Celebrate Good Times.

Prompt: How do you celebrate your work and the work of your colleagues?

Short answer: I don’t.

When it comes to my work, I feel like a terminal failure. I struggle to find much to celebrate. But even if I could find things to celebrate, I’m intrigued by the question “how.”

In order to celebrate my own work, I need a paradigm shift to see my work as something worth celebrating. How does that happen?

Probably another round of therapy.

But seriously, this prompt has been tough to write to, because the forced introspection made me realize that I completely undervalue the work I do. I don’t celebrate my work, because I haven’t trained myself to see anything but the failures: losing my cool with a chatty class, grading quizzes and realizing not a single kid got more than 5 points, sticking to lectures too often.

But as I reflect on this day alone, I can celebrate the following:

  • Every semester I really do get better at teaching graphic design. My instructions become clearer, and my students produce better work.
  • Whole-class revisions of student writing is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my writing class. Today we revised three feature stories, and several students said they felt better, realizing they could meet the standard I had set.

Now, how to make celebrations a regular occurrence? Not quite sure. I tried earlier this year, in a way, with my 180 Days of Happy project…that lasted 90 days. But those weren’t true celebrations or reflections on my teaching.

And celebrating the work of my colleagues? When I’m never in their classrooms, it’s hard to see what they are doing. We don’t always have time or make time to share our work worth celebrating. When we are tasked with looking for ways to implement different strategies to improve test scores, well, I’m pretty sure no one feels like celebrating all that much.

I know celebrating our work is important–today I reminded my journalistic writing class that the work my friends Ann Feldmann, Jeannette Carlson and Jeff Bernadt do with our iPad Academy is groundbreaking work that deserves all the recognition in the world. I reminded my students that they hear way too often, from parents and journalists and yes, even teachers, that public schools are a joke and are broken beyond repair; I reminded them that it’s just not entirely true.

There is great work happening in classrooms all over the country. Work that needs to be celebrated. And the first step in “how” to celebrate our work is to make sure our students know our work is worth celebrating.

My Time At NETA.

For the month of April, I am participating in the Blog A Day Challenge for educators. All prompts are provided by Meredith Towne (@BklynMeredith), an educator from New York.

Instead of writing to the prompt today, I’m writing something of an ode to my district and an ed tech conference.

I can’t remember the first year I went to the Nebraska Educational Technology Association (NETA) conference–I think it was 2010. What I do remember is how deflated I felt by the end of the two-day tech-fest.

So much of what I saw I knew I could not do in my classroom–not because I was unwilling, but because at the time, my district just lacked the infrastructure, hardware, and software to do the innovative ideas shared at NETA.

I went two consecutive years, and then I stopped going–I was teaching AP Lang and Comp and the conference fell too close to the test date. I felt like I was abandoning my students, attending two days of sessions in which I might find one idea I could shoehorn into the resources available to me. It just wasn’t worth it.

Fast forward five years.

Oh, how things have changed. This impresses me, this hindsight, because in my personal life I feel like life pretty much stays the same. Last year I returned to NETA as a presenter. It was a completely different experience than my first. When I attended sessions, my mind raced with how I could implement the ideas in my own classroom. Excitement replaced discouragement. Possibility replaced unlikelihood.

Public schools have become an acceptable prejudice; be as unfoundedly critical of your local school district, and few–if any–will come to the district’s defense. I’m not saying my district is perfect. But the technological changes I’ve seen in the past five years instill a hope that I never thought I’d feel. We have a much improved network. We have rover carts in most classrooms. Some teachers (myself included) have iPad carts.

Sure, I have days where YouTube doesn’t work or my entire Mac lab loses internet (both of these things happened today), but most of the time, I can troubleshoot and get things running again, I know who to ask for help, I’m able to do what I want to do–and that includes trying new things.

I get to go to NETA again this year, but this time as a journalism adviser. NETA reached out to local high school journalists and invited them to the conference. So I’m accompanying my Editor-in-Chief, co-Editor-in-Chief, and Managing Editor to NETA. They have researched story ideas, developed interview questions, and contacted sources. I will attend a handful of sessions, but my primary responsibility is to advise them as they work on their stories. I’m excited for the opportunity they have to see passionate educators collaborating and learning how to create more engaging classrooms.

The best part is knowing that in the sessions I attend, I will not feel hopeless. Yes, change is often slow in the realm of public service, but I am encouraged by the increased support and resources dedicated to improving educational technology in my district. It’s not perfect, but it’s change for the better.



My Five Tech Must-Haves.

For the month of April, I am participating in the Blog A Day Challenge for educators. All prompts are provided by Meredith Towne (@BklynMeredith), an educator from New York.

Throughout this blogging challenge, I’ve reflected quite a bit over the past 15 years and how much teaching has changed. How much I’ve changed. How much technology has changed.

My first year teaching senior English, I was given free reign to teach pretty much whatever I wanted. So I taught a film unit, and I queued up a stack of VHS tapes to show clips of films that demonstrated different lighting, angles, editing, and other cinematographic elements. That was my technology 15 years ago.

The tech I use is much different now. Here’s my five tech must-haves.

1. Google Classroom. I know there’s a Schoology camp that I am fairly certain I’m going to have to migrate to, but for now, I have set up shop in Google Classroom. I love the interface the integration with other Google products. I love Google Classroom so much that last year I presented a session on it at an ed tech conference. It’s my favorite.

2. Google Drive. I started using Google Docs five years ago, when it had all of five font choices and if I used Firefox it destroyed the formatting. I didn’t care. I loved the collaborative element. When I taught AP, I even had writing conferences with students in late evenings–for those who couldn’t come in before or after school. Now I can’t imagine my life without Drive.

3. Evernote. I subscribe to their premium service, because their web clipper is, hands down, the best way to save resources I find online. Their “simplified article” option is a great way to workaround blocked websites at school, because it saves just the text, and since it creates a note, the note is preserved and accessible at school. The search function is top-notch, too.

4. Some kind of accessible device. I’m fortunate enough to teach with iPads and in an iMac lab. But even with the iPads, I have students who would prefer to work on their phones. As long as the network is functional (and ours has improved tremendously over the past four years), that’s fine with me. The past two days, students have been working on an assessment and most of them pulled up the assessment requirements on their phones and created on the iPads. Some worked in the converse scenario–created on their phone with their assessment on the iPad. As long as it gets done and is good quality, I don’t care what they use.

5. An open mind. Sometimes I’m good with this, sometimes not. Sometimes my students are good with this, sometimes not. But having an open mind is often an overlooked essential technology ingredient. Without an open mind, I can’t envision possibilities for my students. Without an open mind, I might become frustrated and give up when things aren’t working right. Without an open mind, the technology I use isn’t really leveraged for student learning–it’s just replacing pencil and paper.

Could I have been a bit fancier with my must-haves? Sure. But with the subjects I teach and the skills I need my students to have, these are the most foundational to student learning in my classroom.