There’s a First Time for Everything

A few weeks ago I earned my (1st) Master’s Degree in Digital Learning and Leading.  It brought my blog some serious reflections.  That being said, there is never time to celebrate and feel like things will just fall into your lap.   A part of me is always on, always thinking.  It is a blessing and a curse being a workaholic, but I am thankful I have so much work to be done.  I have also written about the process of putting my house up for sale.  That came and went incredibly quick!  My family moved out of our (1st) home and are currently residing with my in-laws, yup, for the (1st) time.  The move went relatively smoothly, but I am a bit exhausted from the storage unit trips, late nights calming the kids down, and the early mornings with the dog in a new home. I guess I picked a great time to organize and run the (1st) STEM Camp for my school district last week!

With the assistance of two phenomenal 2nd grade teachers, we welcomed 27 rising 3rd and 4th graders.  Please note, they got me the shirt!  They were so excited about camp that it gave me some faith in my plan.  I am ambitious, maybe crazy, and I handed the kids a robotics kit with a few hundred parts that needed to be assembled from the ground up.   DISCLAIMER!  When I ordered the kits I deemed it age appropriate, but when the kits arrived the boxes said 13 & up!  Luckily for us, the kids embraced this.  My most recent teaching style was about student discovery with limited help from me.  I wanted to find their “breaking point”.  Both teachers thanked me for showing them this style, something they would have never done, but you’ll find out why it was worth it.

It took my 5 year old son and myself about 2 hours to complete the robot, so I thought we would certainly get it done over 4 days at camp.  Enter reality, at the end of the camp, one kit was fully assembled by a 4th grader, but she had not wired it to work properly and another student had his completely operational, but the controller was not finished entirely.  Let’s split the difference and call it 1 out of 27.  So, my camp was a failure….Right?   If these were PARCC scores or any state assessment that you may deal with, 1/27 would be grounds for removal from the classroom.  Some were incredibly close to finishing and refused to give up, some decided they would tackle it at home and went on to have tons of fun in our Design Studio using Bloxels and other materials.  Others, I could tell they gave up and maybe this just wasn’t their cup of tea. Sounds about right, school/camp was fun for most, not for all, but we still failed the TEST.  Still seems like we failed in our first camp, doesn’t it?

Or did we?  Here are a few words from kids.

“I am going home today and finishing this!”

“I am visiting family in Pittsburgh today, and I am going to show my grandfather this once I see him.”

“If it doesn’t work, I guess I will take it apart and start over.”

“I wish I paid more attention in the beginning, losing that one part is holding me back!”

“I don’t care if it works or not, I learned how not to quit.”

“This was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Why didn’t you do more for us?”

The last quote hits you like a ton of breaks.  To give perspective, each one of the teachers was probably called by name a few hundred times at camp for help.  Half of those occurrences, the learners had not even tried to do what they were asking.  They wanted results over the experience, but they soon learned that we were not giving them what they wanted.  Kids say what is on their mind, especially during a camp in the summer.   Their unfiltered feedback left myself and my two colleagues (certainly friends now) smiling and realizing we did more than expose these learners to STEM.  We acted as CHANGE agents and I hope I influenced these teachers to break the molds come September.

“Why didn’t you do more for us?”

If a student or multiple students are saying this, don’t blame them.  Blame the sage on the stage spoon-feeding answers, but don’t blame that teacher like it is their fault.  They are doing what they were told to do.  They are probably working extremely hard to learn all those answers.  I was that guy spitting out knowledge once.  I increased my background knowledge as much as possible to always help my learners.  Yet, I wasn’t helping them. Today, I still answer questions, but only when they push kids beyond their personal boundaries.  I answered that student at camp about why I did not help them more.  I told them that I did a lot for them.  I gave them the feeling of failure.  I gave them a reason to figure something out on their own.  Together, we gave each other an experience that was amazing.

The 3rd grade student who had to disassemble his robot with 1.5 hours left in camp and managed to operate it sold one of the teachers to the method behind our madness.  I wish I had her enthusiasm on video, but I am glad she grabbed a picture of the finished robot!

 “This makes it all worth it!”

One student accomplished the ultimate goal.  1 out of 27, remember that?.  Failure for sure, right?  I felt that way to be honest. However, the high-fives, hugs, and cards from parents made me realize we made the impact we hoped for.  In the real world, if you threw 27 thinkers in a room, and one came out with a billion dollar idea, I bet the facilitator would be more than pleased. For us, our company is not netting billions of dollars, but these kids are priceless!

 

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The Capstone of the Foundation

The best part of my journey is that this will not be my last blog post.   I know a few topics about my summer work will be dropping in the next few weeks, and that alone demonstrates the power of being in charge of your own learning experience.  A capstone is considered a “finishing stone” or a crowning achievement.  I AM JUST GETTING STARTED!  I did not create this website to fulfill a course requirement.  It became a tool for me as a teacher and now as an administrator.  Moreover, it helps me be a person, as I can reflect and share experiences of all kinds.  My last two posts have been based around the approach to my coursework, the projects themselves, and how I reacted to the experience.  Today, it is all about the website that I have constructed for a few hundred hours over the last 18 months.  That being said, I am

I created a makeshift highlight reel of blog post content and Twitter posts to showcase a few reasons that COVA and Lamar worked for me.  The best part?  This stuff happened in my schools!  I was an active learner and made each project from Lamar relevant to my personal learning environment.  So, instead of navigating you through my website and showing you where every assignment is, I am going to ask you to answer these questions about yourself.  I assure you that all of my work can be found on my website if you want to take a look, dropping a few dozen links won’t help a reader who may have stumbled across my blog for the first time.  My website allows you to search or check out the monthly inventory.  My page structure showcases many aspects of what was made possible thanks to my coursework at Lamar.  So, please answer these questions (and view my subconscious thoughts) and then watch what I think to be the best decision I have made as a professional, learner, and parent.

  • Where did you start?
    • You are reading this post for a reason, I hope.  What are you doing as an educator, leader, or member of society?  Are you doing enough?  Can you learn more?  Can you be in charge of that learning?
    • I thought I was doing quite well as a teacher.  Facing the reality that I had so much to learn allowed me to open up my mind to a tremendous amount of information from others.
  • Who is involved?
    • Do you have colleagues that will innovate or disrupt thinking with you?  What does your administration or boss think about you wanting to try something new?
    • Lucky guy here, the teachers I work with are pretty amazing and the administration supported each risk I threw at them.  Find a support system and let it spread.
  • Do you know how you learn?
    • This has to be the hardest question to answer, and I will venture to guess you do not offer the same opportunities for your learners.  Ask yourself if you would want to sit in your classroom, sales meeting, or product pitch.
    • I found out I need to experience things and I do not like to READ about data or research if it is not formatted in a manner that makes sense to me.  I also learned that I can learn a ton on my own, that’s why I picked up a lot of momentum on my journey.
  • What have you created?
    • I’m not talking about a cool lesson plan or video you show to parents at the end of the year.  What have you created that made a change?  Are you creating or just borrowing ideas from others?  Either way, that’s okay!
    • I’ve created a system to collect old iPhones, built two Design Studios, helped introduce Student Edcamps, reconfigured professional learning, and shifted mindsets.  Most important creation?  I have created a spark in a few teachers that I hope spreads like wildfire.
  • What do you hope to accomplish?
    • Backward design helps.  Create lofty goals.  Do not be afraid to FAIL.
    • My coursework allowed me to live the program.  I became my own innovation plan.  This website has become a resource for others to use.  If I can help a single person, then I win, I feel accomplished.
  • What you could do better?
    • There is no 100% in life, yet we still set that expectation for our learners.  How often do you measure yourself?  Self-evaluation and reflection is key to becoming more successful, but never say you have done all you can.
    • It is a good thing my district uses Google, for I need unlimited storage on my Drive to list the things I know I can do better.  I have accomplished a lot, but I need to get it beyond a superficial face-lift.  I hope to develop stronger relationships with my teachers so that my power of influence can be mutual and they see that we are one giant team doing it all for the kids.
  • Where you are now?
    • Are you finishing something big?  Looking for a job promotion?  Do you have a choice or voice in what you do daily?
    • The COVA approach to learning that Lamar University instilled in me reinforced student-centered learning, project-based learning, and the ownership of work.  I now know how to compromise and find the positive in situations.  I push myself to get the the best out of everyone and everything we do as a district.  My NOW is all about the learners’ FUTURE.  
  • What you plan to do next?
    • If you are new to the DLL program, keep going!  It will be worth it.  If you are a friend or relative, thank you for following my journey along this way and I hope you continue to provide inspiration.  If you are a leader, educator, or learner, what will you do?  What will be your disruptive innovation?
    • I found my answers in Texas, and I never stepped a foot into the state or a classroom.  The decision to pursue this degree could quite possibly be the best thing that has happened to me as a professional.  My foundation is finally complete and I look to build from here.  Please consider making a change in your work environment.  Make someone or something better by challenging yourself.  Thank you!

DISCLAIMER:  This video must be played on a Chrome browser on a chromebook, laptop, or desktop.  An updated version of the video will be recreated in the next few days to bypass this issue.

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A Loss for Words

I don’t know if I am coming, going, halfway there, digging a hole, or building something special.  I have pushed myself to overcome many deadlines and expectations over the last 18 months.  In the end, or what we can temporarily call the end, it has been tremendously worthwhile.  I am speaking about my graduate program at Lamar University finishing, but I am also talking about so much more.  In the last few weeks I sold the home that my wife and I purchased before our marriage and have brought two children home to.  I ended my first year in a brand new position that has me incredibly excited to continue as an innovator.  As a coach I saw a lacrosse season end in a way that hurt so much, that it shifted my mindset on how I will forever approach coaching.  A few weeks ago, I talked about my Whirlwind.  Washington D.C. was amazing and it was an incredible honor to be honored as a Schools to Watch for the state of NJ.   The last week also brought the end to time away from my family.  Daddy Daycare is in session, and boy it feels good!

Then, today, I saw my son struggle to focus, struggle to balance, struggle to do many things for an evaluation.  My wife and I were able to enroll him in a program for additional therapy to improve on his lacking skills.  Watching him today made me realize why I do everything I do and why I pursue my lofty goals in education.  I want my children to be prepared for their world.  If a decade ago, I ponder if my son would have just been pegged as a kid who wouldn’t be good at sports and to focus on academics.  Twenty years ago, I predict he would have been ridiculed and harassed.  Today?  All of those stigmas are still alive and well.  I know he will struggle to make friends, and it breaks my heart.  I absolutely know he will be teased, he will be laughed at, and he will likely need the aide of a strong teacher to overcome the social beast of education.  He will need an empathetic leader who will see the greatness in him.  I foreshadow tears from my wife, my loyal blog subscriber.  I find connecting with my personal life is what enables me to connect with those I impact, learners of all ages.  Because of this, my innovation project has been focused on how our teachers learn, otherwise known as professional learning.

Too often, teachers are thrown a series of topics, expected to follow through, and support is non-existent.  I cannot afford to roll the dice on the teachers my children will get.  I do not want to “hope” for the “good” ones in the grade level.  No, I want to help everyone attain a level of comfort in their classrooms so that no matter which room you are in, every child’s experience will be one that  prepares and benefits them for their future.  Lofty goal, right?  Well, why settle for mediocrity is my response.  To help explain how I plan on changing the future, I have set up a page that lays out a snapshot of the projects I worked on during my coursework.  Additionally, a few things were created on my own to assist my district.  My Innovation Project: A Focus on Professional Learning is laid out in stages.

I started the page with my initial projects in the program and a few that I had previously created.  As it progresses, you will see that I was fortunate to follow through with my innovation plan as scheduled.  Success was attained, and struggles were as real as ever!   What I found interesting was that adaptions to my plan were fluid and didn’t appear as failures, even though at times they were.  I think this helped me. The main principle of all the projects is that I was in charge, I was the change, and that I could lead innovation.  The glue that held me together wasn’t because my ideas were cool or trendy, it was because it is what is right for kids!  I had to adapt and evolve with my audience.  I know teachers want the best for kids, they just needed help to realize that kids are living in a completely different world.  We can no longer say, “In my day, we were just fine with a….”  Their day is what matters!  The beauty  is that my audience was not a professor, my audience was the staff and students in my work environment.  Centering my attention around my learners and not myself is what allowed me the most success.  As stated a few weeks ago, in my epic reflection, the Digital Learning and Leading program changed me.  I see things differently now.  I am just as wild and crazy with my ideas, but I make sure that I provide the support needed to make things comfortable for those who may not yet see the future for what it is.  My innovation projects now come one after another.  I keep them manageable, but I continue to dream big.  Watch out in 2017-2018 as I instill physical computing in grades K-6 in my district!

Like most of my posts, my title speaks for itself.  I want to lead by example.  My actions speak louder than the words that I could continue to write and that is why I hope you look through my work and see how much can be accomplished in 18 months.  Please share this post or retweet the link.  I don’t need page hits, I need others realizing that they can do the same thing!

Thanks Lamar University!

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The Unpredictable Blueprint to Innovation

In November 2015,  I decided that I wanted to try and work toward an increase in my teaching salary to help provide for my family. The decision was simple, and I was making this choice with intentions to remain a classroom teacher with hopefully a few more tricks in my bag.   A master’s degree would provide this, but I had to find a program that I could afford, get done quickly, and make it purposeful for my future.  I was enjoying life in the classroom as a 6th Grade Math and Language Arts teacher.  The trouble with me was that I was not pursuing new strategies or innovations regularly, and I felt the amount of time I had available was holding me back.  When researching programs that would allow me to get an accredited degree quickly, I decided on Lamar University’s Digital Learning and Leading program.  I took a look at the courseload and felt that this program could be interesting.  Little did I know that it would completely transform my mindset, my career, and my outlook on life.

My first course began in January 2016.  My first assignment, a voiceover Prezi, demonstrated my comfort level and experience with using technology in the classroom.  It seems like a fossil now, but give it a look HERE.  The interesting aspect of this course and assignment was that I had a choice in how to demonstrate my understanding of technology. The remaining assignments in the course assured ownership and voice.  I wish the video quality was better, but one of the most authentic projects I created early on in the Digital Learning and Leading program was when I grew a beard, recording myself asking questions, shaved my beard, and answered those questions.  I had a one of a kind self-interview, also known as my Learning Manifesto.  With the support of my professor, I knew if this was just the start, the future was going to be even better.  I began the namesake of my e-portfolio, an Innovator’s Journey.  Without realizing it, I was engulfed in an educational experience that can officially be called the COVA Approach.

This was my first experience with online courses as a student, and one of the features that presented a challenge for me was participating in a class solely through a discussion board.  My fellow learners shared our frustrations with the instructions or lack thereof.  I found myself okay with the freedom and I do not think I would change my approach to each class I took in the Spring of 2016.  These courses shaped my website that you see today after initially creating a Google Site that simply lacked the features I was looking for.  The one thing I did struggle with was the obstacle of time.  I was expected to get everything done when I chose.  My first reaction was one that followed me from experience as an undergraduate student, procrastination!  I realized that my whirlwind was going to have an impact on my future in education, for the COVA model and the coursework through Lamar prepared me for a new position that my district was creating.

So, I became a lead change agent in my district as the Academic Innovations and STEM Coordinator.  This new role allowed me to have an impact on more learners through the facilitation of professional learning initiatives, design studio construction, and technology integration.  I can say with honesty, that I would not have been able to fulfill the needs of this position without the experiences I had during the DLL program.  I had control and needed to find a way to influence change while providing as much support as possible.  It has been one year since I took on this position and the growth I have experienced led me in a direction I certainly did not predict back when I started.

I feel this was why my original innovation plan, DYOD, shifted and essentially became “me”.   I do not think it can get more authentic than that.  Each day is brand new and the fun I get to have at work is matched equally with frustration and difficulty. As the lead innovator, I had an influence on administrators, teachers, and students.  This meant that I had to be mindful of how much I could expect or even offer as forms of innovation.  I pushed myself past my own comfort zone to be a model for others.  I was not creating a model for others to follow, but more as a model for taking risks.  These risks led to success and I would be lying if I was not excited to share some of the accomplishments that the COVA model has provided.  I think this occurred because of the learning environment I was placed in at Lamar.  My peers pushed me to join Twitter, attend EdCamps, and become a Google for Education Trainer.  I have tried new programs, read more books than I could imagine, and made new friends because the learning environment that was created for me was significant and appropriate.  Without Lamar, I do not think green screens, Breakout Edu, or 3D printers would have made it into the classrooms I have the pleasure to work in.

Thus, I brought this concept to my school district.  Adopting a growth mindset and attempting innovative methods (AIM) are just a few examples of how a contagious effort to create student-centered learning environments.  Our student edcamps allowed our teachers to step outside their comfort zones.  It was certainly a learning experience, but we have since created a task force to strengthen the experiences for our teachers and learners.  In fact, our risk-taking was a big reason that we were recognized as a leader in innovation.  One of our schools was named a Schools to Watch for NJ, while our district was named a Google for Education Reference District.  Both of these honors come with responsibility, for we now host visitors looking to take their own risks and must continue to evaluate ourselves for what to improve upon.

I think back to one of the biggest influences on my learning philosophy and how I approach work each day. A New Culture of Learning shaped my outlook on each course that remained in the DLL program.  Each one presented challenges, whether a literature review or a few hundred pages of reading in a week.  Yet, I pulled out what was necessary for me, and each challenge brought with it a positive learning experience.  This was helpful in my professional environment because everything did not go smoothly.  Failure defines us, and I truly believe that when we challenge ourselves and our learners, good things will happen.  This is how I will continue to approach my role as an educator.  This website will live, as it acts as a resource for educators and learners alike.  My website is no longer a project, it is a lifestyle that I look forward to cultivating and redefining.  

The innovations will never end.  Currently, I am applying the COVA approach without sharing the acronym with my colleagues.  Yet, I feel the mindset behind COVA is on display.  I personally am a bit scared of another acronym to be added to the expectations for our teachers.  After all, I have created a few on my own and they have been shared with educators all over the country.  So, I think I will pump the brakes for a few months and allow my amazing professors some time to finalize their book on COVA.  That being said, I do plan on utilizing the experiences I have had in the DLL program in future APPLES for next year.  COVA is alive, as I am currently leading a team of educators to strive for Future Ready certification.  The best part of this process is that we are recognizing areas that we lack experience.  Being motivated to work toward these goals intrinsically is key.  My learners are not just students, the teachers I work with are the ones I hope to motivate to create an environment for their students that allows their voice to be heard.

To close, I want to thank my professors: Dr. Thibodeaux, Dr. Harapniuk, Dr. Cummings, Dr. Meeuwse, and Dr. Ybarra.  Each one of you challenged me.  Each one of you pushed me past my comfort zone.  Each one of you also gave me just enough reinforcement and motivation to continue to grow.  Not once did I become complacent.  Not once did I do the bare minimum.  As an educational leader, I feel inspired to continue on this path.  This post is evidence of what I have experienced in an amazingly quick 18 months.  Oddly enough, I have linked out to 17 experiences in this reflection.  So, I leave with you this…

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