Friday, June 24, 2016

I Saw You Walking: Podcasts and Ponderings

I saw you walking.

I hear this phrase nearly every school day that is preceded by a relatively nice weather. I love walking, I love taking my girls on walks, and I love being outside in spite of being allergic to all things growing and green... and dust.

There are many reasons I love walking that stem from my childhood. My grandfather was a man who went for a walk every day.  Being raised in a family of 12 in a small town in Texas, if he wanted to go anywhere - he had to walk. When I ventured with him on these walks as a young child, he told me stories, made up challenges about counting the cracks in the sidewalks, and even stopped to pick up worms who had lost their way on the hot pavement because the earth needs worms to grow. As I grew older silly games transformed into more serious conversations about books, politics, and how people should be treated. While my grandfather passed several years ago, the lessons he taught me and the memories formed on these walks are precious to me. It is on these walks that I learned to appreciate Ralph Waldo Emerson and tales crafted by Hans Christian Anderson; it is on these walks that I learned to value people and was challenged to consider ways I could impact others, and it is on these walks that I developed a thirst for learning.

Sitting still is not an activity I particularly enjoy or one that I can do for an extended stretch of time without growing anxious. My aversion to idleness is strong. Even while I'm sitting typing this post, my legs are shaking, as though I were prepping to run a formal race. I try to remember the anxiety sitting causes me when lesson planning because students sit for such prolonged periods, and their growing bodies need to release that extra energy to focus. Luckily, living in the Chicago suburbs, weather conditions are less than ideal for a majority of the school year, which works in our favor. Students and teachers alike are far more focused and eager to learn when the weather is blisteringly cold or ominously cloudy.

During the summer, however, the heat and the sunshine allow nature to flourish and entice all to go out and explore. I am outside every day; my entire day's activities revolve around rain forecasts and pollen counts. What I love about summer months and what I mourn the loss of in the fall when school and coaching obligations consume me, is this sustained time to think. Being outside, mostly unplugging from the world, and being peacefully active is rejuvenating; it is life-bringing. My most creative ideas come during this time, and my ability to process new thoughts/experiences increases significantly. The imagination can flourish when given a chance to grow.

On many of these walks, I listen to a podcast or two. Currently, I cannot get enough of the Freakonomics Podcast or NPR's The Hidden Brain. When I'm not listening to Stephen Dubner break down one of life's most important questions like "Why are there so many Mattress Firm Stores?"(Note: If you live in or grew up in Hoffman Estates or Schaumburg, have you seen the corner of Golf and Roselle lately? This is a real issue). I am trying to use my walking time to spend with people. Inspired by the short TED Talk "Got a Meeting? Take a Walk," I cherish this time that allows me to connect, reflect, and engage with others - mostly former students / speech team captains. Already this summer, I've had a few fantastic walks with some great students whose lives I cannot wait to continue to watch flourish in their own ways.

Removing ourselves from our element - our school classrooms and our desks - can challenge us to think outside the literal four-walled, cinderblock created box that seems to both control and consume our time. Not only does exercise increase the blood flow to our brains, but it also challenges us to allow our minds to wander, along with our physical bodies.

Go for a walk! Listen to a podcast, bring a friend, or simply appreciate some silence in such a busy world. Time is precious, but the peace and the clarity that abounds when walking are also valuable. It's summer, after all. Recharge, rejuvenate and most importantly enjoy.

Podcast Playlist: If you're looking for something to listen to these are my top 5 Podcasts currently.

5. CTD Backpack Parent Podcast

My friend Andy is a former elementary teacher turned university enrichment program designer for K-12 students has created a Podcast that addresses issues in education and learning with parents as the target audience. His episodes are short, contain expert interviews, and are thought-provoking from a parenting standpoint. I'm completely biased, but I enjoy the questions he asks his guests and cannot wait to hear more from this person who has continually inspired me professionally and personally.

4. What Do I Need To Think About when Starting A Classroom Podcast? (Teachercast)

One of my goals this summer is to allow myself to wonder. I want to explore my curiosities a little more and try failing big at a few new educational pursuits. One of those pursuits is podcasting. What is it? Why is it so popular? How can it be used with students? These are all questions I want to answer. The Teachercast Podcast is one I listen to fairly regularly because they explore ed tech topics and do a thorough job of wondering themselves. This podcast on podcasting has challenged me to give it a try. What's the worst that could happen?

3. The Longest Long Shot (Freakonomics)

What a great inspiring story about the Leicester City Football Club! Not only did I learn about professional soccer in England, but this underdog story challenged me to reflect on team building from a coach's perspective. As part of my quest to continually improve my students' experiences on the speech team, this episode of The Freakonomics Podcast sparked a great conversation with my husband, who also serves as one of my assistants, about team chemistry, motivation, and camaraderie.

2. How Google's Laszlo Bock Is Making Work Better (The Hidden Brain)

I love all things Google. I often joke with my students that I am going to run away and start working for Google, to which students sincerely respond with a "Really?"This episode of The Hidden Brain talks about why working in the Google work space is so inviting and how it improves company output as it encourages professional growth in its employees. Again, the themes of this podcast stem back to teamwork and leadership, which are always topics to which I am seeking more information to share with my students and coaching staff.

1. How To Be More Productive (Freakonomics)

Stephen Dubner interviews Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and Smarter, Faster, Better, to discuss productivity in a busy world. After spending time researching Google and teamwork within the company, Duhigg discovered that collaboration, mentoring, and fostering relationships can lead to increased productivity among teammates. Again, using Google as a model for collaboration, leadership, and teamwork is a topic that I find incredibly engaging. Both of Duhigg's books are page turners as well! As a bonus, this podcast also addresses Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule and other Gladwellian ideas. I made my coaching staff listen to this podcast, my dad, and pretty much anyone I've talked to this summer has received this recommendation. Productivity and this podcast are fantastic.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Make the Most of Summer Moments (Our Stories)

On a recent trip to Atlanta with my husband for a friend's wedding, I had extended time to think. Twelve hours to be exact. It has been two years since we have ventured beyond Illinois child-free. Leaving two under two certainly heightened my anxiety, but the excursion also provided me with time to clear my head and explore. My husband and I love museums. From the Lincoln Library in Springfield to all the stops along the Freedom Trail in Boston, we cannot get enough.

While others chose to explore some highly recommend restaurants in the area, we ventured off to the Civil and Human Rights Museum, World of Coke, and the CNN Studio Tour. Embracing our sense of curiosity, we woke up early, walked Olympic Park, and took to the museum campus in Atlanta.  This was a diverse museum experience for sure but each did not disappoint. Much of our trek home was spent analyzing the museums; ranking them in order of experience, content, and construction; and reflecting on what we learned. Admittedly, we're a little nerdy, and I am okay with that.

As our conversation shifted, I began to reflect on the new experience we had created - driving through a small part of the Appalachians, passing through a few colleges in Indiana, listening to podcasts that we had stored for the trip together to name a few. When we reached our hotel in Nashville, where we were going to break up the trip by spending the night exploring this city, we arrived at quite a scene. Enormous tubes emerged from the front doors and every set of doors visible. The hotel manager was in the lobby and kindly informed us that the hotel had an electrical fire two weeks prior. We were to receive a phone call notifying us that our reservation had been canceled, but our name was typed incorrectly in the system. Of course. While we could have found a different hotel, the thought of seeing our girls just a few hours sooner seemed to be enough motivation to drive home. Unbelievably, the hotel had a fire during one of the few excursions we are sure to take in the foreseeable future. And of course, we did not receive the message. Weary from our drive and travels and homesick for our children, the setback seemed insurmountable. Actual crocodile sized tears were shed; I was so tired and sitting still for a prolonged period within two days was excruciating and did no favors for my Fitbit step count. Emotionally drained, we got back into the car, and we moved on. Even though our plans did not fully work out as intended, we created a memory, a story to be shared. Looking back, we now have a moment to laugh at after an eventful, albeit shortened, trip to Atlanta.

When teaching public speaking, one of the best tools a speaker in any situation can use his or her memories. The ability to share memories or tell stories not only fills time for those anxious students who complete a speech to fulfill a requirement, but storytelling also has many other positive effects on public speaking. More importantly, it can provide even the most reluctant presenters with tools that can lead to increased confidence, quality of speech, and even deepen an appreciation for public speaking.

So why do we tell stories as public speakers/communicators? 

1. Stories are engaging and can captivate audiences. 

A good story can draw in and capture the attention of any audience. Storytelling encourages audiences to feel by providing opportunities to chuckle, cry, connect, and emote. Also, audience members can more easily follow stories because we relate to them; we lived them ourselves or we might one day experience them. The structure of storytelling provides listeners with a clear beginning, middle, and end - plot points to mark a progression of ideas. The arc of a story creates anticipation, wonder, and can take listeners on a journey. This journey elicits emotions, persuades, entertains, and so much more.

2. Stories are relatable. 

Teaching a reading course this summer has allowed me to encourage students to interact with and engage with a wide variety of texts. Through annotations and oral conversations, we are communicating with and about our texts. Students are encouraged to make text-to-self connections related to their reading. In a public speaking scenario, these types of connections are just as important to make with the audience. The audience is the most important element of the communication process. As such, effective speakers will carefully craft stories to continue to draw audience members into their messages. 

3. Stories are memorable. 

We all possess moments that define us for one reason or another. We all have experiences that have impacted our beliefs, called us to action, or have challenged us to endure change. Behind those types of experiences are often great stories. When we share those moments with others, they often become triggers or memories that impact others. Sharing something in a story format enhances that impression and makes recalling this information even easier.

One of my favorite stories to share with my students is my most embarrassing moment. In sixth grade, I was singing in a talent show and the doll's - that was supposed to be singing to - head fell off halfway through my performance. While I did not process this until many years later, that moment defined me. Initially, my thought was to run off stage and cry, but I decided that the show must go on, and I sang through the roar of laughter that ensued the traumatic moment in which the doll's head rolled into a group of kindergartners in the front row. I share this story because it reminds me that if I can face that moment of adversity as a small child, I can face anything. It reminds me that our actions speak volumes about who we are and what we believe. And really, it's funny. I have to laugh at myself... and let my students laugh at me too every once in a while. 

4. Stories enhance our relationships and allow us to share the human experience on a much deeper level. 

Whether it is laughing at an embarrassing moment, simply sharing what we did over the weekend, or revealing a life-altering experience, sharing stories and moments of our lives make us human. Students want to relate to their peers and their teachers. They learn better and are engaged more deeply if the classroom environment encourages and fosters relationships. As I'm listening to podcasts this summer on my walks with my daughters (They nap. I exercise. It's great.), I cannot help but find inspiration in those who have observed and lived life fully. Historically and in the present, there are so many amazing stories and people who created them. I want to continue to experience and learn as much as possible so that I can pass that on to my students. 

As an educator, I want to share my stories with my students. I want them to know me, feel comfortable with me, and remember our learning experiences together. As such, this summer I hope to create more memories, acquire new knowledge, and more importantly reflect on how my daily encounters shape who I am. Modeling effective storytelling can encourage students to share their experiences, find their voices, and develop confidence as speakers in a fast-paced, communicative world. Experiencing the world, enjoying each moment, and making memories will not only help me to become a better, more energized educator in August but also allow me to appreciate life and enjoy the moments as they come.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Snapchat: Meet Them Where They're At

Snapchat is a platform that I have been dragging my feet on for a myriad of reasons. The premise did not appeal to me; I don't like to be in pictures. Also, I find myself utilizing other platforms so frequently - adding another type of social media to my life seemed tedious and time-consuming. As I have watched students use it over the past few years, my initial hesitation has transformed into a heightened curiosity. From first glance, the time spent snapping and time spent actually chatting or engaging meaningfully did not seem to equate. One of my former speech captains and senior in my speech class at the time, came into class often with his arm extended high as he snapped pictures of himself all day long, documenting his day (He ended up winning a senior superlative on overusing social media. The award was quite fitting). As I question the reasoning and purposes for using 

Snapchat this summer with incoming freshmen enrolled in my district's reading program, I do have to admit that my thoughts and opinions on this platform have officially changed. The students in my current class are energetic, creative, and have been excited to participate in the various activities we're working on to help improve their reading comprehension, student skills, and high school preparedness. While reading nonfiction articles on technology, selfies, and social media, I have come to the conclusion that using Snapchat has great potential in the classroom. It has the power to spark conversation and bridge the gap between academic learning and learning in the world. Here's what I've gathered: 

The Benefits of Snapchatting:

1. Snapchat is visual.

The cliched notion that a picture is worth a thousand words comes to life in Snapchat. Visual learning is far more effective than simply stating something aloud and is far more likely to enter into long-term memory. Snapping a few pictures of important class content and then adding it to a story that students might view later reinforces visual learning. Capturing pictures of a successful class brainstorming session, documenting an exciting lab, or filming a few seconds of a presentation shows a great deal of learning in only a few seconds.

2. Snapchatting is highly engaging.

Snapchat is easy to use, fast, and often results in immediate feedback. People's individual stories are often humorous in nature and provide quick insight into friends' days. And if a snap is not entertaining or irrelevant to the viewer, he or she can tap the screen, and the next image will appear. The fact that pictures disappear after one view or after 24-hours depending on the manner in which it is delivered creates a sense of urgency. This image is limited and therefore has an increased value. Since we have been discussing social media and its implications in class, my summer reading students have walked into class each day talking about each others' snaps. They have shared their usernames with each other and are talking about their lives and learning. The camaraderie that has been built in a class comprised of students from all four high schools in the district has been fun to see and has made the learning environment positive, actively, and friendly. 

3. Snapchatting CAN elicit conversation.

It has been fun to watch my summer school students talk with one another in the classroom and beyond. Their friendships have formed fast, and their willingness to share has made the tone of the class optimal for learning. With Snapchat, stories play automatically making content accessible and integrated into their lives. This act of sharing creates conversation and keeps it going. It can spark a memory and serve as a reminder to students to re-engage with course content outside of school. Students are far more willing to snap someone than back or send someone a reminder while on Snapchat, thus increase the amount of communication they are having with one another. See a picture or a quick video reminds them to share and talk back to one another.

4. Snapchat can be used to promote content learning. 

What better way to extend learning opportunities then to make content learning part of our stories? Snapchatting is a great way to capture great moments in the classroom and remind students of what they learned later in the evening. When students are playing through their stories, having a visual reminder of an exciting lab, fantastic presentation, funny moment, etc. can encourage recalling information, reflection, and remind students to review their homework for the next day. A science friend of mine does not have Snapchat but encourages students to have their phones out, take pictures, and share lab experiments.

5. Snapchatting is fun! 

Taking and sending goofy pictures is a way to socialize, connect, and have fun. Showing a non-academic side allows students to remember that learning and life happens beyond the walls of the school. A teacher friend of mine snaps pictures of her daughter playing, singing and enjoying life and integrates that into her school related story. While she does not follow her students, she also does not hide Snapchat from them, and as a result, her students cannot get enough of her kids! (And neither can I!)

I try to remind myself that the world is constantly evolving. As such, I also need to transform my thinking, my understanding of how communication works, and my ability to reflect on the purpose of each platform my students use. In the coming school year, will I become Snapchat friends with my students? The answer is a resounding no. Will I allow them to follow me? Yes. With Snapchat, I will have the ability to:

1. Capture important moments in class,
2. Share out homework,
3. Celebrate educational successes,
4. Demonstrate digital citizenship, and
5. Share a little bit of my life every once in a while to strengthen the relationship that I have with my students whose lives matter to me.

Students are using Snapchat - constantly. They're excited about this form of communication, it is relevant to them, and it IS meaningful. Adopting Snapchat and opening that conversation will allow me to "Meet the people (or my students) where they're at."

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Love of Learning

Life happens. Literally. In the past twenty months, I have had not one but two children. As a result, my perspective has shifted on how I utilize time and how I approach daily activities personally, with students, and with peers. The birth of both of my daughters has challenged me as an educator and perpetual learner to take a moment to pause. This momentary reprieve from the busyness of life has ultimately allowed me to reflect deeply on my thoughts on education, the learning process, and how to best reach the needs of an ever-changing student population.

I coach the Speech Team and have coached since I have student-taught. Despite the timing of my daughters (fall babies), I have been able to continue working with students in this capacity - growing the team with at least one baby in my arms at all times. Not wanting to miss a moment with my family, my daughters have become permanent fixtures at school while I'm working with my students. Since their entrance into the world, they have spent more time in the high school media center at the school in which I teach than they have any other place besides their home. Surrounded by books and students who have shown them more love than I could have ever imagined, their exposure to the learning process has enriched their lives and mine. Instilling a "love of learning" in my students has always been a priority for me, one that comes from loving to learn myself. I could not be happier sharing that experience with my children now. The notion that it takes a village to raise a child could not be more relevant as I watch my girls learn to interact with others.

Being able to take a step back and look at the world from the perspective of a small child has been a humbling experience. Each day truly is a new opportunity to discover a new idea, develop a thought, or simply have fun with gaining knowledge. Harper, my oldest, squeals with excitement when we enter school. She knows this place. It is a second home to her from August until February. Her level of comfort and anxiousness to roam the halls once I put her down on the ground is infectious. Physically embodying of a love for life, she reminds me that it is that same excitement that I hope to instill in my students. Granted, they will not be running the halls, trying to close every open door we pass or attempting to crawl into lockers (although that has not stopped some). They will, however, still be looking at the high school halls with fresh eyes. While I have now taught for eight years, these four years are the first only (for most) times they will walk the halls, attend classes, and participate in any number of extracurricular activities. These four years are precious. Students still have so much to experience, encounter, and wonder that they have not even imagined was possible. That freshness to the world is powerful.

Encouraging students to develop critical literacy skills is important and essential for any post-secondary endeavor that my students will face, but what I have learned is that those skills will come when I can aid kids in accessing untapped fervor and a passion for learning. These emotions can cause any student to feel a sense of urgency to reach beyond themselves and look at a text, a concept, or an idea in a new light. Cultivating a child-like curiosity in students can have transformative powers on how they view the world and the educational process altogether. I hope my daughters never lose the joy I see in their eyes when they walk into school – an exciting place where each encounter provides an opportunity to learn something wonderful.

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