Friday, July 26, 2013

We Are All In This Together

by Michele Corbat

Today is #FF (Follow Friday) on Twitter.  Basically, this is a way to promote an interesting Twitter user and to recommend other Tweeps follow him or her.  #FF is one way I build my PLN (Personal Learning Network). It is how I connect with amazing educators all over the world.  People who are game changers, driving change in challenging circumstances.  People who are creating cultures of learning.

What, exactly, is a PLN? 

If you follow Jerry Blumengarten on Twitter, you know that he is the RESOURCE KING (if you are not following him, stop reading this and start now).  In fact, he has an entire page on his website dedicated to PLNs. Check it out here.  According to Wikipedia, a PLN is:

an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.

My PLN has changed my life.  I have interacted with and derived knowledge from educators who are leading the way in education.  These 'edunators' (a term invented by teacher Mark Clements) implement genius hour, 20% time or project based learning. They organize and attend Edcamps, flip their classrooms, moderate educational chats, read books every day and share all of this knowledge with me through their tweets and reflections in their blogs.  They have deepened my understanding of standards based grading/learning, visible thinking, and augmented reality. They inspire me to take risks and to set goals that I may not have set before connecting with them.  It was through the support of my PLN that I was encouraged to begin blogging and to co-moderate #COLchat. 

Educator, author and consultant, Angela Maiers, has said, "The smartest person in the room IS the room."  Together we are smarter.  She wrote about it here. I wish that I would have joined Twitter years ago to collaborate and build my PLN.  I wish that I would have had a PLN when I was still a classroom teacher. I can't imagine how amazing that would be--to be able to attend an Edcamp or read a blog post and then implement what I learn with MY students the next day!  The good news is that now I do have a PLN.

My School PLN

I left the classroom eight years ago to accept a new challenge and stretch myself in a leadership role.  My district created support positions for teachers called Literacy Coaches.  I was one of the first coaches in my school district.  In all honesty, there have been many ups and downs with this role and at times it has been very lonely.  I am not an administrator.  I am not a classroom teacher.  Some may feel that I can't possibly understand the stress or struggles a classroom teacher faces today since I am not in their shoes.  They are right.  I can't know exactly what it feels like.  However, the expectations I set for myself are extremely high.  If a teacher is struggling with new curriculum or teaching strategies, I will do whatever it takes to support him or her.  The staff and students that I get to work with on a day-to-day basis matter and I want them to know that I care.  While my responsibilities and title have changed over the years, I am still blessed to be connected with hundreds of educators and students in my school district.  These connections have allowed me to establish a school PLN.

Building trusting relationships was and is my number one priority.  I wish that I could say that I have trusting relationships with every one of my colleagues, but I don't...YET.  The educators who I HAVE connected with are part of my school PLN.  Together we set learning goals, create implementation plans to reach the goals, implement these plans (my favorite part of this is when I get to co-teach) and give each other feedback.  We share resources, ideas and strategies.  We recommend books to each other.  We cry together and laugh together. 

My goal for the 2013-14 school year is to increase my school PLN because 'the smartest person in the room IS the room'.  In order to do that I will continue to work at my number one priority:  building relationships.  I will listen without judging.  I will accept others' points of view even when I don’t accept what the person says. I want the person who is speaking to feel like he or she has been heard. By focusing on the person’s words and determining what the speaker is telling or asking for, then summarizing or asking for clarification, I will become a listener who isn’t judgmental.  I will continue to practice the C.A.R.E. strategies I wrote about here.  Then the true collaboration can begin and I can't wait.  My PLN is going to bring our school district's mission statement to life!
 Mission:  Swartz Creek Community Schools inspires our learners to embrace challenges, set goals, grow their talents, and realize their dreams for success in a global society.

We are all in this together! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Powerful Conversations via Twitter

By Rodney Hetherton

I was thinking this morning about the @RafranzDavis blog "Not Easily Offended on Twitter" when I received a challenge on one of my morning tweets.  And guess what?  I wasn't offended, either.

This is the beauty of building a PLN.  There are great minds all over the globe thinking about how to make this world (mine focused mainly around education) a better place.  When I get into a debate or conversation with someone on Twitter,  the fact is I don't know them... unless they are from my local PLN (hey, #swcrkPLN you rock!)  The debate from this morning actually came from someone I had never heard of, wasn't following or being followed.

 You have to assume that these are respectable people you are conversing with, probably tops in their profession trying to  learn and grow, just like you and me.  The conversations seem to become more alive and more real on Twitter.  It has me wondering if it is paradoxical that people we don't really know are, in fact, engaging us more authentically than the people we do know?

I wish our local conversations were more authentic like Twitter.  Too bad our own interactions within our classrooms, buildings, and  districts aren't fashioned in the same sense.  We often let our relationships make tough conversations and debates personal.  Don't get me wrong, relationships are everything!  The are the prefix to all other educational initiatives.  It is the taking the conversation personally that interferes with the authenticity.

That is why I am truly excited to be reading "Fierce Conversations" this summer as part of an admin leadership book study.  I am hoping to find more gems about being upfront, honest, authentic, and engaging in our "live" conversations.  Not taking words personally is a hard one for a great many of us.  I have learned, so far, that being fierce just means being passionate and honest with ourselves and those we interact with (at school and home).

Back to Twitter.  I am just amazed at the dialogue on Twitter.  I would love to see more of my colleagues jump on board.  I encourage you to encourage others to give it a try; show them the spice of life.   I would hope we could get to that point of authentic conversation with all our colleagues in education, especially the ones we stand next to, shoulder to shoulder, for 40 or 50 hours a week.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Are You Too Blessed to Be Stressed?

By Michele Corbat

Jon Gordon recently wrote a blog post entitled: The Power of a Positive Educator and shared seven ways we can choose to be a positive educator.  One of the ways resonated with me as I had read about it earlier this year in his books The Energy Bus and The Positive Dog.  I was putting it into practice during the school year and it was making a difference.  It is described here:

Take a Daily Thank you Walk – It’s simple, it’s powerful, and it’s a great way to feed yourself with positivity. How does it work? You simply take a walk . . . outside, in a mall, at your school, on a treadmill, or anywhere else you can think of, and think about all the things, big and small, that you are grateful for. The research shows you can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time so when you combine gratitude with physical exercise, you give yourself a double boost of positive energy. You flood your brain and body with positive emotions and natural antidepressants that uplift you rather than the stress hormones that drain your energy and slowly kill you. By the time you get to school you are ready for a great day.

This week has been extremely hot in Michigan.  Actual air temperatures have been 90+ degrees with heat indices of 100+.  We don't have a pool, but we have a very good family friend who does.  My boys and I have gone swimming to beat the heat every day this week.  I decided to make the most of this time by getting in some exercise in between games of Donut or judging cannonballs.  This was my 'Daily Thank you Swim'.  As I swam laps, I thought about all of the blessings in my life.  They are countless!

I have a wonderful husband who works hard 6-7 days/week to provide for his family.  He is a good, honest man with a strong character.  He works hard and he plays hard.  I am blessed that he is my life partner for richer or poorer, better or worse, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.

My husband, Jon, playing on the go-kart

 My children are healthy, smart, funny, and kind.  They bring me more joy than I ever dreamed possible.  When I was seven years old, my younger sister died in a tragic accident.  She was my only sibling and was only six years old (we are 364 days apart).  On the day each of my boys were born, I cried tears of joy and told my parents that I already loved them so much.  I can't imagine ever losing them.  I am blessed for every day that I have with them.    

My boys.  My life.
I only live 10 minutes away from my parents.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  They love me selflessly and have gone out of their way to show it my entire life.  My Mom will buy extra groceries when she finds a good sale and give them to my family.  She is an excellent cook is always willing to share meals with us (she cooks for six, even though it's only her and my Dad).  My Dad is retired now and has come to my house every day to take my youngest son to school.  He knows how busy my husband and I are so he takes care of odd jobs around my house.  My parents support me, love me and believe in me no matter what.  I am blessed to have such amazing parents.

Mom and Dad with my youngest on his First Communion
I am a teacher in the school district where I was a student.  I get to work with and learn with people who were my teachers, my peers or my students.  I get to go to work every day and collaborate with them.  They inspire me.  They support me when I'm struggling and celebrate with me when we succeed. We are a family.  I am proud of my school district and excited about the future.  We are building a culture of learning.  I am blessed to be a part of it.

There are so many more people and things that I am grateful for in my life.  I will continue to reflect on them each and every day.  I choose to feed myself with positivity and focus on my blessings.  I will be too blessed to be stressed. How about you?  What are your blessings?   
"Reflect upon your present blessings--of which every man has many--not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some."~Charles Dickens


Friday, July 12, 2013

5 Ways Edcamps are a Culture of Learning

By Michele Corbat

7-11 was a special day for me.  I didn't get a free slurpee, but I did get something else for free that was so much better.  7-11 was the day I experienced my first Edcamp.   Eight of my colleagues and I met at 6 A.M. to make the two hour drive to Battle Creek, MI for nErDcampbc.  Even though it was bright and early, we chattered the entire way there about books we've read,  how Twitter has helped us learn and grow, our families, and our feelings of anticipation as we got closer to our destination.  We had our own little culture of learning in that car and I was blessed to be a part of it. 

Throughout the day, between the outstanding sessions and my tornado of tweets about them, my mind kept wandering to all the ways this experience IS a culture of learning.  There are probably more than five ways, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind.

5.  Edcamps build excitement.

As soon as we arrived, we 'nerded out'.  The car was not even at a complete stop and car doors were flung open.  Maybe a couple of people even ran, or jogged, to the registration table. *wink*
A culture of learning should be like this.  Can you imagine students or educators arriving to school each day like this?

4.  Edcamps provide choice.

A critical element in a culture of learning is choice.  Learners should have the ability to take charge of their learning. Edcamps do just this.  We spent almost 30 minutes in the morning and again after lunch brainstorming topics that we wanted to learn about.  These topics were turned into sessions and added to the session board.  The session board was like the menu at Dairy Queen.  I wanted one of everything!  Our choices continued in the sessions.  If we joined a room and found that the topic wasn't for us, we could move on to another room. Autonomy at it's finest.

3.  Edcamps encourage risk-taking.

My hat is off to everyone who stepped up to lead a session.  There were over 200 people in attendance and educators volunteered to facilitate sessions without any preparation time.  They put themselves out there and were vulnerable.  It's scary to speak in front of a group of smart people. I am especially proud of my colleagues Martie Piechowski (@smartiepies) and Tonya Brownfield (@TonyaBrownfield).  These ladies were encouraged by some other attendees to lead a discussion on how to encourage reluctant readers.  They were nervous about this and took the risk.  They facilitated a great discussion and kept notes here.

2.  Edcamps inspire learners.

At the end of the day, participants were asked to come to the microphone and share what they learned.  I was inspired by the passion of each person who shared and especially touched by Colby Sharp's students.  These girls spoke about how much they enjoyed the book talk session.  I was fortunate to be a part of that session and they were blowing me away with their book recommendations.  One of the girls told me that she read 150 books as a student in Colby's class (where a culture of learning obviously exists).

These girls were on fire!  Colby Sharp's students

1.   Edcamps build relationships.

The best part of nErDcampbc was connecting with people.  I had time to talk with my colleagues about life and learning.  We created memories that I will cherish forever.  I was able to meet the faces of the brains that I have followed and admired on Twitter.  And as a bonus, I met so many new people who I have added to my PLN.

I'm looking forward to nErDcampbc 2014.  If you haven't experienced an Edcamp, then you don't know what you're missing.  Give it a try.  You won't be sorry.  You can find a list of Edcamps near you here.  Who knows, maybe an Edcamp that I help organize will be on this list one day! 

Swartz Creek teachers with nErDcampbc organizers

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Christmas In July

by Michele Corbat 

Remember what it was like when we were kids in the days leading up to Christmas morning?  I kept a paper chain in my room to count down the days and removed a link each morning.  It seemed like it would NEVER get here.  Forget about sleeping through the night on Christmas Eve.  My mind would not shut down because I knew that the next day would be wonderful.

Today was like Christmas morning for me.  It was the day that #COLchat launched.  I didn't keep a paper chain, but I was wide awake last night thinking about it.  Sleeping was just not possible.  Too many questions were running through my mind.  I was afraid of failure.

Will people really join and participate?  
Are the questions going to elicit good 'conversation'?  
What if my technology crashes?

My boys on Christmas morning
 #COLchat has been in the works for about a month.  It started with a Twitter conversation I had  with Rodney Hetherton and Adam Hartley.  Here's a portion:

Shortly after this conversation, the work began.  We created a Google Doc to map out possible topics and questions for each chat.  Revisions to the questions were happening even this morning.   We were worried that only a handful of people would join and we had only planned on five questions.  A question tweeted every 12 minutes, would that be too much time in between questions?  More questions were added. 

As it turned out, the first chat was a great success.  Not only did people join, but #COLchat was trending in the number one spot on Twitter.  My PLN was rocking!  Educators were sharing components of a COL and explaining how to create one.  My twitter feed was on fire.  I was favoriting and retweeting thoughts from smart people.  I felt like I did as child on Christmas morning, busting open gifts and anxiously awaiting the next present.  Because that is exactly what each person did for me.  Gave me a gift.  A gift of knowledge to deepen my understanding of a culture of learning.  And I LOVE learning.  I am addicted to it.

Thank you PLN.  Thank you for sharing with me every day.  Thank you for keeping me enthused and motivated to learn more.  I have so much to learn.  I would like to especially thank Rod and Adam.  Thank you for taking an idea and turning it into a reality.  And thank you for tweeting for me when I ended up in Twitter jail.

I am looking forward to the next #COLchat and the next one after that.  I hope the momentum continues.  There are sure to be glitches and we will work them out.  We will learn from our failures.  For now, I will reflect on a successful chat!  Oh, and if you weren't able to join, then please check out the archive here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Caring: A Building Block to Relationships

by Michele Corbat

We all need connections. We all need to feel cared about and beautiful things come when these essential foundations are in place. According to
Abraham Maslow, in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation": humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups, regardless if these groups are large or small. I find this need to belong, this need to feel cared about is especially important in schools.  Students, teachers, support staff, and yes, even administrators want to feel and know that they belong.  That someone cares. In my opinion, developing healthy relationships is the most important part of an educator’s job.
Photo credit Jack McGee

The topic of relationships has been on my mind for many months.  It seems that everywhere I turn, I am seeing or hearing or reading something about the importance of establishing relationships.  These are some tweets that I have favorited in recent months:

I recently read the book Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess.  You can learn more about the book on his website here. In the book, Dave tells the story of buying a new Honda Odyssey minivan.  On the day he buys it, something amazing happens.  He sees thousands and thousands of Odysseys everywhere.  He writes:

The brain learns to attend to stimuli that it believes are important to you and to delete, or filter out, everything else.  Until we needed a minivan, Odysseys weren't important to me.  I never focused on them, or even gave them a second thought, so they just registered to my brain as "car" in the generic.  Once I had an Odyssey and it was part of my life, my brain automatically attended to them and registered them as something special and different from just any car.


The experience Dave described is much like what I have been experiencing most of this school year except my 'minivan' has been 'relationships'.  I was a classroom teacher for 13 years and made it my mission to make sure my students knew that I cared about them.  I have been out of the classroom for 8 years now and while I still care about students, my role is now more adult-centered.   Relationships are still my number one priority.  I want people to know that I care about them. 

Here is an easy acronym to remember to show others that you care.

Communicate:  Ask your colleagues about their family, their hobbies, their weekend or a special event they attended. Your genuine interest causes people to feel valued and cared about. Don't go too long with no communication. Wherever there is a void in communication, negativity will fill it. Jon Gordon wrote about the importance of communication in his weekly newsletter here.  I know communication is important and still struggle with it.  I struggle  because in our busy lives, I tend to use email for communication more often than face to face conversations.  Emails can be misinterpreted.  Whenever I fear that information could be misunderstood with an email, I will strive to have face to face conversations with people.

Act:  It's one thing to tell someone you care about him/her.  It's completely different to show it.  There are so many ways you can show colleagues you care.  Actions speak louder than words. 
  • Praise something your coworker has done well. Identify the specific actions that you found admirable.
  • Say thank you or write a thank you note. Show your appreciation for their hard work and contributions.
  • Ask "What can I do to help you today?"
  • Admit when you are wrong and apologize
  • Know their interests well enough to present a small gift occasionally
  • Create traditions in your school
Remember:  This one is challenging for me the older I get.  I do my best to remember all sorts of information about my co-workers: stories they share about their family, favorite foods/songs/books/movies, and struggles they have shared with me.  When you can bring up a topic in a future conversation that someone has shared with you in the past, it shows that you listen.  Listening is critical in developing relationships.  As for remembering birthdays, thankfully my district has a cool way of helping us remember.  Every morning at 7:00 an uplifting quote is sent by email to all staff.  Staff birthdays for that day are included.  I enjoy sending a birthday greeting to my colleagues.

Engage: A colleague whom I often go to when I am struggling with life gave me some great advice a few months ago.  She said, "Wherever you are, be all there."  Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the minutiae of daily life that we don't give the people around us the full attention they deserve.  Our minds are in the future or the past.  We spend time on our cell phones or iPads when we could be talking to the people in our presence.  Engaging in the moment is critical to developing healthy relationships and showing others that you care.  

Caring is a building block for developing relationships and a healthy school culture. I want my school to be a place where there is a sense of community, a sense of family.  After all, we are all in this together!