Changing Ourselves

In Will Richardson's recent post about Changing Ourselves and our Culture, he asks:

How do we help schools and districts to begin to reshape their culture around learning in more collaborative, connected environments? How do we get to the
point where we’re not just seeing individual teachers and classrooms make the shift, but where we are seeing schools as a whole beginning to shift as well?

Here is the comment I left on his post: For me - I began making the social connections globally and then found a core group of teacher/friends that were willing to give the things I was learning a try. We ended last year as a school 1.0 and this year have grown to having a core group of teachers that blog and I recently got my entire leadership team to agree to blog a conference we attended with what we learned going back to our faculty immediately. When we want to do something new in the classroom, what do we do? We model, support while they practice and then support them independently. When bringing 21st Century Skills to schools…I think it will take more than a workshop or two. You need to have a “teacher” who will model, a group of people willing to practice and try and hopefully they will take off. I’m fortunate that has been the work environment I am in - I would like to think it would work for others.

I absolutely know that I am fortunate to work in such a collegial environment of risk takers - not typical for most- so I was not surprised by Will's response to my comment:

Thanks for relating this. I would be really interested in how you got your
leadership team to have some buy in and what the results have been in terms of
their participation. Do you think your environment is typical? Thanks for the

This got me thinking...I was so pleased and proud of the end product and feedback we got on our conference blog that I hadn't really stopped to ask the bloggers how they felt about the process. Our leadership team, who participated in the blog, consists of some teachers that blog and some that had never blogged. They all willingly jumped in - and even twittered while we were there - but I asked them to reflect on the experience and tell me what they thought:

* I thought the experience was great in many aspects. The only thing I would say is that we would need to talk next time about what the expectation on a post about a session is. Do we want to keep it to the basics? Do we want a simple overview? Do we want to add how we think this connects to our work? Do we want the post to be something that others at our school can
read and learn from at that moment? Are we going to address any information from a post at a later time? What value did the other members of our school get from the actual information that we wrote about sessions?

* For years when I have gone to a conference on the school's dime, I have felt that I had a responsibility to come home, type up my notes and share them. Sometimes, I even taught a specific "something" that I learned, but I never felt like the school got its money's worth. It made a difference for my practice, but had little influence on anyone else's. I wondered if anyone else ever even looked at my notes...
Blogging is different. For one thing, I feel a need to be more concise - to get my point across before I lose the reader! I feel encouraged to include pictures, videos, PowerPoints and other artifacts of the presentation to make it more interesting. You also can't leave in the middle of a session because you feel compelled to blog the complete session to be fair. No more session hopping! Probably the most fun was blogging about the "other than the sessions" parts of a conference. It also is much more fun to blog with a group - you feel inspired and creative when you have friends to bounce ideas.
All in all, blogging this first conference was fun, fun, fun. It was also fun to come home and hear that a teacher felt like they had learned a lot from something you'd posted or have a teacher ask you more about something you'd written. No question that I would do this again.

* I have to admit, when Melanie first suggested that we blog the conference, I thought that it was a great idea in theory, but didn't think that we were going to have enough time to get it done. (After all, we were going to be in Hollywood!) I keep my own classroom blog, so I am familiar with the process of creating a post. My writing skills are not wonderful, so it takes me a little longer to create something that I am willing to publish.
I attended my first session and blogged it while it was happening, taking much better notes than I would have if I was not blogging. I discovered that by blogging the conference, it made me more reflective of what I was learning. I spent more time analyzing what I was hearing and thinking about ways to apply it to other subject areas, not just my own. I thought about the people that I coach at my school that would benefit from my session and tried to include little details that I know they would like. I found the sessions flew by as I was already applying the new content to my classroom and taking pictures of the sessions so everyone else could see what I saw.
It surprised me how easy it was to post and how excited I was becoming to create a new post and share the information with everyone back home. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed posting and couldn't wait to read what others were posting. I think it is the most efficient way to take information from conferences and make the most out of it. I would definitely love to do it again. I think it was well worth it! (As long as the hotel has access to wireless Internet, that is.)

* As you know, I was kind of skeptical of the whole thing before we started. I think it was due to my lack of experience more than anything. As I posted a few items, I realized the gains (others being able to learn from what we posted) was worth much more than the anxiety I had about others reading what I wrote. I think it turned out great. I definitely believe we should continue. I think using technology for professional development is a must. By now, I would hope most teachers are using technology as an instructional tool however, I think there is so much more we can do. May be students can start communicating with others throughout the world via blogs. I can't believe I just said that.
Anyway, thanks for introducing me to blogging.

* San Diego, San Francisco, Hollywood, Atlanta, Orlando, Jacksonville, Washington D.C-- just a few of the places I’ve attended conferences. From the National Council Teachers Mathematics, Florida Teacher Council of Mathematics, International Reading Association, to the America’s Choice Conference. How was this conference different? This time the learning was brought back to our learning community live. Teachers could track what we were doing professionally and personally. This time, they felt like they were along for the journey, empowered to be part of the process. I’m hoping that this experience reduced their feeling of isolation. Our learning leaders back at the Creek stayed better informed with more detailed information in real time because we collectively blogged our sessions. They got information from 10 sources rather than just the one source (their coach) that they would have in previous years.
I believe this experience was possible and powerful because our Leadership Team is a professional learning community. We have a shared vision and work collectively to make sure our new learning impacts our classroom practice for improved academic gains for students. In addition, our work is transparent. We share everything from our relationships, to our calculated risk-taking, to our unprecedented results. This blog provided the avenue to share more than ever. I knew the experience would be a positive one for our Chets Creek teachers, but underestimated the impact to educators nationally and internationally. I also underestimated how it would shape our future work. In fact, from this point on, all Chets teachers will be expected to live blog all conferences they attend. New ideas will be shared instantaneously throughout all grade levels and our work will grow deeper. From now on I won’t just learn when I attend conferences, I’ll learn from others.
In addition, I am captivated by the technology of blogging conferences live. We can upload video clips, photographs, slide shows, and handouts. Teachers can immediately follow live links to broaden their learning. Furthermore, from the bloggers perspective it gives one an immediate chance to reflect on their experiences, and live the life of a writer. I am excited that this is only the beginning...

So, at my school, we are changing ourselves and learning right along with the kids. It may not be typical for what is going on at other schools, but with the relationships built along the way - we're all for one and one for all. It's too important - we can't afford not to - what are you doing to change the culture in your school?


Happy Birthday to Me!

So, I'm trying to be cheery about's my 40th birthday. Normally I don't really do anything special, but today I decided to take a relaxing day for myself. You see, I have FOUR children so I don't do ANYTHING by myself. I wasn't sure I would even know how to function. I started my morning with a relaxing Starbucks coffee, a little shopping and a trip to the nail salon. Which, reminded me of this comedy sketch sent to me by Toni Chant last year. So in honor of my birthday, if you've ever been to a nail this for a good laugh.


I'm on the Path - Come Join Me!

David Warlick had a recent post describing the steps to becoming a 21st Century Literate Educator. In his post, he said he often tells people to read blogs to learn about teaching 21st skills, but he thought it might be more helpful to have a list of specific steps. I was gratified to see many of the things I have experienced on my journey into Web 2.0 and ideas of where I should go next. Check it out and see where you are.

A Path to Becoming a 21st Century Literate Educator — Self Development

1. Find two or more other educators in your school who are interested in learning and using emerging information and communication technologies. It would be of enormous advantage if you can include your schools library media specialist. Done!

2. Identify the appropriate person in your school or district who can provide technical support and configuration for your increasingly utilized computers and network. Bake them some chocolate chip cookies. School's Media Specialist 100% supportive...need to bake cookies for district support personnel.

3. Identify some edu-bloggers who are talking about the emerging ICTs you are considering. See the Bloggers to Learn From wiki, contributed to by a world community of educators. I learn from my edubloggers on twitter and by reading their blogs.

4. Delegate! Assign each member of your team some of the selected blogs to follow, and share specific posts with each other. I still want to read it all myself, but am always recommending great blog posts and talking with team members about what I'm learning.

5. Read, study, and discuss books about teaching and learning and the world we’re doing it in. See the Books to Learn From wiki, contributed to by a world community of educators. Yes, yes, yes!

6. Schedule regular meetings (once or twice a month) at a local restaurant, coffee shop, or pizzeria (preferably with WiFi). Meet and discuss what you’ve learned and what you want to learn. I don't wait for a meeting...I talk my friends ears off in person on through email. :)

7. Start a group (A social bookmarks service) account for organizing and
sharing web resources. Well, I have a account, but hadn't thought of doing a group account.

8. Start a wiki for posting notes, links, and step-by-step instructions. Not yet...

9. Join one or more of the Ning social networks, such as: School 2.0, Library 2.0, Classroom 2.0. I have joined nings myself and am starting one for the teachers at my school - need to deliver chocolate chip cookies to #2 to get site unblocked at work.

10. Start your own blogs for sharing your reflections on what you are learning and how you are learning it. You're reading it!

11. Start experimenting in your class and share the results. Mrs. Holtsman's Class Blog

12. Share your results with other teachers in your school and invite them into your conversation. Done and will continue to do!

13. Start to model, in your job as a teacher, the practice of being a master learner. Always, my ultimate goal...


New? Fuzzy Math

As I was cooking dinner (I mean, warming up leftovers) the following news report caught my attention on TV:

As a teacher who hasn't taught math in many years (literacy is my specialty), I can only speak as a parent: My first question is...did they say NEW approach? In Duval County, FL we've been using Math Investigations for at least five years.

I have an daughter who is in 5th grade. She has struggled with number sense and memory skills since kindergarten. For many years I was frustrated with the multiple strategies she was learning for each new math concept. I would have been happy for her to just get ONE and be able to use it. I really longed for the "old" approach to math. I just wanted my child to be successful.

I was encouraged to stick it out through the Math Investigations. I was told she would understand better in the long run if she understood the concept. I won't lie - we had our dark days. She still struggles with memory and processing skills in the area of math, BUT the concepts she has mastered - she truly understands.

I faked my way through math. I memorized an algorithm and produced a right answer. It caught up with me in college. I ended up having to take College Algebra THREE times. I only passed by a hair. I still do not understand the concept behind most algorithms I use in my daily life.

Who got the better math education, my daughter or myself? She wins hands down. She is able to transfer her knowledge to real life situations in shopping and organizing household items. She sees the connection and is able to pull from a variety of strategies. Back to Basics math helps you complete a problem, not apply a strategy.

The 21st Century holds my daughter's future career. Whatever it may be, however math related it is...she is prepared to be a THINKER, capable of looking outside the lines for solutions. I hope that more parents will spend time asking their child about their strategies and less time looking for the "way we used to do things." We're moving forward, not back.


Meme: Passion Quilt

Silvia Tolisano from Langwitches tagged me for this meme by Miguel Guhlin. I have been challenged to find or create an image that captures what I am most passionate for kids to learn about. (That Silvia is always pushing my thinking! :) Here's the rules:

Passion Quilt Meme:
1. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about...and give your picture a short title.
2. Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt" and link back to this blog entry.
3. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

My answer verbally would be: I want kids to become 21st century thinkers and learners. I want my classroom to be a flat classroom where the possibilities for creating and contributing are limitless. I couldn't figure out what that would "look" like in one image, but then I looked around my room the next was right before my eyes:

"Flat Classroom"

What are YOU passionate for kids to learn about?

Susan T. Phillips from Dreams Begin Here
dayle timmons from Timmons Times
Suzanne Shall from Coaching Chronicles
Melissa Ross from Mrs. Ross' Second Grade Class
Debbie Harbour from Mrs. Harbour's Class


When I'm Not Blogging...

I haven't been blogging much lately. I haven't kept up with my Google Reader lately. (Did you know that when it gets up to 1000 it stops counting?) What's the reason? I got this crazy idea that I wanted to learn video editing. See, there is this video genius I work with, named Eric Blair, that makes it look so easy. He produces movies for us to use in daily morning school announcements and special celebrations.

I admired his work so much that I asked if he thought I could learn to do it. He assured me I could. To make a long story short---a month and a half later and endless lessons and questions Eric endured----I made my first movie. I filmed my principal doing a virtual school tour for our conference presentation. I learned so much. Thanks Eric!

My next challenge was getting it posted on the web so we could embed it in our conference blog. I have since learned about file types and upload limits on the many different sites: youtube, teachertube, googlevideo... I was so frustrated about not being able to get it up for viewing. I put it out on my twitter network to see if anyone else knew what to do and Liz B. Davis shared with me success she had with I gave it a try - and finally....success! The quality isn't the same, but since I can't invite you all over for popcorn and soda to sit and watch it, this will have to do. Enjoy!