Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Letter of Reflection: Now What?

Dear Friends,

As the weekend comes to an end I am thinking about the opportunities that have been available to me as well as the many amazing and inspiring educational leaders I have had the pleasure of knowing and learning alongside of.  Please know how grateful I am for the inspiration, the opportunities to have my thinking challenged and the growth.  I will be forever grateful.

Through this fellowship I have had the opportunity to share my own #edvoice as well as learn from all of you about what matters in your communities and schools.  You have all played a very important part in my professional growth over the past 2 years. I appreciate your perspective because it offered me an opportunity to widen my own perspective and grow and think about what struggles others have. I appreciated how you have creatively developed and created solution based conversations and opportunities to make a difference for all children through your work. I have learned much from you.

I will always remember all America Achieves Fellows and the staff.  You have all impacted me in many ways and I will be forever grateful.....

I wish you all the best in your paths wherever they may take you.  It is nice to know that we are having an impact and continue to work collaboratively to make a difference for all children and their families.                                                
Best, Sharon

Heading back to Vermont today I am thinking about..... What is next? How will I share and reflect? Why is this important and how will I continue to be inspired?

I have the privilege of being a teacher and am grateful to be able to go to work each day where I can create and design meaningful learning opportunities alongside my students. Now what?  So I am thinking...

I am going to continue to find ways to connect my students globally with common needs that we face on our planet.  Through these type of experiences my students will begin to develop a global awareness and also make connections with others who also have a similar need. Together I hope to encourage and enrich learning opportunities that will inspire my students and give them purpose through their ability to care and how it feels to work alongside others to make a difference.

Taking care of my students means I also have to be well and take care of me...  I value and believe in wellness.  This means I make time throughout my day to get fresh air and exercise to keep my mind and body strong as well as my perspective.  John Schnur asked us again this question....."How do you keep your candle burning?" When he asked this question 2 years ago this was my response.

Thinking about this question 2 years later I am adding more thoughts.....

1. Fresh Air continues to be an important idea for me.  I always feel energized when I am able to move outside because I am able to reflect, observe and enjoy what is above me, around me and under my feet. This idea is important I think for children too.  So I hope to be able to offer more learning opportunities for outdoor learning experiences for my students.  Through our ability to notice patterns and ask questions about what is around us we will become thoughtful, engaged stewards of our world.  This would also be an opportunity to connect globally as well.
Seek out others who like you also like to be outside.  Fresh air is wonderful for my perspective.

2. Expressing my creativity is an opportunity for me to design things.  Knitting is one way I can experience these ideas.  I will be doing more knitting because it challenges my thinking as well as gives me an opportunity to think about how this craft might connect with learning "how to" code and other learning opportunities.  Through my passion I am able to think deeply about what I m doing, how I am doing it and why.  This same kind of thinking applies to learning, learning that will engage and have an impact.

3. Connection is what keeps me going.  I care deeply about living, being well and making a difference.  So teaching gives me a purpose and endless opportunities to weave opportunities to experience what it means to make connections with others through our passions and what we are curious about. Connecting globally keeps my perspective wide and invites opportunities to engage in conversations with others around a common need or interest.

4. Conversations matter.  I am thinking about the many opportunities I have to engage in conversations around a common need and or passion about something I am curious about. This is where I can share, reflect and be inspired through others ideas.  We all have the ability to be brilliant, share! I am always thinking about synchronous and asynchronous tools that support, enrich and enhance conversations.

5. Collaborating with others keeps me open to opportunities and ideas that challenge my thinking and inspire me. Through my PLN I have had many opportunities to learn alongside others.  I find such richness in the idea of collaborating with others globally because we are learning and making a difference about what we care about and have ideas to make a difference.

6. Identity matters and is important to understand.  Through knowing who we are and where we come from we make connections and build relationships with others.  I hope to weave more of this idea throughout my days in Kindergarten. This will help us explore empathy and how can we recognize others differences with a smile and the mindset of: "What can I learn from you?" Sharing our story is a nice way to connect and develop meaningful relationships.

Looking forward to what is next...  I am happy to have been a part of a national fellowship that challenged my thinking and offered me opportunities to share my #edvoice.  I am grateful........

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ways that we can #TeachStrong for teachers and students

Being a teacher is a pleasure and a privilege. I value collaboration, connectivity, creativity, innovation, and reflection.  These are important ideas I engage in continually as an educator because they stem from what I am passionate and curious about - learning.  

However, these values are not always apparent in the systems impacting the teaching profession. New demands are constantly being placed on teachers, making it difficult for us to find the time and space for professional growth, building connections, and fostering creativity. So how can we advance the teaching profession to offer these things to all teachers? How can they be modeled and taught explicitly, and shared with others who are entering the profession?

I have a few simple ideas:
  1. Time.  Time is not something that we have a lot of, regardless of our profession and the work we engage in.  But the ways we are able to use and organize our time might be one step towards providing more opportunities for professionals to connect and collaborate.
  2. School Day.  We should think about being flexible with our days and the time we have school.  Are we limiting ourselves because of our schedules?  Why can’t they be changed?  It is worth looking closely at the needs of children first, then see what opportunities become available.  I think this would offer professionals another lense to look at the work we do each day.
  3. Standards.  It is important to have standards and realistic ways that we can measure our growth as professionals.  This is critical for reflection and next steps.  When we are observed once a year or every few years, how does this help professionals sustain their work and grow?  Are there other ideas that we can provide teachers, like stronger mentoring and time built into our days that allow, encourage, and support colleagueship and collaboration?

A bigger idea is the amount of time that teachers spend providing enriching learning opportunities for their students and families.  I am fortunate in my school district because I have strong leadership support for my own professional growth.  Without this support I would be limited in opportunities for engagement and growth.

A new campaign called TeachStrong wants to modernize and advance the teaching profession. I believe this needs to be done, because currently how many schools are not able to provide teachers the flexible time they need to grow and connect as professionals?  What are schools doing to support the growth of educators for a world that is changing fast and rapidly increasing technology?

I believe teaching is an art. It is something that evolves from our own dispositions and learning.  It evolves from our ideas that we are curious about and want to know and share.  

Learning needs to be available to all of our students.  Through our willingness to offer hope, invitations to learn alongside each other and solve problems, this can happen.  Lessons need to be global in nature and not limited to our classroom walls.  Social media and blogging are opportunities for this to happen.  Teachers need to learn alongside others who are involved in innovative and creative teaching where the focus is on learning, not the skills.  Skills and content are important, but our students need to connect with the content and grow to develop passions and interests in  what we are exploring.  How can this happen if educators are stuck inside their classroom walls, with schedules that are not what works best for students,?

A change is coming…it has to. Our students need us now more than ever.  We have opportunities to engage and use tools that will explore and reflect learning itself.  The heart of our work is with our students; how will we ensure to get at this work with longer days, inservice on top of an already 6-7 hour teaching day? The systems impacting the teaching profession needs to improve and advance to meet the needs of both students and teachers.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

New York City: Reflecting, Rethinking

Arriving early in the morning this past Thursday in New York City was the beginning of an amazing weekend filled with inspiration, critical thinking, collaboration and growth.  As my plane began it’s decent I had the pleasure of watching the sunrise as I began what was going to be a very memorable, weekend of professional growth.

Leaving the airport I began my journey visiting City KnollMiddle School in Manhattan.  As I dragged and struggled my suitcase out of the cab I was struck at the flood of children heading into this school.  What struck me was how friendly and engaging the security guard was, smiling, greeting all the children with a friendly, genuine, "Good Morning!” Then I was greeted and given directions on where to check in.  Again, another security guard was present.  She was smiling, engaging with all students wishing everyone a good day.  I also was struck by how some of the students gave her a hug as well.  While I waited to be greeted in the office I observed yet again another adult greeting students with a smile and asking what they needed and offered support.  So now all the students who entered school have had 2 positive interactions with an adult and those needing additional support, 3!!

Then I met a very inspirational and engaging leader, Victoria Armas.  She was personable, welcoming and proud to share her school, students and other educational leaders with me.  Right away I was struck at how personable and welcoming this school was.  I think about how important it is to have positive interactions daily with our students and the students of City Knoll already had 2 before their day even started.

One of the things I really appreciate about being a part of this national fellowship, America Achieves is the opportunities that are available to all fellows who wish to push their thinking, widen their perspective and connect with other talented educators across the USA.  I am very grateful for my journey as a fellow which is ending this spring, but I am also grateful to know that I will always have this fellowship as a place to encourage my thinking, support me when I need it and to continue to suggest ideas to pursue.

Beginning together alongside many wonderful, inspirational leaders, Rehva Jones, the senior director of America Achieves posed a question; "What Can We Expect From You?"

I have been thinking about this and the change that needs to continue with the important work I engage in each day. 

Expect that I will continue to have hope for all students and their families.  The heart of my work is through my willingness to be open minded and fluid in my thinking.  Expect that I will have high expectations for all my students.  This was really crystal clear for me after hearing David Kirkland share his perspective of what needs to happen in regards to ensuring equity and success for all students. Poverty does not =disability!
Expect that I will question, reflect, rethink and rephrase my thinking and ideas about what needs to happen.  Education is changing constantly, but as a teacher I have the ability to model, offer invitations of hope to my students and their families.  Expect that my greatest gift is being able to give the gift of learning.  My hope and dream is for all my students to learn how to learn themselves and to be invested in their ideas, what they are curious about.  A big goal, dream and wish, but through hard work and sharing my #edvoice I am able to have my thinking challenged, supported and inspired.

After hearing David Coleman speak I was also reminded about the importance of helping ensure that students receive and get the opportunities they earn.  Being involved in meaningful learning opportunities engages  and promotes learning because it comes from a question, a desire to learn more about something that matters.

So what is next for me?

1. My learning is never complete.  I have the pleasure and privilege of being a teacher, so I need to continue to grow and change globally.  
2. Thinking about the tools of the age, connectivity and the richness it can offer for students and families. Remembering to embrace digital learning as a way to build connections globally to solve world problems and connect through what we are curious about.
3. Thinking about my own mindset and checking in with my own thinking..  Am I offering invitations to learning alongside me, not just from me.
4. Student voice is the heart of my work.  Is this present? How will I know? What do I need to do to ensure this?
5. Families matter.  They are important stakeholders and need to be part of their child's learning journey.  Success follows if we can bridge strong relationships with home.
6. Sharing my EdVoice! I will find ways to be a part of important conversations nationally to support learning for all students and also hoping to make a difference...
7. Foster hope and success....  Thanks to David Kirland for this message....  Left a huge impact.....

Grateful for being a part of America Achieves National Fellowship because it has given me and continues to give me opportunities that enrich my own growth which in turn I am able to enrich my students and their families..... 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Professional Development That Has An Impact

Lately I have been thinking a lot about all of the wonderful opportunities I have had available because I am part of the America Achieves Fellowship.  As a fellow I have been working on an impact project, a project that has been my work, not something new, but new opportunities have appeared because of the fellowship and the support and shout outs that the fellowship gives.

One of the things I really admire and appreciate most is the support.  No question at all here!  Regardless of what your impact project is, where it takes you, as a fellow you have complete support.  As an educator I work hard everyday to ensure the best for all of my students and their families.  When things are working well and I see how my work is having an impact it is important to share this work.  When your work is shared other people benefit because they are inspired, question and challenge your thinking and also want to think about how this may or may not work for them.  In the fellowship I have had the opportunity to share my voice and also be inspired by others.  When we have professional opportunities where we can share our passions we are also rethinking and reflecting on our work.  This gives others opportunities to think about a perspective that may or may not offer growth for their own thinking. The fellowship recognizes a variety of perspectives which makes for an incredibly rich "pool" of voices to learn learn alongside of.

One of our talented leaders at America Achieves shares; "We appreciate the hard work that you do every day in your schools and classrooms, and we value this time deeply.   The very essence of these projects is to help you delve deeper into something you are already working closely on, so that we can support you in advancing and sharing the work you care about."

Professional development needs to be fluid and ongoing.   As a professional growth is vital and important.  I need to be able to question what I am doing and why.  When you are involved in work that that inspires you, you are able and excited to share and be reflective.  Professional opportunities arise through your ability to be transparent and reach out to others. Synchronous and asynchronous tools are ways we  Being reflective, thinking deeply and asking questions about the what and why we are engaged in provides opportunities for deep thinking. Reflecting with my students about their thoughts on the tools we used really gave me some insight as to what is possible.  This is also true for educators.

My impact project is around family engagement so I am finding ways to not only share my work through social media, blogging and other platforms, but am also beginning to facilitate sessions for my families to help guide and support them in their learning too.  One of the things I am finding out is that the professional work I am involved in with the fellowship is ongoing.  I will be "finished" next spring, but I will always be a fellow and will have access to professional development opportunities as well.  This is one of the things that I like about being a fellow and being involved in a project.  I choose my work/project and I have the ability to create and design learning opportunities throughout my fellowship experience.  This is important because the professional work we are involved in has to be meaningful and of course being passionate only makes it a richer experience.  The work itself is never really complete, but rather it is growing.  As I dive deeper into my thinking I am reminded about how easily ideas can become a reality.

Perspective is important as well.  Every time I walk outside I am reminded about the value of perspective and how we can embrace it or not.  I try to think of how my work can be shared because my path is never ending.  I will always be walking outside in lots of different places learning about my surroundings as I walk.  As an educator I will also be continually learning and reflecting.  For me it is important to embrace challenges, engage in professional development that supports your thinking and also offers a different perspective of what could be.

As an America Achieves Fellow I am encouraged, supported and inspired to pursue my work, access resources to support my work, engage in what matters and what I am passionate about.  This is what is important about professional development, having choice and the time and resources to help support what is important. I am continually grateful and reminded often about how vital meaningful professional development can impact change and offer opportunities to grow.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Reflecting, ReThinking, Imagining

What a wonderful year this has been.  I am thinking about all of the learning opportunities I have had as well as the invitations that have appeared because of my willingness to share, take a risk and be transparent.  I am so #grateful.....
Moving forward as an America Achieves Fellow I am thinking about what work needs to be done as well as how I am going to get everything in as well as why I ned to continue to engage in ways that promote family engagement.  This is one of my passions as an educator.  This is where I am able to make an impact that enriches not only my own life and growth, but that of my students and their families.
I have found that families want to be involved and engaged.  As an educator I have to find time and offer invitations for this.  Sharing my students voices is the heart of my work and it is what is most important.  Families matter.......  

Reflecting and thinking about my impact project....

1. I will be offering an informational mtg. in late August for new families and former students about "how to" use/access blogs, wiki's, Twitter, Skype as well as how and why I use social media.
2. I will also offer a session for Twitter and Kidblog in September for families.  I will also offer a repeat in late fall.
3. Continue to promote my facebook page as a way to share specifically the work I am involved in as well as the impact it is having on family, student engagement. Click here to like my facebook page!
4. Offering a monthly Twitter chat using #familyconnect I am hoping to do more publicizing on this so that others will join the conversation.
5. Self publishing a guide I wrote for teachers.  Hoping to have this ready by August!
6. Connecting with others, educators, parents to continue to find ways to engage and involve parents with their child's education....
7. Share my posts on my kindergartenlife blog, here where I reflect on my own professional practice.
8. I hope to be able to present more locally/nationally about how I am engaging families and the impact it is having...  Looking into the fellowship for support and ideas here.

Phew, that is it for now....

Also creating a Google form to send to families about their year and what has impacted them and their child.   Click here to see end of year Google Form parents are filling out in regards to their Kindergarten experience.Again, opportunities for feedback are very important.  Through our own ability to change, we grow and deepen our own learning...... #grateful

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Session On Kidblog!

A Session About Kidblog!

On Thursday I offered an opportunity for former and present families to come and hear about how and why I use Kidblog as well as to get some blogging tips and support on using Kidblog with other devices.  I sent out a Google form ahead of time with a great response.  But on Thursday the weather was in the 50's, sun shining and after cold months, I am sure people were happy to be outside enjoying the fresh air! 
What Did Happen:

1. I was able to connect and share with a former parent and his daughter.  They were happy to be there as well as offering to come back anytime to support my efforts.  This was wonderful and speaks to the value and importance of having meaningful relationships with our families.  
2. I was also able to speak with people about the importance of connectivity and their role as a parent.
3. I was able to help with some "how to" steps as well as ideas about navigating on different devices.
4. Opportunities to have face to face conversations and ask about my timing of sessions offered, etc.

Moving Forward:

1. I will offer sessions for Kidblog, Twitter, Google Hangout and Skype in the beginning months of school.  I am hoping that I will have more engagement in a face to face setting because it will be early in the year and people will want to be supported in their efforts.
2. I will also think about having former students come to play/attend to the children who attend with their families.  This way the time can be focused on the session.

These sessions are valuable because they offer me opportunities to extend invitations to parents as well as opportunities for me to be reflective about the what, why and how I am involved in with regards to learning.  Very #grateful to be trying new things and for families to be involved alongside me as well.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Connecting In New Orleans: A City of Hope

What an amazing, exhausting and inspiring 4 days I just had with other America Achieves Fellows in New Orleans.  This was my first time to New Orleans and I was struck at how friendly people were and also at how the city is so full of hope and promise.  While walking through the streets I noticed lots of reminders of the scars of Hurricane Katrina, but also at how this city seems to have come together to rebuild and create places where everyone can call home.

As a fellow I am reminded about how #grateful I am to be part of such a dedicated and inspiring group of educators.  Collectively we have the ability to not only be brilliant, but make some changes in our everyday practice as well as inspire each other on our own journey.

My life's work is what I do each day.  I am grateful for the families and their children that I get to see daily as well as engage alongside them in our learning journey.  My passion is learning, but also engaging families, students and communities.  I feel strongly about being transparent and explicit in the way I offer invitations to engage and share.  This morning I had an opportunity to share.  As a fellow I was very honored to be invited to share how I engage families and students with digital tools.

Engagement needs to be present daily.  This happens through our face to face interactions as well as our presence online.  This is very important when you begin to think about using digital tools for engagement. Engagement does not mean increased screen time, but rather a way for you, your students and their families to learn alongside each other.  This morning while I was sharing and presenting my work, it was clear that this is work that needs to be shared globally.  Everyone can engage students and families.  The best way to begin is to think about the why, how and what.  This idea is not mine, but was shared with me in a science presentation (exceptional!) by 2 fellows on Saturday.  This work comes from Simon Sinek. So after hearing these ideas from 2 of my fellows yesterday I was able to think about how these ideas would mesh with the use of digital tools for engagement.  1. Why? Why do you want to engage? Why is it important?  2. How will you engage and how will you know that you have engagement? 3. What are the tools you will use to help you?

These are the things that I think deeply about before I decide on a platform to use.  My most important goal is always the idea of having conversations.  Conversations are important because they give you and your audience opportunities to connect and engage.  I try to think of  synchronous and asynchronous tools that can help enrich conversations inside and outside of my classroom.  As educators we have lots of opportunities to develop a rich, interactive culture.  Digital tools only help make this happen.

I believe that everyone can learn.  Technology gives everyone a voice.  This is a mind shift and a different way of thinking about how we create and design learning opportunities and the impact it has not only on our learning culture, but the impact for engagement.

The founder, Jon Schnur of America Achieves shared with us throughout the weekend about the importance of building connections and sharing our passions.  I am grateful for leadership like John's where I am encouraged and supported to share my voice.  My voice is my work, my story, my perspective.  When we share, we are able to have our thinking challenged as well as be inspired by others.  I look forward to continuing on my journey.  I have many things to be grateful for.  America Achieves is one of those things.  Through our collective voices and ability to reach out and connect we have the ability to make a difference for many globally.

#grateful and exhausted.......  Thanks so much for this opportunity.