Saturday, November 30, 2013

What you post online WILL be used against you...

Many people (myself included) share quite a bit of information online. Whether it's on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or any of the other social media outlets, we are becoming a society of openness and sharing.

The information being shared ranges from what we had for breakfast all the way to our deepest and purest thoughts about life and our existence.

For myself and many of the readers of this blog, we tend to share some personal information about our lives and then we share a ton of information about our professional lives.

We've all heard the stories of somebody posting something inappropriate online and then being fired. We all know it happens and we might even know someone who it has happened to.

We also know the stories of someone being treated differently, someone falling out of favor, and someone getting a stern talking to as a result of something they've posted online. Though it didn't amount to dismissal, the effects are long-lasting and don't tend to go away quickly.

So, here's the deal, you are being naive if you believe the stuff you post online will never be used against you at some point in time in your life.

Even if you post cute videos of cats all day and every day, someone is going to find a way to use it against you.

Even if you only share 'how to' information specifically focused on improving the lives of others, someone is going to find a way to use it against you.

It might not be tomorrow... it might not be next year... it might not be this job... it might not be your next job...

But, the fact remains that as more information is shared, the more likely it is that something you shared online will be used against you at some point in time in your life.

Now, just so we are all clear and nobody leaves this post confused, I'm NOT recommending we stop posting and sharing information online. I'm merely trying to be frank and realistic.

You've been warned...

Happy sharing!

Monday, November 25, 2013

7 proven strategies that WILL help you engage your students...

1.  Don't just care...really care!

It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own little worlds, but we have got to remember that whatever is going on in our world, is 100 times simpler and less complicated than that of our students.  If a student is having a bad day, or if a student is having a great day, give them the opportunity to tell you about it.  Be interested and actually listen to their stories, because if you can show the students you care, they will trust you, and when they trust you, magical things can happen in an educational setting.  Take an interest in their music, their hobbies, their triumphs and struggles, and use that information to help them.  IF THE STUDENTS DON'T THINK YOU CARE, YOU WILL NEVER MAKE A MEANINGFUL CONNECTION WITH THEM!!

2.  Speak to every student at least once every class period - the more the better!

Try very hard to make sure this is common practice in your classroom.  Even if it is a simple "hello" or "how are you doing?" it can mean a ton to the student.  Additionally, making that early connection in the class period allows that student to feel more comfortable, which as we all know, students must be comfortable for learning to take place.  STUDENTS DON'T LEARN WHEN THEY ARE STRESSED AND UNCOMFORTABLE!!

3.  Meet your students where they are; not where they are supposed to be, or where you want them to be...

This strategy can be really difficult, but if you can master it, it can pay huge dividends in the long run.  Every year you start with new students, with different ability levels, different learning styles, and different attitudes toward education.  We have to meet each student on their level.  Their level means their ability, their learning style, and their attitude toward education.  If we treat every student the same, we CANNOT expect the same results!  Just as a doctor evaluates all of a patient's symptoms and treats the patient accordingly, we must evaluate each student and approach the learning process in a manner which is best suited for that individual student.  FORGET ABOUT USING ONE STRATEGY TO TEACH ALL OF YOUR STUDENTS!!

4.  Have high expectations, and expect the best from every single student every single day!

This is probably one of the toughest in terms of increasing student engagement.  I have found that when you push the students and they know you are pushing them, they engage themselves and respond at a much higher level than if you were giving them review work over and over.  Human nature is to enjoy a challenge and a task that requires more than the minimum.  If your students are disengaged and non-attentive, perhaps they are bored, and they need a challenge to get them going.  Let your students know you have high expectations for yourself, and consequently you expect the best from them too.  NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A CHALLENGE WHEN IT COMES TO STUDENT ENGAGEMENT!! 

5.  Do whatever it takes to get your students out of their desks, and give them every opportunity to be actively moving ! 

Organized chaos is how we should describe our classrooms.  Students need to move, and sitting for 7 hours a day is frankly torture.  Would you want to sit for 7 hours a day and listen to people talk at, I think not.  Try to get your students up and moving every single day.  I am talking about relay races, group work, activities that require building things with their hands, an activity where unused fly swatters are used, and lastly skits and reenactments that make everybody laugh.  THE HUMAN BODY WAS NOT DESIGNED TO SIT ALL DAY!!  

6.  Focus on the three R's - rigor, relationships, and relevance... 

I already talked about rigor (4) and relationships (1), but I wanted to keep all three Rs together.  If the students see no relevance and value in education, then how can we expect them to learn?  We have got to make sure what they are doing in school is practical and relevant, because if we don't we have no shot at engaging them.  Show students the connections to what they are learning and the world in which they live.  Also, use resources to make what they are learning applicable in their current lives, and show them ways to use what they've learned in class.  IF THEY SEE NO VALUE, THEY WILL NEVER BE TRULY ENGAGED!!     

7.  Most importantly...give your students a voice and involve them in the educational process!

Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult things to do in an educational setting, and because it is one of the most difficult, it is one of the most important.  The students know how they learn, they know what they like and dislike, and they hold the key to getting them interested and engaged.  Every day is an opportunity to learn from your students how to do your job more effectively and efficiently.  Students are a free resource that most educators ignore.  Include them in making assignments, teaching lessons, designing rubrics and designing assessments.  What do you have to lose?  They will provide you with a wealth of knowledge, and most importantly, they will be engaged because they are a part of the process.  They now have a voice in how they are educated, as well as how they are assessed...STUDENT INVOLVEMENT = AWESOME!!

Please respond with any additional strategies you use to engage your students.  I would love to add to this list and compile a much larger list to use with new and experienced teachers, as well as teacher growth and development programs.  Thank you in advance for your help!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dear tired teacher...

It happens to everyone at some point in time in their education career.

You know what I'm talking about.

You know I'm not talking about being physically tired.

I'm talking about the other kind of tired.

You've consumed yourself with these thoughts on the way to work as well as on the way home from work.

You've also probably had trouble sleeping at night.

Those around you have questioned if everything is alright.

You've become noticeably agitated at things that typically don't bother you.

You don't go out to social events nearly as often as you used to, and your circle of friends seems to be shrinking.

Excitement and enthusiasm toward the day have been replaced with constant clock-watching in anticipation of the end of the day.

Adults aren't the only ones who've noticed your situation; kids are starting to react.

Things that used to fire you up barely phase you now.

Living in the now has been replaced with living for tomorrow.

Purpose, meaning, and justification are absent from your thoughts.

Dear tired teacher...

There are those around you who have energy to share.

There are countless 'recharge' opportunities that just need a little of your time.

There are students who are counting on you.

There are students who are looking for that person to make a difference in their lives.

Dear tired teacher...

Your students need you to be that person who makes a difference in their lives.

Dear tired teacher...

It's ok to take a nap from time-to-time, but please don't sleep the whole day away...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Being the loudest doesn't mean you're the most intelligent...

~ Studies tell us that 1/3 to 1/2 of Americans are introverts. There is no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert.

~ Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking. They enjoy the thrill of the chase for rewards like money and status.

~ Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They are relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame. They prefer environments that are not overstimulating and 70% are also sensitive. They may be shy, which is a painful condition.

~ People tend to assume that loud people are more intelligent. When forceful people carry the day, a lot of good ideas from the introverts can get lost. 

~ Introverts are more likely to reveal more of themselves via social media. They welcome the chance to communicate digitally and can now contribute in classes where they don’t have to raise their hand and talk. 

~ Extroverts get better grades in elementary school, but introverts outperform in high school and college. At the university level, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability.

~ Opposites are often drawn to each other. One tends to talk as the other listens.

~ Don’t try to change a kid. Expose children to new situations and people gradually. Note and respect their limits. Never call a child shy.

~ Schools should prepare kids for life, but often kids need to be prepared for surviving schools, which are often designed for extroverts. Teachers should balance their lessons to allow for both types. 

What are you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Take the quiz:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Are you the 'Twitter' guy or gal at your school?

I've been thinking a lot about Twitter lately. Part of this is because some in my district have referred to me as the 'Twitter' guy.
At first I thought nothing of it and I was actually a little proud that somebody took the time to refer to me as something other than my official role in the district.

But, as the 'Twitter' guy acknowledgement continued, I started to think about if that was really who I wanted to be and what I wanted to be known for.

Now, I'm not saying I'm not proud of being on Twitter and I'm definitely not saying that I will stop being a vocal advocate for Twitter.

I'm also not interested in putting an end to my tweeting anytime soon!

Twitter has had and continues to have a profound and significant impact on me both professionally and personally.

But I'd like to think I'm more than just the 'Twitter' guy...

I honestly don't believe being the 'Twitter' guy has adversely affected my role or any of the relationships with my colleagues.

Having said that, I can't help but think this designation has 'scared' off or 'shyed' away some colleagues who may have thought I was 'weird' or that I wouldn't understand.

Even though more and more folks are dipping their toes into the social media scene, many and most are not.

Being the 'Twitter' guy definitely has some perks, but more and more I'm worried about the subtle negatives or possible and perceived misconceptions...

Just putting words to my thinking...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Confessions of a blogger...

I've read a couple blog posts recently about blogging. The first blog post is titled, 'Blogging is just People Showing off,' and the second is 'Blogging is Narcissistic (expect when it's not).'

Both these posts of course made me think about my blogging journey and the reasons why I continue to blog.

Part one of this blog post:

So, here's the deal:

Yes, I do blog because I'm proud of what I'm doing and the things that are happening in my district.

I want to share our successes and share the many great things we are doing to positively impact kids.

I also want to further develop my digital footprint and the Justin Tarte brand. I've had several opportunities come my way as a result of my blog, and I honestly don't believe these opportunities would have happened without my blog.
With over 300 blog posts written in the last three and a half years and over 840,000 page views, I feel pretty confident that something I've written has been worthy of sharing with others.

Also, while we are being honest, I have adds on my blog that result in me getting a few extra dollars a month for my time. I didn't get into blogging for the money and I don't plan on quitting my day job anytime soon, but a few extra dollars a month seems fair.

So yes, is blogging a little narcissistic and a little focused just on me, yes, absolutely it is, but is that really a problem?

Is anyone forcing you or anyone else to read my blog? Probably not, and if they are, then I apologize.

When did telling your story become inappropriate and taboo? I guess I missed that memo...

Part two of this blog post:

Blogging has also done wonders for me as an educator in terms of my self-reflection and development as a young educator.

I have been able to put in writing my thoughts and gain a new perspective from what I think based on having to really think through what I'm writing about.

I've also had great conversations and discussions via the comment section of my blog that have been quite productive to say the least.

So, on the flip side, blogging has also been instrumental in my growth as an educator which undoubtedly has positively affected and impacted both students and colleagues with whom I work.

Maybe I'm way off here with my thoughts, but I will continue to blog because there are many benefits that go way beyond thinking that blogging is just narcissistic and just showing off...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

5 reasons to 'stand up' and not just 'stand by'

It might not seem like it, but that one tiny little preposition makes a world of difference when it comes to how you live your life.

When you stand up you are exhibiting confidence and you are showing others that you believe in something. Though it may not always be the most popular thing at the time, you would rather confidently believe in something rather than leave everyone around you thinking you believe in nothing...

When you stand up for something you believe in, you are taking action. When you take action, things get done. When things get done, lessons are learned. When lessons are learned, things get better and the overall organization improves...
When you stand up you are showing support of something. When you show support of something, you are inherently showing support of someone. When others know you will support them, they then in turn begin to support you...

When you stand up you are an example and model to others. When others feel empowered and encouraged to stand up themselves, they in turn become models and examples to others... 

When you stand up you start to live your life. When you start living your life, you begin to make a difference. When you start making a difference, you find self-satisfaction, purpose, and meaning in life...

Bonus: The more you stand up, the better you get at standing up. Also, the more you stand up, the more others around you know you will stand up. Lastly, the more others around you know you will stand up, the more they count on you and the more they respect what you stand for.

Go ahead, I dare you to stand up...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How well do you take constructive criticism?

We've all experienced it before and it's very commonplace in our everyday lives.

You write something... you design something... you create something... you share something... you present something...

You then ask for feedback and input in the hopes of improving and making whatever it was better.

The person or persons on the receiving end then say something nice like... that's a great start or that was wonderful.
Then, even though you know it's coming, you get shocked when the infamous 'but' escapes their mouth.

But, you could have done this... or you might want to consider this... or you should probably change this.

By now after the constructive criticism you are probably feeling deflated and a little defeated.

How often do we ask for feedback and input only to get our feelings hurt once we receive the feedback and input?

Here's the thing, when we share or present something to someone, we are sharing and presenting what we feel to be worthy of sharing and presenting. 

Let's face it, people don't share and present things that are unpolished and incomplete. We want others to like what we are sharing, so when we get to the constructive feedback and input discussion, we are always hoping and aiming for positive feedback.

The tricky part is having enough confidence and 'toughness' to handle the constructive criticism...

The tricky part is putting yourself out there to be vulnerable...

The tricky part is having the endurance to pick yourself up after you've been knocked down...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

5 things great teachers & Thor have in common...

I've recently rekindled my interest in Thor. As I've thought more about his character and the role he plays, I'm noticing more and more similarities to great teachers.

1). Great teachers are immensely loyal to their students and are immensely loyal to the cause. Thor never hesitates or questions his purpose or his existence. He is above reproach with his commitment and dedication to protecting Asgard and the nine realms.

2). Great teachers always have a plan and know what they want to accomplish, but in the same breath, they also aren't afraid to 'adjust' & change on the fly if needed and if appropriate. Thor always has a plan and knows what he wants to accomplish, but he is also willing and able to adjust his plan when circumstances require it.

3). Great teachers play by the rules, but they also are willing to bend rules and/or go around the rules if it means doing what needs to be done. Thor must go against the will of his father, Odin, several times in the interest of doing what needs to be done. Thor's treason and disobedience are not initially accepted, however in the end Thor's decisions are respected.

4). Great teachers aren't naive, but they do believe in giving second chances and do believe in trying to bring out the best in others. Thor knows Loki can't be trusted, but Thor holds out hope that there may be something pure and something righteous still within Loki.

5). Great teachers aren't in the business of education for accolades and fame; they are however in the business of helping and assisting others without wanting or needing recognition. Thor has the opportunity to assume the throne of Asgard, but in the end he determines he can't adequately help and assist others while on the throne, so he declines.

Thor is most definitely not an educator in the traditional sense, but nonetheless there may be something we educators can learn from him...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

As a leader, how do you define "professionalism?"

"Professionalism" in a leadership capacity in education... defined as providing teachers with as much autonomy and freedom as possible while still following district policy, regulations and mandates. Having said that, has anyone experienced a school where the staff yearned for a leader who is more directive and authoritative, rather than more hands off and supportive?

You might think who in the world would want to work in an environment where directives and mandates ruled the day, but these types of environments do exist. In my experience, I have seen three different scenarios when directives and mandates were favored over autonomy and freedom.

Scenario 1 - Staff members had experienced an environment where their opinions and feedback were not valued or appreciated, thus it was easier for them to simply say, "just tell me what to do and I will do the bare minimum to stay within compliance." In this scenario, ineffective leadership created an environment where autonomy and freedom were non-existent, thus directives and mandates became the norm.

Scenario 2 - Staff members were not interested in thinking for themselves or trying to solve their own problems. It was easier for them to simply ask for directives and mandates because it allowed them to exist while assuming no responsibility for their actions. This type of environment exists when staff members are penalized and reprimanded for taking risks and attempting to do anything more than the status quo. These staff members have been trained to fear autonomy, freedom and risk taking.

Scenario 3 - Staff members are not interested in freedom or autonomy and want directives and mandates for everything for no particular reason. They just want to be told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I have found this scenario to be the most uncommon scenario when dealing with educators.

In the first two scenarios I see an underlying cause that stems from ineffective leadership. When school and district leadership value the opinions and feedback of staff members while encouraging and rewarding those who take risks, you won't find many who are not in favor of more autonomy and freedom.

So, in closing about "professionalism" in education, I believe strong leadership is key in creating an environment where autonomy and freedom are not only the norm, but they are expected and demanded by all staff members. Just like we do with our students, we need to look for the underlying causes of why someone would act a certain way or think a certain way. As educators, we at least owe that to ourselves...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The lost art of writing an email...

Emails... we love them so much but in the same breath we hate them.

They have made life so much easier that now communicating is almost difficult.

Email has forever changed the way the world does business.

But something is missing, and this something that is missing is driving me crazy!

Since when did it become acceptable to completely omit any type of greeting in an email? I guess I missed that email...

When did it become socially acceptable to simply go straight into a demand and a request of doing something without even the slightest greeting of 'hello, hi, or good morning?' 

We obviously know the person to whom we are writing an email, so why do we completely ignore the fact that the person on the other end has a name?

This isn't acceptable in face-to-face conversations, so why in the world would anyone think it's acceptable in the digital space? #rhetoricalquestion

For the record, this is a blanket statement which assumes that everyone is having an email writing issue when we know in fact that's not true, but for the purpose of this blog post, it's basically everyone.

On the other end, when did it become acceptable to end an email without a simple, 'thank you,' or a simple, 'have a nice day?'

More times than not emails are ending with the end of the last sentence or statement, rather than a nice smiley face emoticon (I know they get over used), but don't we all feel better when people end a statement with a nice little face :)

Here's the deal, I've come close to simply not responding to emails that I thought appeared to be written rudely. Is this rash and most likely overreacting, probably, but my concern goes beyond what is rational vs. what's not.

The speed and ease of use of email have almost made it acceptable to be quick, to the point, and a validation of ignoring all basic points of common courtesy.

I presume I am not alone in this dilemma, so please, for me and the others, start your emails with a greeting, perhaps even a name, and please end them with something nice and an appropriate ending. In between feel free to make all the requests and demands in the world. The sandwich model in this case helps to ease the pain of the middle...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

10 ways to avoid becoming obsolete...

1). Eliminate the phrase 'that can't be done' from your vocabulary and replace it with 'let's figure out how we can make this work...'

2). Stop thinking that just because it worked for you in the past that it will work now for today's students...
3). Don't think that technology integration in schools is just a 'fad' that will go away like many other education initiatives have...

4). Embrace the notion that you, the educator, haven't been and will continue not to be the smartest person in the room...

5). Figure out creative and innovative ways to take learning beyond the confines of the four walls of your classroom...

6). Take full advantage of the many tools and platforms that are available to tap into the wide-world of collaboration and teamwork...

7). Stop believing that an educator-centered classroom that focuses on the educator more than the students is the most productive and effective learning environment...

8). Find ways to make learning relevant, purposeful, and meaningful for your students by focusing on real problems that are affecting real people...

9). Don't avoid trying new things and don't run the other way when someone mentions the word 'change...'

10). Lastly, don't be afraid to stand out; don't be afraid of being the first, and don't be afraid of standing up when everyone else sits down...

Friday, November 1, 2013

5 ways to make your classroom more student-centered

A student-centered classroom allows students to be an integral part of the assessment development process. This doesn't necessarily mean every assessment is created and designed by students, but it does mean there is a collaborative and joint venture of teachers and students in the planning and implementation stages of assessments. Students who help to design and create their assessments will find the assessments to be more meaningful, and typically students end up creating assessments that are more rigorous than what teachers would have created anyway...

A student-centered classroom focuses on finding solutions to real-world problems. Too often our classroom focus is on solving problems that lack relevance and purpose in the eyes of students. The student-centered classroom addresses real-world problems that affect or will affect students. This in turn will provide meaning and context to student-driven learning, which then will increase levels of engagement and overall student involvement.

A student-centered classroom is not about what the teacher is doing or what the teacher has done; it's about what the students are doing and what the students can do in the future. We all have experienced the teacher observation model that focuses just on what the teacher is doing, but more and more models are now focusing on what the students are doing. Obviously what the teacher does affects and impacts what the students are doing, but the most important piece is what the students are doing or are able to do as a result of what the teacher is doing.

A student-centered classroom embraces the notion that there are multiple ways to accomplish an individual task. When we limit and confine students to following a certain and specific path, we ultimately end up limiting their levels of ownership, innovation, and creativity. A student-centered classroom allows, encourages, and embraces the multitude of paths one can take to solve a given problem. This also allows for students to follow their strengths and their interests when completing a task.

A student-centered classroom firmly believes that there is a partnership and a strong level of trust between educators and students. The teacher no longer is and hasn't been for a while the 'smartest' person in the room. Because of this we need to continue forging a partnership between the teachers and the students and accept an equal playing field when it comes to learning, exploration, and discovery. This partnership is built on trust, and trust happens when we are vulnerable and open to learning with and from others...