helps to promote the great things happening with our schools!)

I gave my first out-of-district Keynote at the Clarke County Innovation Conference (and didn’t fall off the stage!)

I co-wrote three fully funded grants to bring creative learning experiences into the classroom, then inspired other teachers to do the same. (Many thanks to the Hanover Education Foundation and the Virginia Professional Educators for these opportunities!)

I survived a near-frigid rafting trip in a paradoxical thunderstorm down the Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, then survived five days of disconnect deep in the heart of Yellowstone AND a saw a black bear.

In person.

And lived to tell about it.

I traveled to Chicago, Illinois to learn from some of the most inspiring educators in the world at the ISTE Conference, then spent quality time getting to know many of my DBC heroes at dinner, in the city, and during the conference. I also got to enjoy a little team bonding along the way! (Many thanks to our incredible district who recognizes that those who provide PD for others need opportunities to get PD themselves!)

I love my ITRT team so much!

I completely overhauled my website and my Instagram account. I created a Facebook group about kindness and wrote 39 blog posts about my adventures throughout the year.

While writing a book.

While being a mom.

While losing half my summer break days with a job switch to an 11-month contract.

In 2018, I survived the one year anniversary of my mother’s death then mourned the loss of my precious neighbor, Ashton, who passed away at the age of 16.

16 Hope rocks created in memory of Ashton Friedl to hide around our community.

I received the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence to cultivate kindness for global impact, which will take me across the United States and Canada in 2019 and 2020.

I presented four sessions at the VSTE conference, including a closing Ignite, while also leading the conference’s social media committee with the amazing Margaret Sisler. I presented twice at our local EdTechRVA Conference earlier in the year as well as led a multitude of PD sessions for my district.

I wrote an article for DisruptED TV Magazine and recorded podcasts with Character Speaks, Edustations, and The Kindness Podcast.

Looking back, I’m in awe of all the opportunities I had to inspire others through my words and actions. Even though I did all these things in the course of a year, my greatest insight about the word “inspire” came when I stopped to reflect on each item listed above.

I couldn’t have done any of them if I didn’t have the support of others.

See, it’s easy to view the end result and stand in awe at the person waving the flag on the top of the mountain. But what about all the safety harnesses the person wears as he scales the walls to the top? What about all the slips that occur from not having your feet firmly planted or misjudging the weight a rock can hold before it crumbles? What about the times when the top seems unreachable and you don’t know if you will ever make it through?

In my 2018 journey, I made several mistakes and encountered failure along the way. What kept me pushing through wasn’t my willpower alone, but the encouragement of my friends, coworkers and virtual PLN.

Inspiration begins in the heart one, but magnifies on the shoulders of many.

Every single thing I did last year was the result of some form of collaboration with amazing people in my world. Perhaps it was a conversation or a brilliant moment of connectivity. Maybe it was the result of weeks laden with brainstorming, planning, and preparation. Quite possibly, it was the culmination of a lifelong journey of passion, persistence, and patience.

It was in this time of reflection that I discovered the one word that will carry me through this next year:

Uplift.

This year, I want my words and actions to uplift others.

I want to cheer you on and celebrate your accomplishments.

I want to help you take that next step when you are filled with fear.

I want to help you rise, help you soar, help you make your wildest dreams come true.

I want to be here for you, in the way others have been there for me.

Together we can make 2019 the most amazing year ever!

Do you have a #oneword for this new year? Leave a comment to share your thoughts! I would love to know your focus word, too!

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Special Delivery

As a technology integrator assigned to two schools, it sometimes gets a little confusing to know which day I’m at which location. Even though I have my calendar linked to my email signature, and have signs in both schools letting others know of my whereabouts (and they are consistent from week to week), I am often asked, “When are you going to be here again?”

The email I received two weeks ago from one school’s secretary was brief and concise: “Please come to the office today. You have a special delivery.” Intrigued and a bit perplexed, I responded back, letting her know that I wasn’t at her school that day, but I would be there the next morning. “You received flowers,” she replied, “Come today if you can.” As luck would have it, my day was jam-packed with lessons, collaborations, and an after-school professional development session, all of which prevented me from leaving the other building until almost 5:00 pm. The flowers would have to wait until the morning.

The next day, as I made my way into the front office, I scanned the desks and caught a glimpse of a beautiful poinsettia plant. Excited that this might be my special delivery, I smiled at the secretary, expecting her to hand me the poinsettia. Instead, she handed me a box. 

A box of… flowers? This was a first for me! In my 40+ years of life, I’ve received flowers a handful of times, but they’ve always arrived in a vase with water for a specific occasion. Who sent me flowers in a box? And why?

As I pondered the mystery aloud, our systems operator (Sysop), Jason, approached me, vase in hand, and said, “I can walk with you back to your classroom and explain what happened.” This intrigued me even more! I didn’t know who sent me flowers, had no clue why, and now something “happened” that needed explanation! What in the world was this all about?

As we walked to the computer lab, Jason filled me in. “The day before Thanksgiving break, I was leaving for the day and saw a box with your name on it. The side of the box said “Benchmark Bouquets,” so I figured there were probably flowers inside. You weren’t here and I didn’t know how to get a hold of you. I knew the flowers wouldn’t make it a week in a box, so I took them home and put them in water then ordered another set of flowers to be delivered so you could still have your surprise.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

This man, who barely even knows me (I’ve only been working in their school two days a week for the past few months), spent his own money to repurchase flowers so that I might still experience the joy and wonder of surprise.

His kindness brought me to tears!

Opening the box, I discovered that the flowers had been sent from my home school, Mechanicsville Elementary, in celebration of being named an R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence recipient during a recent ceremony. Jason had saved the message from the original delivery and handed it to me as I hugged him for his incredible empathy and compassion.

We took a photo together to capture the moment and I spent the remainder of the day in awe of the kindness of others. Despite the original communication snafu, I was able to properly thank my administrators for the beautiful flower arrangement and thank my Sysop for his incredible act of generosity.

Sometimes the special deliveries we plan in our mind aren’t always delivered in the ways we expect. Perhaps that’s because there’s a greater story to be told in the process. I will always remember this moment, not simply as an acknowledgment of an accomplishment, but the humbling reminder of the power of kindness. 

Jason could have easily walked past that box without a second glance. He didn’t have to take action. When he realized flowers were inside, he didn’t have to take them home. He most certainly was under no obligation whatsoever to spend his own money to replace them.

But he did.

Stories like these are why I wrote A Passion for Kindness, which will be released in February 2019. Each day we have countless opportunities to impact other lives in a positive way! While many prefer to keep their acts of kindness silent and hidden away (and that’s great!), I’m here to amplify the good, sharing stories of real people stepping out of their comfort zones to make this world a better place for others.

These beautiful flowers remind me that there are incredibly kind people in this world. May you have the courage to be kind to others in extraordinary ways, too!

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World Kindness Day 2018

Four years ago, in the early years of my kindness journey, I stumbled across a blog post someone wrote about World Kindness Week. Inspired to embrace an entire week of kindness, I set about different acts of kindness for each day including simple, small acts that others might miss. I wrote a blog post about compliments, then continued to share other acts of kindness I completed, received, or witnessed.

Since that time, I’ve learned that World Kindness Day (not week) is a real-deal thing, created in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, and each year on November 13, I wake up absolutely giddy with joy knowing there are thousands of other people around the world sharing in kindness at the exact same time!

That. Is. INCREDIBLE!!

One way that I kick off World Kindness Day is by thinking globally. How can I make a positive impact on the world? That question alone is paralyzing if you get caught up in the enormity of it all. Positively impact the world? Who… me? Really?

Really.

Seriously.

YES!

See, your small acts of kindness make a difference. They matter to someone else. They don’t have to be expensive and they don’t have to be elaborate. They simply need to come from the heart.

So each year about this time, I start by filling three shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, (one in honor of each of my children). This organization will ship and deliver my box of goodies to a child in need on the other side of the world. How exciting is THAT?

When I printed my box tags, I saw it included a QR code allowing me to track which country receives my box of gifts. Bonus excitement!

Three boxes doesn’t seem like much. But when my three boxes join with your two boxes and another box over there, all of a sudden we have enough boxes to fill a large container. Add a few more from some other kind folks, and maybe we have enough to fill the backseat of a car. Another box here, another box there… all of a sudden, TOGETHER, we have made a substantial impact and we definitely need a larger vehicle!

In the blink of an eye, with the kindness of strangers, my meager three boxes magically multiplied into 850 boxes to ship.


That’s the power of collaborative kindness. It’s never really about me or you, but WE and US. That’s what makes days like this so amazing!

As I entered the Innovation Lab this morning, I caught a glimpse of a sneaky student leaving a kindness message on our laptop cart. Her smile was SO big when she realized that I caught her in the act, so I asked if I could take a photo with her. She readily agreed.

It’s not often that someone tells me I’m gorgeous, so I had to capture the joy in the moment!

A little later in the morning, I received a special delivery from a dear friend who also serves on our school’s PTA. It was the most PERFECT notepad (“Sprinkle Kindness Like Confetti!”) with a huge chocolate bar attached. Again, the kindness was so heartwarming, I had to take a photo. (If you know me well, you know that I take joy pictures quite often!)

As I finished one of my lessons today, I passed by a teacher who was returning to her classroom. We chatted for a bit, then as we approached her door I saw two post-it notes taped to her door, written by students in our school. Reading those sweet sentiments and witnessing the jubilation it brought to this teacher… well, you know what I HAD to do!

I took another picture.

During one of my lessons today, I showed first grade students how to join my Passion for Kindness Seesaw group where they could share kind acts they see or do. One student shared how she earned her “Super Kid” award by showing kindness in pushing another student on the swings.

Kindness multiplying.

As the day progressed, I met with two of our kindness classes with the mission of creating Kindness cards, inspired by Wendy Hankins and Kind Kids. When we planned these lessons weeks ago, the intent was to create greeting cards to make available for teachers in our Teacher’s Lounge, so they could share kindness with others easily. It was supposed to be a lesson filled with the joy of gratitude and giving.

But some things have changed in those few short weeks. Our evening news is filled with tragic images of uncontrollable fires and burned-down houses. On the east coast where we live, the fear and heartache is distanced as we are far-removed from threat. However, it’s our duty as educators to make our lessons real and relevant, so I knew I had to make a connection for our students.

When the lesson began, I shared our original mission of creating Kindness cards for teachers. Then I talked a bit about the recent news of wild fires and the damage they’ve caused. I showed the students a photo of Paradise Elementary, which was spotlighted in the news and from the Kids for Peace organization. The devastation was immediately felt by all the students as the room fell silent with shock and surprise.

Photo Credits: The Washington Post

One student said, “I can almost feel the sadness.” This was a perfect lead-in to our cornerstone words of kindness: Empathy and Compassion. We shared conversations about feelings and how they can become a catalyst to action.

Then I gave the students a choice.

“Sometimes we do kindness in moments of joy. Sometimes we do kindness in moments of sadness. Neither act of kindness is better than the other; both are needed and important. It’s up to you which act of kindness you do today. You can make cards for teachers to give away, or you can make a card for someone at Paradise Elementary School. Choose with your heart.”

Using donated cards, we recycled them and made them new again with words of hope, love, kindness and joy. Students decorated with markers, gel pens, colored paper and fancy scissors. They poured their hearts into their work and proudly displayed their final products, sorting them into one stack of cards for California and another stack to be placed in a gift basket for teachers.

Cards for Teachers

Basket of Kindness cards for teachers to use with new pens and envelopes, too!

Cards for Paradise Elementary

Whether you celebrate World Kindness Day on November 13, join in the fun for an entire week, or “Make Kindness the Norm” like The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, it’s always a good time to be kind to others! I hope each and every one of you experienced a ray of kindness shining upon you today.

Just thinking about that makes my heart smile!

If you or your students would like to create cards for Paradise Elementary, you can mail them directly to the address below, making sure your postmark is no later than December 1, 2018.

Kids for Peace

1302 Pine Avenue

Carlsbad, CA 92008


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SCA Election

Like many schools around the country, we host an election experience for our students as they vote for their classmates as officers in the Student Council Association (SCA). Just weeks after school begins, students in grades 4 and 5 gather references, complete applications, and record campaign speeches to convince others to cast their vote in their favor.

While I am not in charge of SCA, I do provide technological support, recording individual students with a green screen, compiling all videos in an easy-to-view format, creating a digital ballot and information sheet for students (which includes a sample ballot) as well as facilitating the election process for all students in third, fourth, and fifth grade.

Each year is a learning curve of enhancements as well as minor hiccups along the way. When election season ends, I always vow to write a blog post, yet fail to make it happen as the never ending to-do list of upcoming projects diverts my attention. However, my #oneword18 “INSPIRE” reminds me that sharing my experiences is important to help others along the way. It’s in this mindset that I take today, Election Day, to reflect on our SCA Election from this year.

Planning and Recording

First and foremost, it’s crucial to provide detailed communication to students and parents in this process so everyone knows what is expected and when. In early September, I sat down with our school’s SCA sponsor and worked backwards, identifying the election date then other checkpoint due dates along the way, making sure to include time for me to record students, process videos, and create ballots/information sheets. We also included due dates for application submissions and poster displays.

To schedule voting times, I created a digital chart of time slots using Google Sheets, then provided teachers editing access so they could add their name on a time that best fit their needs. Since we have access to several laptop carts in our building, I was able to have two classes scheduled in the same time slot, thus making Election Day more efficient.

Working directly with students is so empowering as I get to know them as people not simply names on the ballot. They described creative, unique ways to improve our schools if only we would vote for them. One student wanted to focus on kindness as a school theme, complete with identifying kind students who will volunteer to sit with other students during lunch. Another student wanted to expand spirit week to provide additional opportunities for students to work together in creating a positive school culture. Some students had grand visions of possibilities while others had step-by-step action plans to make change happen.

They shared their hopes; they shared their dreams. They poured their passions into their speeches and their enthusiasm showed. A few students were nervous to record their speeches with this being the very first time they had given an “official” speech. I reminded them with a smile that they were just talking to Mrs. Letter and we can always rerecord their speech if they didn’t like it.

Some students were perfectionists, recording again and again and again, while others were relieved to be done in one take. I offered them reassurance, positivity, and encouragement for a job well done.

 

Sharing and Viewing

After recording all students in front of a green screen using the DoInk app, we added a patriotic background and uploaded all videos to Flipgrid to share with students using a secure school code to ensure privacy. To keep videos in order of electoral positions, I wrote each student and position on index cards, put them in alphabetical order by categories, then used the cards to post the videos in a backwards order with the last video being first added, thus matching the digital ballot students would use to vote.

I created the digital ballot using Google Forms and created a Bit.ly shortcut to make it easier to access on Election Day. Then I used the form to create screen shots, compiling in a Google Doc as a sample ballot with directions for students and teachers on how to access the campaign speeches on Flipgrid.

Preparation and Voting

In Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, we are reminded of the power of instructional hooks to grab the attention of students as we transform learning into a memorable experience. For SCA Election Day, I focused on the Interior Design Hook as I modified our Innovation Lab into a polling station with tables, laptops, and testing shields transformed into individual polling booths. To add additional ambiance, I added an Election Day announcement to our memo board, brightened the doorway with a patriotic fabric banner, and covered tables with blue tablecloths. I also remembered to wear red, white, and blue!

Before students arrived, I prepared laptops to display the digital ballot (Google Forms) so they could have the full voting experience ready to go when they entered the room. I directed students to their polling booth then shared a quick overview of the voting process, explaining the similarities and differences to how we vote as adults (i.e. voters stand at a polling booth here and there, however we use a paper ballot and scanner as adults instead of a digital Google Form.) Once students understood how to complete their digital ballot, they were allowed to vote for their chosen candidate and submit their vote in the election.

There is a powerful energy surrounding SCA Election Day. It’s an experience of choice and voice where every vote counts. Some teachers use the campaign speeches as a language arts mini-lesson in persuasive speech; others use the event to showcase the democratic process of the United States versus voting rights of other countries. We emphasize citizenship and responsibility, referencing the 5 C’s as we teach. It’s a yearly event that has the power to develop future leaders within our schools.

Reflection and Renewal

As with any grand undertaking, there are key takeaways following the event that may get overlooked or diminished with time. I want to make sure I am taking time to reflect realistically on our process so that next year can be even better!

One of our teachers suggested we add a checklist to the student application so teachers know when things are due and can remind students accordingly. I thought this was a great idea! We included a list of due dates for students on their applications, but several applications were turned in without the required speeches written for review. By providing teachers a checklist of due dates, they can post to the board for students to write in their agendas, thus guiding them in being aware of upcoming deadlines.

We’ve come a long way from spending half a morning of instruction with the entire student body sitting in an assembly listening to an endless line of candidates, many whose names get muddled in their memory before they even return to class. By using videos on Flipgrid, students have the opportunity to watch, listen, and review campaign speeches, providing time for a more informed decision-making process. This year our fifteen campaign speeches were viewed 2,102 times! WOW! We will definitely use Flipgrid again as our chosen platform for sharing speeches!

One huge change this year is my availability of support for this school, which was diminished by 50% as I am only in this building two days a week instead of four. This resulted in a longer turn-around time in making the green screen videos, uploading to Flipgrid, sharing with students and providing time to view before voting. I may need to adjust a few things for next year so the process is not delayed from start to finish.

For example, I would love for students to create their own green screen videos, filming each other, but I also want to preserve the privacy of their campaigns so that all campaigns are shared at the same time with no “leaks” of information to opponents. With the reduction of my availability, I didn’t have time to record fifteen students and teach them the nuances of using DoInk and Flipgrid while also meeting the other requirements of my position. Next year, I may save the green screening for another project and simply record students in front of my patriotic fabric instead, saving a little bit of time in video editing.

I discovered that several teachers showed student videos whole group to their class on Election Day instead of empowering students to view them on their own during language arts station rotations. I may need to send additional reminders to teachers and emphasize this option next year so we don’t have additional loss to instructional time. I also need to invest in a lapel mic for our quieter students so their voices are easier to hear as they speak.

The digital ballot was a huge hit with many students arriving with their choices already marked. By having a recycling bin located near the door, students could dispose of their ballot upon exiting the polling station making voting seamless and efficient.

Unforeseen Issues

In preparing the polling stations this year I encountered two major issues that almost derailed the morning voting groups. One cart of laptops had not been used this year, resulting in an entire summer of updates being pushed down as soon as I turned them on, making them unavailable for use. Then, I discovered that sleep settings were set to 5 minutes on each laptop resulting in a constant need to log in to access the digital ballot.

Oh. My. Goodness. If you’ve ever wanted to witness a tech integrator scrambling from laptop to laptop to get them all up and running, this was your moment! Knowing I had booked several classes in dual time slots, this made for a challenging morning – thank goodness for patient students and teachers who smiled and offered their reassurance as I tried to get everything up and running in a timely manner!

As soon as I had a moment of unencumbered time, I went into each laptop and adjusted the sleep settings so by the time we had the majority of classes come through this was no longer an issue. However, next year? I am definitely checking those sleep settings and making sure each laptop has run updates prior to Election Day (lesson learned!)

All in all it was a positive experience, one of our best years yet. I’m excited to tweak the minor adjustments from this year to make next year’s election even better! I am blessed to live and work in a country where I, and others, have the right to share our voice, make our choice, and hope for a better tomorrow!

Here’s to another great year!

Ms. Biggerstaff, a fifth grade teacher, shares my joy for patriotic outfits on Election Day!


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Pirate Day 2018

Arrrgh there, mateys! Welcome to Pirate Day 2018!

In our second year of promoting the pirate spirit of risk-taking, communication, and collaboration, I invited our gifted-talented teacher, Maureen Ambrose, to help me prepare the crew and transform our Innovation Lab into a sea of grand adventure. What a day we created!

We started planning in August, quickly realizing that Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19) was not an option this year as it was a half-day in our school calendar with a district-wide teacher laptop rollout that afternoon. Before we even raised our flag, we had to choose another date.

After cross-referencing several calendars and focusing on our “why”, we realized we needed to offer this amazing learning experience on two days instead of one, providing additional opportunities for teachers and students to join in the fun. As luck would have it (or perhaps it was simply the shifting of the wind?), we discovered a month later that the date we chose was the same date as our school’s Author Visit, the third grade Ag Day, and school picture day! Egads!

Did we throw our hands up in the air and rip up our treasure map because of all the unforseen obstacles? ABSOLUTELY NOT! To quote Dave Burgess, the ultimate pirate captain himself, “It’s not supposed to be easy – it’s supposed to be worth it!”

Well, friends, let me tell you – IT. WAS. WORTH. IT!! We had an AMAZING two days filled with wide-eyed wonder, active anticipation, and student engagement was at an all-time high! If you are looking for an innovative way to focus on the 5 Cs while integrating technology and instructional content, keep reading to open this treasure box of insight and inspiration!

Planning

All great pirates know that half the joy in adventure is dreaming big. Maureen and I started our planning process by brainstorming dozens of activities we wanted to do, then whittled them down to align with our state standards, district goals, and grade level expectations. We knew we wanted to promote the concept of station rotations and we also wanted classroom teachers to be an integral part of the learning process (they needed to steer the ship, too!) In that mindset, we decided to plan a 40 minute adventure with three stations, students rotating to a new landing every ten minutes, leaving time for a five minute introduction and a five minute reflection before the next ship sailed the seas.

Since the needs of kindergarteners are much different than the needs of fifth graders, we knew we would have to provide a variety of activities, but our transition time for setting up/tearing down stations would be limited, so that led us to create two pirate days – one for K-2 students and another for 3-5 students.

We created a Google Sheets sign-up and changed the sharing settings so that anyone with the link could edit the sheet. We sent our email out to teachers inviting them to sign up for a designated time and were blown away when our sheet was nearly filled the first day! WOW!

Activities

Reflecting on Pirate Day 2017, we wanted to offer new pirate-themed activities for our students while continuing the “best of the best” from the year before. Since designing an unsinkable pirate ship was a huge hit in our Makerspace area last year, we kept that activity going, but with a few enhancements based on lessons learned.

The concept was simple: Using only one small sheet of aluminum foil, one popsicle stick, and masking tape, create a ship that could float and hold all the treasure (pennies) without sinking in the turbulent sea (a plastic tub of water.)

WAIT – did I just say water? In an Innovation lab with laptops and iPads and robots nearby? Yep! You read that correctly! See, we can do amazing things if we train our crew before we board the boat. It’s all part of the preparation!

Below are the key tips to remember should you try this with your pirate crew:

  1. Buy LOTS of absorbant paper towels. Those thin, brown sheets of sandpaper masquerading as paper towels in your dispensers by the sink will do nothing more but crinkle and curl, making more of a mess than you already had. It’s worth the expense of purchasing the good stuff, trust me! We used Viva Choose-a-Sheet paper towels and each small group was responsible for cleaning up their own station, even the kindergarteners!
  2. Cover your tables with cheap, plastic tablecloths. It cost us a whopping $2.00 to provide an easy-to-wipe surface for any water spills, then when Pirate Day was done we rolled up the table cloths and threw them away for easy clean up.
  3. Buy pop-up foil sheets. Did you know you can purchase 500 sheets of foil for less than two venti drinks at Starbucks? It’s true and worth every single penny. Productive pirates know that saving time reaps great rewards so buy the box and rock on with your day!
  4. Provide pennies, but skip the cute paper plates. I bought four rolls of pennies (for another $2.00) and divided them into four cute, pirate plates I found in the party section of Target. Great idea on the pennies – complete fail on the plates. By the third class, this pirate knew she had to find another way to store her treasure as the paper plates were completely destroyed from the water on the coins. Using styrofoam plates as a last-minute replacement saved my sanity and made it easy to drain extra water from treasure fished out from the bottom of the sea. If you are reading this now, make an even better choice and use a small plastic plate or shallow bowl instead.
  5. Make a Flipgrid grid and have your devices ready to capture the fun! Since Flipgrid changed their grid set-up, we now use Student Lists with our grids. Prior to Pirate Day, I created a grid that Maureen and I could use to create topics for the stations we wanted to capture. Take a peek here to see a sample of our ships and which designs were unsinkable!

Here are the new activities we offered for each of the Pirate Days:

(K-2) Pirate Ship Creation – Using Brain Flakes, students create a pirate ship using the colorful, interlocking discs. Then, pirates count the various colors used recording tally marks and/or numbers on their recording sheet. As an extra bonus, students can share their creations on a Flipgrid topic.

(K-2) Create a Pirate – Using free coloring sheets from Quiver Vision, we printed the pirate sheet from Book Week and allowed students to color their pirate. After coloring, students used the Quiver app on iPads to make their pirate come to life, talking to them in a unique augmented reality (AR) experience. We shared with teachers how they can access more coloring sheets to use as a fun center rotation in their classroom.

(3-5) Pirates of OZ (Ozobots) – Using Ozobot robots and pre-printed coding tracks, students designed their own path from ship to treasure, using color codes to guide their robot along the way. Students were encouraged to extend the tracks or draw new shapes using a black marker. Students were able to watch their Ozobot travel and redesign courses if needed should an Ozobot walk the plank right off the page.

(3-5) Talk Like a Pirate – Using a Seesaw activity template, students joined a Pirate Seesaw class, typed things a pirate might say using the suggestion sheets we provided for inspiration, then recorded themselves speaking their best pirate-ese! Best of all, they shared their talks on Seesaw so other students could listen and learn, too!

Reflections

We wanted to create the best pirate learning experience we could with total immersion. In addition to creating space for rotations with the flexible seating in our Innovation Lab, we added blue tablecloths to simulate water, decorated from one end of the room to the other and donned our favorite pirate attire, greeting all pirate crew members at the entrance. As music from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack blared from the speakers, we guided our pirates past the pirate ship into the galley for the introduction to our day.

As I spoke with students, Maureen pulled the classroom teacher to the side and gave her a quick run through of what she would do at her station. From there it was all-hands-on-deck as we began our activities, rotating every 10 minutes, thanks to Maureen’s reliable phone timer.

After the last rotation, we gathered the energized travelers back to the galley for a reflection of our learning experiences.

Resilience. Grit. Determination. Perseverance. We saw these characteristics in our students as they worked through the various challenges they encountered in their rotations. They discovered that masking tape loses its stickiness when it gets wet. They realized the importance of making colored dots the same width and length for coding. They shared their unique insights on what it meant to be a pirate learner, a risk-taker, a success.

We didn’t have a single discipline issue from any class on any day.

Our students were completely engaged in the tasks at hand and most didn’t want their time to end. We made learning empowering, relevant, and fun. In fact, our Pirate Day was so successful, we are going to repeat it again in the spring for the classes who couldn’t attend in the fall!

We hope our grand adventures on the high seas has inspired you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. We look forward to sharing more themed days as we continue throughout the year!


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What If?

During the ISTE Conference in Chicago this past week, Katie Martin challenged us to answer the question, “What if?” I swirled around this question during her keynote, then posted my response on Twitter:

The power of ‘What if’ is the belief in hope and endless potential! #WhatIfISTE18

Later that evening, as my teammates and I traveled through the city, I pondered this concept of “What if” as I looked at those around me.

_______________

 

What if I complimented the person making my meal?

As a tourist in the city, I knew I would have to order a Chicago style hot dog before I left. Even thought I’m not a huge fan of hot dogs, I was intrigued by the combination of beef, onions, pickles, tomatoes, peppers, and mustard. While visiting Navy Pier, I stood in line at one of the many food stands to order this local fare.

As I waited for the cashier to give me change, I was struck by the precision of the cook who layered each ingredient over my hot dog. When my number was called and my meal provided, I was awestruck at the overlay of colors and textures between the edges of the poppy-seed bun.

After my meal, I returned to the counter to compliment the cook and saw she was creating an entire tray of Chicago Dogs and I was mesmerized once again by the care she placed in her handiwork. I told her how much I appreciated the time she took into creating these hot dogs, even referencing one of my Grandma Payne’s favorite quotes: “Food always tastes better if it looks pretty.”

I asked if I could take her picture, to which she agreed, and then asked if I could text her the image. I wanted her to see just how beautiful her work was from the view of a stranger. This is the photo I captured in the moment.

What if I complimented the person making my meal? Perhaps I might make someone else smile at the beauty of their creation.

_______________

What if I spoke to a stranger on the bus? 

My teammates and I ventured to Navy Pier by bus, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. When it was time to head back, the weather had changed from warm, sunny skies to a drizzly, bleak rain. It made for a long evening of travel as we switched buses and waited at bus stops, but we huddled together and passed the time chatting and checking our Twitter feeds.
As we boarded our last bus for the evening, we sat near a young man who smiled, but was non-committed for conversation. My teammates and I were in a jovial mood despite the rain (we really are quite a happy bunch together!) and continued to reflect on our day with shared stories that made us laugh all over again.
At some point the young man shook his head and laughed at something we said, so we included him in our conversation. We asked him questions about the city, then giggled when he cracked a few sly jokes of his own. The banter between my team and him was lighthearted and fun, and it made for a great way to pass the time as the bus meandered from one block to the next.
We teased him about his tiger pants which started another round of laughter as one quip led to another, this stranger now a welcomed member of our traveling crew.
He caught my eye and asked if I liked wall art. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by the question, but I smiled and said, “Of course! I love all kinds of art! Street art, wall art, children’s art…” As I responded, he unwrapped the grey shirt in his lap to reveal a rolled-up paper cylinder held together by a rubber band.
As he removed the binds and unrolled the paper, I literally gasped at what I saw. It was a beautifully drawn face with amazing detail, right down to the perfectly drawn eyelashes.
“I made this,” he said. “Look close at the eyes. There’s a person inside.”
I leaned forward and gasped again as I saw the silhouette of a face in the small pupil of the left eye. It reminded me of the cover of Mandy Froehlich’s new book, The Fire Within, with a flame embedded deep inside.
“This is incredible!” I exclaimed as I peered again at his masterpiece.
Meet Julius. He’s 23 years old, lives in Chicago, and masterfully kept his artwork dry and safe from the rain using a plain, cotton shirt. He also received the nickname “Juice the Tiger Tamer” from our team who practically adopted him as one of our own.
I encouraged him to take photos of his work and showcase them on social media, then gave him my business card to stay in touch. This young man has potential for greatness and I told him just that. The smile on his face as we went our separate ways was priceless.
What if I spoke to a stranger on the bus? Perhaps I could inspire them to see the talent and greatness they already possess inside.
_______________

What if I gave away something of value?

When our conference time was complete, my teammates and I took the train back to the airport to head home. We each had purchased a 7 Day commuter transit card, but had only used four days. As we reached our final destination and exited the train terminal, all nine of us gave our transit cards to strangers waiting in line to purchase their own.
“Excuse me, do you need a card? It still has three days worth of credit.”
Oh, how I wish I could have captured the surprise and joy on the faces of those who received our transit cards. They were so excited! We saw expressions of awe and appreciation and one teammate even received a spontaneous hug for her kindness.
The entire exchange lasted less than one minute, but left us all with happy hearts.
What if I gave away something of value? Perhaps it might lighten the load of someone else who needs to be reminded that there is good in this world.
______________

What if I helped someone at the airport? 

Later that afternoon, as I walked down the airport terminal to stretch my legs, I saw a woman pushing a wheelchair with a younger woman inside. I assumed they were mother and daughter and started to look away when I noticed the woman in the wheelchair trying to recenter a rolling suitcase that had unexpectedly turned on its side.
“Let me get that for you,” I said as I rushed to her side with a smile. “Those luggage bags can be tough to pull sometimes.”
There was a slight protest at first, but I reassured her that I really did want to help and it wasn’t an inconvenience. I noticed the mom had her luggage cart wrapped around her arm so she could pull it while also holding the handle of the wheelchair.
“May I have that suitcase, too? I don’t mind.” The mom looked at me, first in shock, then appreciation, as she untangled herself from the constraints of the plastic and metal.
“We’re looking for a place to eat,” she replied and I offered to walk with them until they found a restaurant to dine. The airport was crowded without many options for seating, so I volunteered to scout out the chosen place for a wheelchair accessible table.
I saw a man about to sit at a long, low table, and asked if he was using the two additional chairs at his side. He hesitated, then said he was saving them for two friends. I explained that I was trying to find seating for a mom and daughter in a wheelchair and this table was a perfect height. Could they possibly sit at the end?
He agreed and as I turned to walk away and notify the mom, the most amazing thing happened. Another person sitting near had overheard our conversation and offered to scoot down so the man and his two friends could eat there, thus making the entire table available for the mom and daughter.
It was an incredible gesture of kindness! (I talk about this “kindness trifecta” in the book I’m writing, but it was such a joy to see it happen in person!) The mom wheeled her daughter to the table, then commented on the shirt I was wearing, a gift donated by The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
“You don’t just wear kindness. You ARE kindness”
I nearly teared up at her words.
She went on to describe why her daughter was in a wheelchair, explaining she had just received surgery to relieve the excruciating pain she had struggled with since the age of twelve.
Her daughter was 20 years old.
 
The only cure for her pain was a complete hysterectomy.
 
The weight of her words and the impact of “What if” could be seen on both their faces. It was a life-changing surgery complete with the range of emotions one might expect from a young woman being told she will never have children of her own in a traditional way.
Empathy and compassion flooded my heart as I looked at her daughter and spoke from the heart. “It’s ok the grieve the loss. Give yourself permission to be sad. Sometimes life is like that. We get tossed major curve balls that don’t make any sense at all and they mess up all the plans we thought our future would be. Your future will still be bright. You will still have joy. It will just look a little different than you thought before.”
The daughter nodded her head in agreement then shared her plan to eventually become a mom through a surrogate. The smile on her face when she talked of being a mom reflected my own heart as a mom of three kids (one of whom is almost her age.) In that exact moment, the world melted away and we were just three women, connected by kindness, sharing the wonders of motherhood.
Hope.
 
Potential.
 
Empowerment.
 
What if I helped someone at the airport? Perhaps it would remind me of all the things I have to be grateful for in my own life.
_______________
What if the world could see the ripple effect of their kindness?
What if others could know the impact of a smile, a kind word, a helping hand?
What if each person reading this story did one kind thing for someone else?
What if the world could be a gentler, kinder place to live?
I believe in the power of hope and endless potential. I also believe in the power of WE.
We have the power to plant that seed of kindness in someone else to grow and flourish.
We have the power to inspire others to create a course of positivity and hope.
We have the power to make a difference in the lives of others and change the world for good.
All it takes is one simple choice, one simple action.
What if?

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Change is an Opportunity

Last week I had the honor of leading the closing keynote for the Clarke Innovation Conference. As several of you know, I’ve had “Keynote Presenter” on my professional bucket list for quite some time, ever since I got a taste of keynoting at a local conference several years ago.

The topic of my keynote was embracing change, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. There is so much fear and trepidation that accompanies change, both of which I’ve had to overcome this year. From transforming learning spaces to transforming mindsets, I’ve ventured into uncharted territory without a compass, without a guide, without the guarantee of success.

It’s been a year of highs and lows.

In this year of embracing change I’ve discovered a lot about myself and in the process I’ve grown in ways I never thought possible. I’ve also learned that while change is often unpredictable, it also creates opportunities that might not have existed before.

Change is an opportunity… to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. My year has overflowed with incredible eureka moments, from figuring out how to app smash green screen videos to guiding teachers and students in using programs like Flipgrid, Seesaw, and G-Suite to showcase student learning. I’ve collaborated with amazing educators to dive into coding, themed days, and project based learning and discovered the true meaning of #bettertogether.

Change is an opportunity… to face your fears and triumph over tribulation. Several times this year I have fallen flat on my face in a lesson, a presentation, or a conversation. In each situation I had a choice to make excuses or learn from the experience and apply that learning to making myself a better person. While the fear lingers below the surface at times, I’ve discovered just how resilient I can be when I give myself, and others, a bit more grace and compassion.

Change is an opportunity… to value vulnerability and inspire others. It’s one thing to say “Failure is an opportunity to learn;” it’s quite another to discuss your failures with complete strangers as you process the learning experience. By connecting with other educators on Voxer and joining book study groups like #PathtoSerendipity, I’ve learned that I’m not alone when those trees block my view. There’s always another hiker who has climbed the same mountain with tips on how I can reach the summit, too!

Change is an opportunity… to discover your passions and your purpose. For the past six years I have traveled a path of sharing kindness with others, but not always in the public eye. This was the year I decided to “cannonball in” as Tara Martin describes and embraced my calling as a writer, a kindness cultivator, a champion for all things good. I brought my passion for kindness into the classroom, collaborating with teachers on kindness lessons and passion projects, then climbed even higher to welcome news crews into our learning space, knowing that every story that is told is one more seed of kindness planted in this world.

Change is an opportunity… to embrace new challenges and soar to new heights. Next year, my role as technology integrator will shift as I move to supporting two schools instead of one. While this change was met with paradoxical joyful sadness from those with whom I serve, it made me realize just how blessed I am to have strong, lasting relationships with my current staff and students. In the words of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

As we wrap up our final week of school, I reflect on all the different ways I have been impacted by change this year and I’m simply astounded.

I never knew I was this strong.

I never knew I was this determined.

I never knew I could be so brave.

Change has been, and always will be, a constant in our lives. How we choose to embrace change is what sets us apart from others. Will we walk safely on the trail below seeking shelter from the storms or will we hike to the summit to watch the sunrise of a new dawn appearing above?

I’m lacing my sneakers and choosing the hike. How about you? We have a whole summer to ponder the possibilities and shift our mindsets for growth. Won’t you join the journey with me, too?

In the words of George Couros, change is an opportunity to do something amazing! What are we waiting for? Let’s go!


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Leader By Action

Last week at our Region 1 Superintendent’s Professional Development Series, I had the privilege of hearing Tom Murray speak to district leaders in our surrounding area, highlighting the 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools from the book Learning Transformed that he co-wrote with Eric Sheninger. It’s always a joy to reconnect with Tom; he is approachable and genuine in his sentiments and a great presenter with an inspiring message to share. In fact, we were so excited to see him again that we crowded around to snap our customary “We are so happy to have you here!” selfie at the conclusion of his presentation:

One of the slides in his presentation lingered with me throughout the week and gave me pause: Am I a Leader by Title or a Leader by Action?

I began my journey as an educator twenty-one years ago. Since that time, I’ve held many titles:

  • Second grade teacher
  • Third grade teacher
  • Fourth grade teacher
  • Differentiation Specialist
  • Instructional Technology Resource Teacher
Just last month I added another title to that list: Mechanicsville Elementary Teacher of the Year.
I’ve also held other titles throughout the past two decades:
  • Secretary
  • Assistant Manager
  • Small Business Owner
  • Singer
  • Writer
  • Blogger
  • Screencaster
  • Course Instructor
  • Webmaster
  • Key Communicator
  • Communication Secretary
  • Grade Level Chair
  • Committee Chair
  • Social Media Conference Chair
  • Conference Presenter
  • Keynote Presenter
  • Licensed Administrator
(and I can add author to that list soon thanks to Shelley and Dave Burgess!)
Then I reflect on my non-professional life and the titles I’ve held there:
  • Daughter
  • Cousin
  • Aunt
  • Sister
  • Wife
  • Mom
  • Friend
Each title has its own set of qualifiers and each is prominent in its own right. But does a title alone make me a leader to inspire others to learn more, dream more, become more?
In one word: No.
Leaders by Title rely on the history of their position to set the trajectory of their path. Their title affords certain privileges automatically and they work within these parameters. They usually have other people who fall under their realm of management and dutifully provide direction to set the course ahead. The work gets done, and often done well, but when the task is complete the work ends. Personal growth is not a priority from a task that is guided by a Leader by Title.
There are some Leaders by Title who take their position to the extreme and abuse the automatic rights given to their position. They invoke fear in others to get the work done or, even worse, dictate the mandates for work then take all the credit, never offering so much as a “thank you” to those who gave of their time, energy, and knowledge. These types of leaders are the ones who unknowingly undermine culture, making rifts that eventually split and divide.
Leaders by Action create their own legacy. While their role specifies the path, each day is defined by what they do and whom they serve. They are willing to get in the muck and the mire with others and redefine their role depending on circumstances that arise. They uplift. They inspire. They empower. They model true leadership for others and encourage them along the way. They celebrate the accomplishments of others and give credit where credit is due.
Yesterday I attended our district’s Arts & Science Festival, an annual celebration of the amazing work the students in our district create through the year. This event is a long-standing tradition in our community and for those who have lived here a long time, it becomes a family reunion of sorts. No matter where you walk, you will most likely see a familiar face smiling back.
This event would not be possible without the tireless dedication of many Leaders by Action. Dozens of teachers and administrators have spent the past few weeks compiling student projects, printing labels, creating personalized letters for parents, all in preparation for this event. Some spent late nights double-checking digital projects, making sure nothing was misspelled and all the links were active. Friday afternoon, those same volunteers delivered all the projects to one location, set up displays, taped artwork to walls, and created interactive areas for independent exploration.
From the hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Leaders by Action arrived and volunteered their time (on a Saturday!) to do the work that most definitely didn’t align with their role as a Leader by Title.
They greeted guests at the door with a smile.
They distributed maps of the school and guided parents to student projects.
They arrived early to practice with students before their performances.
They walked the halls and interacted with guests.
They were visible. They were smiling. They showed us by their actions the joys of servant leadership.
Since my youngest son had a soccer game that morning and my oldest son had plans for the afternoon, we went to the Arts & Science Festival in the middle of the day. I was there as a mom, but as many of you know, we never quite lose our “teacher title” when out in public.
Both boys had projects displayed in the festival, so we meandered through the school, enjoying the work of other students as we walked. We were awestruck by the gallery of greatness displayed by so many students in our district.
As we made our way back to the main lobby, I saw one of my students running towards me. The smile on her face could light up a room and the surprise in her voice when she caught my eye was priceless. She embraced me in a hug and turned her head to call to her mom.
“Mommy! Look! It’s Mrs. Letter! She’s my kindness teacher!”
Kindness teacher.
 
It’s a title I never included in my list because, up until that moment, I hadn’t even considered it a possibility.
Kindness teacher. 
 
Leader by Action.
Me.
As we finished our embrace and she walked back to her mom, I heard her add as an afterthought, “Oh, and she teaches technology, too.”
Her final comment made me laugh out loud. It also made me realize what title I hold in this little girl’s heart. Being the “kindness teacher” ranked higher than my title of technology integrator, one I’ve proudly held for the past ten years.
WOW.
Let us all embrace the qualities of a Leader by Action and redefine our role to others. Don’t allow your title to limit your potential for greatness! Shine in your skills and inspire others with words and actions each day!
Each and every one of us can be a Leader by Action – dive in and lead the way!

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