Revving up

Each day I hear numbers… how many days until school is out or over or summer vacay arrives? I admit I have been one of those calling numbers in the packs before.  But as recently as this week, I truly have a recharge, a resurgence like never before. Our staff recently took time for three consecutive PLCs to reflect on where our journey started a year ago in our VILs grant, review our wins, hurdles, aha’s and more, create professional digital portfolios, develop growth documents, and finally to write advice for incoming VILs teachers.  When I read the “I used to think….Now I think ” statements of my staff, I have so many thoughts.  I am proud of them.  They have worked so hard. They have pushed themselves and each other out of their comfort zones. They have built capacity in each other. They have dreamed. They have tried new things. And they are ready to embrace next year.  They have grasped the concept that teaching and learning are changing.  While many are testing, preparing for semester exams, I am planning for the start of an amazing 2018-19.  This is my 32nd year coming to a close and I am on fire!


Changing Instruction

Changing instruction for improved student outcomes is a common discussion thread in many educational settings.  However, talking about it and taking action for visible change are two different paths. This year our Irving ISD Digital Learning Coach team began working with Apple Education, Verizon Innovative Learning Schools, Digital Promise, and EdTech Teacher as we started this journey. As a VILs campus, this is one of our goals.  District & campus administration, instructional coaches, and staff are continuously learning. Our model has included webinars, online course, PLCs, Pineapple Charts for teacher observations, just-in-time training, and self-directed paths. We continuously monitor and adjust campus plans based on feedback from staff. Apple’s Elements of Learning iBook provides a concrete, easy-to-understand framework that helps users understand how to leverage opportunities with technology to design learning experiences that result in deeper, more meaningful student learning. Combining indepth SAMR study alongside this, deepens our understanding of how we are able to leverage technology at the right time for best outcomes.  Our staff are talking and walking the talk!  By request, a five-week book study will begin April 17th, 7 pm.  (#iisdchat)  Our students are proud of their work. We have much to share and gain from conversations in this upcoming book study.  Come join us.

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Tech Bingo

Tech Bingo is rolling this week.  Our staff learned about this opportunity right before Spring Break. My principal attended EdTech Teacher’s conference in California in January and FETC’s conference in Florida this same time was a first for me.  When attending a professional development event, I typically have a pre-agenda of what I hope to learn and end up adding some unexpected gems to my goals-met list.  With two amazing events, we brought home a vault of ideas. One of our favorite ideas was snagged by my principal from @techtraci2000 at this Twitter post.   As a coach and a principal, theTech Bingo Image update challenge of sharing new information in a timely, efficient manner is ongoing. Tech Bingo is our version of this gem. Our tech bingo project is an optional project that will allow staff to revisit some old tools, teaching strategies, learn a few new tricks, collaborate, and have fun.  Our end goal is for everyone to have fun, reward staff for their accomplishments this year, encourage collaboration, and create an awareness of how much we have accomplished.  Staff can work on these challenges until May 18th.  Prizes such as drinks, snacks, and the coveted jeans coupons for the last few weeks of school will be awarded. The individual intrinsic satisfaction of realizing the gains our campus has made this year as a Verizon Innovative Learning school is the ultimate goal.  Each of our staff has contributed individually and as part of our team to make changes in the teaching and learning processes that contribute to student learning outcomes.  We are a works in progress.  We are learning. Each day is a new day. We are a changed campus, each day, one better than the day before.  We are Austin Broncos!


This week I was able to attend the Texas Instruments International Convention in San Antonio, Texas.  A lot of hard work in the past year has propelled me to this point.  This conference while smaller than FETC and TCEA  packs quite an intense punch.  The attendance was estimated at 1800.   Listening to keynote speaker John Urschel, mathematizing with Jill Gough, Pamela Harris, and many others energizes you. Learning about #slowmath, productive struggle, and rich learning tasks challenges you to rethink lesson design principles for all content, not just math.  I am constantly writing notes, planning, and carefully designing how, where, and when to plant seeds of all that I have learned.    I registered to preview a course taught by Pam Harris to see and learn more about strategies that I can help teachers implement. The fabulous math practices and learning progressions shared in Jill Gough and Jennifer Wilson’s sessions are available for download on Jennifer’s blog.  Texas Instruments offers a wealth of resources for educators.  Check out what is available for your classroom.  Attending conferences offers great opportunities for learning. The best part of the conferences are the new connections made that will offer continuous resources and lasting friendships. To my new friends from Australia and Sweden, safe travels home. And to Travis… every campus needs a Travis. You are energy, passion, light for our children.  Thank you for being my partner in two sessions. You taught me a lot.



Walking into Junida Howard’s first-grade classroom, I will never forget being greeted by a first grader who knew who I was, why I had come to the room, that he had determined the issued, and what I needed to do to resolve it for the teacher.  I sat down that day and asked him to explain his process.  I was intrigued by this student.  He clearly stated how he had logically determined the root cause of the computer monitor issues.  While not common practice for first-grade students to do so, he was correct.  Because I sat down and listened to him, found value in his thoughts, a bond formed that day with that student.  This week, I realized just how strong this bond has continued to grow.  Each year at his elementary campus, he continued to grow, learn and share experiences.  He and I often ate lunch together just because we could visit.  At the end of his fifth-grade year, I asked him which middle school he would be attending.  When the new year started and I discovered that he was attending one of our VILS campuses I was so excited because I knew that this would provide opportunities for this student that he would not otherwise have available to him.   And just as I expected, he has exceeded all expecatations.  He entered iCreate this year for the first time and was selected as a Featured entry.  He showcased his project so well, so proudly. I was able to introduce my principal and a district communications specialist to him.  He did such a great job that he will be interviewed by a local station this week to be the student spotlight.  When others speak of him, I feel so proud of him.  I have watched this student grow, and be successful.  In a previous conversation this week, a staff member was concerned about students, teachers, test scores, lessons and changing outcomes.  Relationships! Reading Jon Gordon’s Book “Soup” in a recent book study, helped our department grow as a team and serve our campuses better.  Life is based on relationships.  Relationships must be formed before anything else can occur.  My relationship with this student formed a long time ago because I took a few minutes to listen.  Stop and listen today. See where it will go.

What? I’m not perfect?

A few weeks ago, I walked into the building one morning with plenty of time to spare before students arrived.  I was always early and this day was no exception.  I would have been earlier but a meeting with a 2-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper resulted in me changing clothes.  Dr. Pepper 1, Me 0.  As I walked down the hall toward my room, I noticed the door already open and thought that strange. As I got closer, I could see the light was on and then I thought that was surely odd.  As I walked into a room of people, my mind was full of a million thoughts that were clearly displayed on my face at once because they all broke out into an uproar of laughter.  I can’t imagine what my face must have looked like. The only words that I could muster were, “I’m sorry”.  They had all arrived at 7 a.m. for a purposeful planning session.  I had not.  They had taken their learning into their own hands.  I was so proud of them.  They had a list of “knows” and “needs to know”  I jumped right in and was able to answer their questions for them.  Later that day, my principal shared with me (as I apologized repeatedly) that was probably a great thing.  Seeing vulnerability can be a strong point.  I also remember another story about twenty years ago one morning when we were finishing our morning KEGL morning broadcast.  Our principal was signing off and stopped to say she had one final announcement.  She said, live on the air, to a student and faculty, if you see Mrs. S, be sure to tell her how much you love her shoes and signed off!  I immediately looked down.  I was shocked but could do nothing.  I had on one navy shoe and one black shoe with gray pants.  My shoes glared at the world.  I received more compliments that day than any other day.  What do you do?  Yous smile and say thank you! Turns out Brené Brown thinks the same thing.  Watching her TEDTalk, The Power of Vulnerability recommended by Patricia Alvarado, shed some additional light on this subject. She closes with, “…Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”  It is okay for people to see you make mistakes.  It lets them know you are human.  I want to be kinder, gentler, compassionate and connected.  I care.


Change is hard, or is it?

Making any kind of change is hard.  Most people tend to hold on to what we know best. Thirty-two years in education has revealed a lot of changes, period.    Years ago I read the book, “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson.  I’m reminded again this week about the parable in this book as our staff enjoyed a week of Pineapple chart classroom observations. Model classroom teachers offered times that teachers could visit.  When visiting, staff took a picture of the environment and wrote reflection statements on a padlet regarding how that classroom environment supported teaching and learning.  We modeled this process from a similar process in Apple’s Elements of Learning. Reading the reflections and viewing the pictures posted provided invaluable insight.  Understanding that the online classroom is part of our class environment is a change.  Understanding that students collaborating is part of the class environment is a change.  Understanding that our classrooms today, are different than even so close as yesterday is a change.  Understanding that for our students to be successful, we must change how we teach. Change is inevitable.  When we acknowledge this, the change is no longer hard, it becomes a part of who we are, and what we do. We evolve into the person we are because of change.  I love who I am! A brand new middle school staff, after thirty-one years elementary! alexander