Labels and Plans.

On a piece of scratch paper at my sister’s dining room table in Delaware, I wrote this list:

• Apple Distinguished Educator
• Google Certified Teacher
• Certified Journalism Educator
• Adobe Certified Associate
• Piano teacher
• Jazzercise instructor

“I can’t be all of this,” I told her. “I’m trying to, and it’s not good. But I’m not sure what I want to be, or what I should be. I don’t know what I want.”

This mini-meltdown was early in my 2017 summer road trip, and one of many things that occupied my mind as I drove for hours and hours. I eliminated Jazzercise instructor, for now, because while it would be fun, it definitely isn’t necessary. I currently only have two piano students, and I’m not quite ready to let them go. Two is manageable with my schedule, so that label stays, but I’ve also reached a point where when they decide they’ve had enough, so will I.

But the rest? I put my journalism skills to use as I considered each label. Why was it important to me? How would it affect my life, both long and short-term? When would I get all of the work done? Who would I be if I was able to amass each label? What would happen to me if I failed in each attempt to add letters at the end of my email signature?

This exercise proved helpful, as I realized my desire to be an Apple Distinguished Educator was driven by a desire to be part of a club I perceived as “cool.” That’s not a good enough reason to put in the work required for that particular moniker, so now I can cross that off the list.

Which leaves me with three pursuits—a much more manageable endeavor than six.

Luckily, working toward Google Certification and Adobe Certification are goals I can meet concurrently with my teaching load. I teach in a Google school. I teach a class that uses Adobe Creative Cloud exclusively. With the right planning, I can do both. It might take me longer than others, but I’m confident I will succeed.

Which leaves me with Certified (and eventually Master) Journalism Educator.

For 17 years now, all I’ve wanted to be is a newspaper adviser, and now I am. So it makes sense that I should want the backing of a larger organization to recognize not only my love for journalism, but also my capabilities. I’ve put off this particular label because it’s scary. I have to study, take a test—one that is only offered three times a year—and what happens if I fail? I feel like I’ve failed so much lately that taking another chance almost seems foolish.

But then I remember the most important label on that initial list of six: teacher. Educator. What message am I sending to my students if I put something off—something I want—because I’m afraid I’ll fail? And what’s the worst that could happen if I fail, anyway? How on earth can I expect my students to take any risks if I’m standing in front of them unwilling to take risks myself?

So I’ll make a plan and I’ll work hard, and eventually get those certifications and hope my students learn two valuable lessons: first, you don’t have to be everything. And second, fear of failing should never be an excuse not to do something.

A New Approach to an Old Quiz.

Last week at our iPad Academy training day, Ann Feldmann told me about an activity she did during a Twitter chat using the app Book Creator. The moderator designed a series of tasks for the participants to complete, then they compiled those tasks in a book.

I’ve struggled every year with how to use the iPads in my Pop Culture Class as a creation device, but as Ann explained what she did during this chat, my mind started thinking about the Postmodernism test that my Pop Culture classes would be taking soon.

I usually have them take a traditional quiz–matching, true/false, fill in the blank–basic-level Bloom’s Taxonomy kind of quiz, as a formative assessment to make sure they know the bare minimum about Postmodernism. What would happen if I changed the quiz entirely to a more interactive, application-of-knowledge kind of quiz?

I designed five tasks for my students to complete. The tasks required a little bit of video, a little bit of writing, a little bit of Google image searching. Then, using Book Creator, the students compiled their knowledge into a book.

I’ve graded one class’s quizzes, and I’m so impressed with what they’ve done. One issue I’ve had in the past with the summative exam over this unit is that students used the same examples provided in class discussion. On this quiz, I stipulated that the examples had to be original. I haven’t been disappointed once. Their examples have been fantastic.

Also, I’ve loved watching their “selfie videos” as they explain different concepts in their own words, again with original examples.

My room during my two sections of Pop Culture Studies today was a little noisy, but as I walked around helping students, I was thrilled with what I saw.

I saw collaboration, as one of the tasks required students to ask another student to explain a concept on video. They were also often collaborating with each other on what examples would work and what examples wouldn’t.

I saw focused engagement, as they knew they only had 47 minutes to complete the quiz. Ideally, they probably needed 55 minutes–a lesson to learn for next semester. But my point is that there wasn’t down time–and when students finished before others, they helped with exporting and turning in the books.

But what impressed me the most was the quality of the questions I was getting. Most of the questions students asked me were not about the app itself, the questions were about the content. In the past when I’ve tried assessments like these, I have fielded so many questions about the app that I’ve wondered if any learning actually took place. Today, I didn’t have that same experience, which speaks to how user-friendly Book Creator is.

Today would not have happened without the iPad Academy work day last week. I rarely see Ann, and the session she ran about infusing creativity in the classroom led directly to today’s lesson plan. I had the gift of time to look at quizzes I’ve used in the past and wrote a new quiz that relied so much more on application and synthesis of knowledge than just basic recall.

In a time when public schools are under more and more scrutiny for all the things they are doing wrong, it’s important the share the stories of when they do something right. And that’s exactly how I feel about iPad Academy.

15 Years.

On this exact date 15 years ago, I (finally!) graduated from college. I’d spent a semester student teaching English and Journalism, and while I balked at the Journalism assignment when I received it, that placement ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. I knew I wanted to be a newspaper adviser someday.

Someday arrived one year later, when the newspaper adviser at Murray High School in Salt Lake City decided to retire. Knowing my student teaching experience (and I may have put a bug or two in his ear), my principal offered me the position. To prepare for the job, I attended the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Washington, D.C. In a session specifically for high school teachers, I met three people who really impressed me with how they approached publications advising. I soaked up everything I could from them. I kinda wanted to be them when I grew up.

At the beginning of 2015, I applied for the American Society of Newspaper Editor’s Reynolds High School Journalism Institute. The institute takes place at the University of Texas, Arizona State, Kent State, and another school that I can’t recall, because its institute didn’t work with my summer schedule. I was selected for the program and placed at Kent, which feels like a homecoming of sorts, since I completed my Master’s degree at Bowling Green State, a mere two and a half hours away.

Today I received the first set of instructions to prepare for the Institute. The welcome letter included the names of our teachers–the same teachers I met and admired at that AEJMC conference so many years ago.

To say I am excited is an understatement. I am beyond thrilled, and can’t wait to spend an entire week not only learning from them, but also learning from the other advisers who will be part of the institute.

Some days, I just can’t believe my luck.


Yesterday, I presented at NETA, an ed tech conference in Omaha. I’ve presented at several conferences at local and national levels since grad school. I’ve presented on how female athletes choose to be photographed, how administrators censor online student speech, how pop culture can infuse relevancy in an English curriculum. But yesterday’s presentation had me completely rattled.

My session was scheduled to follow the keynote speaker, which by 9:30 a.m. just added to the rattling because he was such a dynamic presenter. Toss in some minor anxiety over unreliable wifi–so I couldn’t use my phone to control my presentation–and my VGA adapter sitting at home, and my mind was blank at 10:20.

(The tech crisis was averted thanks to my friends Jeanette and Jenny, who lent me the peripherals for my session. Life. Savers.)

After I connected my computer to the projector, I stood at the front of the room and watched people filter in…and filter in…and filter in. I panicked a little more, and my mind grew more and more blank. I was really hoping that maybe 15 people would show up. A lot more than 15 showed up.

So as I waited for the magic time of 10:30 to pop up on my phone, I thought, “what calms me down in high-stress situations?”

I pulled out a small notebook and did this:

Pre Conference Doodles

I wrote and doodled for a good five minutes, looked at my phone, and at 10:29, mind still pretty blank, I started my presentation.

I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous in front of an audience. But once I launched into how I use Google Classroom, muscle memory took over. My brain remembered that I am a teacher, and really, that’s what good presenters do. They teach.

Why would I blog about my pre-conference neuroses? Because I am human.

I teach writing, and I have 100% perfect empathy for how my students feel when they solicit feedback (or even when they don’t and I just give feedback anyway) for their writing, because in my own published writing, I get feedback. Excruciating feedback. Feedback that makes me drop to the fetal position and eat my hair for a good 20 minutes before sitting back up, drying the tears, and getting to work.

I ask my journalistic writing students and my newspaper students to interview people all the time. Sometimes they are lucky and get to interview people they know. Sometimes not. And I have 100% perfect empathy for how my students feel when they have to talk to people they don’t know.

One of the overarching themes of the conference was relationships. That in spite of it being a technology conference, we mustn’t allow the technology to supplant human interactions, feelings, or relationships. That is why I chose to blog about my panicked pre-presentation thoughts and doodles. To remind both myself and my students that at the end of the day, I am human. I get nervous. And that’s okay.


I didn’t want to like him, let alone agree with him.

There I sat yesterday morning, in a high school auditorium on my last day of summer vacation, listening to Rick Wormeli spout his radical, subversive, unconventional approach to grading.

I teach Rhetoric, so I went to the presentation armed with my best Rhetoric weapons: looking for logical fallacies, paying close attention to connotative language, trying to poke holes in his argument.

Two problems I didn’t expect to encounter. First, he was an engaging presenter. Second, he made some sense.

I still have questions–the most pressing is if we move to standards-based grading, will it translate to effectively preparing our students for college? Which just leads to more questions, like…what does it mean to prepare our students for college? My idea of that started to shift today.

But here’s what I’m starting to learn about myself: I like to try things to prove they don’t work. For example, this summer I embarked on two major endeavors. I set a goal to run/walk 100 miles, and then I decided to give up diet Coke. I figured if I didn’t feel better, or if my body otherwise revolted through injury or mental insanity, I had my evidence: running bad, diet Coke good.

Well, I’m 15 miles away from 100 miles, and I’ve converted to the gospel of sparkling water. My body has not revolted–no shin splints, no ankle or knee pain–in fact my body is stronger, can run longer and faster. Plus I’ve experienced all those other health benefits like lowered blood pressure (not that mine was high to begin with), lowered blood sugar (again–never a danger), more restful sleep, blah blah blah.

I’m not a convert by any means, and like I said, I still have many questions. But perhaps I should at least give some of Wormeli’s ideas a try. You know, to prove they don’t work.

But if my summer health experiment is any indication, I’ll probably just end up proving they do.