Uncategorized

Say What You Wanna Say: Blogging

“Nothing’s gonna hurt you, the way the words do, when they sit underneath your skin. Kept on the inside, with no sunlight, sometimes a shadow wins. I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out. Honestly…I wanna see you be brave”! – Sara Bareiller

The above song really resonates with me, as someone who is not by nature a brave person when it comes to putting myself out there to be judged. I think it is also the perfect song for those who might be considering starting a blog, but are a little intimidated or shy.

Reflection is a powerful thing. One of the best ways I have found for reflecting on my own thoughts, ideas and practices is through blogging. When I decided last year that I wanted to give blogging a shot, I have to admit it was very scary! I thought many times, “What do I have to say that would be so important or interesting to others”? “I am not smart enough, I don’t write well enough, I don’t have anything to talk about that others would care to read…..” Those were (and still are, somewhat) the thoughts that ran through my mind.

I went through a lot of trial and error before finding a way that works for me and settling into a routine. I also learned some basic things that helped make my posts more interesting and helped me to clarify my own thinking.  Below are a few blogging ideas that help me:

1. Selecting a platform. There are many tools out there for setting up and maintaining a blog. I tried different sites and finally I settled on Word Press. It is easy for me to navigate and has a big variety of templates to choose from. It is a free site, but I have since decided to pay for the pro version to give myself a few more choices and perks. But I did stick to the free version for about a year. I also like it because it allows me to include different things such as videos, pictures, and embedded tweets that support my topic — in very simple ways. I am not a computer programmer nor a code writer! So I needed easy.

2. Frequency. How often are you going to write? This varies for everyone depending on your goals. I was very scattered in the beginning and not consistent, but eventually I settled into a routine of weekly. I usually write on the weekend. Sometimes this varies but I do try to be consistent. I have found that people will most likely follow a blog if it is updated regularly. On one hand, I’m not so much concerned with how many people read what I write. But one the other hand, this is not a journal in my nightstand. It is on the web, and I chose to do this because I think sharing with others and receiving feedback from them is very powerful for me as a learner. We tell our students all the time to “keep the reader in mind” when writing; this is no different for me as a blogger. Consistency is an important component for you as a blogger.

3. Choosing A Topic. This is perhaps the biggest area of struggle for me. I love to write, but sometimes I just have no ideas for my blog that week. What I have found is that I need to take time to reflect on my week. What went good? What can I improve on? What did I learn this week? I mean, that is the purpose of writing for me anyway, to reflect. So I can’t just sit down at my laptop and think up a topic without first going through my own reflection process. Throughout the week, I ask myself those questions and jot down my thoughts on paper. From there, a topic emerges that I want to explore more in depth, and that is how my blog ideas come to be.

4. Post Length. When I first began blogging, it was all words. I did break it up into paragraphs, but when you visited my site, you would see nothing but a long essay looking post. Not very inviting. I learned quickly that I needed to be more succinct. I don’t need to take five sentences to express a simple idea. I still struggle with this! One thing that helps me is to write my post, but then save it as a draft. Later, I go back to it, and reread it. I always find places to cut something out or re-word something in a less wordy way. I do not publish until I am satisfied that I have expressed myself in a clear but concise way.

5. Structuring The Post. Words are great, but your readers will want to see other interesting things along the way. Including such elements as video, pictures, or even embedded tweets within your post is a great way to improve the visual appeal and add depth to your writing. For example, when I wrote about choosing my platform, I included a link to the WordPress site, and I included it right on the words WordPress in my sentence. I did this because it adds layers to what I am saying. I am thinking about my reader, and they may want to further investigate it. They can Google it themselves, but it is much more convenient for them if I include the link right there where I am writing about it. One important point: Choose your links carefully. I went through several articles on the web about WordPress, but settled on just linking to the site itself. I think that is the most practical resource to share there.

6. Blog Roll. I follow and read a lot of other blogs. I think it is important to share those resources with my own blog visitors because it points them to other writers and other ideas. Sharing who I read and what blogs I follow tells my readers something about my own style, interests, and thought provokers…which adds substance and transparency. I think if you are going to write a blog and share it, you have to be the real you.

7. Give Credit. If I write a post about an activity I did or a book I read, I include the name of the person that inspired that. I include the author, or the colleague, or the PLN member that first pointed me in that direction. I do this out of courtesy and also because it points my reader to another source of learning and someone to follow up with besides just me. A recent post I wrote was about making #GoodCallsHome, and I included links to the Twitter hashtag as well as to the two people who were the inspiration for me to join the movement.

8. Publicizing Your Blog. The first time I tweeted out a blog post I had written, it was scary! I was opening the door for readers all over the world…would they like it? Would they just ignore it? What if nobody read it or what if I received a negative comment? I had to just be brave and do it. After all, I wanted feedback, and sometimes it can’t all be positive! But that is okay because that’s how we all grow. I learned a couple of important things here. One, I needed to include a few relevant hashtags to make sure my blog post was seen by the right audience. For example, if I am writing about a new technology I tried, I will likely use the #edtech hashtag in my tweet. If I am writing about a pirate lesson (Teach Like A Pirate), I will include the #tlap hashtag. I try not to include more than 3 hashtags in my tweet, because it can look like spam.

I also learned that there are just so many people tweeting out there, and posting a link to my blog one time is not enough. I need to post it a few times, over a few days. I also need to tweet it out at the right times. Some days and times are better than others (I don’t know why but that is what I have discovered). Friday afternoons are a good day/time. Monday nights during prime time are also good. Saturday mornings before noon are exceptional times for me. Tweeting my blog after about 9pm or before 10am (CT) are not.

Final word about tweeting out your post: I tag a few people in my tweet and here is how I decide whom to include: If I mentioned someone, or if what I have written about is a topic that I think a certain member(s) of my PLN would enjoy reading, or is similar to what a certain person often writes/thinks about, I will tag them. I do not tag people just for the hope that they will retweet it. I think that is dis-ingenuous. That being said, it makes me happy when my post announcement is retweeted because it will be seen by people who might not otherwise see my own tweet, so it is a good thing and I do appreciate it. But I try not to abuse that or take advantage of my PLN in that way.

9. Give Your Readers Tools. When I set my blog up, I learned that I needed to include a way for my readers to share with others and to give me feedback in simple and quick ways. Make sure you turn on comments! When I receive a comment on a piece, I try to reply to it in a timely manner, thanking them for their input and thoughts on what I have written. I think two-way communication is so important here because I am hoping to open a door for conversation. Of course, there have been a lot of my posts that have received zero comments, and that is okay. I made peace with that. I just decided that the post must have just been so great that nobody has anything to add! HA! Also, it is helpful to include a few tools for the reader to make reading and sharing easy. I have a button where readers can follow my blog, getting updates automatically when I post. There are tools where readers can share it on Twitter or other social media very easily.

9. Patience. When I first starting blogging, hardly anyone read it. I did not receive many comments either. After a while though, my readership grew. Now, I have people who follow my blog from all over the world, and they receive an email when I update it. If they enjoyed the post, they share it with others, tweet it, comment on it….but this took a lot of time. Be prepared to feel like you are just writing for yourself and nobody is reading it, and that is okay. It will come with time.

10. About Those Comments. Be careful what you wish for! Just kidding (kind of). Most of my posts have been well received, but there have been a few that received some negative feedback. At first I was mortified! But then I realized that this type of thing is just another way to push my thinking, to open my mind up to alternative views and shed a light on different perspectives, and so I now embrace all my feedback, both positive and otherwise. You just cannot write a blog where everyone in the world is going to agree with all you say; we are all different. If you really want the feedback and you want your blog to be a true way for you to reflect, share, learn and grow, then you have to be prepared for some humbling moments! My PLN is incredible and they inspire me daily, but they also challenge my thinking and they point out things I could improve upon or ideas I had not considered. They champion me when I am doing something great, but they also will very quickly throw up a stop sign or call me on the carpet.  I value this. And my willingness to put myself out there for it is just…well, necessary.

stop

So that’s it, my top ten tips for getting started with blogging. There is a lot more and you will discover that as you go along.  I think the biggest piece of advice is to just be brave and go for it. “Let your words be anything but empty”… How big is your brave?

Uncategorized

The Power of A Phone Call

I grabbed my notepad and began my typical routine that morning, stopping into classrooms and watching all the great teaching and learning going on in the building.  The first room I stopped into was a 4th grade math class. The teacher was just beginning to introduce decimals, and the class was having a discussion about what they know (think they know) currently about this topic.  The teacher asked for volunteers to come up and put a mark on a number line to show where they thought a particular decimal number would go.  Well, it was quiet!  It seemed all were afraid to take this risk and be brave! After some coaxing from the teacher, one boy raised his hand and offered to try it out.  He came up and put a mark on the line. Next the teacher asked if anyone else wanted to try it out. This time, a student on the other side of the room volunteered. While she was walking toward the front, three or four others raised their hands in anticipation of being the next to try it out.  He had started a “brave” moment!!

daring

I asked the boy his name, wrote it down on my notepad, and went on visiting a few more classrooms.  In each one, I saw at least one student who did something extraordinary, who had an impact on others, who added great value to the learning community. I spent the rest of the morning looking for students taking risks and being brave. Taking deliberate steps to “find” those profound moments changed the lens for me. It brought my visits into a different focus.

Later that afternoon, I called the parent of the boy I mentioned in the beginning.  As I told him who I was, I could hear this quiet “sigh” and a shaky kind of “yes”? After all, when an Assistant Principal calls you at work, it is usually not good. I told him I had been visiting classrooms that morning, and I happened to walk into his son’s math class, and “I just feel it’s important to call and tell you what I observed from your son while I was there”.  There was total silence, and then dad said, “Ok, let me close the door”.  He sounded very disappointed.

I then told him how the class was beginning a new unit on decimals. How the teacher had asked for volunteers to come share what their current thinking is on decimals. How nobody seemed to want to be the first to do this. And how, after a few awkward moments of silence, his son slowly raised his hand, walked up to the board, and said, “This is what I think”. How his bravery in that moment inspired another student to share her thinking, and that the next thing I knew, hands were up and students were having to wait for their turn to go to the front of the class. I told him how his son’s willingness to do that had created a sort of bravery chain reaction, and how much I appreciated his engagement in class and contributions.

Again there were a few moments of silence. Then dad asked me, “So, that’s it? There’s no shoe dropping”? I said, “Nope, I just wanted to call and brag”. He then began telling me how he couldn’t believe this, how he had never received this type of call, and how proud he was of his son at that moment. He thanked me multiple times and told me that he was going to take him for a burger that night and let him know how proud he was of his being brave in class. He told me that my phone call had made his day.  After we hung up, I sat quietly for a moment and thought about what had just occurred.

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 1.35.46 PM

Even though it was only a ten minute call, that call brought ten minutes of joy and pride to this father. And it would have a lasting impact on him the rest of the day. It would also have an impact that evening when father and son go out for that burger. I could do nothing but smile at the profound effects that one “Good Call Home” had on this family.

Imagine, if we do this every day. Imagine how this might change things for some parents. For some kids. For some entire school communities.

Scott Capro (@ScottCapro) and Rik Rowe (@WHSRowe) have started a great movement for educators everywhere: Placing Good Calls Home, and the power of a simple phone call! There is even a sign up sheet for educators to sign up, committing to making Good Calls Home. (I encourage you to check it out — here).

Using the hashtag #GoodCallsHome is a great way to build momentum and to hold each other accountable.   I shared the idea with my Principal, who enthusiastically supported it, and she made a commitment to do this as well! So we are now both committed to the #GoodCallsHome movement and we are holding each other accountable!  We have created a Google Doc so that we can each enter the name of the student(s) we call about, and we are going to include a space for reflecting on the reactions we have received.

I am grateful to my buddy Rik  for giving me the push to began my own Good Calls Home campaign. He wrote a blog about this movement, which you can find here. There is no way to really express the joy it brings….you really just have to try it for yourself.

 

Uncategorized

S’More From The AP

For this latest post for the #CompelledTribe blog group, we are to write about how we are using technology in our roles.  I am going to share how I am using the tool S’More as a unique PD alternative with staff and hopefully inspire thoughts and conversations across the campus as the year goes along!

As a new Assistant Principal, I have been learning a lot the past two weeks or so since school started. One of the things I have learned is that you really cannot have a schedule. I do have a “to do” list every day on my desk of things that I need to get to, but the job for me is really about just being available to handle what comes my way. And boy, does it come! One of my passions is sharing my love of learning and teaching. I wanted to be able to do this as an AP, while still handling all the other non-instructional duties that come with my job (buses, ipads, books, discipline…). I have a lot of administrators in my PLN on Twitter and I have studied carefully how they communicate with and lead their staff. They inspire me, and I knew that if and when I became an AP I wanted to make that same kind of investment and impact with teachers as they make with theirs (and with me!)

My principal is really awesome. She delivers professional development in unique and non-traditional ways, so I got really lucky there! One of our goals is to provide ongoing PD for the staff that is relevant and meaningful, without taking  unnecessary time away from teachers. So I started thinking about this long before school started. How could I find a way to share my passions with the staff, offer an investment in their professional growth, and still not slack my other duties? How can I support my principal and our campus goals in my role as an Assistant Principal?

I first had to decide what it was I wanted to do.. To put it into a sentence, I wanted to do something worthwhile that would inspire teachers to wonder, learn, grow, communicate, and share with each other in brief and nontraditional ways that would not be an unnecessary burden on them. And I wanted to support my principal, the instructional leader in our building, in her goal of providing ongoing growth opportunities for teachers.

I then started thinking about where most of my own learning and inspiration comes from. Twitter, of course. My PLN is amazing and I learn so much from the other educators that I follow, the chats I go to, and the blogs I read that are shared with me from educators around the world. So it makes sense that this would be my source.

I then had to decide the platform I would use to share this learning and provide this pathway for teachers. Did I want to write a blog? Create a website? I tinkered around with several things. I decided that the blog was a no-go because it might take too long to read, and it would only be my voice. A one-way communication. I thought about a website, but nixed that when I thought about how the teachers would have to purposefully check that website every week. No, it needed to be something that is fast and delivered to them, but contains a lot of information presented in a variety of ways. A few trials and errors later, I settled on S’More.

smore

The S’More is sent out via email every Friday. Throughout the week, I collect tweets, articles, blogs, videos, and other things that are shared with me through my PLN.  Somewhere around mid week, a “big idea” either starts to develop from the material I have been collecting, or it is something that is more personal related to our campus. I start looking through my collection and seeing what ties in with the “big idea” for the week, and soon the S’More begins to take shape. I shared my idea with my principal after creating the first one, and she agreed that it would be a great addition to our campus plan of communication and professional development. So I received the “green light” and S’More From The AP was born!

I decided on the following format for my weekly S’More:

  • Mini blog post (big idea)
  • Worth Reading (blogs/articles related to idea)
  • Worth Watching (videos that go along with the idea and articles)
  • Tech Corner (A quick shout out to a favorite app, website, or platform that teachers may like)
  • Tweet of the Week
  • Scenes From Our Week (pictures of teachers I have taken throughout the week as they are teaching)
  • Link to Staff Weekly Magazine (This is a paper.li that I publish every Thursday, and I include the link in the S’More. It contains articles contributed by members of my PLN and they may or may not be “big idea” related).

I do not include anything like upcoming dates, events, announcements, or anything of that nature because my principal communicates that information. This is more of just a professional learning investment, for those who want to partake! The final touches I usually do on Thursday nights, and I send it out at the end of the day on Friday. I have received very positive feedback on this from our staff! They are not required to read it, but I think many of them are. One teacher came into my office this week and said, “I just want to thank you for what you shared last week about taking time to enjoy the moment. I was feeling stressed, and that S’More kind of let me tell myself, it is okay to just stop and enjoy things”. I was very happy to hear that! That is my ultimate wish, that this would be something that makes an impact, that it might stir conversation or spark someone to try something new, or affirm to someone that they are in fact doing a fantastic job, or even one day decide that there is so much learning going on in the Twitter world that they might venture there themselves.

All in all, I am pleased with the shape my idea has taken. I am hoping as the year goes on that the teachers will begin to leave comments, or submit ideas to me for things to include such as the technology corner or even the big idea, or a quote or article they want to share.  Maybe it will become a collaborative piece full of the teachers’ voices! That would be the shape I hope it will take, after a while.

Due to security reasons, WordPress will not allow embedding of a S’More here unless I am self-hosting (which I am not!) Here is a link to this week’s S’More:     https://www.smore.com/93jab    You can also get to it by clicking the picture above.

I have completed three S’Mores so far, and I really enjoy the time I spend on these. I think it is time well spent and I am excited about the possible directions it may take in the future. I also want to thank the many members of my PLN who have shared with me the unique ways they go about investing in their teachers’ growth. I have been able to take their ideas, reshape them, and create something that is true to my own passions and interests and is “me”, and I am forever grateful to my mentors for pushing me to take risks and make a difference!

Now, back to scanning those textbooks…