Stress & Motivation

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | 5 comments »

In school, your standardized tests are probably looming and you're struggling to keep your students motivated. Outside of school, you're probably planning for next year--whether you're sticking around or moving on to life after TFA. You might have to move or transition to new roommates even if you're staying at the same school. This is of course on top of all of the unique challenges we all face each day.

Where do we find the strength to keep going? One source, not surprisingly, should be your students. I'm a big proponent of asking them for frequent, honest feedback about the job you're doing. If you're down on yourself, you'll likely feel reassured by the positive comments you get, especially if you've never given your students the opportunity to tell you what they really think. Even if you find out there's some things that are really not working for your students, it's your opportunity to fix them and make the rest of the year work better. Ask simple questions, along the lines of:

1. What do you think of how class is going this year?
2. What should [teacher's name] change to make class better?

This is also a good time to start asking yourself the same questions. In other words, take stock of the good, the bad and everything in between while there's still time to make things better. I recently carried this out myself, making a detailed list of my five greatest failures and five greatest successes this year. I had to be brutally honest with myself, because that's the only way you'll ever make any professional growth. You don't have to do this in a public forum, but you should write it down. It's a cathartic process, even if you don't can't or don't act on what you learn.

Next, take steps to reduce your stress at school by working more efficiently. Two years ago I outlined a three-part plan based on ideas from the book The 4-Hour Workweek to make my life much easier. I wasn't a rookie when I took that advice, either--it was actually my fourth year in the classroom when I realized what had to be done.

Finally, look for (or create) a light at the end of the tunnel. What are you doing this summer? Have you planned an escape, even if for a short time? Are you moving on to some exciting new adventure next year? Either way, getting excited about what's just around the corner is easy:

* Create a countdown
* Make a summer fun "to do" list
* Think about and plan out your already-booked adventures
* Call friends and family and share exciting plans
* Focus your energy on what have to do before summer comes to make all your great plans come to fruition

Have an idea of your own? Leave a comment!

WEMTA 2009 Recap

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | | 1 comments »

WEMTA was a good time. Meeting up with some members of my PLN again was great. Meeting some new faces is always interesting. Having dinner with some people I've never met f2f with and others I've only briefly met was nice. I guess it helps that I felt I knew them more due to plenty of communication over the last year. The sessions I went to were beneficial and I'm looking forward to changing how I do a few things for the better. I hope to go back next year and learn more in The Dells.

With all of that being said, here are some thoughts....please share your thoughts as well!

I spent the last couple of days in Madison, WI as WEMTA, our state library and technology conference. At first, I was planning on driving back to Milwaukee (about 75 miles) each night, but decided on staying over to enjoy the nightly networking opportunities, if you know what I mean. It was a good choice. I think this is my fourth or fifth time attending this conference. The first few times I attended, I was a classroom teacher. In fact, I think the first time I attended we were still living in the 1900's! The conference obviously has changed since then with the boom in educational technology - both hardware and software. There weren't flip video cameras, nearly as much wireless technology, and of course, no web 2.0.

Last year and this year, I attended the conference coming from a different perspective. Not only has my job changed from a classroom teacher to a library media specialist, but I don't consider myself a ed tech newbie anymore. I've immersed my self in more learning about educational technology the past couple of years more than ever. I attended NECC last year and am going again this year. I feel I have a decent grasp on PLN's, video conferencing, Twitter, blogging, etc and how I can use these tools to help myself and my students. By no means am I an expert, but I do think my level of knowledge might be a little more than the average conference attendee these last few days. I love the fact that the tech knowledge at the conference varied widely. I attended some sessions where the presenters where sharing different web 2.0 sites that they are using with their students and several people were experiencing VoiceThread and others for the first time. People are still dipping their toes into 21st century teaching and learning and that's great. I feel I'm already in up past my knees. In fact, on some days, I'm in over my head, but that's another story. I was chatting with a colleague who has much more tech knowledge and experience than me. I can't remember the exact wording, but she commented that she's been at other conferences where the learning went much deeper and the session options offered more advanced stuff. I don't know if she's right or wrong or whether I agree or not, but I think I understand where she's coming from.

I've learned quite a bit over the last several years so I feel my expectations for a conference like this have changed. In the past, I'd be satisfied walking away with one or two things I can use with students right away. Not anymore. There are always going to be great minds sharing new things, and I still want that, but my expectations are a little more now. I want to learn how to bring people along with me on this ride. I want them to see how fun/exciting/scary/rewarding the ed tech adventure can be. Since I'm not in my own little classroom anymore, I want to find ways to collaborate with teachers and improve what they are doing. I want to build my library program to a point where it's not seen as a separate learning space. I want it to be an extension of EVERY classroom and I want the students to view me as another one of their teachers. The technology can help me and the knowledge I've gained and will continue to gain can assist me in building better relationships with my colleagues. I think the people I work with view me as a leader in the field of educational technology in our building. I feel they value my knowledge, but for some reason, aren't buying into the "Let's work together" piece. Some are, but not enough. Attending WEMTA and networking with my friends and colleagues can help me work towards my goals. If I walk away with a cool new website or tool, great - but at this point, I'm going for more.

The school my children attend, which is different from the one I work in, operates on trimesters. Today marked the day report cards from the second trimester came home. As a former classroom teacher, it seemed as though report card time was a fairly stressful time. Filling out the report cards, trying to make sure parents had a relatively clear picture of their child's progress, and still making the comments seem positive was not always a fun time of the year. When I met with parents during conferences, they were not often surprised at the report card. It was usually pretty close to what they had been seeing on daily work, tests, etc. As my children work their way through elementary school, I'm seeing things through a different lense. This year, my daughter, along with all other 3rd graders in public schools in Wisconsin, set out on her first adventure with high stakes testing. Here, it's the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE). As educators, we all have our opinions on these tests. Will our students/classes/schools do well so we have enough students Proficient and Advanced therefore meeting AYP? Are we doing enough with the students? Are we drilling them with enough test prep? The list goes on and on.

As a parent getting results for the first time, I felt different. I work in a school that probably won't meet AYP this year. There are a lot of factors, but most of those factors don't exist in the school my children attend. I didn't realize the scores were coming home today, but when I saw the score sheet, I knew things would turn out just fine. (By the way, the tests were taken in October/November). Knowing the ability of my children, I'm usually not surprised at how well they do academically, they are pretty smart kids. But to be honest, I was hoping for Advanced in both reading and math. I guess I have high expectations, which might be setting myself up for problems down the road, but I wanted her to be one of the best. Needless to say, I was slightly bummed. She missed Advanced in reading my 1 point and math by 4. I know this is probably only a question or two, but she was so close. Obviously, I'm very proud of her. She doesn't know what these results mean quite like I do, but I just wished she would have gotten one more right.

In her case, that one point or question didn't really make a difference in the results for her class, school, and district. As long as a student is Advanced or Proficient, things are all good. BUT, what if that one point would have been the different between Basic and Proficient? I've seen that on test results and I know the impact it can have - and that's a whole different story. Could a student guessing correctly on one question make a difference - absolutely! It's unfortunate, but it is what it is. Until something is changed in how schools report progress related to NCLB, we have to deal with the system as it is.

Here's the bottom line - she did good and I'm proud of how well she did. However, next year, she better be Advanced....... or else!!!

By the way, I'd love to hear any thoughts on your experiences as your children moved through the gauntlet of standardized testing. Were your experiences similar or am I just crazy?

Okay, I don't really think connectedness is a word, but read on and hear me out. I think you'll understand what I mean.

In the age of iPhones and Blackberries, Twitter, texting and email, we've become more connected and accessible than ever. At just about anytime, I can be reached - or reach someone else. Whether it's through a regular phone call, a text message, tweet, or email, I've grown to accept (for good or bad) the ability to connect almost instantly with friends, family, and followers. The problem I'm discovering, is that most other people either aren't as available or simply aren't as smart dumb as me.

I feel I'm pretty quick to respond to emails, text messages, Tweets, and voicemails. Sure, there are times when I don't for a variety of reasons, but it's usually NOT because I didn't get the message right away. The problem I'm running into, is I'm starting to expect the same timely response I usually give. I know this is a problem that I've got to get over, but here's what I mean - and tell me if these doesn't sound familiar.

1. I send an email and expect a response rather quickly. (I guess people don't sit around there computer as much as me checking their email at least a few times an hour.)

2. I send a text message or call someone's cell phone and they don't answer. Don't people carry cell phones with them at all times? Why aren't they getting back to me? Should I take the hint that they just might be ignoring me? :)

I wonder if the whole SmartPhone thing is causing me to feel this way. If I didn't have a iPhone that allows me to check my email at any time, or text message, or use Twitter, would I be just as productive and happy? Do I really need to be available in a variety of ways at any waking moment? Do I really need to check my email or Twitter at halftime of my daughter's soccer game? Do I need to check it when I'm out with friends? Probably not, but I am - mostly because I can. If you have an iPhone or Blackberry, do you find yourself checking email and messages on a much more frequent basis compared to when you had a regular old cellphone - perhaps at times when you really don't need to? I bet you do. Are you better off now? I'm not so sure I am.

What do you think? I'd like to hear.

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