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.

Using Google Forms for Walkthrough Observations

As many of you know, I have a major obsession with Google Forms. Last school year in a Faculty Advisory Committee meeting, we were discussing our district’s walkthrough evaluation form, and how it did not adequately address our school’s focuses and goals. Once I realized I could customize a Google Form and use Autocrat to generate personalized walkthrough evaluations for teachers, I literally started bouncing in my chair. (One of my colleagues lovingly calls this “Tiggering” because I get bouncy when I’m excited!) I began a semester-long project creating the walkthrough Form, iterating on it, and troubleshooting technical problems.

I personally love it when my principal and assistant principals come through for walkthrough observations. These walkthroughs are informal, unannounced, are not put into our permanent records, and admin stays for about ten minutes to observe what is happening in my class. I can understand where there could be pushback from individuals about being observed. Building a culture around learning and framing observations as admin’s opportunity to learn from teachers can help introduce this to a reluctant teacher.

Often, our administrators sit down at an open student desk, interact with students, and ask students about what they are learning. In one very memorable walkthrough, my principal was sitting at a student desk, and I called on him to answer after a turn-and-talk (I call randomly using 2 sets of popsicle sticks–each seat has a group number and color, and I pull 1 color and 1 number stick.). He eagerly participated based on what he and his partner discussed!

Once admin leaves my classroom, I receive an email with their observations and suggestions. I always enjoy following up with them to discuss the lesson further or ask for specific support.

Here is the Google Form and the Autocrat template for the walkthrough. You’re welcome to make a copy of the Google Form (force copy) and Autocrat template (force copy), and customize for your own use! 

Here’s the basic workflow of the Form walkthrough setup and implementation process: 
1. Create a Google Form with the criteria you are observing. Create the Response Sheet. 
2. Create a Google Doc template for Autocrat, using <> tags for each section header from the Sheet. 
3. Go into the Sheet and run the Autocrat Add-on. Set it to email and/or share a copy of the doc or PDF to <> and <>
4. Take your walkthrough form into teachers’ classrooms and complete it as you are observing their lessons. 
5. Once you hit submit, you and the teacher will receive an email with the observation notes! 

Here’s a video on how to use Autocrat–repurposed from our Breakout EDU Digital how-to videos. Autocrat has since updated their interface, but there is little difference on the actually set-up process. Remember, if you make any changes to the Form, change the <> tags in your Autocrat doc template to make it easier to match up. 

If you end up using this or something similar with your teachers, I’d love to hear about it!


Spreading Positivity with #FlyHighFri, 2016-2017 update

This #FlyHighFri blog post is cross-posted on Justin Birckbichler’s and Mari Venturino’s blogs.

FlyHighFri Year 2
Welcome to #FlyHighFri, year 2. In July 2015, we began FlyHighFri as a way to emphasize the positives in our schools and classrooms in an effort to combat negatives we were observing. Read more about our initial set-up on Justin’s blog and Mari’s blog.

We have crafted a mission statement to guide our journey with FlyHighFri: FlyHighFri is a place for educators to gather to share their successes and positive moments from the week with a supportive community. It is our hope that this community grows organically together, and spreads throughout schools, both through social media and with face-to-face meetings.

In order to continue the positive momentum with FlyHighFri, we have established some community guidelines:

1. Positivity Rules
Celebrate the great things going on in our classrooms, schools, and districts.

First and foremost, FlyHighFri is about being intentionally positive. Building the habit of finding the positives within your day and week helps all of us persevere through the tough days. We want to celebrate all the wonderful things going on in schools across the world!

2. Share Real Successes
Share great stories from this week, big or small, that made a positive impact.

We make a sincere effort to read the the tweets each week. We love seeing the actual stories from the classrooms and schools. Have a student meet a goal? Great! Share it out. Staff member go above and beyond? Recognize them and share why they are important. Took a risk and it paid off? Tell us about it. Be intentional and specific about your tweets – there is a time and place for encouraging phrases but let’s make this community about sharing successes and positive moments.

3. Keep it School-Centered
Focus on students and teachers, and let them be the stars.

No matter your role in education, the learners always come first. There are other avenues on social media to promote products, books, blogs, and the like. Our goal is for FlyHighFri to specifically be about great things happening in our classrooms and schools, not about self-promotion or promotion of a product. Of course, if you’ve written a post or a certain app or product has directly made a positive impact in your school during your week, we want you to share that!

Mar Vista Academy #FlyHighFri lunch group
in the school garden

We have high hopes for our FlyHighFri community for the 2016-2017 school year. We’d love to see the positivity message spread throughout schools and districts, but we also don’t want it to be forced. Be the invitation to your colleagues to share their positive moments. Mari often finds her principal at some point on Fridays and asks him, “What’s your FlyHighFri from this week?” It’s an easy 30 second conversation, that often turns into a longer discussion. We both also hold weekly get togethers for our teachers to join and share.

This year, we’ll be managing FlyHighFri through the official Twitter page. We’ll be quoting tweets that really stand out to us and want to highlight. We’re not concerned about it trending on Twitter. If it does, great. If not, that’s great, too. We value the individual contributions of each person, and prefer quality over quantity. Share successes with each other and use their ideas in your own schools. Challenge each other to continue growing as educators and positive people.

How can I spread #FlyHighFri?
– Connect with others in the FlyHighFri social media community using #FlyHighFri.
– Create an on-campus teacher group. Buy or make coffee to share with teachers and invite them to join you before school. Meet together for lunch.
– Go asynchronous to share online with a group of teachers through an online tool such as TodaysMeet or Google Hangouts Chat.

We look forward to a school year filled with positivity!


Why I love GAFE Summits!

Presenting on Digital BreakoutEDU with
Justin Birckbichlerat GAFE Summit IV.
Thanks for having fun with us, Ari! 

It seems that all EdTech-y people hit a wall at some point in their conference-going life when they are no longer blown away by new tech tools, apps, or devices. The first few are always “drinking from a fire hose” experiences, but even the best tech conferences eventually slows down into a small trickle.

I attended my first GAFE Summit in LA County in March 2016, and had my mind blown. It wasn’t the apps, it’s wasn’t the willingness of all to learn, and it wasn’t even the stellar presenters and speakers–it was the people! This was the first conference where I felt confident in my abilities as an EdTech leader (yes, I now see myself as a leader!) and in the connections I made with other people.

GAFE Summit Team welcoming
everyone on Sunday morning.

I went into that first GAFE Summit knowing only one person, and left knowing dozens more. Reflecting on my second GAFE Summit (Imperial Valley!), I have had a similar experience feeling energized by the amazing people. The conversations I had at lunch, between, and even during sessions push my thinking and drive me to take more risks. I’m thankful for the EdTechTeam summit team for all the laughs, inspiring keynotes, and for making the experience seamless and wonderful weekend. I presented in four of the eight sessions, and I felt so much love and support from the participants. They were all willing to learn, grow, and push their own abilities to learn new tech tools.

This is our friendship. Exactly. 

Another great thing that has come out of my recent conference experiences is the opportunity to collaborate with Ari Flewelling (@EdTechAri). We’ve started a half goofy and half serious YouTube show called “EdTech Adventures with Ari and Mari” where we talk about the latest fun in the edtech world. Going back to watch it, we are pretty weird and silly, but it’s awesome and we bring up excellent points. In Jason Markey‘s closing keynote, he put up the quote “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? Thought I was the only one.’ -CS Lewis” Ari and I tried to get a selfie with the quote, but Jason changed the slide too quickly. I must have said “oh darn!” out loud or something, because Jason switched it back for us to get our selfie, then carried on with his keynote. But it’s the perfect quote for this friendship!

EdTech Adventures with Ari and Mari

Take Aways from GAFE Summit Imperial Valley
– “Think Open” is a concept brought up by the one and only Dee Lanier. He definitely challenged us to think about the accessibility of what we are doing, and if it can be achieved on any platform. It has made me reconsider the emphasis I put on specific apps, and shift to the technology skills I want my students to have, no matter the device.

Mind Mapping success with Dee Lanier! 

– Mind Maps: Mind blown! Thanks again, Dee Lanier. I too often put myself in the “not an artist” box, then walk away. I appreciated Dee’s session, and felt him instill authentic confidence in the participants that we can be creative and use colored pencils to convey our ideas through Mind Maps. I’m so excited to go check out Tony Buzan’s books on Mind Mapping so I can bring this (and sketchnoting) to my students.
– Fluffy is a powerful friend. I had people who wanted pictures with Fluffy (a picture with me was obviously secondary in that request), and others who knew me as “oh you’re the one with the unicorn!” Thanks Fluffy!

It was an amazing weekend in El Centro. Can’t wait for the next one!