#leadershipday13 Answer: How Do Busy Administrators find time?

Each year Scott McLeod challenges us to challenge our administrators to move forward with technology for the learning processes of our schools. Thursday, August 15, 2013 is #leadershipday13.

How do busy administrators find time to do all the tasks expected with their school board of directors, their staff, their students, and their communities?

Administrators have many stakeholders to consider throughout their day — it’s difficult to juggle these expectations. How might technology help?

Our administrator focuses on communication and collaboration with our community and staff. He writes “Thoughts to Share” for school board and staff and sends home a calendars of events.

Paper handouts often wind up tacked to a fridge or cabinet door, piled with other handouts, or stuffed in a briefcase or book bag, or filed in a folder. What if all those communications could be organized and accessible as needed? How could a busy administrator find time to share, communicate, and collaborate? Perhaps technology can help.

1. Public Google Calendar on the school website

What’s next? What have we done? When is that meeting? that track meet? Embed the school calendar to a page in your blog and to the website for quick access.

Why? By adding the important school events to a shared, public calendar, all members of the school community have access to school events (sports, meetings, field trips, trainings, conferences, etc.).

2. Start a community blog (public) 

Our community loves to hear what is going on. What would you share? How about blogging once each week, just a paragraph, on four different topics (listed in categories)?  What categories would you choose?

While making rounds in the classroom, writing thoughts to share, or considering upcoming events, make a note of those things and perhaps snap a picture on your iPad.

Once a week, schedule a time to write a brief post in one category:

 Possible Categories

Vision — How are we’re doing?

Classes — What learning and engagement do you see in classrooms to show the vision and progress?

Parents — What are students doing? Who can you thank? What happened at events?

Next month— What’s coming up? What’s the focus? What should we expect? How can families and community help?

By creating categories, readers can view the category needed and review the year in those posts.  Add polls for parents to complete and accept or contact by email for ongoing open communication.

Of course the public calendar would be embedded a blog page.

Why? Open communication, photos and blurbs, and ongoing information contribute to showing and sharing the daily efforts of students and staff towards learning and growing as a community; it brings the outside in and the inside out.

3. Start a Staff Blog (private) or Website

With so many items that must be attended to as we strive for school excellence, what can an administrator do to share and organize information? Administrators, especially principals, have weekly thoughts and ideas to share, meetings to plan and attend, questions to ask, and strategies and documents to share. How can all of these be shared in a timely manner– and be available as a reference when needed?

How about a blog accessible to staff? Ask questions, share documents, link to collaborative, shared Google Docs for input, provide upcoming events, etc. It would be the “goto” place for the most current information and expectations, organized and accessible to staff in one place whenever it is needed.

Perhaps a page could be added for all document links. Provide the information needed ahead of time for staff meetings so everyone is ready and prepared for discussion and action. Embed the calendar on another page.

Again, use categories, tags, or Table of Contents to organize the information: announcements, documents, meetings, items due, queries, readings (for example). What would you use? Would a site or blog work best for you?

Why? A paper trail gets lost in a folder or pile. A “go to” place allows access and organization whenever needed. The trail is clear and available. In the busy times of teaching all day, the ability to find and refer to important organizational needs and focus is paramount to building a professional community where everyone is part and everyone has access so the vision of that community is embraced and lived. Pop open your laptop or or tablet device, and you can review any of the items or add to the conversation on shared documents.

4- What about Collaborative Documents?

Link to documents in the blog or embed them in the website for staff (or community). Provide information or ask for input:

Staff meeting questions or readings before meetings?

School Improvement documents

Google forms to ask for input

Instead of waiting for meetings or emailing staff, use the blog to post questions and link to the shared document with your domain. Staff can subscribe to the blog to receive each update.

Why? Collaborative documents and Google Forms provide a means for communicating and sharing ideas without calling a special meeting or waiting for a staff meeting. It allows everyone to participate and share their voice; it inspires ideas that might otherwise be lost: it helps build the professional community that drives improvement and teamwork.

Which step would you take?

These are four ways busy administrators can connect, communicate, and collaborate with various stakeholders in the school community. The blogs/websites are hubs of outreach and input for an ongoing conversation and report of school events and progress for the community, and are hubs of communication and collaboration with staff for continual progress and sharing of programs and events that can eliminate meetings and provide the place for building a community of practice that includes all staff.

The extent and depth of participation and collaboration will be up to each administrator, but these ideas provide keys to keeping communication current — and curated for review.

Why? Your time is valuable; a place to post relevant information for different stakeholders saves time for you in distribution and organization; it builds community and trust through your input. It builds a history of possibility and progress.

What do you think? Could these four ideas help stamp out the “im” and make possible better, more organized, and curated communication for your school’s professional learning community? Which one could you start?


Cross-posted at AskWhatElse

Liebster: Discover New Blogs



What an honor! Liebster (sweetheart / beloved — we love blogging) Blog Award! Thank you Laura Coughlin at Love::Teaching for sharing this fun award. I see this as an award that recognizes the uniqueness of “smaller” bloggers — those with less than 200 followers; it asks us to find these bloggers and reach out to them. Thank you, Laura! It’s an honor and a pleasure to join the quest.

Liebster Nomination Rules
1. Link back to the blog that nominated you.
2. Nominate 5-11 blogs with less than 200 followers.
3. Answer the questions posted for you by the nominator.
4. Share 11 random facts about you.
5. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
6. Contact your nominees to inform them of their nomination.

My Nominees

1. Tracy at wwwantanabe
2. Lorraine at Making Shift Happen
3. Laura at Shiny Happy Teachers
4. Susan at BloggerClass
5. Karen at karenatsharon
6. Jas at Learning, Teaching and my Technology Journey
7. Jenny at Thinking Outside the Blog


My Answers to Questions from Laura, my nominator:

1. Why do you blog?

I blog as a reflection on what I do in my classroom. I blog to share ideas with others, to ask others for input, and to thank those who have helped me.  I blog to be present in today, which can be referred to tomorrow. I blog to show my growth as a learner. And I blog as model for my students. It’s not easy to put oneself out into the world, but it is certainly enlightening to connect and learn with others; it broadens my perspective and guides me to be better each day.

2. What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her students?

The most important thing I can do as a teacher is to model learning through curiosity and wonder. It is that spark of curiosity that leads us to ask, “I wonder…” or “What else?” As I “reflect curiosity and wonder,” I model how to find answers, get stuck, find a way through, and celebrate a discovery, an idea, a skill. I show how I can change my thinking, and not be set with one right answer. I show my struggle with accepting that things could be different than I thought, and the struggle with finding the way through all the information and all the ways of knowing, and the struggle with all the practice to become good at something. And I celebrate the learning. We do these every day. Learning is living.  Without these, there is no learning.

3. What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her colleagues?

The most important thing a teacher can do for colleagues is to listen. Listen to the ideas. Listen to the struggle. Listen to the celebration. By being there, listening, I acknowledge they matter, and that is the most important thing in today’s anti-education world. And by listening, I learn from them. I learn an idea, a struggle, an issue, a joy. If asked, I can offer another idea, view, strategy. But the most important thing is to be there, listening.

4. If you could change one physical thing about your classroom, what would it be?

If I could change one physical thing about my classroom, I’d add friendly light — get rid of the institutional lighting, and fill the room with natural light and lamps. I’ve got cushy chairs for reading and small groups, and books everywhere. I’ve got one lamp; I’ll add a few more.  Yard sales, here I come.

5. Describe one of your most memorable classroom experiences.

A most memorable classroom experience is that of committee work. Now I don’t remember the topic, but as a very shy person and child, I was terrified at being assigned committee leader. I was to organize and lead the work on our topic, gathering members together somewhere after school. I lived in a small, old farmhouse in the city at the edge of wealth; a somewhat troubling and intimidating feeling for a fifth grade kid. Fortunately, one member offered her home as meeting place, and off we went. I learned that one person could sense hesitation or issues in another. But to be the leader and organizer, worried about my “place,” was something I would remember. And I learned the courage to do what needed to be done so we would finish our task. I learned courage, acceptance, and to sense a possible fear or hesitation in others. No facts; just relationships and courage.

6. Does your classroom have a “color scheme”? If yes, what is it?

My color scheme is lemon sage. We were able to change colors during a painting year, and that color is so soft and friendly, matching the pages of old, familiar books bound in leather.

7. How many students/teachers do you have at your school?

Our small school is home to ten teachers and one hundred fifty plus students.

8. What is your favorite classroom use of technology?

My favorite classroom use of technology is Google Apps for Education. To be able to share, collaborate, provide feedback, create presentations and videos, to share with others around the world — that is powerful!

9. Who/what is your teaching inspiration?

John Dewey is my inspiration from the past, along with William Glasser,  Haim Ginott, Jeanette Veatch, James Moffett, Donald Graves, Donald Murray (Writing is hard fun), Lucy Caulkins, Peter Elbow, Richard Allington, Ralph Fletcher, Judith Langer, and Nancie Atwell.

Daily, my teaching inspiration is my Personal Learning Neighborhood (PLN), especially the #openspokes fellowship, #geniushour crew (Denise, Hugh, Joy, and Gallit), Scott Boylen, Tracy Watanabe, Theresa Allen, and Paula Naugle.

This summer I am delightfully inspired by the entire membership of the #clmooc and, again, #openspokes (please join this community of reflective vloggers started by the awesome reflective learner, Ben Wilkoff)!

I am always inspired by Alec and George Couros, Will Chamberlain, John Spencer, Scott McCloud, Paul Allison, and Will Richardson. And I must thank Steve Hargadon’s Classroom 2.0 and 20 Live and crew, Jim Burke’s English Companion Ning, Edutopia,  NaNoWriMo, and TeachersFirst.

And technologically, I am inspired by Apple (Technology should never get in the way of humanity), Google ( Focus on the use and all else will follow; Democracy on the web works.), and Mozilla (The Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible).

But, mostly, I’m inspired by my husband, Scott, who is constantly reading and learning, and my family, who reflect back to me the wonder of the world.

All that I know comes from so many with me and before me! I think these and more!

10. What is 1 teaching goal you have for this school year?

One teaching goal I have for this school year is to survey my students frequently for feedback to know that I am providing them an engaging experience.

11. What is the biggest teaching mistake you ever made?

When I read this question, I immediately thought of an incident. It was my fourth year of teaching, the first time in middle school after three years of teaching first grade. Something happened. I heard the noise. I don’t remember what the noise or issue was, but I do remember this: I walked right over to a student and assumed he was the cause. He looked me right in the eye and took a step forward. This student had never “looked me in the eye” (it was not a cultural norm) before. I knew I was wrong. I stepped back, and so did he. I learned to take my time when something happens, and to trust that the students will do what is right. I remember we talked a bit and I apologized. Patience. Trust. Key elements, especially with adolescents.

 Random Facts About Me

  1. Our family includes 10 curious, intelligent, kind grandchildren.
  2. I joined Twitter in 2007 to monitor my granddaughter (age 12) who had joined Twitter.
  3. We have family stories about fairies, dragons, and bat caves.
  4. Spring is my favorite season, with its budding hope of renewal.
  5. I take photos of everything. iPhone’s let us “stop and smell the roses.”
  6. I would rather dance than walk.
  7. I’ve written two novels for NaNoWriMo 🙂
  8. My meditation is watching the sunlight dance upon the water.
  9. A Christmas tree with small colored lights is our calming evening light year ’round.
  10. I’m an Apple Mac geek who loves Google Apps.
  11. I have been honored to teach in the same marvelous school and community for twenty-seven years.
  12. (extra, because I asked my nominees to do it: Six Word Teaching Philosophy: Connect kindly and learn life together. Of course, I always say, “Go boldly; Scatter Seeds of Kindness.”

Questions for the bloggers I nominated:
1. Why do you blog?
2. What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her students?
3. What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her colleagues?
4. If you could change one physical thing about your classroom, what would it be?
5. Describe one of your most memorable classroom experiences.
6. What memorable experience do you hope your students have?
7. How many students/teachers do you have at your school?
8. What is your favorite classroom use of technology?
9. Who/what is your teaching inspiration?
10. What is 1 teaching goal you have for this school year?
11. In six words, what is your teaching philosophy?



#clmooc #toyhack Being Yourself

Week 2 of #clmooc is #toyhack provided us with a chance to hack something tangible and familiar. Its purpose was to help us stretch out to experience “the make.”

In the Twitter Chat, Joe Dillon reminded us that we are “developing a habit of mind, or an ethos, with students or colleagues, that rules, norms,traditions can be remixed and tinkered with… to develop an ethos to do things for ourselves to share, to make the community better.”

Terry Elliot explained that “Hacking is a stance, literally a place where you stand. And that can be very idiosyncratic.” He also reminded us that “Improvisation is hacking, right. The hacking attitude is already inside us.”

cattaghackMy family are innovators — we constantly hack that which isn’t working the way we need, or hodge podge repairs as needed with the tools at hand. For instance, we live a very old house, and I needed the hall light to stay on for the grandkids. But the string touched the light bulb, so I grabbed what would work — a paper clip and an old cat tag to hold the string away. My husband wasn’t very happy with the looks of it, but it worked.

So this #toyhack seemed like an easy task, but then the task must fit who you are and your needs, or your community’s needs.

I picked up so many toys, but literally hacking of body parts was not something I could do to change what my grandkids already imagined new characters and stories with. So I enjoyed the stories by Joe Dillon and Karen Young, but I wanted to hack some real thing. I was inspired by conversations about different types of hacks, like Alison Coombs’ masks. Face painting is a favorite past time in this house for grandkids. Then several people mentioned games, and Michael Buist started a community hack for his 10 sticks: Splinters. Since I couldn’t edit the original document, my version is here, a game that could be a cooperative learning discussion during debriefing about the game. I began thinking of a hack for a favorite card game, but then a Teddy Bear caught my eye.



I like how the #clmooc and this #toyhack includes this: to develop an “ethos to do things for ourselves to share, to make the community better.”

So I thought of a way to make this toy, which could travel home with families from school, into one in which parent and child learn together through talking about seasons. I made the toy a storytelling game. It could be hacked more, but I wanted to preserve the purpose: understand the seasons.

Here’s my process and plan:

I hacked the books to use as sides in the die, adding two options: 1) a chance to choose one’s favorite season and 2) a time to practice reciting the seasons in order.



The rules are simple, designed to engage young children in conversation and story about seasons:









As you can see, I stayed true to spreading compassion and to make the world better in both games. And when we teach students, we need to remember their frame of reference and honor the culture and personality that helps the child grow. Diversity makes us stronger.

So, what did I learn?

What does it mean to be a maker? Why make? Why now?

A maker creates from need and neighborhood — what is needed? We need making now to grow our world from individuals consuming to groups considering and creating solutions to group needs.
What happens when makers converge around shared interests and purposes? What opportunities might we seize? What barriers do we face?

I enjoyed all the toy hackers, movie makers, game developers, mask makers. Who knows how each of those processes may help the world. People were commenting on what worked and hacked together. I saw us in the #clmooc community finding the path that fit the person, joining in projects that felt comfortable and challenging. What is important is the coming together, seeing the possible, and trying what we could. For learners, can you see how an example shows them the task is possible, and in all our different “makes,” we demonstrated both the individual and the collective? For learners, we show opportunities and scaffold the challenge to success. The barriers are our own limitations and fears, but by coming together to support each other, we overcome these. That is the power of convergence.
How do we find and build  diverse and inspiring networks of people, resources, and places that support our making and learning?

In Twitter and Google Plus I find information, resources, support, and collaboration. I revisited my #f5f from last week (will blog about that next) and found new connections. The people of my connections are diverse in their talents, careers, and purposes, but by exposure to their ideas, I grow more of my own to bring back to my local PLC and community. I think Twitter and Google Plus offer us the true network of connections that cross and build, connect and refresh, backtrack and regroup. We form communities in Google Plus, collaborate in Google Docs and Wikis, and share in all areas. Isn’t the network amazing?

If you ask, the answers arrive. If you answer, your help is thanked. If you share, your share is rebuilt. We are building the networks ourselves, “to make the community better.”

Why I Teach #whyiteach

Teachers make a difference; we never know how much.
Thank you to my former student; you made my day.

Twenty-seven years ago, after a wonderful lab school experience with plenty of practical experience at Eastern Washington University, I ventured into my own classroom to teach the subjects required in projects filled with language learning.

I felt confident and competent, but I wasn’t prepared for the adversity of attitudes infused in the difficult lives of the twinkling eyes in front of me. I quickly learned that content and process may be the required, but relationships and encouragement were the necessity. Building a community of learners whose runny noses, tears, and silliness were just as important as finishing a task. In fact, the tasks became processes of caring, checking in, acknowledging, and encouraging in both content and social and emotional needs. I teach students, not subjects.

And the first grade sparkling eyes of “I’m here again today” followed by teddy bear hugs at the end of the day turned into adolescent nods of “Yeah, I’m here” and “See you tomorrow” in middle school. And always, the parent and family connection because no matter what, families want their kids successful. No matter the age, the relationships are key.

The relationships between student and teacher and among the students either inhibit or enhance the learning process. Teachers are not holders of information, we are molders of transformation. What we struggle to accomplish is to create a diverse yet integrated community of thinkers: authors, mathematicians, historians, scientists, each with his or her own talents adding to the common good and the success of each other and the class. Teaching and learning are heuristic processes, not bits of facts and procedures and not checklists of criteria. In the classroom, we are all learners, and I am the lead learner.

In those first grade eyes and middle school smiles, I felt something: I had each day and each year added something positive to the world, and created an environment for my students to each add something positive too. It’s never perfect. It’s never easy. I’m not always successful. But considering the fact that facts aren’t the most important, my classroom is a learning landscape, a neighborhood to learn together built on caring and trust to know we can think and solve anything that life throws at us. We matter. And I hope the students in my care leave my class able to go boldly and scatter seeds of kindness, to continue creating and learning in their own positive learning landscapes.

And those lessons of what really matters became #whyiteach.


People Power

People Power
Building Community

Without community, a classroom is just a room. Without community, a class is just a crowd. A community of learners starts with discovering each person’s talents and builds on the relationships that develop from respectful discussions and appreciation for the similarities and differences that make our uniqueness add to the day-to-day participation in helping one another learn.

How do we begin discovering who we are as a class?  Here is a summary of six activities to build community and one culminating activity to draw it all together. I’ll be posting details in the next posts.



Ask students what made them smile this summer. Students use the letters to write a poem of the events or people that brought them joy this summer.

While paper will do, I’ve decided to create a Google Form for students to enter the S M I L E of their summer joys; the summary will show everyone’s anonymously. Look for similarities and differences. Further poetry could result from those.


Make a list of favorites: animal, sports, team, food, book, song, pop (soda), candy bar, after-school activity, weekend activity, movie.

With technology the students could text into a polleverywhere.com prompt created by the teacher. Look for similarities and differences.


Students list interesting places they have been or would like to visit.  Places could be gramma’s house, the top of my tree, Disneyland, Keller Rodeo. Each student then chooses one from his/her list and writes three things they have done or would like to do in that place. Use paper or create a Wall Wisher for recording the travels. Look for similarities and differences.


On an index card divided into fourths, ask label and draw pictures of things they do well, either as an expert, or as someone who knows enough about it to talk about it. These could be: beading, hunting, dunk a basketball, poetry, running, horse-training, babysitting, making frybread, cooking pot roast, etc. The pictures could be photographed and uploaded to Flickr to share in a slideshow. The students could also, depending on other goals for the activity, search for,  find , and cite Creative Commons images to place in their slide of a collaborative Google presentation.


Students create a paper timeline of their lives — important events from toddler to today. The timeline should indicate two things: age and emotion. The emotion is how they felt with that event. With technology, students can create a Google Spreadsheet from a template. Column A, activities; column B, age; column C, emotion.  Then students can highlight and create a graphic representation of their timeline, trying different styles for the best visual.

6. Two Lies and a Truth

Students make a slide in a collaborative presentation based on the activities so far. Students consider their facts, and create an index card on which they write two lies about themselves (that could be true, but isn’t) and one truth. Students could place their information in a Google Presentation. Each student could do this in the next few days on their own to keep their slide secret. ( Template ) Once completed, the presentation or the index cards are shared, one each day. First students try to guess the person; then they guess the truth.

 Culminating Activity — more than one period

Finally, we bring together our shared parts of lives into team projects. Usually, I don’t use teams of three, but this activity does work well in threes. Pairs or quartets are OK, but threes are more fun and easier. During this time, continue daily sharing of Two Lies and a Truth, which isn’t part of this activity. There are three parts to this activity.

IMG_2767Part 1:


The teams of three share all their activities: SMILE, Favorites, Travels, Expertise, and Timeline. Using poster paper (kids often talk about the finished work all year; I display it online in a slideshow and in our hallway), the team draws a three-circle Venn Diagram (VD), labeling each circle with one of their initials to claim it. Students add details from the daily activities, and new ideas as they converse, to the VD. Of course, what is similar is written in the overlapping of the three circles, and what is unique is written in their own circle. Any similarity between two people is written in those shared circles. Students are looking for what makes them unique and their similarities. Finally, the team discusses what they would like to be doing when they are twenty-five years old.



Part 2:

Each team discusses their similarities and differences, and what is most important to each of them.  Then they decide upon a slogan that represents the team; usually students refer to similarities at this point. This slogan will be the title of Part 3.

Part 3:


Students create a colorful poster with that title and adding images only to represent the three people on their team. Each team presents their poster to the class, using the VD as a reference to how the team chose their images.

The posters and VD hang in the hallway; a picture of each with names removed are placed in a slide show for sharing online.

Discussions about the project reflect on the collaboration:

  • How did you choose your images?
  • How did the team create the drawing?
  • How did the team choose the slogan?
  • How did you work together?
  • Did one person dominate?
  • How does working together help you?
  • What words did you use to explain your ideas?
  • Do you think anyone felt badly during your project?
  • Do you think anyone felt joy during this project?
  • How could each team work to ensure everyone participates and everyone feels good about the project?

 Connection to Blogging

Before displaying posters and before team presentations, place the posters on separate desks. Students walk around silently with sticky notes on which they write helpful comments (what they like; what could be improved; using positive phrases) to place on others’ posters. Teams return to their posters and read the comments; revisions may occur. Discuss helpful and unhelpful commenting styles. This reviews our blog-commenting strategies.

Note About Teams:

In choosing teams, students can use  a random picker to pick random teams (can do random boy and random girl teams), or students can work with their friends. Many students want to repeat the project, which demonstrates the community building aspect of the project. Starting with random or friends, allows for another project to be done using another team.

Citizenship and Collaboration:

An important aspect of this project is the collaboration. Are the teams collaborating? How will the teacher encourage this? While students discuss similarities and differences, they consider what is similar and what is different, where should those items should be placed in the VD, and does it matter if they are the same or different? We’re working toward building a community of learners where we can all work together even with someone who is different. We’re being polite and kind, practicing the skills of citizenship in a real-world project so we demonstrate our ability to do so before we advance to online work as digital citizens. Collaboration helps us all succeed. Our class goal should be to help each other succeed. This project allows the teacher to guide students to practice civil behavior, a key to encouraging that behavior online.


After completing the project and the discussions on collaboration, ask students to complete a “Critical Incident Report,” which allows them to reflect on their own actions during the project based on some incident that occurred to which they were a part. By reflecting on what happened, and what could have happened, students can plan for similar events in their future.

Process, Procedures, Requirements:

During these projects students learn the processes of a project, the procedures for independent and group work, and the requirements for effectively completing a project. They develop a habit of self-evaluating during an activity that also builds community with each other; we become a community of  learners. And that’s why, “Writing class rules!” according to many of my students. (Pretzel Art by A. Stanczek during a writing class celebration)

 Final Note:

How do you build community in your classroom?  How do we help ourselves remember we teach children, and each child and his/her talents should be discovered, nurtured, and celebrated. It’s important to remember that we teach people, not programs and citizens, not statistics. Have a great year with your community of learners, and please share some of your favorite community builders.