Monday, May 25, 2015

Leadership Lessons from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Raphael in my kitchen!


My two little boys are obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So obsessed, in fact, that my four-year-old's wardrobe consists almost entirely of Turtle attire, from underwear and socks to sweatshirts and hats. They play dress up as the Turtles and practice "saving" me from the Shredder. When they watch TV, they choose to watch the Turtles almost without fail. Since I grew up watching the original animated Turtles and live-action movies, I enjoy nostalgically watching these with them, and the newest animated series has a surprisingly well-written story line! As an adult, an educator, and a leader, I have been surprised by how many great leadership lessons are embedded in this children's show. 


While Leonardo is the official leader of the Turtles, he has an amazing mentor in his sensei and "father," Master Splinter. This is a lesson, in and of itself! Even those in leadership positions must have mentors, people they can trust for counsel, leaders whose experiences can inform their own. Splinter offers his advice to the Turtles in nearly every episode and incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even when he is separated from them physically and/or near death. Here are a few of my favorites!

"We choose what holds us back and what moves us forward."

Wise advice from Master Splinter! Too often, in education and in life, we get bogged down by the things we can't control--the government mandates, the standardized tests, teacher evaluations, student home life--that we forget to focus on the things we CAN control. We can control our attitudes toward teaching and toward our students. If we approach each day with the positive attitude that we intend to perform our best and that all students can learn, we are half way to making these things a reality from the start. We can control the environment we create in our classrooms. If we create a safe environment and encourage our students to take positive risks, we can make it easier for students to give us their best effort. We can also control our message to those around us. Too often, educators fear bragging too much about the amazing things they are doing in their classrooms and their schools. And sometimes, we feel there just isn't enough time to tell our stories. But we can choose to let the negative messages of education from media and politics hold us back, or we can choose to tell our stories, to make time for them, so that we can move the discussion of education forward in a positive direction.

"There is no place for excuses when you are the leader!"

In other words, be the model you want others to follow! Live and breathe the type of person you want all those who follow you to become; encourage them and guide them through example. If school climate is cloudy, what are you doing to bring in a ray of sunshine? If that new technology isn't be utilized, how are you modeling its use and integration? What training and support are you providing? If student attendance is abysmal. what are you doing to encourage students to WANT to be at school, and how are you encouraging others to do the same? Being a leader means that you are aware of issues and working proactively to solve them, not making excuses for why things aren't working.

"Leadership is not about being appreciated, it's about responsibility. It doesn't matter that the burden is heavy, it matters that you carry it."

This is key. Being a leader isn't easy. If you want to be a leader for the glory and the power, you're going about it all wrong--and you won't last. Being a leader is about the responsibility you have to those you lead and serve. In education, this is our students, teachers, and communities. Being an educational leader is hard work, because we do our best to alleviate the burdens of those we serve so that they can focus on the teaching and learning that is true purpose. If we are willing to take on the burden of leadership, and to truly serve and support those we lead, then we have the unique opportunity to make an enormous impact on those around us!


Donatello is always ready to read and learn!

Where have you been surprised to find leadership lessons? And how do you apply them to being an educational leader? I'd love to hear your ideas! 


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Independent Reads vs. Whole Class Reads

As #slowchatela looks at teaching whole novels this week, the first question Jay Nickerson posed was "What's your current approach to teaching novels? How's that goin' for ya?" This made me pause...How is it going for me? More importantly, what do I hope to get out of teaching whole novels? Then, Christina Luce asked me to consider my goals for whole class and independent reading. After pondering, here are my thoughts!
Books stacked on either side of table, three open in middle of stacks
CC Photo: Abhi Sharma via Flickr

Independent Reads vs. Whole Class Reads

Sometimes, I want students to be able to choose what they want to read because
  • the autonomy leads to ownership
    • No Brainer:  We are all more invested in a task if we have chosen it for ourselves! Students are more likely to actually read the novel if they are given a voice in which novel they are reading. 
  • exploring different genres is important to help them find something they enjoy reading
    • Reading shouldn't feel like a burden; it should be an adventure! Students need the freedom to try different types of texts until they find one that fits them. Some students may even prefer non-fiction! 
  • they will likely choose something outside the "canon"
    • Contemporary works and Yong Adult fiction have much to offer, but they are too often neglected in classrooms. My students generally read the same whole class literature their parents read as freshmen and sophomores! 
But other times, I want them all to read the same, whole class read because
  • the shared experience can help build community
    • Common experiences, shared goals, teamwork, and collaboration build relationships and increase trust among students and between students and the teacher. While this can be accomplished without reading a novel, tackling a big project like reading a novel together can lay a foundation of community.
  • they give us common samples and examples to practice reading and analysis strategies together
    • Working on particular close reading strategies and examining specific literary devices and features is easier if we all use the same text. After some whole class practice with these skills, students can hopefully transfer their application to anything else they choose to read!
  • some classic literature and allusions are important to make them well-rounded and well-educated 
    • Star-crossed lovers, George and Lennie references, Big Brother, chasing a white whale, ...I could go on forever! These allusions are part of our culture, and I want my students to be familiar with some of them!
At this time, I mostly teach whole class novels. Partly, this is because it's what we have--sets of whole class novels rather than well-stocked classroom libraries. We do have a school media center, and I probably need to take better advantage of using it with my class. Another factor is time. It seems to take so long to read a novel in a regular English class that I don't often feel like I have time to offer more choices (and my students don't have time to read something else).

When students do "individual reads," I would prefer if they could work in literature circles or at least have a partner. Having another person's support makes us all more accountable. Think about how much easier it is for us to stick to a diet or workout plan if we have a support system; that's why weight-loss groups have weigh-ins and meetings and why personal trainers are so popular. Sure, I can provide some of this support as the teacher, but I fear the "carrot" of the grade at the end is completely unmotivating to some students. I also don't want to encourage the idea that we only read because we are "forced" into it.
CC Photo: Erin Kelly via Flickr

Ideally, I want my students to develop a love of reading and a multitude of strategies that help them examine and analyze their reading, make connections to their prior knowledge and experiences, and discuss their understanding intelligently. I don't think it can happen without some whole class reads, but I also don't think limiting their choices will make this a reality. I need to find some balance here, and make individual reads an easier reality in my classroom.

How do you approach teaching novels? Do you do more whole class reads or more individual reads? What have been your best teaching strategies for both? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Make your Google Slides Presentations Interactive with the Nearpod-ize this! Chrome Extension

I was first introduced to Nearpod about a year ago, and I immediately thought of my many colleagues who could use it to up the ante on their technology integration with little extra work or planning. I know numerous colleagues rely on PowerPoints and Google Slides presentations to deliver content to students, so Nearpod would be a safe and easy step in the right direction with our new 1:1 Chromebook and GAFE initiative. I even modeled Nearpod by delivering a professional development session with it which kicked off our new Response to Intervention initiative this year! However, without any follow-up training, no one went farther than creating an account.

Nearpod, a web-based tool that works with any device, allows teachers to add formative assessment questions to PowerPoint or Google Slides presentations. Then, teachers deliver their presentations through Nearpod, asking students to join the "live session" with an access code. The teacher controls the delivery in a live session, and student screens only advance when the teacher advances the presentation.

Signing up for an account is a simple process; all you need to do is enter your email address and a password, or you can sign up with your Google account. If you can get five colleagues to sign up for Nearpod accounts, you can earn an upgraded account with more options for question types.

The Nearpod-ize this! Chrome extension makes creating Neapods even easier! Simply open your Google Slides presentation, click the extension, and your presentation is automatically converted to a Nearpod. Simply create a few assessment questions, insert them where you would like them, and click publish--Voila, Nearpod created!

My hope is this extension and little tutorial might urge some of my fellow teachers, and teachers everywhere who regularly teach with Google Slides, to try something new. Take a minute to view the tutorial, sign up for your account, and have fun creating some Nearpods from what you've already been using!

video

Have you used Nearpod in the classroom? What have been your experiences?


Sunday, May 17, 2015

#slowchatela Wrap Up: Does Grammar Have a Place in the 21st Century Classroom?

The discussion on #slowchatela this week shows we all know one thing--"The Way We've Always Done It" is not good enough for our students today. Most of us grew up with grammar "for grammar sake" and completed countless grammar worksheets, but we aren't seeing those practices helping our students in our classrooms today. In fact, endless grammar worksheets with little to know context usually frustrate students and end up doing more harm than good.



Language teachers can even be frustrated by grammar themselves. Teachers shared that grammar rules can seem contradictory depending upon sources consulted and that the rules and explanations are often written in what appears to be a foreign language. If teachers find these discrepancies annoying and instructions difficult to decipher, how can we pass them on to our students in good faith?

We all seem to agree that knowledge of grammar rules in and of themselves is not a reason to study grammar; rather the purpose of grammar study should be to ensure our students speak and write in an educated manner.



Pressure to teach "old-school" grammar lessons, worksheets and all, can come from colleagues, administrators, and even parents. Grammar and worksheets are "familiar," and each of these groups, therefore, can find value and comfort in this direct approach to grammar instruction. It's important we understand and address these feelings and that we have courage to have the tough discussions about when to embrace some of the old and when newer visions and means of instruction should replace the old.


AS for the future of grammar instruction, several teachers mentioned the tool No Red Ink, which allows for diagnostic grammar checks and then provides explanation and practice based upon the errors. Teachers are also a fan of the Penny Kittle method of grammar instruction, which involves providing high-quality sentence models fro students to emulate.


Hopefully, these suggestions plus the careful planning of English teachers to incorporate direct instruction as needed mean that grammar will find its niche in our classrooms of today and the future. We know our students need it, but we can't do what we've always done because it's easy and familiar. As always, we must keep what's best for our students at the center of our decisions in the classroom, not the pressure of outside forces or our aversion to change.

View the Storify of this week-long chat for full details!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Google Slides Is More than a PowerPoint!

After our in-house Edcamp on presentation tools, things went well for a while. Teachers were trying out the new presentation formats, asking questions, and, even more importantly, asking students to try some new formats. But as time  went on, they all reverted to the tools they find most comfortable--PowerPoint and Google Slides!

Since we're a GAFE and 1:1 Chromebook school, I have been urging teachers to convert their PowerPoints to Google Slides and to create their new presentations using Google Slides. Most of them have been, so I started thinking about all the things you can easily do with Google Slides that you can't (or maybe can't as easily) accomplish with a PowerPoint...and so a Tech Tuesday presentation was born!

I've been offering Tech Tuesday professional development opportunities for around ten weeks now as a Tech Mentor. Basically, I ask/survey teachers about what technology topics they would like help with, and then I develop a one-hour workshop on each topic. Here's our most recent Tech Tuesday--Google Slides is more than a PowerPoint. I pulled much inspiration from this great post by Matt Miller at Ditch That Textbook--10 Google Slides Activities to Add Awesome to Classes



What creative ways have you come up with to take advantage of all Google Slides has to offer? Please share them with a comment!

Presentation Tools, Edcamp Style!

In January, I had the opportunity to plan a half-day technology professional development in-service for my fellow teachers. After using a Google Form to assess what they most wanted to learn, I wasn't surprised when presentation tools prevailed as the requested topic. After all, we share our knowledge with our students through presentations, and we often ask them to prepare presentations to share what they've learned as well!

I decided that the best plan of attack would be an Edcamp style day, with expert teachers sharing, modeling, and guiding groups who wanted to learn a particular presentation tool. With just a half-day, I wanted to have enough options that teachers could learn more than one tool, but not so many that they didn't have time to play with the tools they learned and actually create lessons they planned to use. I recruited 3 teachers to lead sessions with me, so we taught four presentation tools.

Deb presented PowToon: Create animated presentations and explainer videos! It's engaging and as easy to use as PowerPoint. Templates are available, or you can design your own. She even blogged about using PowToon for IDOE's Web 2.0 Challenge! Free, with upgrades available for a fee.

Leslie presented Thing Link: Add links to all sorts of media--videos, music, web pages, notes, presentations, assignments--to an image of your choice to make an interactive presentation! Browse the gallery for publicly shared ThingLinks on a variety of topics. Free, with upgrades available for a fee.

Ashley presented Emaze: Fluid, 3D templates allow the viewer to glide through these presentations with ease! Multiple templates to choose from, and users can customize. Users can also explore the 2 million+ Emazes already created.

I presented Blendspace: Create lessons with digital content in five minutes! Blendspace allows teachers to collect and curate web content, add their own content, and present lessons, complete with assessments if desired, in one spot. With a gallery of teacher-created content to browse, users can build from a publically shared blendspace or start from scratch. Here's my Blendspace presentation:


Most teachers had time to learn about and experiment with two different presentation tools, and I know they started using them based on the number of questions they were asking me about them afterward. Even better, when I asked students if they were seeing or using any of these presentation tools in their classroom, they could respond affirmatively! However, several months later, teachers and students agreed that most of us had reverted to the tools we are most familiar with--PowerPoint and Google Slides. With this in mind, I gave a friendly reminder of our Edcamp tools, and then designed a Google Slides Tech Tuesday to explore some possibilities of this go-to tool that teachers may not have considered. I'll share my Google Slides Is More than a PowerPoint presentation tomorrow!

What are your favorite presentation tools to use for lessons? Which are your favorites for students to use? Please share!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Differentiating Instruction through Student Choice

I was fortunate to do my student teaching with an amazing mentor, supervisor, and friend, Deb Blaz. As I student taught, she was writing Differentiated Instruction: A Guide for Foreign Language Teachers, and I was completing some action research and writing my Ball State Honors College undergrad thesis on the same topic. She helped me take the theories of differentiation I learned as a student myself and turn them into real lessons that produced results. One of the most intriguing ideas was that student choice could sometimes shift the decision making in differentiation to the students, allowing them a voice and some autonomy while meeting their needs.

One means of offering differentiation through choice is as easy as offering a Tic Tac Toe grid of options for the learning process. The teacher simply offers nine learning activities, mixes them up by interests, learning styles, and/or readiness, and allows the students to choose any 3 activities he would like to complete to make a Tic Tac Toe on the grid. This differentiates the process of learning and practicing the skills, and the student is free to make the choices.

Ch 1 Vocabulary Tic Tac Toe
Write a poem of at least 16 lines that uses all 10 vocab words
Create a comic strip of at least 6 panels that uses all 10 vocab words
Create a Frayer Model organizer for each vocab word
Create a crossword puzzle for all 10 vocab words, using the definitions as clues. Turn in a clean copy and a copy a classmate has completed!
Complete all of the activities for this chapter in your vocab book
Write a short story, at least 1 page long, that uses all 10 vocab words
Write a context-clue rich, juicy sentence for each vocab word
Find examples from the “real world” for at least 6 of this week’s vocab words
Draw a picture to represent each vocab word

Another way is to offer review activities at a unit's end which cover the variety of skills and ideas included in the unit; this may look and feel like learning centers. Students would have to choose which activities to complete (always offer more than they could finish, to ensure everyone is learning the whole time), thereby differentiating the content of the lesson for themselves based upon their own unique needs and interests.

But perhaps my favorite idea for allowing students to differentiate instruction through choice is on assessment, where my student teaching mentor would build an assessment worth more points than she truly intended (usually 5-10% of total test). She would then give the assessment to students that way, allowing them to "skip" the number of points she didn't need. This is tricky, and it takes some time to train the students how to do it correctly. Since some questions or sections of the test may be worth more points than others, teachers have to keep the students focused on the number of points rather than the number of questions. Also, students are never allowed to use all of their "skip points" to skip an entire section of the test, so they have to attempt at least one of every type of question or skill. Finally, it's best to have the students write "skip" in place of the questions answer, so the teacher has no question on the student's intent (did you leave it blank or want to skip?). Even for Scantron/bubble sheet users, students can write skip to the left of the number! Finally, if students choose not to use their skip points, it's not bonus; the number they get wrong is simply subtracted from the total points intended on the test. This teaches them to be purposeful in deciding which questions to complete and which to "skip."

While some content is non-negotiable and we certainly can't provide "skip points" on standardized tests, allowing students to choose in the classroom leads to more relevant, targeted, differentiated learning. In fact, it can teach students to differentiate for themselves and develop more ownership of the learning process. Just because it's not allowed on the five days of testing doesn't mean we shouldn't try it the other one hundred seventy-five days we have our students!

How do you allow for student choice in your lessons? Do you have any creative ideas for differentiating through choice? I'd love it if you would share!


Monday, May 11, 2015

Where does grammar belong in the 21st century ELA classroom?



I grew up having two English classes every day, from third grade through eighth grade. In "reading," we read, discussed, and wrote, while in "language" class we wrote, learned spelling words, and, most heavily, learned and practiced grammar rules. These were my two favorite classes every day! Many of my classmates enjoyed reading class, but few of them had the zeal for grammar I did. It just made sense to me; I loved dissecting the sentences we diagrammed, especially when they were so long and complex that we had to do it in chalk on the parking lot, for the sentences were too big to put on a paper. Even grammar worksheets seemed fun, for they seemed like logic puzzles. Being able to explain and debate a word's usage afterward was a bonus, and I loved the challenge of it all. When I got to high school, my English classes rarely focused on grammar separately, but I found the joy of grammar in my Latin and French classes.

compound-complex sentence diagram

However, I'm pretty sure these sentiments identify me as some type of warped, sadistic person destined to become a language teacher. It is not "normal" to think grammar is fun. My first year teaching high school English, the entirety of my grammar lessons was a bomb! While I didn't focus on it, any time I asked students to consider grammar was like pulling teeth! Students had a completely fixed mindset about their grammar skills, and they saw no reason to try to improve their understanding. Activities resulted in large numbers of As and Fs, with barely a grade between them. I was frustrated, half of the students were frustrated, and the other half was bored! I backed off on grammar completely for a couple of years after an evaluation where I tried a ten minute grammar lesson and was criticized for it; that administrator was of the opinion that teaching grammar at high school was pointless.

Now, I do incorporate some grammar in my lessons, but usually just focus on usage rather than explaining or learning rules. As I reflect on a very low grammar school year this year, our first year with 1:1 technology, I wonder: What is the place of grammar in the 21st century, collaborative classroom? Does it have a place? Let's discuss this week, #slowchatela friends!

Q 5/11: What are your personal feelings and experiences related to grammar?

Q5/12:  Has a supervisor or administrator ever pressured you about grammar one way or another?

Q 5/13:  How do you approach teaching grammar in your ELA classroom? What's your philosophy?

Q 5/14: How can we shift the student perception of grammar as boring and useless?

Q 5/15: How can we bring grammar into the modern classroom? What are your ideas for the future of grammar instruction?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Giving My All, All the Time

On Friday, a student turned to me and exclaimed, "Mrs. Manahan, you're the only person I know who 'goes hard' all the time!". I had just turned on the Google Education on Air Conference to watch during my lunch and planning period, which, thanks to a crazy testing schedule, were miraculously together and comprised two hours of my day. The plan was to watch, add to the conversation on Twitter, and maybe get a little grading done. This student was incredulous that I would work so hard when I had this leisurely schedule, and he continued to ask me why I always worked hard and encouraged other to do the same.

That made me wonder, what does make some people give their all while others feel free to take a more "scenic" route? I found this TedBlog by Jessica Gross that examines 7 studies and their findings on our motivation to work hard, and I completely agree. I am motivated to work hard because I see the tangible results of my effort every day in the growth and learning of my students; as they progress throughout the year, I always feel I am on a whirlwind journey with them to improve their understanding and explore new ideas with them. Even on the worst days, I know I am making progress with at least one of them. Since I can see and track this progress, I know I'm going in the right direction. I also know that the work I am doing is helping someone, whether it is the students in my classroom or the teachers I connect with, who are in turn helping students in their classrooms. I am driven to work harder because the whole goal is to improve someone else's life, which in turn is improving my own! A cycle of motivation and improvement!

I am the type of person who at least tries my best to go "all in" on every project or assignment, a character trait that is both exhilarating and terrifying. On one hand, I honestly have the drive to see a project through to the end, to check up on it, to modify it if necessary--but I always have a plan.  In fact, I always have several plans. I once received an email from an administrator with no less than 6 alternate schedules for testing in case of different weather situations on different days of testing (after that he listed a final plan in case of a zombie apocalypse!), and I could sympathize! Even though I generally have several plans in mind, the worst (or best?) is when I come up with a new alternate plan while things are happening! But, on the other hand, I can drive myself, and the people around me, crazy because my brain is always "on." And I can easily wear myself down making plans for all the ideas in my head, and always trying to improve upon them.
Sometimes the swing set is the most important thing



The only thing that can truly make me pause or slow down is my children. My boys mean the world to me, and if I find I am not truly present with them, I try to shut off all distractions and live in the moment. I don't want to miss these moments, for I know I'll never get them back. We spend time singing, dancing, talking, and coloring while I cook dinner, and if I need to order take-out because the swing set or a bike ride was more important than so be it! In the whirlwind of the school year's end and my search for a possible new job in school administration next year, I'm glad I have my boys to make me pause; that's probably the only thing truly helping me keep my sanity!



Our Google Education On Air Conference Party


Back to that student, he might not understand, but he's seeing an adult modeling continuous effort, improvement, and learning. In fact, since he's my aide, he watched much of the Google Education On Air Conference with me, and he enjoyed it! He might not understand right now why I am the way I am, but I hope he, all my students, and especially my boys grow up to find a vocation they love as much as I love education! Then, they will understand why I give my all, all the time!



What drives you to work hard, and what helps you to pause or slow down? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My Top Six, Can't-Live-Without Chrome Extensions

I've already confessed to being a Google Chrome addict, and I keep finding more apps and extensions that make my life easier and more productive. After giving a Tech Tuesday presentation this week to some fellow teachers that left them reeling from all of the exciting possibilities, I was inspired to create this list of my top six, can't-live-without Chrome extensions!

1. Extensity
This extension allows me to turn all of my apps and extensions on and off with two clicks, keeps my toolbar clutter free, and helps my computer run faster! I simply enable/disable extensions as needed. Bonus--I can launch any Chrome app  I have from this extension! THE must-have extension for Chrome addicts like me!


2. Save to Google Drive
With this extension, I can save screenshots or web content (including Office Docs, PowePoints, Spreadsheets and PDFs) to my Google Drive. It allows me to rename files and choose a folder from my Drive to put it in!  This is a great feature when I'm browsing for ideas for a new lesson I'm teaching, or when I find awesome content I'm afraid I'll lose!

3.  Grammarly Spell Checker and Grammar Checker
When we made the switch to Google Apps for Education in my school, one of the biggest complaints I heard from my fellow teachers was the lack of spell check/grammar check in Google Docs. Enter Grammarly to the rescue! Not only does it check your spelling and grammar in Google Docs, sheets, presentations, drawings, etc, but it also checks it virtually anywhere else on the Web! No more (or at least fewer) errors in tweets and Facebook posts! While a paid, premium version exists, I get much help from the free version of this extension!

4.  One Tab
I can be the Queen of Open Tabs if I don't watch out. This used to slow down my browsing experience, but it doesn't happen any more thanks to the One Tab extension. This easily, seamlessly converts my open tabs into one tab with links to all of my pages. I can restore a single tab, or I can choose to restore all of my tabs at once. The description boasts that One Tab can save up to 95% memory!


5.  Adblock Plus
Have you ever tried to show a video from Youtube in class, think you have everything in control, and then suddenly find yourself stuck with one of those ads you can't skip? Worse yet, the ad is invariably inappropriate, right? Well, that will happen no more with the Adblock Plus extension!  I never have to deal with annoying ads popping up any time I browse with Chrome!

6. Goobric
With the addition of Google Classroom to Google Apps for Education this year, Goobric has proven to be an amazing extension that allows me to work towards a paperless classroom by attaching a rubric I have designed to any rubric I have designed to an assignment in Google Classroom. I don't have to click on each assignment individually; Goobric allows me to scroll through and mark assignments quickly and easily! Check out this awesome video from Jennie Magiera on how to use it!

So many more amazing extensions exist, and new ones are being developed each day! I'd love to hear about your favorite Chrome extensions and how you are using them in the classroom! Please add your comments below!


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Five Things We Need to Stop Pretending

Inspired by the recent wave of Five Things We Need to Stop Pretending posts by educators across the country and a crazy April of new initiatives and preparations for state testing, here are my thoughts.

1. The education we received is good enough for our students.
If I hear one more educator say this, I just may scream. What was good enough last year may not be good enough this year! Each group of students is unique, with their own strengths, weaknesses, interests, and ideas.  We should not treat them like they are! Factor in the advances we've made in understanding how the brain functions, the technology available to us, and the way our world is changing, and it's obvious to everyone that the education you received is not good enough for the students in our classrooms today! That doesn't mean it will be easy-change is always difficult! But the evolution of our teaching as we learn and grow should be a top priority for all educators!


2. Banning technology is the answer.
Love it or hate it, tech savvy or novice user, technology is a part of the lives and world of our students. Classrooms should not be isolated islands of tech free space or only-when-the-teacher-oks-it use. Have we been to a staff meeting, a workshop, or a conference lately? In the "real world," we're always using our technology, and sometimes we're even encouraged to use it! Yes, students will use the tech at inappropriate or inconvenient times, but we need to take on the responsibility of modeling, monitoring, and teaching appropriate use of technology. It's a new type of classroom management, but one all of our students need!

We can not pretend our students will learn everything about appropriate tech use at home, or that they won't make mistakes at school with tech, even if we have banned it from our classrooms. Just like every teacher must find the classroom management strategies that work for him or her, educators must find the tech strategy that will work for each of them. But a strategy at work is a vast improvement over pretending we won't have situations to address or that we can pretend the technology doesn't exist.

3. Students aren't capable of big plans and game-changing ideas.
We have the unique opportunity as teachers to work with young people each day, to hear their hopes, dreams, and ideas. We need to take these seriously! Our students need us to be their cheerleaders, their coaches, to put them in touch with the right people, in person and through social media, who can help them transform their ideas into realities. While I've always known this, it was never more apparent to me than it was last weekend as I sat with a tentative group of "tech team" students from my school amongst more than 250 other middle and high school students at the Hoosier Student Digital Leaders Conference. The keynote speaker, Kevin Honeycutt, challenged the room to think of something they were passionate about, and how they could use that passion to change the world and improve the lives of others. After hearing two students share responses, he allowed time for the students to talk among themselves about ideas--and the room was alive with conversation. With the right guidance, how many of those ideas will become realities?

Four young ladies from my school spent their time discussing ways to help bring education to girls in countries where their government or religion does not want them to be educated; nearly a week later, these girls met during our school activity period to brainstorm ideas to make this happen! Our students don't have to be eighteen or have college educations to dream big and want to make a difference!

4. Non-educators should be the major decision makers in education.
As we prepare for state testing (and as I teach freshmen and sophomores, ALL of my students will experience at least one major standardized test this year), my high school students are smart enough to question the need for all of this testing and what is done with the results. These are the most tested students in our history, and I see two types of students that the testing emphasis has manufactured. One type of student is so stressed out by the thought of tests and grades that any minor slip or mention of the word "test" brings about anxiety attacks, hyperventilation, and sometimes tears. These students are the ones who are afraid to be wrong, afraid they won't measure up, and afraid they are the equivalent of that test score. On the other hand, I also see students who no longer see the value in tests or the point in doing their best work--after all, they will just have another test in the future. For this group, a test isn't proving anything and has lost meaning.

I've been rebelling against testing this year in my own classroom. Other than the midterm and final, I rarely give a test as assessment. Instead, I've asked my students to write from a character's perspective through RAFT assignments, to argue a point through an "Epic Rap Battle," to tweet a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, and to write letters to authors. I am much more interested in my students creating things to show me their knowledge, and I can assess their learning just as much, probably even better, from a project that required making something to show evidence of learning as I can from a bubbled-in test answer sheet. My students know that I have recently earned my administrator's license, but they have been urging me to pursue a political career rather than a principalship. Even our students know that those who are not in our schools, with our students, and living the state of public education can't possibly know what things are like or what is best for our students. We need more educators, students, and parents working together with all stakeholders to determine the best decisions for education.

5. A silver bullet exists to fix our problems.
Working in two different school districts and substitute teaching in several others, I've seen so many initiatives billed as the answer to our problems. The truth is, none of these are THE answer. Many of even the best designed and best-intended initiatives don't stick around long enough to make a dent in the problem they were intended to alleviate. Part of this is natural, because sticking with any change is difficult. Just think about how many of your own New Year's resolutions you've made and broken! But another issue here is the inability to prevent new obstacles from getting in our way. Personnel changes, new standards to tech, new evaluation systems, newly elected policy makers--the list is long and in constant flux.

The truth is, no single solution exists and no two situations are the same. All we can do is try to be better than we were yesterday, last week, last year. We need to learn and grow, be accountable for and learn from our mistakes and celebrate and share our victories. If we can do this, we will be the best versions of ourselves, which will mean our schools and our students are the best versions of themselves as well.