Friday, January 30, 2015

"I'll talk you through it, Mom."

I find writing and reflecting quite intriguing. Typically, there is so much swirling in my mind, I struggle to find the time or the right words to get it all out in a way that makes sense. When I do, it is very satisfying and rewarding. For instance, I have been working on a blog post for about a week now, but in its current state, it is fairly jumbled and overwhelming. I woke up this morning to another school cancellation, and so I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to pull it all together. Instead, I sat and stared blankly, finally giving up and walking away.

But, inspiration hit me much later in the day, which has put me at the keyboard, typing feverishly in order to pull my thoughts together. Believe or not, playing a video game with my son did the trick.

I will confess, I am not a gamer. I like to play the mind teasers or puzzle games. I teach my boys the board games I grew up with. I’ll play solitaire, 2048, or Two Dots on my iPhone, and an occasional Tetris game, since that is what I grew up playing, but I typically don’t play our WiiU console much. Every once in a while, I will play Wii bowling or tennis against my husband or boys, but that is really the extent of my “gaming” experience.

So, bundled up in the house, the boys decided to set up the WiiU and play some video games. My oldest, Alex, asked if anyone wanted to play NBA basketball with him. No takers. I’ve never played ANY basketball video game in my life. But today, I thought I’d give it a try. “Sure, I’ll play,” I said. Alex looked at me a bit baffled. “Really? You don’t know how to play it, do you, Mom?” I told him, “You can teach me.” His face lit up, and he went into action. It was truly fun to watch.

Alex proceeded to tell me all about the game of basketball. He started with what you do on offense, and then defense. He could tell by my face that I understood this part. But then, his tone changed as he began to show me the controller and what every button would do. He could tell I was overwhelmed, and so he told me, “I’ll talk you through it, Mom.” He knew how to make me feel better.

As we played the first quarter of basketball together, with each play, Alex told me which buttons to push, congratulated me for making shots, and went slowly on the game. I was picking it up rather quickly with his guidance, and so he stopped talking about the buttons, and the game became quite competitive. What fun we had! Two competitive spirits, cheering for each other, talking “trash” to one another, and smiling the entire time. When the game finished, we both cheered. He won fair and square, even though I think he played it easy on me! And by the way, Alex is 8 years old.

After we played the game, my mind was racing, not because of the actual game, but of the lesson we all need to take back to school with us. Our kids inspire us and teach us so much!

We were taught in a time where the adults taught the kids everything they knew. I remember thinking, “I will teach my kids everything I know, just like my parents did.” And we do! But that is not ALL our kids need to know, and our kids will learn with or without us. Even more than that, our kids can teach us a thing or two. In teaching us, they are kind and helpful, not judgmental that we don’t know the answer or how to do something.

Kids need to feel empowered to teach adults, show adults how to do something that the adult doesn’t know how to do. Often time, teachers feel as though they need to be the expert in the classroom. To the contrary, teachers need to empower the students to be the experts, allowing our adult vulnerability to show. We model for our students that we are always learning too, and we can learn from anyone, no matter what age.

My children teach me so much, and they can do amazing things. While it may be “just” a video game today, or “just” a Minecraft creation tomorrow, they teach themselves and each other how to do so much more than I ever could. In our schools, we must embrace our children’s excitement to learn, empowering them to share their unique skills and know-how, not just the “box” our standards fit neatly in. Giving our students this opportunity to teach us something we might not know is a thrill for both involved.

photo credit: <a href="">AMERICANVIRUS</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Monday, January 12, 2015

Take Time to Play!

Another snow day. This is our third in a row. It hasn’t been that we have gotten a lot of snow, but it has been too cold and timed just perfectly to cancel school. During snow days, I often find plenty of work to “catch up” on. Whether I end up going in to school or staying home, I inevitably work. Knowing the cold and snow is coming, I typically scoop the piles from my desk, cram them in my briefcase, and bring it all home. On a snow day, I’m energized and get tasks done. My inbox is looking good, my to-do list is shortening, and I finally find time to read an article or two. Sometimes I start a blog post or play around with some cool tech tools that I usually do not have time to figure out on my own. The kids are content creating on their iPads, playing together with their toys, and relaxing. I am blessed that my three boys play like best friends (but fight like true brothers). We read and play together at moments throughout the day, and the day is done.

For years, snow days have been an opportunity to work. I enjoy my work, so it is not drudgery, it is simply using undisturbed time to devote myself toward my passion, my career.

But today was different. Even though I made it into school briefly before the school cancellation was called, I decided this day was not going to be an all-work day. A short burst of energy to accomplish a few tasks filled my morning. My afternoon, well, it was time to experience the snow.

For my youngest, Atticus, it has been torture staying inside during these extreme cold days. He sees snow and sun, but doesn’t realize that -25 degrees is not safe to play outside for extended periods of time. My middle son, Gus, explained to him that “the bites (his understanding of frostbite) will get your fingers when it is too cold and they might fall off.” This satisfied his urge to venture outside for a few days. My oldest, Alex, isn’t bothered too much by staying inside since that is his nature, and he loves to build in Minecraft. But after a few days of being cooped up in the house, though, we are ready to go. I like to get my kids outside to play as much as possible - the fresh air is good for all of us. Plus, the new puppy loves the snow.  

Once the extreme cold left, it was time to play. “Hooray!” they shouted, running around the house, gathering their snow gear. With three boys and the excitement of the first sledding opportunity, the house is chaos - the puppy jumping around, boots and snow pants flying, and the decision of which gloves to wear. After the 20-minute bundle-up, we head outside. A chill is in the air, but it is perfect for building snow forts and sledding down our big hill. Once out in the white tundra, we discover it is a fluffy snow, not the greatest for forts or snowball fights. So, the three boys and I head for the hill. Drifted near the bottom, we plunge through the deep snow. Little Atticus takes giants steps to overcome the high drifts, but he trudges forward, determined to reach the top of the hill.

I took the first trip down the hill. “We have to make a track,” and I’m heavy enough to do it! After that, it was trip after trip, each boy taking their turn down the hill, smiling and laughing the entire time. Our puppy got into the fun, trying to attack the sled as it sped down the hill. We even discovered that the pup loves to play “catch” with our make-shift snowballs.

After coming inside rosy-cheeked and wet, we enjoyed hot cocoa and marshmallows, the perfect end to our play. The puppy passed out on the floor, exhausted from the snow-filled fun of the afternoon, and the boys sat together on the couch, watching Curious George.

It is moments like this that are our most memorable. The joy on my kids faces as they raced down the hill, the laughter watching our puppy catch snowballs in the air, the time spent doing something fun together as a family. It is in these moments that we remember we must balance school and home.

To be honest, I struggle to find a balance between home and school many times. When I am devoted to a task, I’m 100% in the moment. My school life takes a lot of time, and I enjoy that time. I enjoy seeing the students learning, watching them grow. I enjoy spending time with my staff, always pursuing their best for their students. I enjoy connecting with other educators through social media, learning and growing too. I strive to be my best when I’m at school. And in the times I am at home, I strive to do the same for my kids.

Today was one of those reminders that we receive from time to time, sending a message. My kids are my inspiration, my reason for doing what I do. The message was this: It is okay to take time to play. It is okay to unplug for a while and not feel guilty about it, playing with my kids, taking in the treasured moments we have together when they are young. It is more than okay to do all of these things, giving 100% of myself to what I love. I love my job and my school, but I love my family even more.

And so, I will push myself to balance school and home better. I will not count the hours between the two, but will take in the moments. The moments, no matter how big or small, are the memorable, cherished times, creating memories that will last forever. Take time to play. Moments matter. Love all you do, and do it well.

photo credit: <a href="">LadyDragonflyCC - >;<</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What a Year!

I’m sitting on the couch, watching TV on a cold day, sitting in the same spot where I wrote my first blog post in February 2014, reflecting on this amazing year that is now behind us. It was an exciting year for my school, my family, and my professional life. What a year 2014 has been!

My Professional Look-Back
As I look back, 2014 was the year it all began. I’ve written about my connected adventure a few times. In the past 12 months, I have retweeted, tweeted, favorited, chatted, and blogged my way to learning. I have moved from Twitter lurker to a Twitter chat moderator. I have sent over 2,000 tweets in the past year. If you would have asked me a year ago if this was possible, I would have shrugged it off as a joke. But, every day, I feel so fortunate to be in the place I am today. It was all because of the leaps I took to grow.

A year ago, I took a leap to jump into Twitter, following new people every day and retweeting the great articles and insights they were tweeting. Even though I had had a Twitter account for a while, I never did anything with it. After following what others were doing for a while, I took another leap, and starting tweeting the articles I found, sending out insights I had found. I started to see more about Twitter chats, figuring out how they work. I saw the amazing conversations happening. Kelly Clifford (@KellyClifford9), my colleague and amazing technology coordinator in our district, instilled the courage it took to try something new and put myself out there for the world to read. And one night, I couldn’t help myself and jumped in. At that point, everything changed.

Participating in Twitter chats was a great learning experience. It was an hour packed with discussion and inspiration. I was immediately addicted! From my growth and learning through Twitter, and participation in Twitter chats, I now have a fabulous network of educators around the globe who I can lean on and ask questions at any time. I have had the fortune of meeting some of these educators at conferences - how cool it was to sit in a session and have someone lean forward and say, “Hi Amy, I’m so and so - we have chatted on Twitter!” Now, I will be moderating the third Thursday #INeLearn chat each month, thanks to Kim Hendrick (@evolvewithkim) and Michelle Green (@mrg_3). My PLN has exploded and transformed the way I think, lead, and learn.

Not only has Twitter opened my learning and connected me to great educators, but I now am on Voxer with a couple of chat groups, allowing me to connect and listen to their voices and ideas. I’m on Google+ communities, sharing resources and ideas with others. And, I’m taking part in planning conferences in the state of Indiana, meeting educators who have connected me to EdCamps and the Office of eLearning Summer of Learning conference series. My passion for growth is spilling to others, helping build opportunities for others to learn.
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2014 was the birth of my blog. While I don’t write every day or every week, I try to write at least once a month. My blog has allowed me to reflect on a much greater scale, as I write blog posts in my head throughout the course of any given day. I have always enjoyed writing, but gave it up when I became a teacher and a mom. Most people thought I was crazy when I told them I missed my college classes, because it was there I focused on reading, writing, and learning. But, by starting my blog this year, I have found my medium for writing again, and this reflective experience has prompted me to push others to do the same. My posts brought an opportunity to write for an even larger audience when Nick Grantham (@ngrantham) contacted me to write for Fractus Learning. I am honored each month, being asked to write a post for @FractusLearning, sharing my ideas and story of connecting my staff to great resources.
In this past year, I attended my first EdCamp and presented a session at the IASP Fall Professionals Conference. I listened to a fantastic keynote and met Eric Sheninger (E_Sheninger) at a summer conference, inspiring me to dive even more into sharing the importance of leading in the digital age. And through pure coincidence, I met Dr. Marzano at Starbucks, and it took the bravery of my husband to step outside my comfort zone to ask for a picture.

My School Look-Back
My school and colleagues are more connected, and I am so proud to be a part of a school who wants to learn as much as I do. With fabulous teacher leaders, we have established PD Roundtables and Lunch n’ Learns as the norm in just a short period of time, offering voluntary collaborative discussions and sharing before school, during lunch, and after school. It has become a part of our culture, and my staff ASKS for these opportunities to connect face-to-face. We lead our school together through learning, building an amazing school community of learners, both young and old.
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My vision for our school continues to build, with more connectedness, sharing our story through video and social media. I want to connect even more with our families, building up our Parent Coffee Chats and expanding them to the evening so more families can attend. Our students always impress me, their growth and talent, establishing our school as one of the best! I am inspired by all our staff and students do each day, and will make even stronger strides to be more visible, sharing more of our story, and building a larger community of life-long learners.

My Family Look-Back
On a personal note, my boys have continued to inspire what I do every day. In the past week over break, they have made me smile countless times. It is all the little moments - the hugs, the arguing, the dancing, the snuggling, that truly defines my why. They ARE my WHY. I do what I do, continuing to learn and grow, so that their learning can be better than mine ever was, and so that they will be inspired to learn for the rest of their lives. I have watched them grow - my oldest trying new things and I am so proud of him for doing so. He swims, wrestles, plays basketball and soccer. He is an amazing artist and becoming a musician. My middle son has started kindergarten and is such a delight. His enthusiasm to always learn something new is contagious. And my youngest, while not in school, is just a pure joy. He makes me laugh with his great one-liners, and has asked to go to school with his “brodrs” since the first day of school. I believe in them, their passion, their interests, their unique qualities, and all who they will become.
On a sad note, we had to say good-bye to our "first baby", our dog Max. It was such a difficult time, and we will miss him dearly. But on a brighter note, we adopted our little Lola, and I forgot what it was like to have a puppy! She is a joy and the boys just love her!

Last year on New Year’s, I wouldn’t have guessed this was at all possible. But it happened. A few brief moments of courage transformed me from a fixed mindset to one of growth. I will never forget this awesome year. It has been a great one. I can’t wait for 2015 and the growth, learning, and leading to come.