Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Once A Teacher, Always A Teacher

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach all the six graders in my school. We needed to roll out Google Apps for Education, and I was able to match up my schedule with the student schedule with the computer lab schedule – a feat in itself, for sure!

What a great two days I had spending time with middle school. I got to see students through another lens, and be reminded of how exciting and nerve-racking it can be to facilitate learning. It was a wonderful day for several reasons, but especially because I got to spend a lot of facetime with students, focused on teaching and learning. A close second, however, was a reminder of all of the pressures, stressors, excitements and decisions that educators have to make every day. Did I remember to restate the objective, every day and every period? Was I sure that I was accommodating for each student in the class needed something a little different? Was a meeting students needs who needed to get the scaffolding? Was I holding the students back were ready to keep on going? Don't forget to monitor the conflict between those two students...

Throughout the first day there were a series of different teachers who work in the classroom support students. At the end of the day, I sought them out and asked, "How did it go? What do you think? Any feedback? Is there a better way that I could do that tomorrow?" One teacher suggested it might be helpful to have a visual to go along with my verbal directions – of course! Why didn't I think of that before I started? So, the next morning on Day Two, I frantically typed up step-by-step directions. I went running out of the office, photocopies hanging on my arm and flying down the hallway, while the teacher was holding the class waiting for me.

A few lessons learned:
1. Be flexible.
2. We teach kids first - about content/skills.
3. Students have strengths and weaknesses in various areas - no one is all one way across the board.
4. Teachers have a really, really tough job.
5. Teachers have a really, really great job.
6. Asking for and receiving feedback is helpful.  It feels good to focus on growing and improving.
7. Reflection is key - be it formal or informal, always work to grow and improve.
8. Always have a Plan B.  (And C.)
9. The capacity and eagerness to learn is a beautiful thing.  Respect it.
10. Educators must take care of themselves to take care of others!  

Until the next time!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

One word for 2015: TRUST #oneword365

Instead of a giant list entitled, "All The Things That Steve Should Do To Improve in 2015," I followed the lead of my wonderful PLN, and chose one word on which to focus:


My 2015 is going to be the year of trust:

  • I will trust myself.
  • I will trust my instinct. (And back it up with facts.)
  • I will trust colleagues to do what's best for our students.
  • I will trust that others have the best of intentions.
  • I will trust that doing what's right for students may not always be easy.
Clyde Beatty taming a lion with four legs.
To kick it off, I have decided that I will trust that our new core values have importance in our school, that modeling reflective behavior is important, and that it is important as a community (one of our core values) to take the time to reflect on 2014, look ahead to 2015, and select one word to direct our attention for 2015.

The lesson that I created for our students is entitled "The Lion Tamer and One Word."  Clyde Beatty, the lion tamer who figured out that a four-legged stool would paralyze a lion due to indecision, is the main figure in illustrating that having too many foci will lead to indecision and as a result, inaction.  I'm going to trust that this is a meaningful exercise for students: recalling 2014, and looking forward to find their one word that will help them be their best in 2015.  

What will your one word be, that will help you be your best?

If you need some help getting started, consider these questions:

  • How was 2014?
  • What do I want to do this year?  
  • What do I want to be better at?
  • What do I need to continue to grow and improve as a student/educator or person?
  • What do I want to accomplish as a student/educator or person?
  • What word do I need to help me be my best?  
  • Is there another word not listed that will help me be my best for 2015?  
  • To what word can I commit for 2015?
  • How will this word help me focus and be my best in 2015?

If you would like to use the lesson I created for students to use, please go to: The Lion Tamer and One Word.

For some inspiration, you may want to consider some words from this wordle.
For more community support, you can "find your tribe" and post your one word at http://www.oneword365.com.  Check it out.  Also, why don't you select your one word with your family, colleagues, students and kids?  

What will your one word be?  And how will it help you be your best in 2015?

Friday, December 05, 2014

Creating a Culture of Gratitude

For the past month or so, my school has engaged as a community and giving thanks and building a culture of gratitude. It all began ultimately with us preparing for Veterans Day, and it was so successful that we continued by building chain-link some kindness, writing additional thank you cards to people in our lives what impacted us, deep gratitude by creating five fingered turkeys of gratitude and hung them publicly in our common area, and today we continued building a culture gratitude amongst the staff.

Inspired again by the awesome #BFC530 chat, facilitated this morning buddy amazing @jvincentsen, I got to work this morning and created a high-five with directions that required the recipient of the high-five to read the gratitude that was provided to them and then spread the gratitude by giving a high-five to another staff member. When I got to work this morning I wrote to notes to staff members, and cross my fingers. I had no idea if it would work. Knowing how I felt after the #BFC530 Twitter chat this morning, I was hopeful that I could use this activity to help build a culture of gratitude in our building. Hearing the word "thanks" is so impactful, and so simple, and get so easily overlooked. I am certain that I am guilty of this as well – and I hoped that it would spread recognition gratitude and appreciation amongst the staff who works so hard to do what's right for kids and help our students grow their potential.  I don't know if everyone on my staff received a high-five by the end of the day, but I do know that many people did. As I did walk-throughs around the building, I saw high-fives on desks, staff members excited to see greatly appreciate a fellow colleague for job well done, and have a positive impact. I could feel the wave…folks were buying in. I even got a high-five back when I got back to my office at 2:30.

One of the unintended consequences of his activity with that students got to see their teachers modeling gratitude and appreciation. Students watch everything we do and say, and I'm certain students were watching their teachers gift thanks, appreciation and gratitude for the things they do every day. Some are big, some are small, but all have an impact on our students in school – and I hope that the teachers in our school left today, feeling good about the work they do any impact that we have collected we had on our students lives. What we do and what we say matters – not just with our students - but with our colleagues as well. Truly, we are a community. It was just awesome.

I think the most impactful moment for me was running into a staff member who had just received a high-five, and said "Wow. This is so cool. I really needed to hear this – and it made my day."

Monday, December 01, 2014

Are you truly taking risks, or just thinking about it? via @sguditus

During this morning's #BFC530 chat, we talked about overcoming our fears and continuing to grow as an educator. What really resonated for me was this idea of encouraging ourselves, our students, and our staff to take risks in order to overcome our fears and continue to grow. I love that term: risk-taking.

Maybe it's because growing up, I never really saw myself as a big risk taker. When I think of risk-taking, I think of risky physical acts, like jumping from tops of buildings attached to bungee cords like in The Amazing Race.  Although you won't ever catch me jumping out of an airplane, as an adult I like to think that I am a healthy risk-taker. Maybe it's this dichotomy of what I envision as a risk-taker (sky diving) versus what healthy risk-taking really is (trying something new).

Members of my PLN challenged me this morning during the #BFC530 chat, to truly think and reflect upon my own risk-taking.  It made me wonder: am I truly taking risks, or do I just like to really think and talk about it, hypothetically?  Am I actually trying new techniques in my practice, or do I just like encouraging others to do so?  (Or both, I hope!)

I started racking my brain: am I taking risks myself?  Am I sharing this with my colleagues?  Thinking and reflecting more, yes, I like to encourage other to take risks, and yes - I am taking some risks in my own practice - but I can do more.  This #BFC530 chat reminded me how important it is to take risks and share them with our fellow educators. 

Modeling the behavior and expectations that we hope others will engage in is crucial to see a systemic change in a school's culture. But one can't model what one doesn't know is happening. Does the staff in my school think that I'm a risk taker? Do I think I am a cutting-edge, radical educator, when in reality I am either not or not communicating this? I commit to communicating the importance of taking risks – not just in theory, but in practice as well. In order to successfully encourage others to truly take risks, not just theorize about taking risks, I need to act - and be authentic, transparent, and vulnerable about what risks I have taken, which ones have been a failure, which ones have been a success and which ones scare me! Taking these risks and taking inventory of what I have done will help me grow my practice - but in order to successfully create a schoolwide culture of actual taking of risks, not just theorizing about risk-taking philosophy, I need to show, not just tell.
So let's take inventory: am I taking risks in my practice? Here are a few initial thoughts:
  • I want to have a conversation with staff every time I engage in a walkthrough - even a short one (as per Kim Marshall's recommendation).  I have publicly shared this with staff, and now I need to step up to the plate and improve in this area.
  • I signed up for Voxer and have engaged in several new PLN groups.  I took a risk, and tried this new piece of social media - and the reward has been huge.  I've connected with educators and have continued to grow thanks to colleagues from around the world.  I need to share this with staff.
  • We embarked on a journey to reestablish our school's core values in a very public way.  I felt very uncertain about this, but believed in the process, and the it proved to be a strong community-building activity.
  • Our school instituted in advisory program – with an incredible amount of support help, assistance and collaboration with a variety of staff and students.
  • We instituted an initial PBIS program in our school, tied to our new core values.
That's just a quick start. What are some additional ways that I can not just talk about taking risks but take risks?  Here are a few initial thoughts:
  • Have a No Office Day - and share my thoughts and insights with staff. 
  • Create a Student Advisory Council and get feedback from students. 
  • Engage in a book study with parents and staff about timely topics - even if it is a tough topic.

And so, I challenge myself and all of you: take inventory. Are you truly taking risks - or just talking about taking risks?  The shift in culture has to start somewhere - make it with you.

Image Credits:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Classroom observations: It's all about the conversation

Yesterday I did a brief walk-through of a teacher's classroom. It was a short slice of a class, only about 5 to 10 minutes. The students were engaged, good questions posed, and the teacher did a great job of stressing the essential questions of the class. As I left the classroom I thought to myself, "That was a good class," and continued on with the rest of my day.  I closed out my day a few hours later, and when I came in to school this morning, the teacher popped into my office and said "I just wanted to connect with you about your observation yesterday."  I was so glad that the teacher wanted to connect with me, debrief, and reflect about the lesson that I observed – this is a lead learner's dream!  I was surprised, however – because I had only popped in quickly to the teacher's classroom, but the teacher was looking for some feedback and wanted to discuss some thoughts. I underestimated how important it is to have the conversation - even a quick one - even for a quick walkthrough - and to engage in conversation.  

This exchange was a great reminder about how eager educators are to discuss their craft on a regular basis. The teacher and I had a great conversation, discussing past practices, current practices, the new Massachusetts educator evaluation system, and we had a very genuine and authentic conversation about what good teaching and learning looks like.  What struck me was that the teacher really wanted clarity about what my expectations were as the lead learner in the building, and how those expectations could be met.  Different personal experiences and different evaluators lead to uncertainly about such a personal process: providing and receiving feedback.  There's so much that we don't know about each educators' path, so it is crucial to take the time to get to know one another as educators and understand why we structure our classrooms the way we do.  This is crucial to moving our schools forward, and making sure that students are always learning and growing – a d same is true for us, the educators in the building.  Providing a scaffolded and differentiated feedback experience is critical to educator growth.

Later in the day, the teacher approached me again and apologized for taking my time to discuss the brief observation from yesterday. From my perspective, I told the teacher, our conversation was the best one that I had all day. Engaging in professional conversations about learning and teaching is what it's all about! Being a reflective educator is how we hope all educators will be. Not only was there no need to apologize, I told that teacher, but I also hope that we can continue to have such important conversations about what good learning and teaching looks like, what we can do to support all of our students, and how we can maximize  learning. We ended our conversation by highlighting what it was that the teacher hoped I would be able to provide in my future observations' feedback.

Taking the time to have a face-to-face conversation with this teacher reminded me of the value of spending time in classrooms, the importance of being present in the belly of the school, and engaging in conversations about how learning and teaching happens – on a daily basis, not as a once-per-year task as part of a formal evaluation. Engaging in this conversation on a regular basis is what keeps us excited and jazzed up to be educators. I'm so thankful that the teacher in my school approached me, took the time to share questions with me and I was able to have an incredibly valuable conversation about learning and teaching.  Taking the time to speak, in person and face-to-face, allows conversations about feedback, observations and education to be meaningful and focused on student learning.

Now I just need to find the time to make this happen!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Getting back to blogging via @sguditus

One of the PLNs of which I am a part, BFC530, has been exploring the ins and outs of blogging in the education world. Although I've been blogging for a while now (about six years or so), The BFC530 morning Twitter chat and voxer group has really been pushing my thinking and inspired me to start blogging more regularly.  Thanks to some PLN members' ideas, I've started using technology to be able to fit it into my day.

I have found that my morning and evening commute has been transformed from NPR and rocking out to some music to listening to colleagues from around the world discuss professional education topics and push my thinking, making me a better educator.  I have replaced the radio with educators' thoughts, ideas, questions, and blogs that are being read to me over my car speakers (that last part is for you, Massachusetts State Police - don't worry, I'm not texting and driving or reading and driving).

So why do I blog? Someone in the PLN suggested that one blogs for oneself and shares for others. I really like this idea – I am blogging right now to reflect upon my own practice, others' great ideas and thoughts, pushing me to continue being reflective. I hope modeling this process will encourage my fellow educators to do the same.

One question that has come up around blogging is about confidentiality, and some members of the PLN gave some great insight and suggestions: focus on the positive. Build on the good that's already happening in your school, reflect upon it, and shoot for the stars. As educators were always trying to improve our practice, our collaboration, and our teamwork – all in the name of student learning. I love this piece of insight from the PLN. It's so easy to be stuck with what's not going right, so instead, take the time to consider: What are we doing well? What am I doing well? And, where do I want to go?

I thank my virtual colleagues around the world, especially the BFC group for encouraging me to get blogging! Just a few minutes, and I already feel refreshed, rejuvenated and focused on doing what's best for students in my school - and I hope others are as well by reading my thoughts.

Now let's go have a positive impact on our students lives! Have a great day. 

Steve Guditus

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lessons from the Classroom...again (via @sguditus)

On Friday, I had an awesome opportunity to reconnect with a group of students as teacher.  A wonderful teacher was absent on Friday, and asked me to roll out GAFE to her E block class of students.  (Once I found computer lab space...) I jumped on that opportunity immediately!  What a great opportunity.

I try to be as present as possible in classrooms, working to be a present, active member of the amazing learning community at Manchester-Essex Middle School.  When I walked into Mrs. W's classroom, I got a hearty "Hello, Mr. G.!"  This was a great welcome in and of itself.  I announced to students, "OK guys, I'm going to teach your class today," students said, "wait - you are going to teach us?!"  It was an interesting dichotomy - I like to think of myself as lead learner and as an educator at heart - I list "educator" on my taxes, I tell people I am an educator when I meet them, but students were confused: the principal was going to be the teacher for the day?!  This reiterated to me the importance of not only being present in classrooms, but actively engaging publicly with students in learning.  It's not just enough for the adult to know that I am learner, but I need to show adults and students that I am a learner and an educator.  

We headed down to the computer lab, and students were so excited - we were rolling out Google Classroom (GAFE) with students!  Mrs. W. has worked tirelessly to learn about GAFE and roll it out to students, and E block was a last class to go.  Getting back to facilitating learning with students was like riding a bicycle - it comes back quickly, but I forget how many split decisions one has to make in an instant: Mr. G., the network won't work.  Mr. G., my login isn't right.  Mr. G., Johnny is pushing me.  Mr. G., I clicked this by mistake.  Mr. G., am I allowed to move on?  Mr. G., Lilly is deleting what I worked on.  This made me remember: clarity is crucial in the classroom.  Remind students what your expectations are, ensure all are focused and understand, then open the gates and go!  This class was about mucking around, exploring, and seeing what GAFE is able to do.  

I reminded students that they could go in any order, I wanted them to click around and explore, as long as they made sure that they: Took the tour, completed the sample assignment ad turned it in, and collaborated with another student.  When students engaged in the sample lesson in GAFE, they had the option of using any of the GAFE tools: presentation, sheets, docs, drawing.  Students asked me, Wait, we can choose whichever one we want?!  Any one of these?!  Yes, I told them - you know the expectations, make sure you follow them, and then just go!  This reiterated the importance of student choice.  If we provide students with choice and keep expectations clear and consistent, students are more likely to take ownership of their learning.

And the last thing that I was reminded of in my time teaching students and Mrs. W's class is that students love to collaborate. Google apps for education encourages students to collaborate – I knew that – but to see, first-hand, how students react when given the opportunity to work together on a product using technology was just amazing to see. I learned that it's important to not underestimate the power of people, the power of working together, and how much humans you're in to collaborate. Google apps for education encourages us, and I feel so lucky witnessed this firsthand.

All in all, an amazing one hour that I got to spend with students as their teacher,  remembering some fundamentals about what good learning and teaching is all about. Now I just have to find a way to embed it into my schedule on a regular basis!

Steve Guditus

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Maker-Spacing Your School via @sguditus

WOW - I just participated in a super-charged #satchat about maker spaces.  Folks came to the table with varying readiness levels about what a maker space is, can be, should be, could be.  After 90 minutes of engaging in conversation, expanding my own background knowledge and hearing about different models of maker spaces, I've created a conglomerate definition of maker space characteristics.  Maker spaces:

  • Are both physical space and a philosophy;
  • Are embedded into classrooms, clubs, in school and out of school;
  • Provide authentic problems;
  • Can contain materials of any size, shape and dimension;
  • Encourage Innovation;
  • Build constructivist learning and thinking;
  • Are interest-based;
  • Are collaborative;
  • Are fun!
  • Help students discover passions;
  • Focus on creation;
  • Encourage risk-taking, being wrong and failing;
  • Develop problem-solvers;
  • Promote collaboration.

There was a lot of talk about having a Maker Team to guide vision and philosophy in one's school (thanks to Lisa Meade of Corinth MS for the idea), revamping classrooms to allow maker space philosophy and ideas, and having administrator support to allow maker space to be a priority.

For me, it's about creating the vision, encouraging risk taking on all levels - students, teachers, administrators and parents/guardians.  One ah-ha moment I had was about maker spaces being about thinking, creating and problem-solving - not necessarily about using high-tech, high-end technology.  It could include high-tech products - but there is a reason that legos have been so popular for so long (and why I still have mine in the basement...speaking of, maybe I should break them out?!): it's about creating and building, imagining and taking risks - with authentic problems.  Learning is messy - that is ok.

If we want to create our schools to be places that prepare students to be the future leaders of our world, to have jobs that do not yet exist, we must create spaces - maker spaces - in our schools that allow tinkering, mucking around, building and creating - and taking risks.  We owe this to our students.

A few resources that were shared during the 11/1/14 #SatChat:

#edtech #edtechchat #maker #makerspace #collaboration #21stcskills #21stedchat #satchat #makered

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Social Media Alert #ptchat

In the ever-changing world of social media, your child may be engaging in online interactions with friends and strangers alike.  As quickly as you can learn about what apps your child may be using, new ones may appear.  Therefore, it is important you regularly examine your child’s electronic device and speak to him/her about making safe and responsible decisions and words – both online and offline.   It is crucial to engage with students about responsible and wise behavior, communication and interactions - not just restricting access to the Internet or to specific websites and apps.  Certainly, there needs to be supervision;  supporting adolescents is all about providing a safety net - but engaging in online communication is now part of becoming an adult.  Let's help students traverse this world, instead of allowing them to dive into it alone.

Remember, kids may have access to these apps on his/her phone, droid, tablet, handheld device, computer – or that of the friend or anywhere there is internet access.  Having open and honest conversations with your child about this topic is a good place to start.  

Please note: these applications are frequently both free apps, downloaded onto just about any electronic device with wifi, as well as websites accessed using a web browser.

  • Yik Yak and Ask.fm – Both of these apps encourage anonymous postings, frequently sexual and hurtful in nature.  YikYak requires users to anonymously post text-only notes (yaks) of up to 200 characters – anonymously. The messages can be viewed by the 500 users who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking.  Users and viewers are frequently exposed to sexually explicit content, abusive language and personal attacks.  Ask.fm similarly allows users to remain anonymous, though it is not required to be anonymous like YikYak.
  • SnapChat – This app allows users to send photos that disappear after 10 seconds to fellow SnapChat users.  Once the recipient opens
    Snapchat icon

    Snapchat icon

    the picture, a timer begins, and then the picture disappears from both the sender’s device and the recipient’s device.  Adolescents are made vulnerable by the belief that any photo they send via SnapChat will be gone forever, but a recipient can easily take a screen shot of a photo and make it permanent.  You may have recently heard about 200,000 SnapChat photos that were hacked and made public.  To read about it, you can go here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/10/13/snapchat-leak/17184855/.

  • KiK Messenger – This is a private messenger app, similar to text messaging and iMessages.  The app allows users to send private messages that adults cannot view.  There is very little you can do to verify the identity of someone on Kik, which puts your child in harm’s way to be communicating with a stranger.
  • ChatRouletteMeowWhisperWhatsApp, and Omegle – These apps are similar in that they encourage users to connect with anonymous users that may or may not be in their geographic area.  Users are able to connect with other random users that they do not know, anonymously.  Whisper allows users to search geographically for users within one mile, making it particularly dangerous from a physical safety standpoint.  Omegle connects via Facebook, again connecting users with strangers with similar interests and likes.  These apps encourage adolescents to engage in negative and risky behavior by connecting with strangers online.
  • Poof -The Poof app allows users to make apps disappear on their device with one touch. Your child can hide every app they don’t want you to see on their phone – all they have to do is open the app and select the ones they don’t want to be viewed.  This app is no longer available, but if it was downloaded before it was deleted from the app store, your child may still have it. Keep in mind that apps like this are created and then terminated pretty quickly by Android and Apple stores, but there are similar ones being created constantly. Some other names include: Hidden Apps, App Lock and Hide It Pro.
  • StreetChat – This new app uses GPS coordinates to populate a list of local schools, and allows users to anonymous post messages, organized by school.  By connecting anonymous postings with the GPS coordinates of schools, adolescents are put at risk.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

5 Ways To Avoid Burnout (Steve Guditus @sguditus)

I recently had a conversation with a phenomenal teacher, former colleague and friend, @mausigal, about staying above the fray, avoiding burnout staying pumped up in our last month of school, taking a deep breath, and getting rejuvenated over the summer.  It got me thinking...as educators, we can feel like there are too many initiatives, insufficient resources, not enough time, and too much to get done!  How do we stay focused on the most important thing: student learning?

5 Ways Avoid Burnout:

  1. Get pumped up.  According to a Boston Globe article by Deborah Kotz, recent research states that when you are feeling stressed, don't get subdued, go get pumped up.  And who better to get
    Get pumped up!
    you pumped up than Richard Simmons?!  Seriously: shift your paradigm to view a challenge as an opportunity and turn on some "Runnin' Down A Dream" by Tom Petty.
  2. Exercise.  Take care of yourself - mind and body.  Give yourself a mental break and go exercise.  The research linking exercise and mental well-being is exhaustive; you will feel better afterwards, and be able to put things into perspective again.  Remember, a 10 minute walk is better than a zero minute walk.  (Note: if you need a place to start, see Richard Simmons above in #2.)
  3. Participate in a weekly Twitter chat.  When I participate in a weekly Twitter chat, I am regularly excited, pumped up, and invigorated to try something new.  Whether you actively participate or just lurk, check out this exhaustive list of educational Twitter chats, organized by day of the week and time, and find one that gets you jazzed up: http://bit.ly/18CHmRo.  A big thanks goes out to @thomascmurray, @cevans5095 and @cybraryman1 for their hard work organizing this list!  This is something that is free, you can participate in a spur-of-the-moment, connects you with amazing educators and helps you build your PLN.
  4. Attend an #edcamp.  At an edcamp, like in a weekly Twitter chat, you will find engaged, passionate, excited and connected educators who want to engage in talking about progressing education, teaching and learning, and implementing new instructional techniques to teach students.  It is impossible to leave an edcamp empty handed and without new tools to implement in your school.  Go to http://edcamp.wikispaces.com/ to find one - close by or take a trip!
  5. Take a mini-sabbatical.  Propose a professional development day that involves you observing peers in your school or in local schools, and ask your principal for a sub to cover your classes for the day.  Spend some time to tune out all the nuts and bolts for 6.5 hours, eat a relaxing lunch, and take in all of the amazing things that colleagues in your very own school and neighboring schools are doing.  Recommendation: end your day with 30 minutes of written reflection that outlines your action steps and commit yourself to adapting at least three new things in your classroom before the year is over.  Sometimes just having the time to stop, observe, think and reflect can make all the difference.
Works Cited: