Reflections

2017-2018 School Year Goals

It’s fun to reflect back on where I was a year ago, and the goals I set for my classroom (read more here). I was ready to hit the ground running with Restorative Practices in my classroom, including using circles regularly. And, I generally did an okay job using circles and restorative conversations. Toward the end of the year, circles became fewer and fewer, so this year a big focus is sustaining Restorative Practices. On the bright side, using restorative conversations with individual or small groups of students was incredible helpful (blog post coming soon).
As I look to this school year, I’m excited to focus on a few new things with my students and refine my practice on last year’s topics.
Right now, I’m temporarily winning the battle against the Shoulds. There’s an overwhelming pressure to do all the things, and be a pro at all apps, tools, and teaching practices. And, I don’t have the time or energy to jump on board with every single one. I can’t be the only one that feels this way, right?
So, I’m really going to focus on building relationships with my kids first, and everything will come second.
7th grade science
My big goals for 7th grade science are to use social media better to connect with my kids and have them connect with experts, and to guide my students to be more self-directed and in charge of their own learning.
With social media, we have classroom Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts. Last year, I had students dictate some tweets as we were asking questions to local meteorologists. This year, I’d love to turn my iPad over to students (with supervision) to post to classroom social media accounts. If anyone has a way to introduce this to kids, (target length: 45 minutes), let me know. I’m planning to accomplish this with a Common Sense Media digital citizenship lesson and social media certification.
I think using more purposeful social media will also lead to the second science goal of building more self-directed learners. My goal is to empower students to take charge of their learning, ask more in-depth questions, and work more independently within groups. One step I’ve taken toward this goal is to create group work roles; I’ve tried this in the past, but haven’t been consistent.
8th grade AVID
Last year in AVID 8, I had my kids start blogging. While it fizzled out a little bit during second semester, it was a lot of fun. I want to build this back up this year, and connect with at least one classroom. Last year, we did some commenting between my class and Aubrey Yeh’s class, which the kids especially enjoyed.
As with social media in 7th grade science, I hope this gives students a platform to express their ideas and thoughts.
Blended Learning Specialist
Within my technology role, I’m trying to maximize my time again this year–I only have a 2. (one class period) dedicated to technology. I’ll continue to run monthly Parent Tech Breakfasts, and post monthly Virtual Vikings newsletters in the staff bathrooms. Additionally, we’re continuing with Viking Tech Crew, our student tech club.
One of my big goals for my BLS position is to be in classrooms more and work one-on-one with teachers in a coaching context. It seems that a lot of teachers don’t know what I do in my role, and do not know I’m available to work with them. For now, I’m going through coaching frameworks to find one that feels comfortable to me, then approaching teachers who I think would be willing and interested to start this coaching journey with me.
Additionally, our goal is to become a Common Sense Media Certified School and help other schools in our district become certified as well. I’m working on adapting the Common Sense Media lessons to fit within core content, which will help with school-wide buy-in. Our amazing AVID department will help me push out content to the content areas (we have AVID teachers in all 4 core departments!), and will also each become CSM Certified Educators.
This is going to be a great school year! Kids came back on Thursday, July 20th, and I can already tell I have a wonderful and hard-working bunch. They are goofy, and also know when it’s time to be serious.
If you do any of these things, or have insight, I’d love to hear it! Comment below, or email me at mari.venturino@gmail.com.
Reflections

Work Hard, Rest Hard

As I am getting more and more involved in the edtech world, working on education related projects, and presenting at conferences, I’ve found myself really failing at the work/life balance. I can’t be the only one struggling here, right?

On weekdays, I get up, go to work, come home from work, make dinner (usually while working), then work some more. Not all of this is lesson planning and grading–much of the work I do when not at work is via social media, working on projects, or preparing for conferences. It’s still work. On weekends, I wake up, work on something on and off all day, taking breaks for naps or to run errands. Even when I’m not directly working, I find myself thinking about work. Throughout teaching, the one positive limit I’ve had for myself is no work email on my phone.

I’ve found myself stressed and easily overwhelmed with the amount of things I think I need to get done. And struggling to differentiate between things that need to get done, and things I want to get done. I know I’m not giving my best self to myself, my boyfriend, our dog, and my family/friends.

Simply unplugging doesn’t always work for me because I feel guilty for not working, and be constantly thinking about what I should be doing. (Sidenote: Should is my danger word. I’m frequently wrapped up in the shoulds and should nots, rather than what’s best for me.)

I needed to make a change. ASAP.

I made the decision to gift myself Sundays.

I set guidelines for what can and cannot be done on Sundays.  I’ve decided that working on projects or work-work is off limits, including work email. I can chat with friends on Twitter, do chores around the house (even if my brain tries to talk me out of it because it’s my rest day!), hang out with friends, or do absolutely nothing.

A typical Sunday might include waking up slowly (sleeping in until 7am!), playing with the dog or going on a longer walk, going to church, grocery shopping, taking a nap, reading, catching up on MasterChef and Food Network shows on the DVR, crocheting, watching baseball without multitasking on work, doing laundry, and making a more involved dinner. I enjoy doing everything on this list (except for putting away the laundry)!

Even throughout the long and difficult process completing my National Board Certification (NBCT) this spring, and coordinating my book project Fueled by Coffee and Love, I didn’t do any work on Sundays. I found myself more focused on Saturdays and at work, knowing I couldn’t do last minute things on Sunday.

My one exception to this “no work on Sundays” rule has been conferences. However, when I’m at a weekend conference (usually an EdTechTeam summit) I’m having so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work!

This change has been absolutely magical! Because I know that all of Sunday is off-limits for work, I don’t feel guilty for relaxing. I’ve found myself less stressed, and more present in both work and rest. Additionally, I’ve found it easier to limit my work on weekday evenings.

This is what works for me. It may or may not work for you, and that’s okay. Maybe you pick a different time period, or your “rest rules” are different. There is no judgement in how you choose to rest and rejuvenate yourself.

It’s less about the amount of time, and more about the practice of it.

What do your rest habits look like?
Reflections

ISTE 2017 — aka the Wizard Convention

“Words are in my not-so-humble opinion, the most inexhaustible form of magic we have, capable both of inflicting injury and remedying it.”

— Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

I love ISTE. It feels like a wizard convention.
Jennie Magiera – Tuesday keynote!

I just got back from ISTE 2017, now know as the Wizard Convention (thanks to Jennie!). Now that I’ve taken a full day to sleep and recover, I can properly reflect on my ISTE 2017 experience.

This is my 2nd ISTE, and it was even crazier than last year at ISTE 2016. Crazy, as in I want to hug as many friends as possible and have great conversations. Needless to say, it’s 5 days where I have to suspend my introvert self, and be a social butterfly.

I spent a lot of time being present with the friends I saw and met, that I really didn’t have much time for Tweeting, Instagramming, Snapping, or taking selfies. I’m ok with this, knowing that the memories are more powerful than internet likes and photos.

Friends!

ISTE is like one big family reunion! I loved seeing my #COL16 family (Google Innovator cohort), and knowing that I always had cheerleaders coming past my poster & playground sessions. Plus, I saw a bunch of friends I’ve met at other conferences and on Twitter.

Some of my COL16 Innovator cohort.
COL16 Family!

One of my ISTE highlights is I got to spend some quality time with my mentor and good friend, Crafty! It’s amazing to think I met him a year ago at ISTE, and then the Innovator Sorting Hat assigned us together after COL16. Lucky is an understatement!

I loved cheering on Jennie Magiera (Go #TeamYoshi!), the Tuesday morning keynote. Since I received an award (see below), I had a front and center seat for her keynote. Jennie inspired us to tell our stories, and to believe in ourselves and our experiences as teachers. While keynotes are generally inspiring, it was even more powerful knowing Jennie is my friend and Innovator coach, and she is 100% transparent–thanks for living and sharing your story.

Another awesome part of ISTE was helping the one and only Sylvia Duckworth win her epic Demo Slam at the EdTechTeam booth. I was a backup dancer for her rendition of “Come and Get Your Chrome”! Watch us rock on Periscope!

Trailblazer Academy aka Keynote Camp aka Confidence Camp

On Sunday, I was beyond lucky to attend the full-day Trailblazer Academy, really though, it was keynote camp! I spent the entire day working with critical friends to develop stories and structure for my future (and finally in progress) keynote, and learning from Molly Bennett and Jennie Magiera. A few days later, when talking with Jennie, Crafty, and other friends, Jennie said she noticed how much my confidence level went up by the end of the day. The best part is that I felt that happen! In reality, it was confidence camp more than keynote camp.

Poster Sessions, Playground, and Expo Hall

Receiving my Emerging Leader 2017 award
Receiving my Emerging Leader 2017

award

One of my favorite parts of ISTE is the poster sessions and playground. The general sessions require me to wait in line, and there’s a good chance I might not get in; with such limited time, I honestly don’t have the patience to wait in line for an hour, stuck in one spot. Instead, I wandered through the poster sessions, learned from friends at the playgrounds, and perused the expo hall–all while walking and chatting with friends.

Emerging Leader 2017 Award

Most of my friends told me “why didn’t you tell us?!” when they found out I received an award…hint taken, friends. So, I’m happy, thrilled, honored, and humbled to announce I am selected as one of the ISTE Emerging Leaders of 2017! I received my award at a fancy lunch on Monday, and it was also announced before Jennie’s keynote on Tuesday morning.

ISTE Pro Tip

Snacks and peanut butter & jelly supplies ready for ISTE!
ISTE breakfast & lunch!

My big ISTE (and other big conference) advice is pack food! If a conference doesn’t have food provided to all attendees, then your best bet is to pack some food. Why wait for an hour(s) for expensive subpar food, when you can sit down and eat a packed lunch? There are enough socials, mixers, meetups, and friendventures to handle dinner options.

I got a lot of eyerolls when I told friends I devoted a whole section of my suitcase to food: bread, peanut butter, jelly, applesauce, granola bars, cuties, and candy. Plus, other essentials like ziplock bags, plastic knives, napkins, and wet wipes. The best part is I made extra PB&J sandwiches for my friends! I was flexible to eat breakfast & lunch when I was hungry, wandering the expo hall, or sitting on a bench chatting with a friend.

See you all in Chicago for ISTE 2018!

PSA — Remember to create a more accessible internet by adding in alt text to pictures and closed captions to videos! Learn more from Melissa Oliver (@maoliver17) at www.createaccessibility.com.

Reflections

2016-2017 School Year Reflection

Year 5 is in the books!
I am amazed at all I’ve accomplished. And I’m grateful for the incredible people that have surrounded me on this journey.
One of the big themes this year has been overcommitment. Now that the school year is over, I am exhausted. I took on way more than I should have, but it is a learning experience. Now, after a week of summer break, I’ve almost recovered.
I know we live in a time where busy is a status symbol, and if that is the case, then I am a queen. I have been blogging more, presenting more, and taking on new big projects. One of my big accomplishments this year is a collaborative book project called Fueled by Coffee and Love! It was a lot more work than I expected, but it was work of love. The paperback and ebook should be published sometime in late June 2017.
That’s not to say I haven’t loved every minute of everything I’ve done! It’s just been a little more than I should have taken on. And, it has taken a few extra naps to get there.
Paper Airplane Lab in Science 7
Although this has been a very busy year, it is also been a time of reflection. I have identified that I am overcommitted, and I have tried to take steps to reduce my commitments and say “no” more often.
My saving grace is this year was teaching 0 period. It may sound strange, getting up extra early to teach at 7:19am, but it was worth it. One of the benefits is that I was done with school early on Tuesdays and Thursdays giving me a couple extra afternoon hours to relax (teaching periods 0-5, on block schedule). This allowed me to take better care of myself throughout the school year. I spent those extra few hours running errands, napping with the dog, reading, and not working.
Science 7 and AVID 8
Even though I was involved in a lot of professional development activities and events, it always comes down to my kids. As long as I am doing the best job for my students, then I know that I am doing a good job as their teacher. We had a lot of fun in science this year with plenty of hands on labs and activities. My students love that we are active in our classroom.
Touring UCLA with AVID 8
This year, I took on our new AVID 8 0 period class. It was my first time having 8th graders, and I love them. The best part was getting to loop with the kids–I had about ⅔ of the class as 7th graders in science and/or AVID, and knew the rest of them from around campus. In AVID, we went on college field trips to USC and UCLA (yes, on the same day!) and CSU Fullerton. We researched colleges and careers, and did 20Time Impact Projects.

Science with Mod/Severe
Crayon art with leaves from the
school garden
One of the highlights of my year was doing science with our moderate/severe special ed class. For the last seven weeks of school, I did science with this class once a week during my prep period. We grew tomato plants, made observations about our tomato plants and school garden, and kept a blog. (Eventually I’ll write a whole post about this.) I love working with this class because they are capable and imaginative learners, and love hands-on science. The goal for next year is to do science together once a week. And, we want to occasionally combine class so that our students can spend time together.
This class has been a second home to me, and their teacher and support staff are so welcoming. I love being their science teacher!
Unified Sports
Additionally, we are also bringing Unified Sports to our campus thanks to my friend Val Ruiz. I think it is important that all our students have the opportunity to interact, no matter their physical, emotional, or intellectual abilities.
Recording green screen videos in
Science 7
Blended Learning Specialist
Another highlight of my year has been my technology role as a Blended Learning Specialist–I have a .2 (1 class period) to work with teachers, provide tech resources and support, and work on tech project. Additionally, I still run monthly Parent Tech Breakfasts. One new things this year is I started a “Virtual Vikings” newsletter that I post monthly in the bathrooms. Our staff LOVE this, and I got lots of positive feedback via text message, email, and in-person conversations.
Technology Adventures
This school year, I had the opportunity to travel many places to present and learn with teachers from all around the country. I’ve been to New Mexico, multiple places within California, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas to present at conferences and EdTechTeam summits. One of the best experiences was Google’s Geo Teachers’ Institute back in July. Although I missed days 4 & 5 of school, the learning opportunities were so worth it!
Goals for 2017-2018
Some of my goals for next school year include making my class more student centered and student run. I would like to turn over some control to my students. Another big thing coming up is that we are creating a few teams in our school. I am teaming with a math, English, and history teacher to better support our students, and we will share the same 90-100 kids. I’m looking forward to having the time and space to build better relationships with our students.
Thank you all for making the 2016-2017 school year fun, productive, and a learning experience.  
Reflections

Building Breakfast Habits

Melissa d’Arabian’s Instagram post
It all started when I was scrolling through Instagram and saw Melissa d’Arabian (Squirrel note: she was my #1 pick on the 5th season of Next Food Network Star from the first episode, and I literally jumped for joy when she won. I adore her!) post a picture of chia seed pudding she makes for her daughter. I took a screenshot of the recipe, and made a mental note to try this when we got back home from winter break.


In the next few days, I had some seemingly random conversations about breakfast, breakfast foods, and how we remember to eat our breakfast in the morning. Obviously this was a sign that I needed to change up my breakfast habits.


My personal breakfast journey
Growing up, my dad was the breakfast pro. He always made me breakfast, either cereal, frozen waffles, toast, fruit or other relatively healthy breakfast foods. When I’d visit my Nonno and Nonnie (grandparents), they always made breakfast and sat at the table together. My Nonnie’s toast was the best, mostly because she made it. But since they were grandparents, I could often find Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts at their house.


Once I left for college, the only breakfast I usually had was coffee in the morning. Now, 5 years into my teaching career, that’s generally what still happens. Coffee, sometimes a banana, yogurt, or protein bar. Real talk, I feel like I’m not adulting properly if I don’t eat breakfast.


I always pack myself breakfast to eat once I arrive at work. However, (squirrel) I get too busy and I forget to eat it until about 10 or 11am…and by then I’m hangry.


So, I realized that I need to make a change for myself. In a seemingly unrelated quest to be more mindful and take better care of myself, I realized I can double up by getting up a few minutes earlier, eating breakfast, and spending a few minutes relaxing before starting the day.


I can’t be alone in this breakfast struggle, right?!
Do you breakfast?
So, I created a Google Form (bit.ly/doyoubreakfast) and sent it out to my teacher friends on Twitter. My goal was to get at least 250 responses. Within a week, I had 258 and counting! I received responses from 11 countries, and 38 US states. Thanks friends from USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Dominican Republic, China, Spain, England, Ireland, Netherlands, and Iceland!

 

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the raw data from the survey.


So, the survey results**
I was really surprised that 198/259 (76.4%) of you all eat breakfast every day! I’m impressed!
 
As for when you all eat your breakfast, nearly half (124/264 = 47%) of people surveyed eat breakfast at home before leaving for or starting work, while 24.2% (64/264) eat breakfast on the way to work, and 20.5% (54/264) eat breakfast once they arrive at work.
 
So, what is everyone eating for breakfast?
Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 1.26.53 PM.png
I wasn’t surprised by the number of people who have coffee for/with breakfast. Seeing my colleagues walking around campus before school, many of us are holding a coffee cup. I was pretty surprised that so many people eat eggs for breakfast, seeing as that takes a while to make and clean up. Quite a few recommended hard boiling eggs at the beginning of the week; great idea, too bad I’m not a fan of hard boiled eggs.


Tips from the breakfast regulars
  • “Have kids that you have to feed you will feed yourself as well.” — This was said by a few people, and made me laugh! I’m not at the kid stage of life, but noted for the future.
  • “Build a habit! I get up early enough to work out, shower and get ready, then eat breakfast and pack my lunch before leaving for work. Also find that things like “Overnight oats” or egg casseroles, that you can make ahead, make it easier.”
  • “Leave out what you need to make breakfast the night before (or make it the night before while packing a lunch).”
  • “I try not to limit myself to an idea of what breakfast “should” be and eat whatever is easily available – a salad, rice and beans, apple with almond butter, whatever. But I make sure I eat or I get cranky quickly!”
  • “I’m am more hungry at lunch and make poor eating decisions if I skip breakfast.”
  • “Put it on your calendar if you struggle to remember – make it habit”
  • Get up a few minutes earlier


Ideas for breakfast:
There were so many great ideas for easy breakfasts, things to make ahead, and methods for remembering breakfast.
Here are a few that looked especially yummy:
  • Use muffin tray and fill with eggs and/egg whites plus cheese, onions and assorted veggies. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes
  • Bake 2 loaves of bread (banana,  blueberry, etc.) on the weekend.  Slice and freeze – ready to grab and go.  Add fruit/yogurt/juice if you’d like.
  • Put the bowl, spoon and cereal out on counter the night before.
  • “Make entire pack of eng muffins, eggs, cheese sandwiches and freeze them. Microwave frozen sandwiches for 1:30 and enjoy!”
  • Include protein, good carbs, and good fats. Think of your small plate as thirds and fill each section with each of those. http://greatist.com/eat/whole30-breakfast-recipes/amp
  • Smoothie; frozen strawberries, blueberries & banana w/spinach, kale and vanilla Greek yogurt and add fresh POM juice or orange juice, crushed ice and blend in my NutriBullet. Provides a nice burst of energy to get the morning going.
  • This site is where the idea came from to make the cups. http://showmetheyummy.com/healthy-egg-muffin-cups/
  • Plan the day before for breakfast
  • Easy Green Smoothie – 1/2 cup of unsweetened ice tea, handful of fresh spinach, parsley, juice of lemon, frozen fruit of your choice (blueberries, banana, strawberry etc), Stevia if you like it sweetened. Have all ingredients ready to go the night before in frig. Avocado can be added to this smoothie.
  • Make breakfast fun! Nothing wrong with waffles with chocolate chips, especially if layered with fresh berries!
  • I tried making overnight oats. Added coconut and dried
    cranberries to one, and blueberries to the other. Success!
    Smoothies are great for people who don’t have time to stop and sit down to eat breakfast, you can keep it in your hand while you are running around doing that 12 million things that always have to be done in the mornings. I always eat my breakfast at my desk while I am catching up on emails or planning for the day.
  • My favorite breakfast is toast with almond butter, a TSP of chia seeds on it and topped with dried blueberries. Quick, easy, delicious, and keeps me going for hours.
  • Easy is better when trying to get going in the mornings – even something as simple as a banana can really help my energy level throughout the day!
 
Something to consider…
Really interesting, someone shared a link to a NY Times article called Sorry, There’s Nothing Magical About Breakfast. It was a thought-provoking read with great ideas to consider about breakfast and marketing. For me, I often don’t get hungry until about 11am, but when I skip breakfast, I find myself (1) eating a ton more for dinner, and (2) more likely to get hangry.

 

**This is by no means a proper scientific or statistical analysis. It’s all for fun, and for qualitative life improvements. And, as I was writing this blog post, a few more people responded! Love more data!
Reflections

2016 in Review

2016 was a great year for me, filled with lots of amazing adventures and opportunities. In the same theme as my “2015 in Review” blog post from last year, I will format my reflection in a “Where I was, where I am, and where I’m going.”

Where I was (December 2015)

  • I was overcommitted and exhausted. I said “yes” to way too many things, was working too hard at work and bringing lots of work home. My weekends were extra time to get things done, and I wasn’t spending nearly enough time relaxing. This put unneeded strain on my relationship, and too much stress on me. 
  • I presented at more conferences in 2015, including San Diego CUE, CUE, and CSTA. Overall, I felt more confident within the edtech world. 
  • I was onboarded as a board member for San Diego CUE, excited to learn and work with an excellent team. 

Where I am (January – December 2016)

  • 2016 started with a rush of excitement and new projects. Justin Birckbichler and I launched a project, Teach20s, focused on empowering teachers in their twenties to embrace this unique time in our lives. Ultimately, Teach20s didn’t catch on, but it was an excellent learning opportunity. 
  • I continued to work on other projects, especially EduRoadTrip and FlyHighFri. And I got to meet both Justin and Greg in real life! 
  • In March 2016, Justin and I launched Digital Breakout, which soon became Breakout EDU Digital. This was an amazing adventure, and caught on in the Breakout EDU community like a wildfire! (Read more here
  • In March 2016, I went to my first GAFE Summit. The only person I knew was Ari Flewelling, so I sat next to her for the morning keynote. Little did I know that it would turn into an amazing friendship, and my gateway to even more edtech and EdTechTeam excitement. 
  • In June, I attended ISTE for the first time. It was an entirely overwhelming experience, but well worth the exhaustion. I met many of my Twitter friends face-to-face, hung out at the Breakout EDU Bus, and learned from some incredible people. 
  • This biggest part of 2016 was becoming a Google for Education Certified Innovator! I attended the COL16 cohort in Boulder, CO, just after ISTE. It was an intense 2.5 days of thinking and learning from 35 other innovators, our coaches, and program managers. A few weeks after the academy, we were all paired up with our mentors. I am so lucky to have Chris Craft as my mentor–not only is he guiding me through my innovator project, but also he’s becoming a great friend and true mentor. Thanks Crafty! 
  • Our COL16 cohort, coaches, and program managers.
  • This year, I also took more time to blog. In August, I miraculously stumbled upon other aspiring bloggers and we started #sunchatbloggers. We have continued to grow and support each other via a very active Twitter DM group chat. I’ve been able to reflect on my blogging experiences with them, and compile my top blog posts.
  • One of the hardest parts of 2016 is that my good friend, Justin Birckbichler, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. We’ve had to take a break from our various projects so he can focus on his treatment and getting better. Meanwhile, he’s been hard at work to spread awareness through his new blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. 
  • The fall also brought some tragedies at my school. In September, we lost a history teacher to cancer. She taught 3 classrooms down from me, and would stop by my room at least once a day to say hi. Then, in December, a 7th grader suddenly and unexpectedly died at home. Having to tell students, and sharing that grief with them is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. The student was not in my science class, but he was a member of my Viking Tech Crew club. 
  • Ari and me at the LA County Summit
  • Overall, I’ve done a much better job of balancing my personal and teaching life.  I finished 66 books, including 17 audiobooks. I’m doing far less work at home, and spending more quality time with my boyfriend and our dog. In fact, I’ve also cut back on social media in an effort to be more present with the people around me. I deleted Twitter and Facebook off my phone in November to stop the mindless checking. 

Where I’m going (2017 and beyond)

  • At this time last year, I felt a giddy excitement for 2016. There were so many things I wanted to do and accomplish, and I was ready to go out and take on the world. This year, I feel a bit more hesitant, though not in a bad way. Lately, multiple people (notably, my incredible mentor Chris Craft, and good friend Ari Flewelling) have asked me where I want to be in 5 and 10 years. This question has been nagging at my core and I don’t quite have an answer…yet. 
  • I’m currently working on my first keynote, and hoping to keynote an EdTechTeam summit in 2017. This is a huge step, and I’m ready to take this risk. If you would like to see the very drafty keynote trailer, watch my Ignite from the San Diego Summit. 
  • Personally my goal is to begin training my dog for the AKC Good Citizen exam, and then consider training him to be a therapy dog. We have a wonderful trainer who has been working with us since Ollie was 3 months old.
  • One thing I’m sure of for 2017 is my #OneWord is Fearless. Even though I’m uncertain about a lot of things about my future, I am sure that if I can let go of some of my fears, then so many new doors will open!
Reflections

This one time, at band camp…

Dress-up dinner at Camp Winters, only a few feet from and
2 years before my magical “ah ha!” moment. August 2006

No really, this one time, at band camp I had my “I need to be a teacher” epiphany. As a biology major in college, I was naturally following the pre-med path. I always knew I loved teaching, but it wasn’t until August 2008 and my annual adventure up to Camp Winthers Music Camp in Soda Springs, CA when I realized teaching was my life direction. I distinctly remember leading a flute section rehearsal near the campfire pit, making eye contact with the head counselor, and immediately knowing I had better become a teacher. It was a magical moment.

Four years of high school band, ten band classes, private flute and piano lessons, a zillion hours practicing, and two band teachers taught me many essential life lessons that directly apply to teaching. I spent a year in Concert Band, three years in Honors Concert Band, two years in Jazz Workshop (one of four jazz bands!), two years TA-ing zero period, and one year in Small Ensemble (think Genius Hour class for band nerds!).  The human being and teacher I am today is directly influenced by Mr. Faniani and Mr. Murray, our two incredible band directors.

“You never have a second chance to make a first impression”
Whether it’s a firm handshake and eye contact, hitting the downbeat, or welcoming students on the first day of school, it’s essential to be the best version of yourself at any given time. Backing up this first impression requires hard work, practice, and confidence (fake it ‘til you make it, if necessary). In my AVID classes, we discuss what makes a good handshake, and students practice correctly and incorrectly with their classmates until they feel comfortable shaking hands and introducing themselves. When they’re finished, I send them on a scavenger hunt to shake hands with their teachers and at least one administrator. Then, they put these handshakes into practice when they show up for their mock job interview! They constantly cite the confidence they’ve gained in AVID as an essential part of their middle school experience.

First year as a counselor, August 2005. These babies are now
graduated from college and doing amazing things!

“Perfect practice makes perfect”
Why do something only half-good? In music, this simply means grabbing a metronome, slowing way down, and gradually working up to tempo. When you make a mistake, keep your head up and recover quickly. In teaching, I try to focus on getting better at a few things at a time. Lessons never ever go perfectly, but the habits of mind of reflecting on our work are essential to growing ourselves as teachers and learners. There are so many great practices, lesson ideas, projects, and methods discussed on Twitter every day; if we get bogged down in trying to do them all, we will fail miserably. I am intentional about my opportunities for reflection: I blog occasionally, talk to a few trusted colleagues and friends daily (Voxer is great for this), and talk to myself using voice memos on my phone.

Annual Playathon fundraiser, honored for my 2 years as the
student chair. November 2006. 

Sometimes you have to stand up and dance!
Every year, Mr. Faniani told us a story about a time he was recording a percussion track, and kept hitting his part too early or too late. Once he stood up and started dancing, he nailed it. Obviously, this story is way more entertaining with Mr. Faniani acting it out for us, but you get the picture. This story has stuck with me because it’s so easy to sit in our comfy chair and play it safe, when really we must stand up, be bold, and take risks.

Both teaching and playing music take years of practice and hard work, moments of complete frustration, and an unparalleled joy when sharing our passion with others. And, both are entirely worth it!

Band tour in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai China, June 2006.
Reflections

Hamilton: An American Education

Context: I teach 7th grade science, and history is my least favorite subject. My background knowledge is lacking in both US and world history, unless it directly pertains to science. I had incredible history teachers in middle school, and sub-par history teachers in high school. In so many ways, the teacher makes the subject come alive!

Last week, I was chatting with one of our amazing US History teachers, Daniel Garcia. I asked him what they were teaching. Turns out, they were learning about Hamilton v Jefferson. Did you just say…Hamilton?! Ok, I’m interested. Why? Because Hamilton, duh.

Mr. Garcia going over the day’s objective.

They were analyzing primary and secondary source documents from both Jefferson and Hamilton, and discussing the merits and faults. I ended up in Mr. Garcia’s class for most of period 2 on Tuesday, and the end of period 4 and beginning of period 6 on Thursday. On Tuesday, they listened to the intro song, Alexander Hamilton, and analyzed Hamilton’s background (tangent conversation, what do you notice about the actors?). On Thursday, they listened to Cabinet Battle #1 and Cabinet Battle #2. If the kids weren’t interested in Hamilton after Tuesday, they were begging for more after these 2 songs!

At one point during 4th period, I usurped power from Mr. Garcia to ask the kids “How do you think the Jefferson v Hamilton battle would have been different if it were via social media? And what are their hashtags?” That got them exciting and talking!

Ok, so Hamilton is exciting and popular. Awesome. Wow. But so what?

I’ve seen many of our usually disengaged students perk up with Hamilton. They love the lyrics, the hip hop, the angst, and that this is something cool outside of school. I stood in line outside Mr. Garcia’s class (ok, so really, it started as a game of “how long can I blend in before he notices”) and had a great conversation about women’s rights and the 2016 election with some of my former students.

For other students, using music to learn instantly makes learning come alive. On Friday, I did a circle with my 0 period AVID 8th graders to discuss using music in class. I started the period with 3 warm-up questions, (1) Make a hashtag for Jefferson, (2) Make a hashtag for Hamilton, and (3) Were you in the room where it happened? #3 got them super confused and curious. Only one student in my class understood the reference, and was cracking up. Everyone else kept asking “Ms. V, what does #3 mean?” I asked them to get in their circle, and before I threw out the question, they were already in a heated debate about Hamilton v Jefferson. For 15 minutes, they continued an intense conversation about the two and their ideas, using evidence from what they learned in history. Mind you, this was 7:30am.

Cabinet Battle #1 with US History

Finally, the conversation died down, and we moved on to discuss how Hamilton and other music fuels their interest in a topic. Overall, they agreed that authentic music experiences help them learn (such as Hamilton, Flocabulary, etc.).

For me, music and musicals are an instant hook. Cats was my broadway musical gateway drug in 4th grade. My dad and I read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats together when I was on a poetry kick, then watched the musical. I moved on to Les Mis, Hairspray, and Rent. For all of these, I took time to research the issues and people behind the musicals.

I love that my students have found something relevant to ignite their passion for learning!

Reflections

The Power of Introverts

[This post originally featured on He’s the Weird Teacher blog, as part of the #WeirdEd chat on 10/5/16. Here’s the chat storify.]



Trends in education focus on buzzword categories of students: English Learners, special education, homeless/foster youth, gifted, etc. If we’re not analyzing data, then we’re busy talking about getting students to collaborate and work together more. What happens when a student doesn’t prefer to work with a group? What happens when a student is an introvert?

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, discusses how western culture has made a shift from the “culture of character” to the “culture of personality” where extroversion is dominant, and introversion is considered inferior. She names this the Extrovert Ideal, defined as “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.” These are the values we intentionally and unintentionally translate to our classrooms, schools, and workplaces.

The biggest misconception about introverts is they have less to say. In reality, the major difference between introverts and extroverts is that extroverts prefer to process the world externally via social interactions, while introverts process the world internally via quiet thinking. Introverts have just as much to say as extroverts, but won’t readily speak it out loud.

In social situations, there may be extroverts who will not wait for others to speak, and overpower the quieter voices. We call these steamrollers. In any sort of collaborative grouping, an overpowering person can be dangerous for the group’s process and rapport. Helping these extroverts identify when they tend to steamroll is just as important as empowering the introverts to advocate for their own needs.

Many introverts, such as myself, can be “functional extroverts” for short periods of time. If you’ve met me in real life, you might not automatically know I’m an introvert–especially if I’m at an edtech conference. However, after I get home, I need plenty of time to decompress. This is a learned skill that took time to develop.

In our classrooms, we value students who are collaborative and vocal. It seems that we’re condemned as “bad teachers” (gasp) if we don’t have our students constantly working together. After auditing my own classroom, I see how many of my lessons that the voices of my extroverts, and leave my introverts quiet and alone. I’ve been more intentional to build in opportunities for both introverts and extroverts to shine.

So with this being said, how do we provide our introverts with an authentic voice in our classroom and world?

PS. Not sure where you lie on the introvert-extrovert continuum? Take this free Myers-Briggs Type Indicator quiz to find out.

Reflections

#SunchatBloggers: Taking Risks & Supporting Each Other

On August 14th, I got up early for #HackLearning and #sunchat. Here on the west coast, that means setting my alarm for 5:15 on a Sunday morning to be ready for the 5:30am & 6:00am chats, respectively.

Earlier that week, I was talking with a few friends about how blogging has been a big challenge for me. I’m finally reaching a point where I almost feel comfortable with blogging, but not yet confident. As I thought about this after the conversation, I realized what I most wanted is a group of people to support my blogging journey.

After talking with a few people during #sunchat, I realized I wasn’t alone in my blogging struggles. I tossed out the idea to start a DM group to support our blogging journeys. Other people jumped on board that week and in the 2 weeks since.

Our DM group is on fire, and we have quite a few people who have just started their blogging journey by posting their first post! Some members are more experienced bloggers, have had the opportunity to share their wisdom. No matter the experience level, everyone’s contributions are valued and celebrated.

One of the best parts of this group is that we make it a point to not only read each other’s blogs (we all have some sort of feed set up to see new posts, I use feedly), but also to leave comments. So often, I publish a blog post, and I’m not sure if anyone is actually reading. When we make it a point to comment, we are reading the blog post with a purpose, and providing valuable feedback and encouragement.

I’ve loved watching our group grow over the last two weeks, and I can’t wait to see how this journey unfolds for us all.

Interested in joining our #SunchatBloggers DM group? DM me on Twitter, and I’ll add you in!