Did you know there are PIRATEs in Jerome School District?!

PIRATEs in Jerome School District?!  Yep!  We have teachers who are passionate about making a difference for students – teachers who are passionate about making learning come alive!  One such educator is Samantha Fletcher, a 4th-grade teacher at Summit Elementary.  I had the privilege of visiting her classroom as it transformed into the “School of Rock.” 4th graders at Summit Elementary experienced a day they will never forget – and they even learned some math in the process!P I R A T E How many of you remember reviewing and practicing your multiplication facts?  Some of us may have been excited because we were crazy about math anyway; however, some of us didn’t always look forward to “drill and kill” of practicing and memorizing our facts.

Fridays are “math review” days at Summit – a chance to practice, relearn, reteach concepts taught throughout the week.  As 4th graders entered room 9 after their morning “special” they discovered that their room, and their teacher, had been transformed.  They were welcomed by bright flashing lights, neon tablecloths, blow up microphones, neon hats, and a teacher who looked like she had been transported from the 80s!

Why take the time to do this?  Is it just “fluff” without content meat?  PIRATE educators understand the importance of “hooking” our learners – this may not be an everyday occurrence, but that hook engages learners immediately because it is unexpected.  Students were sharing strategies of how they arrived at an answer to a problem – they were making thinking visible by using individual whiteboards (which is a normal occurrence even without the flashing lights and neon colors).  Students were using very specific academic vocabulary when they were sharing their strategies.

I don’t suggest that teachers become “edutainers” – but finding ways to make “rote” tasks, such as reviewing multiplication facts, fun and exciting truly does make a difference not only in student learning but in the overall culture of the classroom.  Students (and adults) need opportunities to play, wonder, explore, and be curious as they learn – it is what helps “learning stick.”

Thanks to Samantha Fletcher, 4th grade teacher at Summit Elementary, for letting her PIRATE colors show!

Reflections from the Road – Student Voice

I had the privilege of attending 3 conferences in the past month.  The first was the Idaho Educational Technology Association conference (IETA18) in Boise, ID on Feb 5-7; the second was the Northwest Council of Computer Education conference (NCCE18) in Seattle, WA Feb 15-16; the third was AcceleratEd/IntegratEd by OETC in Portland, OR Feb 21-23.  All three were well planned with engaging sessions.  Three major themes stuck with me after attending these great events. 1.  Adults need to model when (and when not) to use technology instead of trying to prevent students from using them.  2.  Students should be using technology to create content rather than just consuming all the time.  3.  We need to leverage technology to amplify our student voices because those who are doing the talking are doing the learning.

I have always been a huge proponent of students having voice and choice in their learning. I am also passionate about academic conversations in classrooms.  Technology can amplify both.  It is important that students have time to talk about what they are learning – to grapple with new content.  Students can only do that through “talking” about it – with other students.  We need to structure that time (using things like sentence stems; talking chips..etc) to ensure that all students participate – even those who are reluctant.  The goal is to teach students how to have a discussion, practice using content-specific vocabulary, and to ask questions that will deepen their understanding.

I am not a proponent of using

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My #sketchnote of @hmarrs24 session at

technology for technology’s sake – the technology must have a purpose – the learning objective comes first.  When it comes to academic conversations, technology can help give a voice to those students who wouldn’t normally speak up.  In addition, it broadens the audience for students.  Here are a few of the tools that I learned, or re-learned about in the last month.

 

  1. Flipgrid:  If you have not tried out this tool, you are missing out!  Teachers can get a free account with Flipgrid one.  This allows you to have one grid, but within the grid, you can have multiple topics.  There are numerous ways you can use Flipgrid with your students!  The basic idea is that students record a video response to a question you pose.  Teachers are using this tool in multiple ways to amplify their students’ voices – both inside the classroom AND to connect with others outside their classroom/school/district.  Heather had her students record book reviews, and then reached out to her PLN on Twitter to find other 3rd grade classrooms that would like to add to the reviews.   She also connected with a HS in another state for her students, and high school students, to share with each other about kindness.  This month Flipgrid is holding a “March Madness” appsmashing “tournament.”  Teachers from all over are sharing how they utilize Flipgrid.  Check it out here: Flipgrid AppSmash Madness.
  2. BookCreator:  Book Creator is a great app for students to create content.  Students become better writers by writing.  I know that many classrooms have “journaling” time for students – feeback for that is the key to improvement; however, I am not a proponent of feedback for EVERY entry.  With Book Creator, you can have students choose a piece each week that for which they would like feedback…perhaps they choose a piece they feel is their “best” or that they feel was a “struggle.”  Students can snap a picture of that writing, and add to Book Creator for the feedback.  Book Creator used to be just an iOS app, but now there is a Google Chrome version as well.  Utilizing this allows students to create a “portfolio” or living journal of what they see as important to their learning.

I could go on for awhile with other ways that technology can help amplify student voice in the classroom; however, I think many of the ideas will also get covered in my next post – Students as Creators.  I don’t know who said it first, but I truly believe that the one doing most of the talking in classrooms are the one doing the learning.  Who is doing the learning in your classroom?

 

I’m Janet Avery, and I Tweet!

When people ask me why I tweet so much – I tell them “Twitter saved my life as an educator!”

I have been an educator for more than 25 years.  (It has been longer than that since I graduated as there were some years I was not in education).  It is mind-boggling that 25 years have gone by.   I have always been a person who saw the glass as half full – sometimes to a fault.  I always expected/saw the best in my students – even when they were frustrating.  I spent 13 of those years teaching English.  When I first graduated from college – I had a purpose – I was going to teach kids to LOVE Shakespeare!  But did you know that not everyone Loves Shakespeare?!  I was shocked!  They were going to love to read and analyze literature.   They were going to learn to be great writers.  I found out….not all kids liked English! (The HORROR!)  So….I had to figure out how to connect with them anyway!  I learned how to meet them where they were.  I found out that each student learns in a different way and at a different rate.  But that was OK – because my purpose was to help them be successful!  After years of teaching, I was getting restless – I loved teaching but I wanted to have a greater impact.  I felt like I needed to go back to school.  At that time some mentors came into my life – Mary-Ann Rannels, Patti O’Dell…they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself – and they mentored me right into administration!  

It was during my first year as principal that I met Nancy Blair.  At the time, she was a consultant with HSTW/MMGW.  She worked with our staff on best practices.  She worked with me on helping staff plan engaging lessons – lessons that would challenge students.  She was the first person to introduce me to the world of Google – Google Docs and Google Forms (the days before “drive).  Nancy then told me I should join this thing called “Twitter.”  I thought she had lost her mind, but I also had great respect for her.  If Nancy told me to do something – I did it! 🙂  Nancy did show me the “why” before I actually got started.  She told me that there were other educators on Twitter who are dealing with the same issues that I was – and we could find ways to problem solve together.  So…I tried Twitter.  I was hooked the first weekend I explored.  I found other educators to follow.  I began finding resources that I could share with my teachers – to get them support. I found resources that I needed and could use to model tech integration and just great teaching practices in general. I was able to meet staff where they were – and help lead them to meet students where they were.  I was fulling my purpose of servant leadership!

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Then this happened:  (Students come First) – A well-intentioned piece of legislation from our state that had unintended consequences of putting a wall up between administrators and teachers.    And then, this happened:  (Don’t fail Idaho) – a campaign by the Albertson’s Foundation to bring awareness about issues in Idaho education; however, it felt like a war against public schools and specifically teachers.

My connection on social media was viewed by others as a distraction, so I disconnected more often than I was connected.  Mandates came from the state – some I agreed with, some I didn’t – things that began happening TO educators began sapping the life out of my passion as a principal as I saw life being drained out of my teachers.  We were spending so much time on compliance – that we felt we weren’t getting to spend time with students.  The “glass half full” outlook that I had always had became a “glass completely empty.”  I became so distracted by the weeds of my work-the paperwork, the compliance issues – that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  I was STUCK……I was still trying to support my teachers, but they too were stuck and distracted.  I was in my own tunnel – seeing things only through the lens of compliance.  

I had lost my sense of Self Worth; I was no longer meaningfully engaged – I was “busy”; I had lost my sense of purpose – what was I leading?  What was my goal?  What was my purpose?  Why was I doing this “job?” I had lost my VOICE.

But…there is a very happy ending to this story.

I was “enrolled” (not willingly) in a new professional development network for principals entitled NISL – The Network of Innovative School Leaders.  I went kicking and screaming – probably with the worst attitude I had ever had going into a growth opportunity.  I was truly angry.  (although I’m not sure many knew I was)  I met Greg Alexander (who is now a very close friend and colleague) who brought in some folks from Alaska to work with this new network.  They began sharing the different “dispositions” of effective leadership.  The ideas they were sharing began resonating with me – I remembered where I had first heard about these…from some of my mentors, from folks like Nancy Blair – from many of my connections on Twitter.

That summer I reconnected – with a vengeance but with balance.  I joined Twitter chats again.  I began meeting with my Twitter “heroes” face to face.  I also began sharing my passion for being a connected educator.  Being connected through Twitter gave me a sense of belonging – belonging to a network of positive educators who both confirmed and challenged my thinking – to become a better version of myself.

I became more meaningfully engaged because of being connected with my PLN on Twitter.  As an introvert, Twitter allows me to be myself without being judged.  It also allowed me to form relationships with people before I ever met them face to face.  My PLN encouraged me to be adventurous and start a statewide Twitter chat.  I also co-founded #edcampidaho with a group of passionate Idaho educators – and we planned it all through Twitter and Google Hangouts!  I also moved forward with my education and got my EdS with a cohort of people who will always be close to my heart.

Through my connection, I rediscovered my purpose!  I realized how to deal with the “compliance” issues that are done “to” me.  Michael Fullen talks about looking at compliance and seeing how they fit in your mission.  If it doesn’t fit in your mission, get a “C” on those compliance pieces.  Focus your real energy on those things that will make a difference and move your mission forward.  My purpose is to empower others – to help them discover their “why.”  My purpose is to help others find their own passions – to help them become the best versions of themselves.

So…why do I Tweet?  I Tweet because I was saved by connection!

Welcome Back Janet!

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4 and a half years!  That is how long it has been since I last posted a blog on this WordPress site.  That is how long it has been since I felt I had anything to share on a blogging platform.  4 and a half years is too long.  Did I stop learning and living as my title says?  Absolutely not!  In fact, the last 4 and a half years have been spent learning how to hone my leadership skills.

Recent events have motivated me to begin blogging again!  I have always believed in the power of connection – connection with other educators on Twitter and other social media.

Event 1 – Last year Lisa Lande, an innovative educator in Idaho who works with Russ Quaglia on amplifying Teacher Voice, encouraged me to submit a proposal to speak at ASCD.  The proposal was accepted, and Lisa and I presented and told my story of how I rediscovered my Purpose through my connection on Twitter.  At that same time, I was able to meet Lisa Dabbs in person.  She introduced me to some other innovative women in education.  Thank you, Lisa and Lisa!

Event 2 – I have gotten connected with an inspiring group of women who are leaders in education.  The organizer of that group is Jennifer Hogan, principal, blogger, moderator of Alabama Edchat, and much, much more.  Jennifer shared a great post with ideas for blogging, and then hosted a chat with the sole purpose of encouraging educators to begin!  Thank you, Jennifer!

Event 3 – I ran into a colleague with whom I worked 10 years ago.  We have kept in touch through Twitter and catch up when we end up at education workshops here in Idaho.  Cindy Orr is passionate about reaching students; she is passionate about innovation; she is encouraging!  Cindy shared a conversation she had recently had with a patron of our district and the positive changes that they had noticed in the past few years.  Cindy encouraged me to begin telling our story through ways other than Twitter and Facebook.  Thanks, Cindy!

Event 4 – This week, I met George Couros in person.  George and I have been connected on Twitter for 8 years but never had the opportunity to meet.  He inspired me just as much in person as he does daily on Twitter.  Early in my days of Twitter…I was bold participated in a few virtual chats with administrators that included George.  It was at that time he created the “Connected Principals” network of which I happily joined.  George provided me with platforms that helped me find my voice – it is time for me to make it louder.  Thanks, George!

So…here I am – back in the blogging world!

 

Why I Choose to be an Educator #SAVMP

This is a new blog for me – the only one I have that is really “mine.”  I have two other blogs – one to share best practices within the Jerome School District,; the other to share what is being discussed in Idaho EdChat.

I just completed my 20th year as a full-time educator.  As I begin my 21st year, I do it in a new position.  I spent the last 7 as an administrator of a Middle School (2 as assistant principal; 5 as principal).  Before that I was an English teacher, and spent those 13 years in multiple schools and multiple grade levels – all secondary (grades 7-12).  Many ask me if I miss the classroom, and yes – there are times that I do.  My passion, however, is to get other educators as excited about seeing student success as I am.

In so many ways I am not the same educator as I was when I began teaching.  Thank goodness!  I was afraid to do anything “wrong.”  I tried new things, but not until I was absolutely sure they would “work” with my students.  It was not until after my third year teaching  that I learned what “teaching” was really about.  It isn’t about being a “fount of knowledge” to shoot at students.  It is about learning WITH students.  Yes – content knowledge is critical to teaching, but being willing to do and try things that you are not an expert in is also critical.  Developing relationships with students around learning – theirs and your own – is what can help teachers take learning to another level with students.

What helped me make this transition?  Collaboration!  I had a team of teachers with whom I planned, shared, and celebrated.  We helped pushed each other out of our comfort zones.  We worked with each other – drawing on strengths of each other.  When one of us was frustrated, we helped each other work through it.  It was that collegiality that helped begin molding me into the educator I have become, and continue to become.  It is through my connections with other educators that I continue to grow.  Why do I REMAIN and educator?  Because seeing others learn and succeed excites me – seeing other teachers try new things, fail, and then try again excites me!  Seeing student “lightbulbs” go on for the first time – excites me.

My new position is Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development for the Jerome School District (in Idaho).  What is my leadership style as an educational leader? Service oriented, distributive leadership. All members of a team are integral – regardless of their “paygrade.” Teamwork is the key to the success of my leadership. I try and draw on the strengths of staff, give them the tools to get the job done, and then get out of the way. I set goals and have staff set goals – personal, team, and school-wide.

While I enjoyed being principal, what I enjoyed most about it is being able to impact curriculum and instruction. The most gratifying moments have been when I collaborate with staff to implement new instructional strategies/curriculum, or when staff share instructional struggles and accomplishments. Working with teachers on their professional development; helping teachers find new strategies to try; helping teachers find ways to integrate technology to raise the level of engagement; these are some of the things about which I am passionate, and I hope to share that passion.