Friday, December 9, 2016

From the trenches

This will likely be the most difficult post I've written to date - at least on my edublogs. I started in a new position this September. My reasons for making this change after twenty years in the same district were many and complex, but high on the list was that I had begun to feel stagnant. In the twenty years I worked there, there was little turnover in my department, and I had begun to feel that not only had I reached the peak of what I could learn from the colleagues in my department, but also of what I could meaningfully contribute.  To put it simply, when it's time to go, it's time to go.

I knew my new position would come with new challenges:
  • totally different culture 
  • very involved parents
  • a tremendous need to step up my content game
just to name a few, and I arrived ready to face them head on. Or so I thought. Even after Back to School Night and Parent Conferences all seemed well -- almost curiously well. I was almost disappointed that I wasn't feeling the level of challenge I sought. Apparently appearances can be deceiving.

I now find myself in the midst of a tremendous struggle to maintain even the illusion of confidence. I feel extremely grateful for all of the work and study and reading I have done both independently and with colleagues like Dan Kreiness and Raye Wood on the topic of Growth Mindset, because it is this study, work, and collegial conversation that are getting me through right now. Weekend plans: reread Carol Dweck's book Mindset

Confidence been a lifelong struggle for me, despite what outward appearances may indicate. My first baby steps into leadership were in my regional organization LECNY: Language Educators of Central New York. It's a relatively small organization - membership rarely breaks 100. My entrance into a leadership role was purely accidental. A colleague was president at the time, and was trying to recruit candidates to run in the upcoming elections. She was partially responsible for the conference we both were attending, so she was feeling anxious. I made the blanket offer to help her in any way I could. The next thing I knew, my name was put forth as Second Vice President - a position that had previously not existed. Long story short, the additional position ended up being an excellent long-term decision for the organization, and it pushed me headlong into leadership. At the time I did not know it would be a four year commitment running through Second VP to VP to President to Past President, but that one moment, that one offer, started my leadership ball rolling. Probably just as well, because I may never have found the courage to take that first step on my own.

I include this story to give background for this excerpt from the first President's Message I wrote just over two years later that has been brought to mind in all of this:

I am honored and more than a little bit stunned to be writing this, the first of my President's Messages.  I feel I've been a bit of a late bloomer as a teacher leader, but that makes me want to express to my colleagues who are new to the profession or who might feel hesitant to step up as a presenter, the writer of an article, a board member, or just a volunteer:  I truly mean, with the utmost sincerity, if I can do it, you can do it.  There's nothing wrong with "lurking" as long as it isn't fear keeping you in the shadows.  Think of what we tell our shy speakers in class.

A little glimpse of my own growth mindset before I knew what growth mindset was. And still it is easier to encourage in others than to grow in myself, but upon revisiting my own words and Dweck's first chapter, I'm giving myself a much-needed reality check. From Dweck's first chapter here are some fixed mindset responses to a situation that could be compared to my own:

"I'm a total failure...I feel worthless and dumb."

Almost the exact words I tearfully spoke into the phone to my boyfriend who just had no idea what I was talking about - I mean truly reacted as if I had said 1 + 1 = pineapple. And of course that was the appropriate reaction, because I was totally overreacting, and defaulting to the fixed mindset I grew up with.

As expected, this post has taken several days to compose, but I'm in a much better place now than I was when I began writing it. Part of that is due to Dweck. Part of that is due to my amazing, level-headed boyfriend who has an uncanny way of seeing through my emotional reactions and offering clear, logical suggestions when I am incapable of seeing them. Part of it was reminding myself why I made the move in the first place, and persistently seeking out feedback - no matter how painful and difficult - so I could move forward and make positive changes.

And so with positive momentum, the learning continues. And that's really what it's all about.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Maybe first we laugh together

It's been a tough few weeks. I've been in astate of partial hibernation for awhile now, trying to cope with the last days leading up to the election, and the time since. I'm going to be open and honest here, because I don't know how to be any other way, but please bear with me regardless of where your political loyalties lie, because this is for all of us.

I am a hard core Berner. really hard core, even though I didn't join Team Bernie until a bit late in the game - about ten months ago, for what it's worth. I had been following the news closely, knew I would not likely vote Republican because too many of their platforms conflict with my core ideals, but also knew I was not in favor of another Clinton presidency. There was simply not all that much information about Bernie in the mainstream media. For what it's worth. Also for what it's worth, I knew in 2011 when Trump tossed around the idea of running that I would never support him even if hell froze over. What I had seen of him (primarily on Fox News, I'll get back to that in a second) was mean-spirited and volatile. Considering the precarious nature of foreign relations even at the best of times, I knew he was not presidential material, although I never at that time even considered the possibility he could win.

And yes, I have been known to watch Fox News, because, and I agree with Ann Coulter on this point (proof that as diverse as opinions and perspectives may be there is always some commen ground) it is as important to look at opposing viewpoints as it is those with which you agree. From there Ann and I differ because she views it as knowing her enemy, whereas I use opposing viewpoints to learn and to challenge my own - to be sure than my opinion is truly aligned with my core beliefs.

In the aftermath, I have experienced a profound sense of grief, loss, and fear for what is to come. It took probably three days post-election for me to shake the feelings of, if I am to be perfectly honest, depression and despair. I got up every morning, taught my classes, did what had to be done, but at home alone it wasn't pretty.  Only after allowing myself to feel those feelings could I find my next step...


I started sharing the memes on Facebook, at first because they were just too funny not to share. Then, it became something of a mission to try to find and share them all. I called it cheap therapy to help me cope with post-election trauma. I think most people took it as tongue-in-cheek, but really it wasn't. Humor was a critical part of the process I am still going through to try to heal. All along I have known that my next step would be action - Changing My Realm of Control - but on the way to figuring out how best to do that, I turned to humor.

I found that the memes were appreciated by my friends regardless of political affiliation. It was almost as though they were icebreakers that allowed opposing sides to come together without hostility, and just remember that we are all human, and can share harmless humor.

The other thing that I feel I need to mention, is that as I began looking through the memes, I began to notice the sheer number of photos of Barack Obama and Joe Biden where they seemed truly happy to be in one another's company. They laughed together, and the photos clearly showed evidence of a deep friendship. Two men who worked together for eight years in the public eye through many contentious battles, and yet were able to develop such a remarkable closeness.

Moving forward, I know there is much work to be done, but for now, maybe first we laugh together.

Monday, September 26, 2016


September 21 was the International Day of Peace as designated by the United Nations. I have been honored since June to participate in a group of educators who broadcast monthly via the Periscope app using the hashtag #passthescopeedu. Typically these broadcasts are 5-7 minute "pocket PD sessions", or expressions of inspiration on topics like "Global Connections", "What Is Your Creative Mojo", "Succeed Together", and "I Know What You Did This Summer - How Will You Implement Your Summer PD Learning?".

Sometime over the summer it occurred to me (as random things often do) that the International Day of Peace might be a really great theme for s #passthescopeedu edition. I suggested it to the group, and the idea was accepted wholeheartedly. Over the next several weeks the regular participants reached out to colleagues local (which covers the US) and international.

What transpired yesterday far surpassed my hopes, and consisted of some truly inspiring messages of Peace from students, educators and others around the world. What was utterly fascinating and eye-opening was the number of different angles to peace that were explored. Along the path of preparation, I fielded questions from several colleagues regarding what exactly would be an appropriate way to scope a message of peace. My initial concept was to keep it as broad as possible, allowing for performance, art, poetry, more traditional presentations, or other ideas that people felt could tie in. Valerie Lewis compiled this storify of the day's event, but there is a synopsis below. 

Matt Frattali (most often known as Matt Frat) posed the idea that Campaign Finance Reform is an obvious road to peace. He made a compelling argument on several fronts, and waved the flag to rally educators to take action for change.

Cassie Reeder enthusiastically spoke to the power of global connections as a way to promote peace even with our youngest students. As a World Language teacher and an educator who has been more and more actively seeking to connect my students with their peers around the globe, I really appreciated her presentation.

Valerie Lewis, a Georgia educator, is considered by most of us in #passthescopeedu to be the driving force behind us all (not to neglect Derek Larson, Toutoule Ntoya, whose scope will be mentioned later in this post, and the aforementioned Stacy Lovdahl who are huge parts of the #passthescopeedu team). She brought student voice to the stage with her International and Peace Clubs, as they gave their personal thoughts on peace. In a similarly-themed scope, Nicolette James had students from the National Honor Society and LGBT Club in her Long Island school share some very powerful personal messages and solutions.

Judy Arzt is easily the most prolific scoper I follow. She broadcasts from many different places around the country (Old Sturbridge Village!!!) and gives in-depth historical and cultural information to her viewers. I loved her take on peace, because she gave background information on about a dozen or so former winners of the Nobel Peace and their accomplishments. She was able to provide a historical context for peace that I had not seen in other scopes - yet another layer!

Barbara Cotter was one educator who brought student voice in the form of song, as she scoped from Micoud Primary in St. Lucia. The multi-talented Dene Gainey did the same from his classroom, and several French students in my school shared

Fabiana Casella in Argentina gave her personal thoughts on peace and love and their connection, and James and Miriam broadcast similar sentiments from their current home in Georgia, though they hail from the island of Haiti.

Kimberly Howell spoke about connecting children's literature to teach social justice, while Stacy Lovdahl facilitated a conversation with a very knowledgeable and articulate group of high school seniors about connections they had made to current issues of social justice and various books they had read. One of my Spanish 3 classes shared a project we have been working on with Matone de Chiwit on the issue of water scarcity in Latin America. Fabulous connections between content, social justice, and the theme of peace.

Brian Romero Smith also involved his students, using Digital Citizenship as an overarching theme.  Without calling it Digital Citizenship, Sarah Thomas drove home the point that we all need to be cognizant of the images of our children - particularly our children of color - that we post, repost, favorite, like or otherwise endorse on social media. #trendthepositive is a great message for adult Digital Citizens as well as our students.

Toutoule Ntoya expanded on a conversation that started in a Voxer group, and discussed the impact of colonialism on language and culture in the francophone African diaspora. As a French teacher, this was one of my favorite sessions, along with being an issue that I love discussing with my students.

Rachel Pierson had a group of 6th graders speak directly to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly apropos given the origin of Peace Day.

Venus Miller, a Family and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner from Homestead, FL spoke about the intersection of mental illness and domestic violence, and the need for vigilance.

Ashaala Shanae, a Brooklyn-born singer, songwriter, and motivational speaker, directly addressed issues of racism and oppression of African Americans - specifically black men.

The breadth and depth of the perspectives shared was absolutely stunning. The coming together of such a diverse group of international voices with the unified message of peace is something that will stay with me for quite a long time, and something I hope to repeat next year.

So my challenge to you, is to make a plan to add your voice and your personal message of peace to the chorus next year. We truly can be the change, but only if we take that first step.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bringing Students to the Table to Make Real World Change

When I started this blog, I made a point to try to end each post with something of a challenge to those who read it. This time out, I'm stepping it up.  I consider this to be more of a full-on call to action.

I look at the headlines, (Election 2016!!) and the more extreme things that turn up in my facebook feed (rapists walking free after three months, or not at all; yet another black man shot dead by police; abused children, abused elders.  When will it stop?

It just might stop if we actively start growing empathy in our students. STEM, STEAM, a World Language Teacher I have been on a crusade for nearly two years to bring WL to the STEM table. Content integration, interdisciplinary projects, honestly the names have become completely meaningless to me by now.  We need to be working together and making connections.

Then came Design Thinking.  I had been following John Spencer's posts and video shorts, but when I read the book Launch that he wrote with A.J. Juliani I was struck by the first phase of the Launch process:


That is what we are missing from our STEM class and our Makerspaces.  Our Project Based Learning endeavors must begin (and I would add end) with EMPATHY.  That is perhaps the single most important ingredient we can cultivate in our schools -- and notice that I am not using the word "skill", because I don't quite think EMPATHY fits that category.  It is more of an essence that is always there at the start, but that can wither away if hate is allowed to take its place.  At the same time, once it grows, once you show it and share it, you will always have more.

This realization brought me to the desire (insistence if I am to be completely honest) to have a Service Learning component to my projects.  I have spent about six months at this point marveling at the seemingly random connections I've made, and the opportunities both for myself and for my students that have dropped into my path.  Upon reflection, however, I think it is just further proof of what my good friend Fran Siracusa has said: Good Brings Good.  Such an incredibly simple concept, but one that is proving to be true every step of this journey I am on with my students -- and I choose those words very deliberately.  This is not a journey on which I am leading them, we are truly learning together. And isn't that something powerful on its own!

In May, I wrote this post about Going Glocal after connecting with Karishma Bhagani and her organization Matone de Chiwit.  All by itself that post has a whole lot of kismet going on!  I had grand plans to weave Karishma's work into what I was going to be doing with a project-based team at my (now former) school.  Things changed.

The weekend between New Teacher Orientation at my new school and meeting the students for the first time I attended EduPassions.  It was unbelievable as a conference.  Totally inspiring, practical ideas I implemented day 1...and my door prize.  I won a year's subscription to Nepris. Now I'm a self-proclaimed techie rebel, but I had never heard of Nepris.  Yet, I put it on my list of top 3 prize choices, because Nepris claims to "Connect Industry Professionals to Every Classroom". I was intrigued.  While walking to get coffee, I decided to throw together a description of what we are doing with Matone de Chiwit, and see if they could find us a match.

Ryan Beltran confirmed his participation within a day and a half. Ryan is the founder of, and also a filmmaker. Oh, and fluent in Spanish. His expertise could not have fit our needs any better. So to bring this chapter of my story to a close, today, Wednesday September 14, was our sixth day of school. My students have learned about water scarcity in Latin America, divided themselves into project strands (Marketing, Fundraising, Research) and posed professional questions (in Spanish) to an expert in the field.  On Day 6.  My other Spanish 3 class didn't have the same opportunity, but that's OK, because

  1. The video will be available soon.
  2. Tomorrow they are presenting their project plans via Periscope to educators around the world - and inviting them to join us in making a difference.

In my research to create a database of Service Learning Experiences for WL Teachers and their students, I have been overwhelmed at the possibilities that are available to give our students authentic learning opportunities WHILE MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE. The opportunities are out there, and once you begin the process of making connections, the good takes over.

This is a call to action.  If you've never done a PBL Project before, do one that HELPS.  Find a problem in your community or elsewhere on the globe, and HEAL. Let's displace all the hate by growing empathy so big the hate has nowhere left to go.  It's time.

What will you do?  Let us know!

Monday, July 4, 2016

To ISTE or Not to ISTE, When Work Is Play, and My Tribe Sings Karaoke

I can't ever tell if I'm really good at titling my posts or really bad, but this one pretty near defied my best efforts.  I wrote a couple of "techier" posts on my other blog about my #notatiste experience this year, but as conversations within the #notatiste16 Karaoke Party Voxer Group (it's a real thing, I promise) evolved, we made the group decision to collaboratively blog about what we learned through the days leading up to "The Event".  I must, however, be perfectly clear:  none of us will reveal all of our secrets.  In many ways, the #notatiste16 Karaoke Party Voxer Group is like Vegas -- what happens there stays there (although unlike Vegas, we only gambled with our dignity.) On the other hand, there were some conversations and realizations that we collectively reached that definitely bear mentioning, because being mindful of some of them, I believe, can lead to positive change in the way teachers interact and learn from one another.

In general, the word "karaoke" sparks immediate, powerful reactions as soon as it is mentioned.  Some people love it, others (most people I know) would rather chew on broken glass.  It was at the EdCamp Organizers' Summit that I first became aware that these people I was connecting with professionally, these people I came to refer to as "my tribe" -- passionate educators willing to do just about anything in the name of improving their craft and making education better for our children -- had among them quite a few karaoke aficionados. As karaoke is really my only hobby, I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last 20 or so years singing in odd places. (Think twice before you ever hand me a mic.)  All of a sudden, in the lobby of the conference center, professional networking morphed into spontaneous group songs belted at the tops of our lungs.  I was home.

Then, I heard that Ed Tech Karaoke was an actual THING at ISTE. My tribe. Except I couldn't go to Denver.  It was truly accidental that the idea of a virtual karaoke party connected with #notatiste caught my eye.  Or maybe the universe was trying to unite me with more of my tribe, because we, as a group, almost instantly self-identified as a tribe that would outlive the one night event with relationships enduring. (Yes, the #notatiste Karaoke Party Voxer group is still open for spontaneous bursts of song.)

The theme that emerged from the very start was that the #notatiste Karaoke Party Voxer group was a safe space. Within that space the interactions became more spirited, the "trash talking" commenced, and we all simply felt free to be ourselves without risk of judgement.  (our in-group hashtag was #norulesnoboundaries).  This is something we have known about in regard to our classrooms:  Safety encourages spontaneity and risk-taking.  Now we were experiencing it for ourselves, and so the creativity was unleashed.  Despite the fact that this event had the lowest of the low stakes (let's face it, it's karaoke, no one expects you to really be able to sing) there was increasing chatter among group members about planning (although some of the "stealth planning" didn't become clear until the event was in progress), practice, set lists... (I'm not kidding).  We all were so invested in this event, and the relationships grew from there.  We became a tribe.

The day of the event, several members half-jokingly talked about feeling guilty for spending more time in the Karaoke Party group than with other #notatiste events and activities.  But as the conversation flowed, we realized that the deep connections we were making, the exploration of apps and troubleshooting that was occurring in order to get the party started were all valuable exercises that we could take back to our own classrooms. While it is true that we were talking through the technology to collaboratively solve problems driven by our immediate need (Karaoke Party), we came into the #notatiste space as a whole with the purpose of learning and improving our craft.  I guarantee that, party or not, what we all learned in that group will be applied in our classrooms.

We talk about relationships being key when dealing with our students, but then are critical of ourselves for "taking a break" from work to deepen and grow our professional relationships.  #thingsthatmakeyougohmmm
Toutoule Ntoya described his #notatiste experience as a "whirlwind" -- with all of the possibilities offered, I can only agree:  Ignite sessions, Periscopes of most everything that went on in Denver, Bingo, Twitter was easy to get caught up and forget to breathe.  Additionally, a recurring theme that surfaced both from the #notatiste crew and many who were in Denver was that by far the greatest benefit of participating in ISTE in person or #notatiste was the connections and the people.  Mic drop.  Quality PD doesn't have to be intense and cerebral at all times.

After the EdCamp Organizers' Summit in April, there was a lot of discussion in the EduMatch Voxer group about how overwhelming the intensity of some conferences can be, and the need to step back periodically and reflect, process, connect with others, simply take some quiet time, rather than simply hopping from session to session for 7-8 hours straight.  Simply put, social activities like the #notatiste Karaoke Party have just as much value as the time spent in sessions.  We need these times and activities to recharge and to deepen the relationships that we form during our professional activities. ISTE or Not to ISTE?  For me, the verdict is still out, but I've always known that work is at its finest when it is most like play, and now that I have found my karaoke-singing tribe, all is right with the world.

So my challenge to you is:  Go out and find your tribe, and make time to PLAY. #noguilt

Please visit the following blogs to read more about the #notatiste2016 Karaoke Party

Makisha Rogers:  #notatiste Karaoke and Why it Rocks
Toutoule Ntoya
Cynthia Day:  notatiste Karaoke
Dene Gaines
Dan Kreiness
Barbara Cotter

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

EdCamp Organizer Summit

Wow is the word!

I first became enamored of the EdCamp movement about five years ago when I started on Twitter. (Funny how so many of my journeys began when I discovered Twitter!)  I subsequently found numerous articles in education magazines and blogs detailing this exciting, grass-roots professional development movement by teachers for teachers.  The "unconference", it seemed, could revolutionize and personalize PD in a way I had not previously experienced.

It was not until the fall of 2014 that I was able to attend a semi-local EdCamp -- EdCampUNY in Queensbury, NY.  What a fantastic experience!  Coincidentally, I met Rachel Murat, a social studies teacher from Maine Endwell with whom I had previously connected on Twitter.  One of the greatest things I have found about connecting with professionals in the virtual world is how strong the instant connections are once we meet face to face (IRL).  I also connected with Christina Luce from Liverpool, and the three of us were part of the organizing force behind the first EdCampCNY in July 2014.

Less than a month later, Christina contacted me to collaborate on the second EdCampCNY.  There was a funding opportunity that was too good to pass up, so we jumped on it.  A few kinks in the machine later, we successfully ran the second small but sincere EdCampCNY.  I was hooked!

When the EdCamp Foundation sent out word about the first Organizer Summits, I jumped at the chance to reach the next level of learning.  I was not disappointed.  Truly, the experience and subsequent fallout were more than I could have anticipated.  I periodically checked the RSVP list, just to make sure I wasn't dreaming some of the names I saw (Adam Bellow!!!).  But after the weekend summit, I finally learned that one of the greatest parts of EdCamp is that no matter how well known any attendee might be, no matter how much of a rockstar, no matter how many Twitter followers, how many books published, at EdCamp, we are all equals.  Part of the EdCamp philosophy is "check your ego at the door", which is an easy platitude to spout, but which was truly demonstrated at every step of the summit.

I met some great people right away at the opening session, despite my normal discomfort in groups of people who are unfamiliar to me.  Once we broke into sessions I immediately connected with Fran Siracusa, who I mentioned two posts ago (which was only three days ago...some kind of record for me, I think, so I must make note of it!).  My discussions with Fran in the session about Global/Virtual EdCamps convinced me to (re)download Voxer onto my phone.  She added me to the EdCamp Virtual Voxer Group.  The group is currently inactive, because EdCamp Voxer is not until July, but my mind is officially BLOWN by the idea of a virtual EdCamp!

Over dinner, I met two other fantastic educators with whom I am extraordinarily grateful to be connected.  Margaret Sisler, a tech coach out of Virginia whose sketchnotes gave a fantastic summary of the sessions she attended:

The connection that I made that so far has had just an overwhelming impact and exponentially increased my professional connections is Sarah Thomas.  What an educational powerhouse in such a humble and human individual. Sarah is the creator of EduMatch which, although billed as an "Educational Matchmaker" has absolutely nothing to do with dating.  (No, really.)  Here's the thinglink image to really demonstrate the reach of EduMatch:

So, having just rejoined the Voxer world, I started with the EduMatch Voxer group.  Holy Active Batman!  Easily I receive 150 Voxes a day.  It is very easy to fall behind, but the conversations are so interesting, and unlike Twitter, known as a microblog, most of the exchanges on Voxer are what I might call micropodcasts, because they are voice recordings.  That is not to say that texting isn't an option, because there are members who prefer to text, or there are simply times when it makes more sense.  Images are shared as well.

The snowball effect certainly happened here.  One of our threads in the EduMatch Voxer group let me to request being added to the Snapchat! Oh Snap! Voxer group on using Snapchat in the classroom.  Because clearly I needed another tech tool to become obsessed with.  Or not.  But there it is.

And then Sarah posted a list of Voxer groups for educators.  Did I start this post by saying Wow is the word?  To make a long story short, I am now a member of the following groups:  Connected Educators, Breakout Edu Chit Chat, #satchat Voxer, Gamification in Edu, Seulement Français, and Solamente Español. Oh wait, I forgot Genius Hour, Makerspaces, PBL, and 20% Time. Now none of these groups is as active as EduMatch, but the connections are valuable nonetheless.

And that's just the first EduMatch tool. The reach of the potential connections is endless. Truly. This is the tip of an enormous iceberg. Also the end of this post, because there are so many more things that need their own posts to be fully explained. Can I get another one in before the weekend?

What are your EdCamp experiences? If you haven't yet attended one, what's stopping you?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Did I Really Wait This Long to Get on My Soapbox?

Those who travel in the relatively insulated circles of World Language teachers in New York State might know that in the past couple of years a focus of my presentations has been bringing World Language into the STEM world.  It is something I am very passionate about. The underpinning of my argument is that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are all well and good, but none of the ideas that spring from these disciplines can be expressed without language.  Meanwhile, with technology bringing the world into our personal and professional spaces, learning a second, third, and/or fourth language is not only beneficial, but critical to global citizenship in the 21st century.

To that end, I have been on my soapbox taking advantage of opportunities to present and share my views in as many venues as possible.  I was lucky enough to be selected as a 2016 NECTFL Mead Fellow, and my project is based on connecting level 1 and 2 curricula in French and Spanish with Earth Science and Algebra 1 curricula.  This is extremely exciting for me, because it is giving me the chance to put into action something that has primarily been philosophical up to this point.

When we had our group meeting with the three Mead fellows, our mentors, and prior Mead fellows, it was strongly recommended to me that I do a school visit to an immersion school to get a better sense of how content can be taught in the Target Language, because that is the approach I wanted to take with the integration of language and content.  Due to the efforts of Mead Chair Amanda Seewald, I was able to visit the William C. Lewis Dual Language Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware.

I first visited a third grade math class.  I was blown away!  The teacher was a native speaker who spoke at conversational speed.  The student materials were all in Spanish, and the students were all speaking Spanish.  Culture was integrated in the word problems, and the students "policed" each other if they lapsed into English at any point.

The science class I found particularly fascinating.  The unit was based on the life cycle of a plant.  Class started with a children's book about the life cycle of a squash.  Then students who had not finished a writing assignment (all in Spanish) on the life cycle of an apple tree were allowed to finish that, while other students worked on a new project that extended their learning about the life cycle of a squash.

It was truly fascinating and inspiring to see students learning language and content in this way.  I left with my head exploding with ideas, and more direction for my project work.  More than ever I believe that this type of program is necessary to teach our children to be global citizens and to adequately prepare them for the world they will graduate into.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

What Does It Mean to Go "Glocal"?

The last couple of weeks have been very exciting for me from a standpoint of connections that have just sort of erupted with very serendipitous timing.  Several (I think) years ago, I crossed cyberpaths with Fran Siracusa, co-founder of Calliope Global and global learning revolutionary.  I found her work intriguing, but (as with so many things) her name got shuffled into the Twitterstream, and my projects and priorities continued their constant shift.  Last December, we reconnected, and she was very helpful directing me to resources for my first Mystery Skype session.  She connected me to her Virtual Postcard Project on Padlet, but again, the timing just wasn't quite ripe for collaboration.  Fast forward to this April (yes, it's still April), when I got an invitation from Fran to attend a webinar with an organization called Matone de Chiwit to attend a webinar. I accepted the invitation because after reading about the organization, I was intrigued.  The larger concept is to bring water to regions of the world (Matone means "drops" in Swahili, de means "of" in Spanish, Chiwit means "life" in Thai) where water scarcity is a growing concern.  The webinar was also very conveniently scheduled at a time when I was to be available...that is until a flat tire delayed me, and I missed the first half.  Fortunately, the second half, due to the dedication, passion, and presence of Matone de Chiwit's founder and Executive Director Karishma Bhagani drew me in, and I reached out to Fran and Karishma to try to schedule a webinar with her, to further promote her cause.

April 18 Fran invited me to join Our Blue Earth -- a Google Community she created.

Our Blue Earth is described as follows:

 "This Earth Day 2016, under the focus of WATER, we promote individual investigations, global discussion/collaboration, & a call to action."

Although my priorities are constantly in flux, and I am forever starting new projects, I like to think that the "good stuff" never gets totally lost, it just hides in the depths of my cluttered brain waiting to be drawn out by the right connection.  So it is with the global (and glocal -- yes, I'm getting to that) impact of water.  I tell everyone who will listen that one of my favorite professional development experiences all year (and I do not say that lightly, as I am an admitted PD junkie) is the International Studies Summer Institute put on by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University.  The topic of the 2013 ISSI was The Cultural Geography of Water.  It was in preparation for this institute that I first watched the movie También la Lluvia, a dramatization of events of the Water Wars in Bolivia in 1999-2000.

So lightning struck, and I threw together over the weekend numerous resources on the impact of mining on water supply contamination, video campaigns promoting water conservation, and (most importantly) was able to schedule the webinar with Karishma.

Karishma, with Fran's help, has been promoting her organization through a series of webinars with schools, encouraging the students she meets virtually to assist in her marketing campaign, and most recently, an informational webinar with students and faculty at NYU.

On a recent trip to NYC, after our webinar with Karishma, I had the opportunity to meet her in person and chat more in depth about her project. She was even more impressive in person!  I am anxious to see her project develop from the ground up, and very hopeful to be a part of it!

So while we are acting LOCALLY, we are and will be making a global impact:  Going Glocal!

The overarching message for students and educators is that we all can make a difference, perhaps even a major and significant difference, even by acting only in our...Realm Of Control.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Growth Mindset and Humans v. Dogs

This past summer I read Carol Dweck's book Mindset.  I found it not only to be incredibly beneficial as a teacher, but applicable to my own life.  When I think about how many challenges I have approached with a fixed mindset, thereby setting myself up for failure, I marvel at the fact that I was able to become a productive functioning adult at all!

In my classroom, student goalsetting has been something I have been moving from the back burner to the forefront and everywhere in between for the last 5 years or so.  This year I formalized it as one of my professional goals.  Mondays in my classroom are "Motivational Mondays".  I start class by giving students a prompt in the form of a quote or short video clip.  Then, in Google Classroom, students respond (in English, my purpose is metacognition and goalsetting, not TL acquisition) to 1-3 questions connecting the prompt to their goals and action steps to reach those goals in my class.

As I showed this video this afternoon:

it occurred to me that this was at least the third Motivational Monday video this year I have shown starring a dog. Now, at first glance, who cares?  Dogs are cute, like cat videos, dog videos can certainly be a youtube time suck, it's a fun way to burn a minute and a half of class on a dreary (snowy) April Monday, but why is this blogworthy?

What I believe often gets in the way of a growth mindset is learned behavior and learned beliefs.  I don't believe we are born with a fixed mindset, rather our mindsets become fixed over time due to a variety of environmental factors -- if we are not in environments that cultivate and nurture a growth mindset.  Willow, the dog in the above video, doesn't  worry if the humans watching her will make fun of her leaf-pile antics.  She doesn't worry what will happen if she can't find the ball.  The consequences of failure are utterly irrelevant to Willow, and no matter how difficult the task was, she was ready to start over again as soon as she found the ball. 

How freeing that would be to not be burdened with a lifetime of fixed mindset baggage to overcome!

But we all come from a place that is nearly as purely free of the tethers of a fixed mindset.

Think back to your childhood, and try to remember a time before you felt embarrassed, ashamed, fearful, or otherwise inhibited about trying something new or about taking a risk.  Think about a young child you know.  Their ability to trust without hesitation makes them remarkably resilient and enables them to try, try again, even to the point where the adults around them are ready to drop.  

Perhaps one of the keys to a growth mindset is to access that place we all come from, before fear and self-consciousness, and embrace that inner child who isn't afraid to fall down.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Change Is in the Air

Well, here we are again, and I have again failed to meet my personal goal of consistently posting to this blog.  But I'm back for now, much has happened in both my personal and professional life, and change, indeed, is in the air.

2016 brought the end of an 11 year personal relationship, as well as some exciting and challenging professional opportunities, most of them beyond the walls of the buildings where I teach, and this in turn has brought some surprising challenges within the walls of the buildings where I teach.

A significant part of my ongoing professional journey has been my headfirst plunge into social media about five years ago via Twitter and edubloggers. The ability to find 24/7 professional discourse on any topic in education has been invaluable in my professional growth and development.  From the start I was vocal in my participation in Twitter chats; I commented on blogs, and just generally added my voice to the others out there, whether they were newbies like I used to be or respected educators like Tom Whitby or Ira Socol, both of whom I have conversed with on Twitter.  In fact, not only have I conversed with these heavy hitters, but I have challenged statements they have made, questioned their ideas, and engaged them in contentious exchanges -- all in the name of learning, reflecting, and improving my craft.

For personal reasons, I kept my social media use to Twitter and blogs, and avoided Facebook for years.  It is perhaps for this reason that although I effectively grew my PLN with colleagues around the globe, I stayed under the radar with my local colleagues.

Shortly before the first of the year I joined the rest of the civilized world and became active on Facebook.  It started as an experiment for myself to see if I could maintain a social media account for purely social purposes.  I lasted 8 days.  Truthfully no one, myself included, believed I could manage to keep work out of it, and we were all right.  It started with a blog post that came up on my feed, and I couldn't help but respond.  I knew then that I was doomed.  But the other side of the coin was that there are so many of my colleagues -- particularly World Language teachers -- who are much more active on Facebook than on Twitter, that it just made sense to open a new avenue of connectivity.

So my professional posts on Facebook, like my Tweets and blog comments, are honest, straightforward, and made in the spirit of opening and encouraging professional dialogue.  In that same spirit, I welcome opposing opinions and enjoy having my views respectfully challenged, because whether or not my opinion changes, it allows further opportunity to examine my own beliefs and their validity.

Unfortunately, I am discovering that not everyone feels that professional discourse is desirable.  I have been on the receiving end of several complaints about postings over the last month, and I am truly perplexed and saddened.  These complaints are anonymous, and I am only told that they are coming from "multiple departments".  It is very disappointing that professionals would respond to a colleague with whom they disagree in this way rather than addressing the issue directly.  I have now spent several weeks in an uncomfortable atmosphere, not knowing who to trust, having been told that I'm "being watched".  It isn't the administration, because they have been nothing but supportive, but that doesn't help when the anonymous complaints keep coming, and I have no intention of accepting a muzzle.

This is the last in a sequence of red flags I have been dodging for the last several years, and it has become clear that it is time for a major change.  Many years ago, during a particularly disappointing PD session, I made the conscious decision that no matter how bad any given PD was, there had to be at least one good takeaway.  That one mental shift has transformed how I experience PD -- particularly PD I do not choose for myself.  That shift has carried over into my work experience as a whole.  Despite any shortcomings I may have felt in my current position, I have gone out of my way to find and/or create opportunities to engage and grow my passion for my work.  That has not always made me popular with my local colleagues, although increasingly it has made me successful in the profession at large.  And I know myself well enough to know that I need to be where I can push myself and continue to do what I believe to be right without being silenced, and without being held back.  Increasingly, I have been getting the sense that I have reached my limits in my current position.  Yes, I understand that negativity is everywhere, there will be jealousy and pettiness wherever I land.  But there is a lot to be said for fresh starts, and I'm ready.  My place is as a teacher leader, not an administrator, so that is not a path I will choose.  But the next stone in my path will be laid in a different direction.  Change is good.

Of course...if my optimism about finding another position proves overblown...but let's not jinx it  ;)