The Heart of School Culture

Book: How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey
Image Credit: ASCD

“Create your school culture” is common advice that administrators receive on social media, in blog posts, in academic journals and beyond.

But, the quandary with the phrase, “create your school culture” is that it creates assumptions. Assumptions, like:

  1. A school culture does not exist until you say it does.
  2. You can create school culture yourself.
  3. The end result is a finished product.

The fact is that none of the assumptions above will bring sustainability or excellence to an organization’s culture.

Instead…

We have to shift our thinking to understand:

  1. A school’s culture is always existent. But, that does not necessarily mean that the culture is positive or in sync.
  2. It takes the efforts of every single person in the school to build a school culture that prospers.
  3. School culture is not an end result, it is something we have to work at every second of every day

School culture is the daily interactionsseen or unseen, the values among peopleshared or unshared, and patterns of behavior. Moreover, the school culture is its people.

As leaders and educators, we each have to take personal accountability for the energy we bring to the spaces we occupy: Hallways, classrooms, and every inch of our building. Our values and actions have to match up in order for our culture to flourish. Whether we realize it or not, we each are currently setting either a positive or negative tone in our building- And our people are taking notice. 

In the book, “How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom” by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian ask this question:

“Can our school be so welcoming, so inviting, and so comfortable that every person who walks through our doors believe that they are about to have an amazing experience?”

What if we all asked this question constantly? 

What if we all LIVED by this question?

In order to build a welcoming space, it will begin with each of us having conversations with one another to change the paradigm behind the language and meaning of school culture: How do we view it? What does it mean to us? How do we value it? What do we do about it?

Shaping a positive school culture takes time, consistency, and unity. At the heart of any positive culture is a desire to move collectively towards the future and giving one another grace for mistakes made.

In closing, as Henry Ford says, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” 

Image Credit: Slo Dive

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Be the Man in the Arena

 

Image Credit- Kara Knollmeyer
Previously published post- 2016

On April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt delivered the “Citizenship In A Republic” speech in Paris, France. The small excerpt from his 35-page speech, which you see above, is widely known as the Man in the Arena. This notable passage was most arguably the finest speech of Roosevelt’s entire Presidency.

It is remarkable that a message stated over 100 years ago can be just as powerful, magical, and moving; When a message can touch generations, there must be a common thread that people can relate to time and time again.

After much introspection, here are my six takeaways from the Man in the Arena:

1. Feel your fears

In many cases, the critic is someone who is just fearful as the man in the arena; Fearful of their inadequacies, fearful that they could be more successful than measure, and fearful that others may know more and be more than them. Feel your fears. OWN your fears. Do not let your fears embody a critic mindset that flattens the spirit and gusto from those around you. Feel your fears and deal with your own insecurities first and foremost.

2. Be Brave

Everyone feels inadequate at some point in time. It takes pure guts and bravery to overcome inadequacy and trying times. We are each capable of becoming the metaphorical “Man in the Arena.” Moreover, any critic can turn into a champion if they have the steady heart to persevere.

3. Discomfort Equals Growth

Putting yourself out there is not easy, and no one said it was. Furthermore, I do not think it is supposed to be easy; It is supposed to be meaningful. Times of discomfort prove that you are growing and learning. Accept it and appreciate the uncomfortable process.

4. Focus on the Man in the Arena

It is not about the critic. the naysayers are usually not the individuals evoking change…The man in the arena is.

Sometimes it can appear that critics are as prevalent as your need to blink. When you are the “Man in the Arena,” you may feel like a spectacle under the watch of analysis. Stay steadfast with your doggedness and zeal. In time, you will see the successes of your efforts.

5. Do Not Judge

If you see an individual struggling- that is not their story. If you see a highly successful person- that is not their only story. Perception is not reality. The beauty of life is that each individual is a unique collection of stories; One snapshot of someone’s life does not tell all. Do not judge a person for their highs or their lows in life, because there is always more unseen and left to understand.

6. Be an Advocate

Nothing is done well without passion. Find something worth fighting for and go after it. By doing so, your zest for life will rise exponentially. When you love what you are doing, you start giving less emphasis to the critics; The doers are too busy to be worried about the critics anyhow. Focus more on the vision, more on the future product, and refrain from sweating the small stuff.

Remember:

If you do not advocate for what you want or what you believe in, people assume and interpret that it is not of value.

Here’s to all the men and women in the arena…

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Engaging vs. Empowering Students

Inspiration

If you have read “The Innovator’s Mindset,” you will remember George’s idea on the difference between “engaging” students and “empowering” students. Through the differentiation that George made between the two concepts, I started reflecting on intangible and tangible results that I have experienced as an educator in the classroom which inspired me to create the infographic above.

Student-Led Learning

As an educator, I’ve always been intrigued on teaching students through student-led learning. “Student-led” or “student-centered” learning can take on different meanings depending on the circumstance or the interpreter. I knew that I wanted to empower my students through this process. I did not want to be THE keeper of the knowledge, instead, I wanted to be the caretaker of student talent.

Needless to say, it can be overwhelming to begin such a mindset shift. “Big ideas” are wonderful, but to be implemented properly, it is beneficial to think of your “big idea” in mini-steps, while reflecting and changing footing as you go.

Therefore, to start my student-led process, I first started by recruiting my students and gaining their help. Together, we took student goals and learning standards and reworded them to student-friendly language. In time, students then started leading small reading goal setting groups and conferring groups.

Learning Curve

I must say that success in these groups did not happen overnight. There was a HUGE learning curve, for myself and for students, but that is okay. My students were not used to leading and being “in charge” and I was not used to it either; These symptoms were a direct side effect of inexperience. But, instead of chalking up the attempts as failures, I started asking my students what they felt they needed to successfully lead groups and to work as a team.

Fact: If you ask 6th graders for “honest feedback” you will get just that. They usually do not hold back; Which is terrifying and humbling all at the same time. Nonetheless, their answers surprised me: They said they needed to learn “how to work together” and how to “help other kids to talk when they wouldn’t say anything.”

I pride myself in using collaborative skills and cooperating learning strategies, so their honest feedback was an eye-opener for me. However, I took a step back and realized that in my cooperative learning techniques, I was showing them how to be collaborative in well-structured settings where I was overseeing every interaction. As a result, when the tables turned and students led the groups, they were not able to apply these collaborative skills to new settings that were completely unfamiliar.

In other words, “I,” the teacher, was leading the movement and swooping in as needed rather than allowing them to learn organically. In my infographic above, I give general statements that fit under “engagement” and “empowerment,” although many could fit in both columns. Likewise, this does not mean that student engagement does not matter. It does matter. But, if we think of how we learn as adults, most of us would rather be in the driver seat to a certain degree, rather than sitting in passenger seats waiting for delivered information at a uniform pace. It is a balance. I wish I could create a formula of instruction that works in all cases, but I cannot. As we all know, it depends on the individual learner and what that learner needs at any given moment.

As George Couros says, “Should we be a sage on the stage, the guide on the side, or the architect of learning? – The answer is that teacher should be all of those. The art of teaching is figuring out when you should be which one.”

“We’re All in This Together”

Consequently, through listening to straightforward feedback from my students, I was able to help model interactions that were more conversational based from student-to-student. I quickly saw students taking their own spin on how they spoke and interacted with others. Looking back, I believe that with time and practice, students became more comfortable with more freedom and lack of limits.

But, when I say” lack of limits,” it is important to note that I am not implying that high standards and expectations were not set. Alternatively, through consistent student input, I did not need to constantly iterate MY expectations and mine alone. Instead, the process was natural; It allowed for all of us to come together to build reasonable expectations as a team. The instruction moved from teacher-led to student-led, to “we are all in this together.”

Through watching my students excel through the steep learning curve, I learned how to reangle my approach. It was never about students leading in the first place, it was about students needing to feel heard and valued. Once individuals feel that their opinions evoke real change, leadership and empowerment naturally happen.

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The Fear of Not Being Enough

Usually, on blogs or social media, we tend to display the highlights of our lives. The best of the best.

And what are we too afraid to put online? Our inadequacies.

Why?

If we write someone on paper, we can toss it in the can and forget its existence. When we write online, it is imprinted forever.

But, in this post, I want to be vulnerable. My hopes are that through this post, I can help others feel that they are not alone.


To give you a little backstory, within the past couple of weeks, I have moved, gotten married, and will be starting a new leadership position.

A lot of change; Good change, exciting change, but still change nonetheless.

Throughout these recent and pivotal changes of my life, where I see all I have ever wanted before me, one question keeps hitting me harder than the rest:


Am I going to be enough? 

  • Will I be a good enough wife?
  • Will I make my husband happy?
  • Will I be able to make the positive impact I dream to make in my new leadership position?
  • Will I be able to give students and staff everything they deserve?

Although my husband and I have dated for years previously to our marriage and in my career I have had a myriad of educational leadership experiences, I cannot help but feel the feelings and ask myself these questions.

Change in all areas in life is incredible. But, it still looks like and feels like vulnerability.

But, I am learning that a part of being human means we have to start allowing ourselves to feel the feelings that come along with it. To be honest, to be raw, to be authentic.

We were born to be imperfect; To have polarizing emotions. Some days I feel confident, other days I do not. No one may ever know or be able to tell if I confident or not, but it still does not mask my inner feelings.

This is a message for you (and me):

Asking yourself,  “Am I good enough?” does not make you any less of a person or educator. It does not mean you cannot handle challenges. You absolutely can.

Being brave enough to ask that question means that you care deeply; You love people and want to help more than you can even describe.

I can feel, even as I write this, that opening myself up to unknown and embracing it, rather than feeling inadequate because of it, is the best thing I could do, not the worst.

Remember: You are enough.

You will continue to make a difference because you are the difference. Click To Tweet

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6 Ways To Build a Love for Writing in your Classroom

Writing. This one word can evoke extreme emotions among students and adults. People, unfortunately, can sometimes see writing as they do math; They think they are either a natural or they are not.

As a child, we gain these insights based on our experiences. Some believe they do not have anything that they view as important enough to share, some have not found their voice yet, some are nervous to share their thoughts, while some only associate writing with academics. As children grow older, some will still see themselves as “non-writers,” even into adulthood.

I think writing is more than putting a pencil to paper or typing words on a screen. Writing is one of the most solid approaches to practice and fully engage in critical thinking. As you write, you are constantly trying to find the best words, anecdotes, and analogies to bring your thoughts to life in the way you see them in your brain. For example, on one blog post, I may spend several hours at night creating a graphic, organizing my thoughts, revising, deleting, and re-reading; While on other occasions, I have words that ignite my brain like a spark and I am unstoppable for 30 minutes.

Moreover, by sharing my work with others, I can get feedback to see what resonated with people, who relates to my ideas, or who sees things differently and why. All of these facets of the writing process helps myself and other writers out there become better at their practice while becoming all-around better thinkers.

Through my own process, I have developed a passion for helping students see writing differently, too. Here are some tips I have used in the classroom that have worked well with students from elementary, middle school, and beyond: 

1. Be a writing role model: Write on a blog, website, or another forum

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Gustave Flaubert

In my opinion, this is non-negotiable. In my experience, this has also been one of the most influential factors in building writing credibility and importance in my classroom.

When we think about reading teachers, for example, many rightfully assume that reading teachers love reading, read for fun, and are knowledgeable readers. But, when we think of writing teachers, often the focus is, “Can the teacher teach writing well?” I believe that in order to coach other writers, you must be a writer yourself. This does not mean you need to be a published author or to have written a book. However, I do encourage teachers to begin writing on a blog, website, or another forum. Once you start writing regularly yourself, you will understand how difficult and scary the process can be at first. We expect kids to be able to write without fear, yet we forget how deeply personal and frightening it can be. Through this experience, your newfound awareness will help you relate to your students.

Additionally, I loved sharing my website with my students and the growth I made as a writer. I shared with them true stories about my writing life. Here are some of the stories I share:

  • I always loved to write as a kid in my journal, but I was terrified to share my thoughts with anyone, yet alone the world
  • I thought to be a true writer, you had to be an author of a book
  • I created my first Xanga blog in 5th grade, but I never shared my name because I was scared people would not like what I had to say
  • I met my first published author in college; She was the first person I shared a personal piece of writing with and was the person who, without knowing, gave me the inspiration to write publicly
  • It was not until I was a teacher that I discovered my niche; I would write a blog for other educators and share my journey.
  • I constantly evolve and change as a writer. My voice as a writer has changed even in the last two years. With each blog post, I gain more comfort and confidence

2. Have thoughtful conversations about writing to break down barriers and inspire

 “The desire to write grows through writing.” – Desiderius Erasmus

Through opening myself and my writing to my students, I then see my students do the same for me. Due to this, I cannot tell you how many personal writing pieces students have sent me. Students will send me digital copies of their work with comments such as, “Ms. Welty, will you look at my piece and give me some suggestions?” 

Relationships with students have grown stronger and writing becomes more than just an assigned task – It is simply what we do!

Over time, you will see that students will be more real with you with their writing. This allows you to break down barriers on writing, their potential fears, and to give you a chance to inspire. You will find that while trying to inspire them, that their writing and authenticity will inspire you even more.

Tip: My middle school students and I would write quotes on the board each day to frame our thoughts and we would talk about them. Here are some quotes I love:


“But when people say, did you always want to be a writer? I have to say no, I was always a writer.” – Ursula Le Guin

“You may not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

“Writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Isaac Asimov

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” – Ernest Hemingway

“You can make anything by writing.” – C.S. Lewis

“Writing was not a childhood dream of mine. I do not recall longing to write as a student. I wasn’t sure how to start.” – John Grisham


3. Give writing opportunities outside of academics

A couple of years back, I specifically remember discussing the power of passion writing projects and writing for fun with my students. After class, a few of my students walked up to me and shared that they were already doing this. One student shared that she wrote fiction regularly on an anonymous blog forum (she had thousands of readers, by the way), while another student shared with me that she carried around a writing journal with her everywhere to log ideas, inspirations, and sketches.

I realized in that moment that we often lecture kids about how important these matters are but somehow manage to forget to ask if some are already jumping into it.

Soon after, I asked these students if they could become our writing leaders and coaches for the class. They were delighted to accept. Not only did I learn a significant lesson from them, but through this connection, we were able to gain ideas of how to embed these non-academic writing opportunities into the classroom as well.

4. Ask students what books, blogs, YouTube channels or websites that matter to them

“Prompts require kids to write. Ideas inspire them to write.” – John Spencer

I regularly ask students what they are reading and watching on various platforms to give me an idea of what they are interested in and what excites them. I am always so intrigued to hear what they say. Writing and media formats have changed drastically over the last ten years and they will continue to develop with each passing year. No matter how young or old we are as an educator, we have to remember that our students are growing up in a different world than we did.

This is not a bad thing. We just have to be aware that as relevant and “hip” as we try to be as adults, we can never fully relate to what it is like to be a student today. But, that will not stop us from trying. So, ASK students what matters to them and who influences them. Whether it is a book they love, or who they are following on Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube- These things matter. If we can better understand the voices that matter to students, we can help students share their voice, too.

5. Find ways to differentiate writing

In the last couple of years alone we have seen huge innovations to technology and assistive technology that can make a huge impact for your students. Google Docs has embedded text-to-speech features that allow you to talk into your device while you see the words appear. Some of my students who had difficulties with fine motor skills, or found it tricky to process their thoughts while thinking about what to type, LOVED this text-to-speech feature. Although the technology still has room for advancement and speech variations can make it harder for accuracy, it is still astounding.

To use the feature, go to docs.google.com, and then click the menu option Tools (at the top) and then scroll a little down and click on Voice Typing. 

Also, check out this article on other assistive technology ideas by Reading Rockets to give you, even more, ideas you can embed in your classroom.

Important note: Meeting with students about their writing, whether it is individually or in small groups, is a beneficial way to connect with your students and to give them a chance to talk out their work with you. There are many great ways to type comments and give feedback digitally as well, but never lose sight of the power of dialogue in person. In the digital age we live in, make a conscious effort to create personal connections with your students as much as possible.

6. Give students opportunities to share their work with an audience of their choice

With Google Apps for Education, KidBlog.org, and various other digital blogging platforms, children have more opportunities than EVER to share their writing by sharing with classmates, students across the world, families, and educators.  I advise you to research and find out which platform would be best for your students. Hashtags like #GAFE and #KidBlog on Twitter are great starting points.

Further, ask your students who they want to share their writing with- We often forget this piece and do not give students a choice. Not all writing pieces need to be shared and some students may not want to post personal pieces. On the other hand, some students can get creative and will want to share their work in varying ways that you did not even think of. Listen to your students.

With all of this considered, when students have an audience, their love for writing grows, along with the meaning behind it. The power of clicking the publish and send buttons are transformational. As soon as they click publish, they begin to see that they do have a voice. Through this, students gain ownership and what they do begins to matter.

Soon after that, students can be a part of the thought provoking conversations and ideas that emerge through sharing with an audience…and that is where the real magic happens.

 

How do you build a love for writing in your classroom?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Leveraging Data to Support Students

Recently, George Couros wrote a blog post titled “From Data Driven to Evidence-Driven.” George brought up several superb points, one including this, “If we are going to change the way we teach, we need to also change how we assess, not just what we assess.” I agree with this thought process- As we become more innovative, we also need to let that innovation flow into everything we do as teachers: Teaching, learning, collaborating AND assessing.

I similarly read another post on Evidence Based Practice from the Data Science Association that I found especially informational. Within this post, Walker says that the three reasons why Data and Evidence Based Practices are not effectively used are due to ineffective talent, processes, and technology. Though Walker was referring to how these reasons were applied in the business world, I find it fascinating to figure out how we can cross over approaches.

We all believe as educators that being student focused is our first and most important compass. What we do day-to-day should be all about students, not the data. However, I do think that data often has a bad reputation in the educational sphere. I venture to say the problem is not with the data, the issue is HOW we use data ineffectively. We lack vision on where we are going with the data, which leads us often unequipped to analyze the abundant information headed our way. I believe there is a place for both data and evidence-based practices to have a happy marriage in education. Although, in this post, I will stay focused on leveraging data, some of the principles can apply to evidence practice as well.

Leveraging Data to Support Students

  • Vision

    If you do not have a vision or purpose for why you are using data, then it is usually done in a trivial and lackluster fashion. If this occurs, change your path and ask yourself: “What are we trying to achieve?” and “Why are we interested in data?” 

  • Value

    If data does not truly help teachers teach and students learn, then no one will ever find value in it, and rightfully so. To find value, begin viewing data as an asset, rather than the “end all, be all.” Whenever data is the main word mentioned in meetings or in e-mails, students and staff will be immediately disengaged. No one gets inspired by data alone, but data is informational when used properly.

    As a Mentor Teacher and Technology Integrationist, I used Google Forms to track my day-to-day plans with teachers. With the data, I was always able to view in pie graph form and in charts how often I met with each teacher and team in the building, future plans we had for instruction, which subjects and standards we integrated technology with the most, and reflections on the lessons. All of this curated information was easy to insert and view, which allowed me to take action to meet with teachers in a timely and meaningful manner.

  • Target

    Sometimes when data is collected, it feels like you are tracking anything and everything there is to track, which can be enormously ineffective. The best kind of data is purposeful and targeted for optimal results. Similarly, think of your intentions as you collaborate with students and staff: Through the data, do you hope to make small instructional changes or to have huge radical changes? Your answer can guide your plan.

  • Data Management

    Once you have the foundations covered, it is crucial to have conversations with your staff and students to determine how often data will be collected and maintained. Be proactive and clear. Teachers want to feel prepared to plan and teach adequately with the data they receive, rather than always wondering when the “data is due.” Make the data management and maintenance process as streamlined as possible.

    Also, will students track goals and progress? Students love to see their own personal successes and to share them with you, others, and their family. I always loved embedding goal setting into everything I did with my middle school students. After inviting students in on the journey with me, they would keep me in check. If I went a day without talking about goal setting, they would say, “Ms. Welty, you forgot to talk about goal setting today!” Moreover, they always created such fun and creative ideas to track and visualize goals and visions for the classroom.

  • Data Infrastructure

    This subject is almost never talked about, but it is essential. Teachers and principals spend so much time working with improper technologies, infrastructures, and operating models that make data analysis time consuming and frustrating. Once the data is collected, the technology should do as much of the work as possible to sort, organize, and tell the story.

    I hope we can begin spending more time on reflecting, planning and determining how to develop better instruction for our kids, and less time dealing with faulty systems and processes.

    But, with fields like Data Science booming, there is a lot that will continue to change for data in the future. The skill-set needed in this area, and in big data, is in HUGE demand. Over the next couple of years, I am eager to see how developments in this area can directly benefit school systems.

    What does your infrastructure look like at your school and what programs or tools do you use to track data and progress?


Image Credit- LinkedIn

In the digital age we live in, we need to stay focused on our people first, while still keeping an eye to how data will change and how platforms will integrate better with technology over time. With collaborative apps like Google Apps for Education and student reflection video services like Recap, I see a bright future where data is not always a number and students have more agency.

As Carly Fiorina says, “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” By focusing on insight gained rather than data or information alone, we can take the action that will help our students soar to new dimensions.

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Twitter Tips for Educators

Two years ago, I did not even know that educators used Twitter to better themselves or to help students; This was not on my radar. Teachers at my school were not using it either, so as far I knew, it was not a resource geared for teachers. When I envisioned Twitter, I assumed it was for celebrities and their millions of fans.

I will never forget when I attended a conference led by the lovely Julie Smith.  She said, “Educators are the fastest growing group on Twitter.” I was absolutely shocked by this. Furthermore, I did not want to miss out any longer, so in that moment I decided to join Twitter. This monumental decision I made was the single best thing I have ever done for my students learning and my own personal growth.

Whether you already have a highly collaborative team at your school, or you feel like a silo, Twitter can help you become deeply networked and supported while you gain new perspectives that you never knew you needed.

While you continue reading this post, remember this: You do not have to jump in and do every single tip I mention right off the gate. Just like any other learning adventure you decide to board, do so at your own pace in your own timing. As long as you are learning, you cannot go wrong.

Twitter Tips for Educators:

1. Keep your Twitter handle simple.

A twitter handle is how people identify you. You can use your first and last name, just your last name, your title: Mr./Mrs./Ms. with your last name, or something creative if you feel compelled. Nevertheless, do not over complicate it. Besides, you can always change it later if you want, so do not feel “locked in” to whatever you choose.

2.  Add a professional photo of you as soon as possible

Change the default and gray Twitter picture so people can see you are a real person.

You do not have to hire a photographer- My Twitter photo was actually taken with an iPhone. Yet, when I say “professional”, I am referring to choosing an appropriate and positive picture that displays you as the respected professional that you are. A headshot photo with a smile is always friendly and inviting. Feel free to add your own burst of personality as well.

3. Add a bio that lets others know who you are

A bio solidifies who you are and helps others in similar positions with common interests connect with you. Include your job title, passions, and interests.

4. Tweet and Retweet (RT) thoughtfully

When you send an idea or tweet out, it will show your profile picture and Twitter handle next to the tweet

When you RT, it will repost someone else’s tweet to your profile. RT ideas, blog posts, photos, and videos that resonate with you. Be respectful and always remain professional; Recognize that your followers and the global community can view and find anything that you post or RT to your profile.

Replies also give you the opportunity to respond back to ignite a conversation with others.

5. Follow other educators and leaders and follow back those who follow you

I love this well-written graphic created by @sylviaduckworth
You cannot grow a meaningful network or Professional Learning Network (PLN) if you do not follow other people. Plus, following others shows that you want to grow as well. When educators and leaders follow you, follow back those who you know you can learn and connect with. But, be sure to check out their profiles and tweets

When educators and leaders follow you, follow back those who you know you can learn and connect with. But, be sure to check out their profiles and tweets BEFORE you follow back. Stay far away and never follow back spam accounts who post inappropriate content and be careful of people who pose as educators, but are not.

Important Note: Do not worry about the number of followers you have. Just be you and authentic- That is what counts.

6. Report and block spam accounts

When you see an inappropriate account, report them. You can also block accounts when necessary going to Settings > Block Accounts.

Keep in mind: When you follow an educator and they follow you back, or vice versa, then both individuals can direct message one another. This is another reason why it is so important to check profiles and tweets before following others. You can also always unfollow people as well to eliminate their ability to direct message you, if necessary.

7. Check with your school district about social media policies for teachers and students

Through meeting other educators across the nation, some educators say that their districts require all school Twitter accounts to be public, while some say that they are required it to keep the accounts private. Additionally, some educators say that their district does not have social media policies for Twitter and/or other social media outlets.

Not every district is the sameMake sure that before you begin a professional Twitter or classroom Twitter, that you always verify with your school district to gain the proper information on policies.

For the past couple of years, I have collaborated with my school district on developing clear social media policies and presenting those policies to our staff and families across the district to keep them in-the-know and to propel connected education. Once you gain the proper information and approval, share that information with others, too.

Lastly, do not follow students or communicate with students via the private direct messenger. But, some districts allow teachers and students to publicly tweet one another, where everyone can see, with school related questions. With this said, do not assume your district policies. Read them and then double check with your building principal; Student safety is always paramount.

With this said, do not assume your district policies. Read them and then double check with your building principal; Student safety is always paramount.

8. Hashtags are used to join communities, conversations, or to solidify a point

You can use a hashtag day-to-day to connect with a community or to add the hashtag onto your tweet where it is applicable.

Many educators use Twitter Chats to conversate with other educators and leaders in subjects or topics that are important to them. Some join the chats just to read and gain content information, while others join in and send tweets back and forth. Do what you feel comfortable with and ease your way into the chats over time.

There is a Twitter chat for almost every topic and interest, while new Twitter Chats are always popping up. Twitter chats are usually once a week at the same time that lasts between 30 minutes to an hour. But different chat variations are also out there like “slow chats.” During slow chats, usually, one question is posted throughout the week for people to respond to at their own pace.

You can also start your own hashtag for your school or classroom to unite your school community AND to share awesome learning with families and staff! I have done this and seen such astounding results! Search other hashtags on Twitter before you start your own hashtag to assure others are not already using it.

My top 3 favorite hashtags that I love to look at are #TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate), #tcrwp (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project), and #InnovatorsMindset.

  • The Official Twitter Chat List is HERE, too. Search for keywords on the website by clicking “Ctrl+F” (PC) or “Command+F” (MAC) to quickly decipher chats that would interest you.
  • Check-out the full educational Twitter Chat Schedule HERE to find what day and time the chats occur. Don’t forget to choose your time zone on the left-hand side once you are at the website.
  • Use Tweetdeck or HootSuite to organize your chats and hashtags (I prefer Tweetdeck).

9. Build lasting connections that will last a lifetime

My favorite part about Twitter is not the “tweeting” itself, but the lasting friendships that I have built over these past two years with other educators and leaders. It takes time to build kinships, but it is the most valuable piece. Get to know other educators and leaders that can help push you to new levels and see things differently.

Nothing can substitute a good role model, and with Twitter your role model can live anywhere in the world! Having others that you can build bonds with and ask questions back and forth, at any time of the day, is priceless.

10. See every contact as a way to help students

A Google Hangout on Climate and Weather with our Missouri students and a classroom in California
Every person I have “met” on Twitter has made me a better educator for the colleagues and students I serve. Having the opportunity to help connect students and staff on a GLOBAL scale is always my goal. When other educators share what they are doing, it ultimately helps my students. ALL the students in the world are OUR students. What helps one, may help all.

Moreover, Twitter is often the springboard for other ventures. Just this year alone, we helped connect our students in our school to other children’s authors, teachers, students, classrooms across the world, and field experts in areas like STEM through outlets like Google Hangouts and KidBlog. Some experts have even traveled in person to our school!


I often present about being a connected educator, and due to the phenomenal powers of Twitter, I am able to see the growth these educators make over time as they become connected. It is compelling beyond words. One educator even told me that,“Being connected saved her career.” I have found that Twitter is less about the tool and MORE about the power it has to change our lives and the lives of our students.

I wish you the best of luck while you continue to venture into Twitter. Whether you are new or a veteran to Twitter; We are all in this together.

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Understanding the Challenges of Others

Image Credit: abettermedaybyday.com

Each day when we interact with people, we are encountering diverse individuals like us who have a multitude of blessings and struggles they are trying to overcome in their lives.

Despite the exact situation, one thing is clear- Every single person has a story. We know and remember this when trauma arises; But, with the complexities of daily life, having the opportunities to pause and reconsider this fact may feel few and far between.

Discover Others

Nevertheless, one of my favorite discoveries in life is taking the time to DISCOVER other people. Human beings are fascinating- Each person is a book with a novel story that is unmatched by anyone else.

Except, have you ever noticed how often we book our schedules with unnecessary items, but we still constantly feel this urge to be busy? What if we “booked” more time to get to know one another more as human beings and less as students or colleagues?  
I believe that we can build powerful ties that will strengthen us as individuals and teammates if we spend more time being present in each moment.

Inspiration

During the last few days of school, students Kindergarten through 5th grade placed letters in my mailbox. As I was reading through the notes and drying my watering eyes, one card especially hit me like a ton of bricks:

“Dear Ms. Welty, Thank you for understanding the challenges of others and wanting to do something about it.”

This student described me and my demeanor better in one sentence than I ever could have. It is a profound reminder of how closely students look up to us.

Having said that, this student was correct- If we want to build stronger teams, we must understand the challenges others face and DO something about it.

Try This!

It’s the little things over time that become the compilation of the BIG things that matter. Try adding these little actions into your daily routine:

  • Add More Deep Conversations into your Day 

Instead of always asking questions like, “How are you?” or “How is your day?,” Ask more probing questions that show you are sincere and you want to get to know that person better. Remember this: Authentic questions deliver authentic answers.

  • Take the Time to Listen

It sounds obvious, but it is the most vital skill to learn. Sometimes we ask people exceptional questions, but then through our body language, we show we do not care about their response. Do this: Take the time to let others express themselves without thinking about your personal distractions, like tasks you need to complete. We may think we are great at multitasking, but people can usually tell when we are truly listening or not.

  • Follow-up 

Once a colleague or student has shared something going on in their lives, follow-up with them about it and ask about it again. It always is refreshing to be around others that think of you and take the time to check-in.

  • Take Initiative 

In every school, there are staff members, families, and students who are facing severe family illnesses and other crises. Whether you can help with an act of service or simply be the listening ear, take an active approach to be there for others. Many we encounter each day will never ask for our help but need support. When we take the initiative to offer comfort, we show we are a faithful crew.

  • Do Not Let Stress Take your Best

With all of this said, we too encounter our own personal hurdles that we face outside of school as well. Everyone has bad days and we each deal with stressors differently. Yet, be mindful to ensure that over time your stress does not take the best out of you and others.

Sense of Caring

In closing, this quote by Anthony J D’Angelo is everything, “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” I have found that nothing is more valuable than time spent loving one another and understanding each other; It is the heart of what we do as educators. When we care about each other like family, we build community.

There are no shortcuts, just love.

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STEM Team Project: Build a Straw Mobile

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and STEM is taking off in schools! STEM is imperative to learn and understand because it blends through countless facets of our lives. Additionally, technology is continuously expanding around us and STEM opportunities in school allows students to have hands-on experience with cutting edge problem solving, inventing, and creating that is beneficial to the learning process while being FUN!

A few weeks ago I came across an awesome hands-on activity through PBS Kids that I shared with another teacher in my school, Jordan Noice. Jordan and I loved the activity so much that we decided to work on the lesson together in her 2nd grade classroom. The activity in this post is inspired by PBS, but I also walk-through other ideas and planning resources that we created through collaboration.

*This lesson worked brilliantly for second grade, but I also believe that this lesson can be formatted and used for a multitude of grade levels.


Overall Lesson Synopsis

Materials

For each prototype we gave student group:

  • 3 straws
  • 4 lifesavers
  • 1 piece of paper
  • 2 paper clips
  • 40 centimeters of tape
  • Glue
  • Scissors

*Students thought carefully about how they would use each material on the list, because once they cut, glue, or taped a material, they would not get a replacement until the next prototype was created. But, students could of course think outside of the box to establish ideas to reuse materials.


Logistics

  • Place 3 to 4 students in each group, for the best collaboration possible
  • Each group will get one set of materials for each prototype they create
    • To make things even more interesting, you could also have student reuse the same materials for each prototype

Lesson Walk-through

*Goal: To build a straw mobile that can move the furthest by only blowing air

We broke the activity into 2 days or “stages” as we called it:

Day 1: Plan, Draw, and Build up to 3 Different Prototypes with Team (1 hour)

Here is our planning sheet we created for students. feel free to make a copy:

During this time period, students were able to draw and label their prototypes. Students found it beneficial to draw BEFORE they built because they said it “helped them think things through.” Student teams quickly sketched 3 different prototypes before they started building. Once they were ready to build, they focused on the prototype that they believed would be the most successful. If their prototype did not work out as planned, they looked at their other 2 drawings and prototype options to revise or start over.

Students also tested their mobile as they built it to see what mobile would go the farthest. Some students blew into a straw that they attached to their mobile to make it move, while others used part of a straw that was unattached to blow air onto their mobile.

Day 2: Test Prototypes, Rebuild Prototype, Test again & Reflect (1 hour)

Students then traveled to the hallway with their prototypes for an official testing round. Each group was allowed to blow air to their mobile car 10 times to see the distance that it would travel. Students quickly learned by seeing their mobile and other teams in action what worked and what did not. After our testing round, students went back to the classroom and to the drawing board with numerous ideas to try.

Students then spent additional time brainstorming and rebuilding their prototypes so it could be retested again as a class.

 

After building and testing their final prototype, we gained even more insight to what the mobile needed to move faster; Students shared these findings with the class:

  • “The lighter the mobile is, the faster it moved.”
  • “We did better when we did not use as much tape and paper.”
  • “Ms. Welty’s mobile was shaped like an airplane and that helped it cut through air.”
  • “The straw was the engine, so it worked when the straw saw the air on both sides.”
  • “Most of the mobiles moved faster without the lifesaver wheels.”

The beautiful thing about this project is that students were engaged, empowered, and their wheels were constantly turning with ideas. I overheard one student calling himself an “inventor” because he found out that his mind was full of awesome ideas that he could put into action. We could have created more prototypes and students would have loved the opportunity of innovating once more.

Whether it is this lesson, or another STEM activity, give students opportunities like these to learn by DOING. Allowing students to be in the drivers seat of their own learning is powerful beyond words. Moreover, as an educator, it is a beautiful thing to see the creativity and spark that is born from students working together to create solutions.

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Be Their Diehard Fan

A fan is someone who is enthusiastically devoted to their sports team, musical artist, author, or an entertainer. The best trait about a diehard fan is that no matter what happens, even during the weak points, in the end, that fan always give their team their full support, with the knowledge that it will all eventually fall into place. Some of us call this unwavering faith.

I believe that the best educators and leaders apply these same foundations to their classrooms. Great teachers are not fair-weather fans, and they are DIEHARD fans for their students. Great educators also believe that student behaviors, academic levels, or backgrounds will NEVER stop them from loving or fighting for their students just as hard. After all, when our students show signs of distress is usually the moment they need our cheers in the fan section the most.

While working alongside students and showing that I will never give up on them, students taught me more about life, resilience, strength, and love than I could have ever imagined. I am better because of their strength.


Isn’t it a beautiful thing that while we dedicate ourselves to become their fans, that they become our number one supporters, too?


Whether students have positive or negative behavior stats or have winning or losing records in school- Be their diehard fan. Even our most supported students need us in their fan section more than ever. You will have no greater of a fan than your students if you become their diehard fan FIRST.

A thoughtful card I received from a student.

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