Tuesday, August 26, 2014

But...What Will I Do All Day?

To say I am feeling a bit nervous about my new job would be an understatement.

The look of a nervous man

After three short years in the classroom, I decided to take on a new roll as a technology training specialist in the De Pere School District. There were many reasons for the switch, but paramount to my move was that fact that I feel connecting with educators and helping them use technology more effectively is my greatest strength.  If I've learned anything from reading, learning, and growing, it is that you capitalize on the things you do well. That doesn't mean I'm not working on my weaknesses and deficits (embarrassing fun fact, I just learned to ride a bike THIS SUMMER), but for gainful employment, I know I'll be more successful in this role.

I don't have footage of the bike ride, so here is a baby pig.

But, of course, none of that cures the apprehension I have when attempting something new. I keep wondering "what if I can't help people?", "what if they don't like my philosophy", "what if I don't have all the answers?".  I know these are foolish feelings and I just need to be myself, do my best, and keep grinding.  The craziest reoccurring thought though, is "What do I do all day?".

They'll probably find a use for me...

I am responsible for two buildings, totaling probably (I'm ballparking) 70-ish teachers.  They are grades 5-8. They probably have the most technology in the district, but are very new to Chromebooks and Google apps. Here I am coming off an amazing summer, having attended the Google Teacher Academy and generally learning a lot about doing this type of work. Yet I still wonder if I'll be good enough to really excel. To really bring the learning to the next level. To really fulfill all those lofty ideas I have for education. Will I have that type of influence? Is that even a good thing? Most of all, I wonder what I'll be doing all day.

For the first time in any job I've had, I don't really have a set schedule. There isn't a prescribed routine. It really begins and ends with me. Sure, teachers will ask for help, and the principals will give me assignments, but the action isn't going to come to me a majority of the time. I have to have the courage to make things happen. I have to push post all the insecurities, the stupid questions I mentioned above, and really believe in my philosophy and that what we can do with technology with my help will greatly improve the education for the students of De Pere.

 So what do I want to do all day?  Let's make a prediction here, and when I look back at the end of the year, we'll see what I accomplished!

  1. Help get 100% of the staff to utilize Google Apps in their classroom at some point. Obviously, I'd like them to use it regularly, but they've only been a Google school for 1 year.  Time to take it to the next level.
  2. Get at least 50% of the staff connected to a PLN, either on G+ or Twitter.  I think Pinterest is great for classroom creation ideas, but Twitter takes it to the next level with professional connections that keep the fire burning.  Much of what I know and do as an educator is a direct result of the connections and learning that occur through this.
  3. Get at least one teacher to gamify something. 
  4. Get at least one teacher to adopt a flipped classroom.
  5. Get both the Intermediate School and Middle School on Twitter and Facebook, and weekly provide updates, pictures, and generally positive connections with the community. I'd ideally like to do Instagram as well. Perhaps I can connect all three.  *This one is especially important to me*
  6. Be alive and breathing on June 13th
  7. Generate positive change and innovation amongst the staff (I get it, it is touchy feely and no measurable. So sue me).
  8. Recruit at least 30 new teachers to attend an edcamp.
  9. Recruit at least 5 teachers to join the #tlap crew!
  10. Above all, I want to continue to keep the focus on how technology can better support kids and their learning.  Ultimately, the students should enjoy school more, they should be learning more, and they should be creating more. If all else fails except this one, then I had the most successful year.

It is safe to say that in order to make these things happen, I'm going to have to work my butt off (sounds like a great workout plan anyway).  

So when we put it that way, I guess I know what I'll be doing all day.

This, right?

Time to make it happen!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Reflections on #GTAMTV: Our Time Has Come

NOTE:  I will probably write a second blog post about my experience in California overall, but in the sake of trying to stay on point, I focused on the Google Teacher Academy portion for this. I'd love to share the rest of my experiences and will work on a blog post soon for that!

Wow, where to begin?
And we're off!

Should it be from the moment I arrived at the Mountain View campus with the other eager participants to begin two epic days of learning, sharing, and collaborating?

Or, maybe it should start from the day before, when the great Caren McConnel organized a hangout at a local establishment and Andrew Kramer brought the t-shirts he had made for the event?

How about that morning, when I jumped on a plane for the FIRST TIME to take this adventure to California?
Me leaving gravity...

Perhaps we could go even further back, to when I was applying and collaborating with my good friend and talented movie man Scott McPherson?

Maybe it started with my brainstorming for that application?  Further? Like when I applied and was unsuccessful last summer?  Or does it go further back?

You see, before I can really reflect on this experience, I need to identify where exactly this opportunity fits in the context of my career and life. Why did I want to attend the Google Teacher Academy? What was the point? What will this help me accomplish?

As a young boy, I always told myself I was destined for greatness. Perhaps it was influence from my amazing father, who was full of encouragement and pushed me, and really could have written the first book on growth mindset if he ever bothered to write down the hours of positive reinforcement he provided in my formative years.  I worked hard to be a good student, but worked even harder to be a great baseball player. The baseball thing didn't quite work out, but the point really wasn't whether or not I succeeded. It was did I do everything possible to succeed. I attended camps, extra workout sessions, worked out outside of the season, threw for hours against a brick wall, and played my heart out when I got into a game. However, it really wasn't meant to be - I loved baseball, but life took me a different direction.

So what does this have to do with the Google Teacher Academy? Well, after I decided baseball wasn't for me, I shortly thereafter moved my college major to become a Business Education teacher. Personally, I knew I had the characteristics which could make a great teacher (or so I thought), and believed I could be successful. But a weird thing happened - I stuck to doing just what was expected. I didn't attend any outside conferences, and only lightly contributed to our student group. This carried over to my student teaching, and even some of my first year of teaching. Where was this guy who worked so hard on baseball that it crushed him to give that up? Was this really so different?
Maybe I spent too much time thinking about food?
So I decided to be different, and finally understood what it meant to go the extra mile. You help people. You take on extra roles. You speak up in committees. You learn new things to help others. And most of all, you believe that you can be great. In an area like teaching, that confidence is everything! This spilled over into my second year, where I believe I started to catch glimpses of what education could be and what role I could play. I became restless in my school and in doing the same old, same old. I began to make big changes in my classes, such as completely flipping and self-pacing a class with about a week's worth of planning before the class started. Having goals became paramount, and I wanted to have as much influence as possible to make the types of changes to education that I believe (and so do many others) will make it awesome for students. One of the keys to my plan was to become a Google Certified Teacher.
Pictured: Going above and beyond. Or crazy. Either one.

It is just a label, and I think we get caught up in labels too often in education (see:  flipped learning), but to me, this meant two things.  Number 1 - it meant that I had earned something. That my passion, hard work, and drive was noticed. All teachers want that kind of recognition, and most are greater than myself. But this was important to me and I learned all I could from current GCT's and put myself in position to qualify.  The second thing it meant to me was that I would now have some legitimacy behind my name. When talking to administration about ideas for technology in education, I can now point to something concrete as a way to back up all of my crazy ideas and ambitions for making this thing we call school a great place to be for all kids.
They look happy, don't you think? They keep jumping!!!! Ahh make them stop!!!!!

So when all this effort, thinking, and planning came to head, and I am happy to say I had the great fortune of being chosen to go to attend the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View at the Googleplex. To be honest, I was literally shaking with excitement for WEEKS after this. The craziest part though wasn't visiting the Google HQ. It was meeting and collaborating with some of the most inspiring, creative, and hardworking teachers in the WORLD. It is the connections with these people that was make the changes we want to see in education and the world, and I am so excited to work with them further.
Pictured:  Simon:  expert photobomber, great guy, and apparently talented placemark holder upper

Maybe that was more than you needed to know, but I hope I showed just how much this moment in time means to me, and how grateful I was for the opportunity to be there.

As for the academy itself, it was such a well-planned, well-designed, and well-executed professional development experience. If we ran every teacher workshop like this, oh man we could blow the lid off many schools!
Like, up into the stratosphere, or something! (note: that is where this picture was taken. I looked it up!)
The sessions were very fluid and were very much experiential learning, in which we played with the very strategies we were learning. It was phenomenal! The convergence of technology with the physical world and collaboration with other humans was evident in everything we did. We used Near Field Communication on a Google Maps Scavenger hunt in which we needed to snap photos that related to quotes we found. Crazy stuff with David Theriault and Cory Pavicich I loved the hyperdocs concept by Lisa Highfill, in which, instead of providing all the info up front, you lead students or teachers through a series of well designed documents, slides, maps, spreadsheets, videos, or whatever else you like to link. The idea is that you catch them and keep drawing them in, without overwhelming them. It was amazing.
Yeah, I got to hang with the amazing Mr. Theriault
And the man Rolland! (man...I need to work on my photo face)

We played Ingress. Enough said. We experienced a simple, but effective way, to template out presentations using the underlying concepts in the Frayer Model to flip instruction and have students learn while demonstrating communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. (credit to Jon Corripo and J.R. Ginex-Orinion).We were inspired by nine of our fellow attendees (well, in formal presentations. I was inspired by them all at some point)! We learned ways to hack things we thought we knew, like using Class Dojo to track fictional character development in a story. We practiced the art of the quick video and Youtube's publishing tools.  We laughed, we communicated, we shared, we dreamed, and we lived in the moment. No two days have ever flown by so fast in my entire life. I never wanted to leave the Google Store, which was our last meeting place. I am getting emotional just thinking about it...

What does it all mean? Am I some radically different person now? Am I even supposed to be? Was this an affirmation of the path I was on, or a springboard into something different? Perhaps I'm asking too much questions, the wrong questions, or not enough questions. What it really comes down to is this was an experience about making education better for our students. They deserve our best, and Google wants to help. Sure, they aren't without a horse in the race (see lack of qualified programmers), but they are making great products for education.

I'm overwhelmed to even be mentioned among the incredible talent in that group who I've covered in light detail.  Spoiler alert - they are one million times more impressive in person. That is a scientific fact. As GCT's, we need to craft an action plan going forward. Once again, I got involved with an amazing group of people who's vision matches my own, and I am eager to see the great things we accomplished.
Note:  Giant Prehistoric statues not an anticipated accomplishment, but would be a pleasant surprise :)

My only regret really isn't a regret, but a factor of time. I didn't not really get to meet every one. I wish I would have been more extroverted in reaching out to others, but that is still a part of my personality I struggle with. I am grateful for the time and opportunities I did have there.

This is by no means conclusive.  There are so many more thoughts, feelings, and reactions but my mind is still jumbled after what seems like a constant barrage of events and amazing experiences for the last nearly two weeks. Time to get ready for a new year. Time to get ready to positive impact students. Time to make a difference. Whatever we were, whatever we thought, and whatever we did before becoming GCT's, we can't help but have one common mission now.

Next stop:  changing the world.

Wheels Down!!