4 Steps to Risk-Taking

Risk-taking is not an art form; It is a conscious choice that we can choose to make. It is also a normal part of the learning process.

Each day we ask our students to take risks in our classrooms. We ask our kids to:

  • Dive into activities that they may or may not be good at
  • Share their ideas and opinions, even when they may be introverted or lack confidence
  • Try something the second we ask them, without hesitation or apprehension

But, when do WE find time to take risks as the teacher, as the adult? 

The most successful educators that I have ever met, who are the best at reaching kids, are masters at taking risks in the classroom every single day. Some days these risks may be mini-risks, while other days they are full-blown, terrifying, and monumental risks.

The other week I earned a free year of ClassCraft premium. One of our brave teachers, Molly, decided to literally jump into ClassCraft with her students one day and allowed HER STUDENTS to take control. Although she watched video tutorials on the process ahead of time, she still trusted students enough to learn and teach her. Since students were already familiar with games that include Warriors, Mages, and Healers, they were able to teach us more than we would have known through our own personal experiences alone. Never underestimate the knowledge that students can bring to the table.

What I have learned is that it is OKAY to be scared, it is just NOT OKAY to not try or give up.

How can you start with risk-taking? Start here:

1. Find your mission

Although taking random risks on a whim can be fun and still have a purpose, it is more meaningful to take a multitude of risks based on a mission you are focused on.  Determine your mission first. Do you want to be more innovative? Take more risks based on that vision. Do you want to improve on your specific teaching strategies in a content area? Focus on taking risks in that specific area. Once you see success and small progress in one area, you are more likely to take bigger risks in the future.

2. Commit to it

Nothing feels worse than saying you will take a risk and then you end up never following through. Just go for it. Commit 110%. I have found personal success by informing others about my risks and goals so they can be my accountability partners and hold me to it.

3. Be patient and persistent

I have a promise for you: You will fail and you will fail again. Change your perception of failure and realize that risk-taking and failure go hand-in-hand; You cannot have one without the other. I also can guarantee you this: Although failure can hit you in the stomach sometimes, failure will always bring new insights, new pathways, and new journeys…we simply have to be able to see the positives right in front of us. Without failure, we would never get better.

4. Share your journey with others

Share your risks, share your adversities, share your successes. Through having others join you on your journey, you can be that role model of risk-taking for someone else. Furthermore, once you open up, others will be more likely to share their journey with you as well.

Continue Reading

17 Midwest Educators to Follow on Twitter

Today, I presented at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference #METC17 where I had the honor to be awarded as a Spotlight Educator. I also had the meaningful experience to present on Engaging Students and Families on Twitter and Instagram and will present again tomorrow on Digital Storytelling with my dear friend Don Goble.

During my Spotlight presentation today, I was brought to tears. I saw current colleagues, former colleagues, personal friends, friends I have networked with on social media, and beyond who attended my session to be there for me. Even my Mom’s fantastic former boss attended my session to cheer me on. While I saw these friendly faces, I was reminded and humbled of how grateful I am to have such a strong support system and network who support me, care about me, and who are always there to lift me up.

Therefore, from inspiration at #METC17, I wanted to share 17 of my friends in the Midwest who you NEED to follow, in no particular order. These are genuine people and educators, inside and out; Learn and grow from them by following them on Twitter.

Click the hyperlink next to the name to go directly to that person’s Twitter profile.
  1. Don Goble – @dgoble2001
  2. Brent Catlett – @catlett1
  3. Sage Arnote- @mrarnote
  4. JP Prezzavento – @jpprezz
  5. Laura Gilchrist – @lauragilchrist4
  6. Julie Smith – @julnilsmith
  7. David Geurin – @davidgeurin
  8. Beth Houf – @bethhouf
  9. Lauren Mertz – @mslaurenmertz
  10. Tina Lauer – @tnalau
  11. Aaron Duff – @education_geek
  12. Christie Scott – @mrsscott503
  13. Mary Kienstra – @beebekienstra
  14. Mindy Southern – @mindysouth
  15. Michelle Dirksen – @mdirksen
  16. Stacey Stubits – @stubits411
  17. Debbie Fucoloro – @debbiefuco

Continue Reading

Finding Your Sense of Clarity

Image Credit: Fourth Revolution

 

Clarity: The quality of clearness.

I explain clarity as the mental sharpness and awakening of knowledge. When you feel clarity, you gain understanding of what you need to do in your life; Clarity is that monumental “life-bulb” moment.

Clarity is essential because without it, we often make decisions that are misguided and wrong for us, or the people around us.

 

But how do you gain clarity, you ask?

The truth is, I do not think you can gain full clarity 100 percent of the time. This is life and life is not perfect. But, there are strategies we can practice to help us become more in tune with who we are and what is best for our inner souls.

Recently, I watched this video from Marie Forleo about Goal-Setting. Within her video, she was able to describe perfectly how I have always felt about following your heart as your guide. One of Marie’s best mantras that she lives by is “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.” No truer words have ever been spoken. Until you put something into action and TRY, you will never have the clarity if you are making the right decision.

I am someone who tends to live inside my head; I constantly have thoughts and different case scenarios running around in my subconscious. Due to this, I sometimes lie awake at night at trying to solve the world’s problems. Funny enough, I have found out that more times than not, if I stop thinking and start DOING, I feel more resolution. I feel abundantly more satisfied. Until you DO, you might as well worry your life away because your mind alone cannot prepare you for life, only your action and experience will.

 

Tips for Gaining Clarity:

  • Dip your foot before diving in

Do you want to have the opportunity to move, to travel, or to try a new role within your building or profession? Ask questions and learn from those who you admire or would like to be more like. Can you shadow that person for a day? Ask questions and put yourself out there for different learning opportunities to give you a varied perspective before you completely dive in and change your life. Disclaimer: Sometimes diving in is perfectly fine, too.

  • Trust your gut

As my Mom always told me- Your inner-self knows more than you ever will; Trust it. When you get that nagging feeling telling you to do something, follow it and listen. Especially if that feeling persists. You gain more regret from NOT trying than you will from trying and then failing.

  • Give yourself grace

Sometimes you will follow that feeling of intuition and you will find out later that you may have regrets. Instead of beating yourself up, think of each opportunity as a chance to learn more and be more. Even wrong turns that you have taken develops your wisdom and self-truth in deeper capacities than what WOULD have occurred if everything went your way. Give yourself grace. Affirm what you learned through the experience and how you are better now because of it. Turn that potential negative into a life-changing moment that you can be proud of.

Kara’s Tweetable:I have found out that more times than not, if I stop thinking and start DOING, I feel more resolution.” – Kara Welty

What are strategies you use to gain clarity? I would love to hear your feedback- Add your tips below.

 

Continue Reading

From Colleagues to my Second Family

 

Last June, I moved across the state of Missouri.

I was asked to take on an incredible role as a Mentor Teacher and Technology Integrationist in Kansas City. When I heard about this opportunity, I felt God was pulling at my heart to take this chance and to take the risk. “I always envisioned myself in another city, so why not try it now,” I thought.

I know from experience now that moving to a new city alone, while not knowing anything about how to get around, is one fast way to learn and grow COMPLETELY. New town. New workplace. New home. New roads to navigate. New insights. New everything!

My then-boyfriend and now fiance, Adam, supported my move and knew there was no stopping my passion for education. Smart guy! Traveling three and a half hours back and forth to see each other, while planning a wedding and still trying to see friends and family, has been tougher than I would ever admit. But, I would not change a thing.

Through this experience, I have a second family; My colleagues.

After staying at work this week until 7 p.m. and enjoying the time spent with my co-workers, while forgetting that clocks even exist, I finally left work. After driving back home, I messaged my mom to tell her how much I love the people I work with. She responded, with,

“I’m grateful for all of them since they have made it even nicer for you since you are away from Adam and away from where you grew up.”

My mom’s words brought tears to my eyes because she put to words what my heart was trying to express.

We often say as educators that students spend more time at home than at school; The same applies to us as adults. We spend more waking hours at work, with teachers and students than time spent doing anything else. For this reason, and many others, I am grateful that my colleagues are MORE than people I see at work. They are people that I CARE about, and people who care about me; Not just as fellow educators, but as humans first.

They take care of me. We take care of each other.

Just this week:
-A co-worker saw I needed another ice scraper, and she brought one into work to lend a hand.
-I was surprised this morning with my favorite diet soda waiting for me on my desk.
-I looked in my mailbox to find the sweetest card waiting for me.
-A colleague lovingly said she was my “second mom” and my “Kansas City mom.”

I have no words to describe the gratitude I feel for these exceptional individuals.

Thank you for making Kansas City the remarkable city it is. Thank you for risk-taking with me. Thank you for seeing my heart. And most importantly, thank you for loving me.

Here is to everyone who is reading this: Hug a co-worker. Be a family. Show your love. Say thank you to even the smallest acts that make an impact in your day-to-day life.

These days that we spend with each other are not just “school days,” the days are our LIVES. Let’s make them count and love each other UP.

Continue Reading

6 Ways to Use Technology to Boost Student Performance

stumbled across a book titled, “Differentiating Instruction with Technology in K-5 Classrooms” by Grace E. Smith and Stephanie Throne, which was published from ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). After doing more research, I found that Grace and Stephanie are both Educational Technologists and researchers who are dedicated to find best practices for teachers. Through their work, they also discovered a variety of other research in educational tech, which they brought forward in their book as well.

I created the image above based on the information from Grace and Stephanie, which they obtained through CARET (Center of Applied Research in Educational Technology); CARET was founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is a project through ISTE.

6 Ways to Use Technology to Boost Student Performance:

  1. Use technology in a way that “directly supports curriculum objectives.”
  2. Use technology to “foster student collaboration.”
  3. Find and use applications that “adapt to student knowledge and experience, while giving feedback to student and teachers.”
  4. Integrate technology into the “typical instructional day.”
  5. Use technology to give students opportunities to “design and implement projects that tie with curriculum.”
  6. Build a community where students, parents, teachers, and administration “support technology usage.”

I found these 6 points to be compelling and relatable to all I do as an educator. If you take away the word “technology” in any of the above statements, you will find THE optimal learning environment in any classroom, with or without tech.

To illustrate, classrooms should always aim to support objectives, to be collaborative, give immediate feedback, while giving students opportunities to design their learning. Technology can help, but it is not the magic remedy in those equations. Yes, technology can boost student performance in these mentioned areas, but it cannot be done without the positive cultural infrastructure which supports those notions to begin with.

Furthermore, I believe technology is crucial, but I also understand it is not the “end-all-be-all.” Instead, the learning and the environment is what our underlying basis and principle should consist of. Technology can be a transformative asset when used with purpose- but if it is not taking the learning and connecting to the next level, we need to rethink how we are using the tools.

Reflections: During your technology integration journey- Remember that the most thrilling part of the learning expedition is not the technology. More importantly, enthusiasm is won by focusing on the DISCOVERY of learning new things and expanding your skill-set and passions, while inspiring the people you serve to do the same.

Continue Reading

How-to Guide for Starting Student Edcamps

Edcamps for teachers have taken the educational world by storm. Teachers, including myself, have been refreshed and renewed with the “edcamp style” of learning which consists of learning and sharing in an unconference format. In regular PD’s and conferences, you have to sit in one spot, even if you are not getting anything out of it. While, in edcamps, the rule of two feet allows you to move between sessions at your heart’s desire. You gain the opportunity to talk with other teachers and dive into learning organically.

After being apart of many edcamps across the nation, attending an edcamp leadership summit, and creating and co-leading a city-wide edcamp, I felt a stirring in my heart also to try it with students. I thought- If we know edcamps are beneficial for adults, isn’t worth a try to allow students to test them out as well? After all, giving students a voice and choice in their learning should be the compass in which we lead.

 

Click this picture to see the original tweet!

My lovely friends and 4th grade team at my school, Angie, Molly, and Lauren, were gracious and beyond willing to team-up with me to give this a try for the first time!

We learned an abundant amount throughout this process and through just diving in; We found out what worked, what did not work, and how we would build upon our foundation next time. I hope you find these tips below beneficial and encouraging to start a student edcamp at YOUR school:

*Disclaimer: At the end of the day, do what is best for YOUR kids. Feel free to use and takeaway whatever you love from this post and to transform it for your kids! What works for our 4th graders, may not work for your kids, and that is okay.

1. Stay focused on the learning

The edcamp model at its whole should be straightforward and focused on the learning. Period. Do not worry about there being prizes or treats. Keep your vision on the learning, student passions, and incorporating students into the process as much as possible.

2. Collaborate with others before jumping in

Want your own copy of this board to edit? Click the picture.
  • Meet and collaborate with your colleagues online and in person at least a couple times before the edcamp.
  • Create a skeleton outline of what you need to do, “before the edcamp,” “during the edcamp” and“after the edcamp.”
  • Determine the time, date, and how many sessions you will have, and how long you want your sessions to be.
  • Create a skeleton of a blank board (either digitally or on an anchor chart) for students to fill in at a later time.
  • THINK: Do you want students to bring devices to research, if needed or do you want them to be device-less to focus on the conversations?
    • We found some topics fit using technology better than others, while other sessions we learned needed materials/objects next time to make the session come to life.
  • Agree on rooms or spaces you have available and supervision for each space.
  • TIP:
    • For our 4th graders, we chose three sessions with 20 minutes per session, and 5-minute transitions to move to the next session and to reflect with peers on their learning. Looking back, next time we will stick with 15 minutes per session.

3. Prepare students before the edcamp

Students created the norms and agreed upon them.

Before the edcamp:

  • Teachers discussed with their students what a true “discussion” looked like, and they practiced in small groups.
  • Each class created norms on a padlet, and we discussed it as a group.
  • We showed this elementary edcamp example video to students as an exemplar.

4. Meet with students the day before the edcamp

Above is a snapshot of part of our Session 1 room ideas! Click picture to see Dotstorming webpage.
  • Meet with all participating teachers and students together.
  • Answer any questions students may have.
  • TIPS:
    • As a group, we determined that each session slot time slot would have its own TOPIC. For example, for session 1, students chose TECHNOLOGY.
    • After the session topic was set, students were then able to vote and agree upon different room ideas. The winners were: coding, ctrl shortcuts and tricks, google slides, and musically (See below for other session and room ideas!)
    • For this process, I would highly recommend using Dotstorming to give students the opportunity to write in their ideas and then to vote. For each separate session, I created a different Dotstorming link to make it easy to organize.
    • If access to devices is not available, have students brainstorm together and then vote by raising hands, tallying, or writing on a ballot.
Above is the finished product and the session topics that students created, voted, and agreed upon.

5. Day of the Edcamp

Create your own dropdown or check-off form like above.
  • If you want a more clear idea of who is going to what session, create a Google form with dropdown choices.
  • Send board sessions and any other needed items to students in Google Classroom to remind them of session times and locations.
  • Meet together in one big space before starting to go over norms and to get EXCITED!
  • Let go and LET KIDS LEAD.
    • This is hard, but important. 
    • Step back and do your best to let students own their conversations and learn without teacher interruptions.

6. After the Edcamp

Give students time to reflect

  • Discuss as a group how the edcamp went, their favorite parts, and how they want to change it next time.
  • Give students a Google Form to gather honest feedback to make the next edcamp even better (Click this link to view my sample form).
  • As a teacher team, go over the feedback.
  • Then, pat yourselves on the back for a job well-done!

Ever since we had the edcamp, kids have been asking us non-stop to do another edcamp again! I highly encourage you to attend edcamps yourself first before starting a student edcamp. But, once you are ready to start a student edcamp- just DIVE IN. You will not regret it, and your students will thank you for being brave enough to take the plunge!

Soon, I will be teaming up with my 3rd grade team to launch another student edcamp where we will invite high schoolers who are inspiring teachers to co-lead sessions. Stay tuned on Twitter!

Continue Reading

Goal-Setting Checklist

As the new year begins, everyone is excited, and rightfully so, to start the year on a new and fresh foot.

Losing weight, focusing on fitness, spending more time with family, or becoming more balanced are among the common objectives many of us set for ourselves. The hard thing is, once February hits, our willpower to reach our goals often diminishes into the daylight just as quickly as we set them. Trust me, I am guilty of this, too.

The truth is life gets in the way sometimes, and I am here to tell you that is okay. Side note: When life does happen, be kind to yourself.

But, here is what I have found from experience: When setting your goals, no matter what the occasion, it is beneficial to check yourself to see if the goals you are setting are even the goals you truly need the MOST.

Here are guiding questions that I have created and written down over the past three years. I read these often whenever I need a swift kick of remembrance of what matters when setting goals. Also, when teaching, I show these questions to my students as well, while sharing my goal-setting stories and struggles. After all, goal setting needs to go beyond academics.

-What goal will bring the most meaning to my life?

In education, we have “power standards” to choose from which will bring the biggest bang for your buck when teaching and learning; This same theory can be applied to setting goals. We all would love to improve ourselves in a variety of aspects of our lives, but Rome was not built in a day, and neither are strong, accomplished individuals. Ask yourself: What goal will bring the most meaning to my life? Then, go for it!

 

-Am I focusing on what matters?

This question is THE question that rattles me the most. Sometimes what I think matters the most to me in certain moments, is not what REALLY matters. It is easy to get caught up in the nuances of life- Almost too easy. If this question shakes you to your core as well, get a trusted outside opinion of your goals as you set them. I often ask Adam, my fiancee, his thoughts about the goals I set, so he can refocus me when I become cloudy.

 

-Am I setting the bar for myself too low?

If you set the bar low, you will hit it every single time. We often are more scared of achieving than we are of losing. Do not misinterpret this as setting completely unrealistic expectations. I believe that no dream is too big, but you have to pair that idea with real-life action steps.

 

-How will achieving my target help the well-being of others?

Goal-setting needs to move beyond “me” into “WE.” How is what you are aiming to achieve going to benefit others beyond yourself? Improving yourself is a beautiful thing, but if this improvement can also inspire others along the way, THEN you have created magic.

 

-Have I prepared mini-short-term steps and long-term steps to take along my journey?

As Tony Robbins says, people who are inventors create and design everything twice: Once in your imagination, and twice in reality.

Now, take this theory and transfer it to goal-setting. As you set goals, you are the inventor. But, it takes laying out the design, tenacity, and trial and error to find the right recipe for YOUR personal success. Always remember- What works for ____________(Insert name here), may not work for me.

 

-Am I trying to press the fast-forward button on my life without enjoying the present moment?

Life is short. Are we enjoying each beautiful moment giving to us? OR are we trying to wish ourselves OUT of the current moment we are living in to be catapulted into something better?

When I was a child, I spent most of my years trying too hard to grow up as fast as I could. Now, I look back and wish I could have told myself to JUST BE. Sometimes, that little girl inside me now still needs that reminder.

I hope this checklist of sorts helps you in some small way. Here’s to achieving all you were born to achieve and giving yourself grace when you fall.

I believe in you,

Continue Reading

What Are You Waiting For?

In some capacity, everyone is waiting for an area of their life to change.

As educators, we always want to improve in many sectors, but we often do not feel in the driver’s seat of teaching due to ever changing curriculum, standards, assessments, and more. These factors beyond the control of teachers lead them to feel stuck in a conundrum while thinking, “Where do I even begin when each day something else is the new best practice?”

So, we wait for someone to give us the magic professional development and recipe for success. With an expert’s opinion, we can then be sure that what we are doing is correct, right?

Wait…not so fast.

I am a words and book junkie. I value the art of connecting on a global scale and learning from experts each day. But, I also know that we as educators are professionals. We are good at what we do. We love our kids, and we work hard to do what is best for them each day. We build upon our practice consistently.

So, let us stop underestimating ourselves. Let’s stop waiting. Let us begin to trust who we are and our innate abilities.

Whatever that goal is that you have in mind, just go for it.

What do you want at your school?

Do you want to try a paperless classroom? Try it. Do you want to start makerspaces at your school? Do it.

Be your personal advocate and never look back.

We cannot wait on others. Each time we halt, we become a roadblock to each other and to the students we serve.

Be bold enough to try and be relentless enough to try it again and again.

The results will not always be picture perfect, but you can never improve if you are not courageous enough to take the first step.

 

Go forth and be awesome,

Continue Reading

Self-Care in the Digital Age

We are surrounded, and drowning, under a sea of devices to make our lives more efficient.

But, what people do not talk about is the lasting effects that excessive usage of technology can have on a person without proactive and swift decisions to have a healthy mind and body, from the inside-out. ISTE’s standards also recognize the how overuse of tech can impact one’s mental, physical, and emotional health and one’s digital identity.

Recently, I have been reading “Sleep Smarter” by Shawn Stevenson, and it is a game-changer. Great sleep is more than just aiming for 8 hours; What you do during the day will directly impact your sleep or lack thereof.

In the digital world that we live in, we must actively be leading kids and ourselves to practice self-care.

I have been doing research on how extensive use of digital screens causes eye fatigue and strain while interfering with your sleep and circadian rhythms. Only decreasing the brightness of your screen will not solve the problem. Blue and white light work together to cause interferences with your brain that can directly affect your well-being during the day, and your sleep at night.

Here are some tips to live by:

Blue Light

Download a “Blue Light” app or extension on your phone, computer, and tablet to reduce eye fatigue and strain; Search “blue light” in either your Google Play or Apple store to find results. But not all apps are equal- try them out and see what gives you the most positive results. I love “BlueLight Filter” from Android and “Screen Shader” for your Chromebook or computer.

After downloading, you can click the icon on your toolbar and either mask a day or nightshade depending on the time of day. The screen will turn a different color with a mask of pink/salmon (or other colors of your choice). If you take a screenshot, your screenshot will also have the colored mask for some apps. You can also temporarily turn off the shade function for zero interference- I do this easily on “Screen Shader” with just one click.

Body Mechanics

  • Position keyboard directly in front of your body.
  • Adjust keyboard and height, so shoulders are relaxed, and elbows are slightly open.
  • Keep neck and jaw in a neutral and relaxed position.
  • Adjust the screen rather than adjusting your neck as you work.
  • Look away from your screen periodically and get up and move!
  • Push your body to the back part of your chair and adjust the height of the chair (if applicable).
  • Aim to be one arm’s length away from your screen.
  • Stretch and flex hands, fingers, and wrists throughout the day.

Go Outside

Take a walk and spend more time outside. A quick 15-minute walk can do wonders for your health paired with the joy that sunlight can bring to your brain. Getting proper daylight during the day also helps you sleep better at night. If the weather hinders you from being outside, keep the blinds open if you have windows.

Sleep

We continue to work harder and sleep less, which equates to feeling run down and making more mistakes throughout the work and school day. Do your best to put devices away 90 minutes before bed time. If you cannot do this, use one of the “Blue Light” extensions during your time on the device to limit interference with circadian sleep rhythms.

 

During the past few weeks of staying true to these tips, I have noticed gains in my posture, sleep patterns, and overall well-being during the day. I encourage you to practice self-care and to give a few of these tips a try as well. Once you try it and see results- teach your students, colleagues, and beyond! Although we love technology, we have to train ourselves to love our bodies and health even more!

Continue Reading

Build a Collaborative Culture by Asking for Help

The title of this post is incredibly misleading; There is much more that goes into building a collaborative culture than simply asking for help. But, I must admit that asking for help is a meaningful start. Although I strive to serve others in all I do, I also have come to understand that we must be willing to ask for help first before others feel comfortable reaching out to us.

Many of us hear metaphors that include:

– Life is a “give and take.”
– “You give before you get.”
– “You must sow the seed before you reap the harvest.”

Although these sayings have meaningful intentions, after years of hearing “always give first,” you begin to feel guilty when asking for even the tiniest assistance. Furthermore, sometimes we even feel weak or inferior if we ask for help; As if one person can somehow know all of the answers to life. We cannot do it alone; We need each other.

I have found that by asking others for genuine guidance, you start to heighten the comfort level between you and your peers. Giving to others can include providing others with resources, suggestions, time, effort, and your heart. It can even be established by asking a question to gather feedback, like, “What would you do in this circumstance?” or “I see that you are really successful with _________, do you have any tips that you could share?”

By asking for help, you can also show interest in another person. In addition, you can build a culture where people conclude that “If he/she feels comfortable asking for help, I am going to feel at ease asking him/her for help next time.”

Everyone deserves to feel heard and it all begins with us.

It may sound over-sentimental, but try asking a colleague a question that you may not usually talk to, or pick their brain for essential insight that could improve your teaching practice. You will be astonished to see how new friendships can build and how your school culture may launch to the next level with the beginnings of one small act.

Continue Reading