Say Yes and Take the Stage

Before I get into my experience at the Florida Thespian Festival, I must give credit where credit is due. The past six months have afforded me two opportunities to hear Kwame Alexander speak. The first was his book signing in Vero Beach for his newest novel Swing; the second time was at Literacy Leadership Summit hosted by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Over these two meetings, Kwame placed the “power of yes” in my toolbox for teaching. Saying “Yes” must be the first response to any human that aims to maintain a growth mindset. “Yes,” lessons need planned. “Yes,” grades need posted. “Yes,” meetings need attended. “Yes” professional practices need developed. Educators are well aware of the “many hats” worn throughout the day engaging within the field of education. Insert update on my latest chance to say “Yes”:

As I plugged my last laptop in on my way home, my phone at my desk rings….a song comes to my mind that was recently reintroduced to me by Noelle Morris. On the other end of this ancient piece of technology is my colleague Jennifer Rock. Ms. Rock teaches the performing arts at Heritage High School and asked me if I would be willing to sacrifice the end of my spring break to chaperone our students competing in the Florida Thespian Festival. Kwame’s words regarding the power of “Yes” ringing in my brain, I accepted this opportunity and got in my mandatory stack of paperwork to be approved in order to go on a public school-sponsored event out-of-county.

The first thing we did upon arriving to the Tampa Convention Center was to grab a snack and get some practice in. As my students ran through their selection “The Color Purple Reprise” from The Color Purple, my mind ran through the various songs I would listen to in the locker room to get ready for my upcoming game. This was most certainly a new world, but the competitive spirit was alive and surging. The rest of the day was breakout sessions, dinner, and college basketball from hotel room TV as I crashed into sleep.

Waking up Friday, the pride of representing my school at another state competition pushed me through the morning routine and to the convention center. First on the to-do list was to get the troupe to their large group performance of “The Color Purple Reprise” seen to the left.

More breakout sessions and walking through the exposition of vendors and recruiting schools left my stomach empty and my legs weary. We headed back towards our ride on the search for fuel to get us through the rest of the night. After all, there were still three performances Saturday. Major props to Vale Food Company for having a surplus of healthy options to get us back on our game and ready to practice for the next day.

Saturday brought a monologue, “Is This a Dagger Which I See Before My Eyes contrasted by “The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife,” a solo performance, “As If We Say Goodbye,” and a second solo, seen to the right, “Waiting for Life to Begin.” Before we left for the closing ceremonies, I was privy to one more breakout session. A session that provided me the reaffirmation that teaching can be addressed as holding theater between desks. Practicing a drill that aims at creating a self-awareness, I re-realized a truth of human life: engagement creates engagement.

Those that engage in the people and situations around them will receive the reward of new opportunities and new connections. Teachers that engage with their students in the classroom will provide the opportunities and environment for students to engage in the content and build skill. Closing ceremonies, another stop at Vale Food Company and a two hour drive brought me back home ready to rest up for the final quarter of the school year. Testing season and Romeo and Juliet will provide plenty of ups and downs through the final weeks of the school year. Coming at you next week will be my reflection on how #Writable helped my students prepare for their FSA writing exams. New tools, new experiences, and new lessons abound. Keep on your grind and remember to say “Yes.”

Refresh and Retool

Returning to writing continues to be one of the driving forces in professional development. A quick reflection on the roller coaster of the past month reveals a need for evaluation. A stream of created content becomes essential when competing in today’s career fields. Regardless of which platform or platforms chosen to employ, professionals that develop and maintain a professional network using social media move themselves to a higher step within their field. Whether you need to bolster your tweeting skills or continue developing an understanding of a new tool, create content. Use sharing capabilities to assist content in reaching a larger audience. Learn and practice craft while conveying growth; artifacts created build a reputation for being a positive digital citizen. Look for opportunities to conclude the chance to refresh and retool with an affirming experience that assess practices.

What I Did With My Chance

The first thing I wrote in my complimentary Hilton notepad with my complimentary Hilton pen was “*savor being the least experienced in the room LEARN from everyone around you.” Choosing the pre-seminar session with Carol Jago was a no-brainer when registering for the summit. Carol had presented a professional learning seminar two summers ago for Brevard Public School literacy coaches and teachers. I saw a seat near the front and got settled. The educators that I sat down with introduced themselves and where they were from. Southeast High School in Manatee County. It had just so happened that my Heritage High School TSA Chapter competed in the state competition with Southeast High School, a convenient ice breaker in a room of expert educators. Carol’s enthusiasm for reading provided a backdrop to an engaging evaluation of vocabulary instruction. I felt a tap on my shoulder during a table talk and was promptly asked to share my idea with the rest of the room. When the speaker asks you to share, it is hard not to feel enthused enough to put on the teacher voice and take a chance. A page of scattered bullet points, two-pages of book recommendations, and a completely refocused strategy for effective vocabulary instruction later I made my way to lunch. Shout-out to the Hilton for providing a delectable spread each day of the summit. I met up with Lisa Davis and found my seat in the ballroom.

Bill Weiler got the summit started and was followed by Noelle Morris. After a short reading of The SunCatcher, Noelle led us through an inspiring welcoming activity. While reflecting on the Owls and Wrens of our professional learning network, we set goals for the next few days and introduced ourselves to our colleagues. David Bain and Connie Harmon explained a refocused lens on the data behind teaching a diverse range of reading levels in the same classroom. Interactive charts asked us to assess our schools’ data and to decide if there was a more effective process to raise student achievement for each student in the classroom.

Having read Reading Nonfiction, Kylene Beers’ and Robert Probst’s names caught my eye when previously reviewing the agenda for the summit. Neither speaker disappointed. Kylene instilled a growth mindset with her reflections on engaging students, “You cannot improve competence without improving confidence.” Bob recounted the learning environment he and Kylene created to promote students conversation between each other and not the teacher. By using the “3 Big Questions,” students engaged in meaningful peer-to-peer conversations. Video displayed a group of five students reflecting on author’s purpose and diction. These three questions allowed students to convey an analysis and evaluation of the text by making genuine connections between the text and their understanding of the world.

After soaking up the experience surrounding me on the first day, I was ready to make an impression on the second. The day began with Rose Else-Mitchell. Rose challenged us to ensure the development of significant learning environments by leveraging technology to implement the best possible instructional practices. To inspire and create a culture powered by the growth mindset, leaders must model by starting with the end in mind and making choices that support those that the choices affect.

Noelle Morris provided a personal reflection on her story and reminded us the power of recounting our past in order to stay connected to our “Why?” Noelle asked us to think back to our first memories in the classroom and pair a song to them. Newly married, Chance the Rapper’s All We Got came immediately to the front of my mind. While Chance may have been exclaiming his desire to give music everything he has, as an educator I have brought my best to my field day in and out with the same priority put on the education of America’s youth. In the word’s of one of Chicago’s most empowering sons, “This is all we got. Isn’t it all we got. So we might as well give it all we got.” It was a most excellent surprise to learn that Noelle was not only familiar with one of my favorite artists, but she was also a fan.

Anthony Colannino’s interactive session focused on developing a deeper understanding of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. The audience was asked to dedicate their conceptual understanding of learning to include the stance that all humans have the ability to develop intelligence and abilities. Anthony closed his session with a numbers race that demonstrated the affect of preparing students with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.

My chance had become a shining gold paper plane in front of my eyes. Mike Dey coached us through effective strategies in communication and leadership. To emphasize these strategies and the growth mindset, Mike continued the summit’s “chance” motif. What Do You Do With a Chance? reminded the audience of the power educators have in providing chances to those in our professional and personal lives alike. Feeling empowered, the audience took a guided tour through Writable from Monica Graham.

Educators gained a hands-on experience with Writable at the HMH Literacy Leadership Summit.

Monica paired her demonstration with a live-pilot of the program in which the educators in the room developed a piece of writing and reviewed each other’s work. The audience took advantage of the opportunity to move through the platform as students would in order to gauge whether it would be a student-friendly tool. My chance became a reality when I was asked to provide testimony to the product within the breakout session. Furthermore, my chance developed into an interview with Monica that was posted via multiple social media accounts.

The last session of the summit was also the most anticipated. Earlier in the school year, I had the opportunity to “Say Yes!” to 2015 Newbery Award Winning author Kwame Alexander. A second opportunity to hear the uplifting messages and anecdotes from Kwame while his friend Randy Preston accompanied him with his guitar and voice was a chance that must be taken. Kwame rekindled the love for words and their power to change lives. He shared steps in his process to become the human that stood in front of us exclaiming the importance of truly believing in the mantra “Change the world, one word at time.”

As I exchanged farewells and thanks for chances and opportunities that had been provided to me at the summit, the growth in my professional learning network was confirmed. The people that I had met provided me an outlet for advice, encouragement, and reflection. Aside from the books that I acquired and strategies learned (both incredibly important to my professional development), my teaching philosophy and approach to teaching were confirmed by a group of the most credible and qualified educators in the country. I look forward to the continual growth of my classroom and my career as I strive to be a literacy hero.

A Display of Future Innovators

The 2018-2019 school year brought with it a large share of new opportunities and experiences. Joining Heritage High School’s TSA (Technology Student Association) chapter as a sponsor continues to highlight this school year with moments of personal and professional growth. In the fall, I attended the Florida TSA Leadership LEAP Training and Competition. Students attended sit in seminars, participated in problem solving competitions, bonded with their chapter members in a haunted house, and competed against each other in the annual Aligon Bowl. In the following months after the Leadership Conference, students at Heritage High School came together after the school day to develop, build, construct, and explain a variety of projects aimed at developing skills necessary for leading in a technical world. February 27th through March 2nd, those students put their skills and products on display against over 1800 other students from Florida.

Heritage High School 2018-2019 TSA Chapter

One of the events at the competition and conference was the Vex Robotics Competition. Students were required to build and pilot their robots to be used in the competition. Students earned points in the competition by flipping the coins, knocking down the flag targets, placing balls back on flipped coins, and maneuvering to the top platform before the end of their two minutes.

The newest competition in the event is the Drone Piloting competition. Students must construct a drone that fits the specifications of the competition. Students then pilot that drone through a tent of obstacles to earn points. Points in the first portion of the competition are earned by piloting the drone around a target and returning to the launchpad within a time limitation. The second portion of the competition asked pilots to use a claw attached to their drone to pick up targets, fly them to a specified location, drop them in the specified location, and then return to the launch pad. Other competitions varied from fashion design (students competed to develop the best example of a cosplay costume) to bio-technical design (students identified and created solutions for issues surrounding the maintenance of Earth’s oceans) to a dragster competition (students designed and constructed their own Carbon Dioxide powered dragsters).

Dragsters move down the 66 foot track in less than one second.

My first year with the Heritage High School TSA chapter has been full of rewarding experiences. Assisting students develop their projects and watching their display in competition provided me the ability to continue developing my leadership skills and knowledge of the technological world. Students used digital tools along with their collaborative and leadership skills to brainstorm, develop, and produce their projects honing skills necessary to compete in the digital age’s job market. Our success in the State Competition has earned a place at the 2019 National TSA Conference in Washington D.C. I look forward to assisting the Heritage High School students in furthering the development of their projects and competing at the national level. Until then, congratulations to the finalists and medal places from Heritage High School, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your growing chapter.

The Where and the What of Getting Published

Publication in the online journal Educational Leadership provides an excellent stepping stone to implementing the blended learning practices I have researched throughout my graduate program. The conversational tone requested in the guidelines for publication allows me creative freedom to discuss my research and my plans for creating digital citizens. The theme of “Citizens in the Making” inspired me to put together a submission that demonstrates the value of teaching digital citizenship through the use of blended learning. The intention of my submission will be to combine ideas regarding the use of digital resources and tools to research and create with ideas regarding digital citizenship. This will provide students the opportunity to explore content meaningful to their pursuit of positive citizenship as well as their pursuit to develop and hone their skills in navigating through a digital world that they aim to participate in. While the theme description advocates the description of how schools will assist students in becoming stronger citizens in the traditional sense of the word citizenship, research in the field of digital learning demands that students comprehend and practice positive digital citizenship. The concepts and practices surrounding digital citizenship parallel those of traditional citizenship; therefore, students would benefit from exposure to content  involving traditional citizenship in the form of digital texts. Once students read through these digital texts, they can display their learning through a variety of digital mediums. Students that engage in this learning process will achieve the learning objective of “acquire the knowledge, dispositions, and skills that are essential for responsible citizenship in areas such as history and government, scientific literacy, and communication” and use digital tools and resources to create meaningful content that promotes positive digital citizenship.  The following sources will provide support for my case to use digital citizenship to reinforce lessons aimed at transforming our students into engaged and informed citizens of the United States of America.

Learning and design with online real-time collaboration

This paper put together by Michael Stevenson and John G. Hedburg discusses how online communication can assist students in developing artifacts that display learning. The paper explains the necessity of understanding how students can collaborate within digital learning environments to effectively design curriculum to be used in an online learning platform.

Collaborative cloud: a new model for e-learning

This paper put together by Jian Liao, Minhong Wang, Weijia Ran, and Stephen J.H. Yang provides educators an option to use cloud computing for online collaboration and creation. This prototype system has the ability to provide students a more efficient method of writing, revising, and editing as well as a more efficient method of collaboration with their teachers and peers.

Closing the Communication Gap

This article put together by Kelly J. Charles and Virginia Dickens describes how Web 2.0 tools can enhance the planning and implementation of lessons. The article provides an introduction to Web 2.0 and how it can be used to co-teach and enhance collaboration between educators and students.

Building 21st Century Writers

This article put together by Jennifer Demski addresses the need for students to write using digital platforms. The article uses results from the Student Writing Achievement Through Technology Enhanced Collaboration (SWATTEC) grant to demonstrate how using digital tools to collaborate and write improves student achievement on writing test scores.

Teaching in a Digital Age

This book written by Tony Bates informs its readers on how the digital landscape has transformed how educators must teach. Chapters include how the digital world has reconstructed the classroom, how the digital world has effected pedagogy, and how the various mediums within the digital world can be used to effectively educate.

Students as Creators: How To Drive Your Students To Become More Than Just Consumers

This online article by Saga Briggs emphasizes the need for students to create within the digital world. Briggs stresses that students must use digital tools to synthesize the vast amount of information they encounter to develop their skills in analyzing and evaluating sources as well as their skills in creating content and using their sources for support.

In Spring City, PA., Hybrid Learning Sends Test Scores Soaring

This article by Kathy Boccella describes how an elementary school in Pennsylvania used hybrid learning to boost their math, reading, and science scores. Hybrid learning is defined as using digital learning alongside individualized learning and small group instruction.

Digital Citizenship Means Character Education for the Digital Age

This article written by Jason Ohler provides a case for providing students with information on how to practice positive digital citizenship. Ohler argues students in the digital age require the information on what digital citizenship means and the opportunity to practice positive digital citizenship.

When the news intrudes: Helping kids make sense of the media

This article written by Devorah Heitner provides reasons as to why students must understand how to analyze and evaluate source material. Heitner also provides a list of practices that ensure students are provided the proper opportunities to learn and practice positive digital citizenship.

Digital Citizenship in Schools

This book authored by Mike Ribble explains what digital citizenship is and what it means to all digital citizens. Ribble then discusses how the nine elements of digital citizenship affect learning in schools as a whole and in classrooms as individual places of learning.

A Stride in the Right Direction

Throughout the Digital Learning and Leadership program at Lamar University. I have been introduced to the idea that the end product, vital behaviors, or BHAG will only be reached if that final output receives first priority in all circumstances. The presentation that will follow, as my “What,” combined with a teacher leader presenter, will move educators within the entirety of academia to the agreement that Professional Learning must evolve with the coming of the Digital Age. We have also been instructed to develop our projects in the hopes that we will use what we are learning within our organizations. This simultaneous advancement and employment of teacher leaders across the country will expedite our field’s move to the Common Core Standards. I, originally, had my sights set on a near-unreachable goal. Once I realized I did not have to bound through my career, I adjusted my stride to accomplish a necessary step within my current organization. This presentation aims to inspire questions throughout its audience. This presentation finds its “What” in a hopeful pursuit to create the urge in teachers to take back the power of being a life-long-learner. The survey titled “How Do You Want to Learn?” will act as radar for which teachers will be enlisted to assist in spreading interest and which teachers will be targeted to develop new interest.

A Blended Approach to Professional Learning

How Do You Want to Learn?

The “How” of the presentation defines itself as all great ideas do: a collaboration of a few good ideas and less bad ideas. After viewing How Presentation Zen Fixed My Bad Powerpoints and How to Avoid Death by Powerpoint, I took to my Microsoft Office with tenacity and determination. I had my BHAG; I was going to join the worlds of K-12 public education and the world of higher education. Districts would pair with online graduate programs to provide teachers with courses aligned to eventually earn a Master’s Degree in focuses such as Educational Leadership, Digital Learning and Leadership, Special Education, Teaching English as a Second Language, and more. Great ideas also need the counseling of an outside source. After consulting with my professors, I decided that it was best to focus my presentation on achieving the goals I had set out for with my innovation plan. An upcoming outline will determine my agenda for enlisting the peers of my organization to ensure my organization takes the steps needed to implement my innovation plan and more importantly, save teachers from out-dated, ill-used professional development.