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Monday, February 26, 2018

What is school for, anyway?

One of the prompts for #IMMOOC Season 4, Week 1 is: What do you see as the purpose of education? I was starting to think about my answer, but then I came across George's own paragraph in the Introduction to Innovator's Mindset:
"My focus is not on whether kids can knock it out of the park on some science test in grade three. What I care about is that kids are inspired to be better people because of their experiences at my school."
I love it. I've been telling teachers as often as I can that as a site administrator, I really don't care about state test scores. And I wish that our teachers could set them aside as easily...but I get it. They've been conditioned over the years to worship test scores. Or maybe to know that "the bosses" worship them.

Listen: students learning (and students caring, and students becoming better people) is SO much more important than an arbitrary number that doesn't tell us much anyway. So...what does that look like? As a classroom teacher, that means providing student choice in learning (of COURSE within parameters). That means making learning relevant and meaningful. That means working on character development in all scenarios: when doing well, when needing to give more effort, and also when having a bad day.

As a middle school vice principal, that means working on helping students become better people at every encounter. That means getting to know them (in the classrooms, out at lunch, when they're sent up to meet with me) and valuing them as a person even if they were sent up as "the bad kid".

My mentor, Dave Rios,  had this posted in his office as Vice Principal at West Hills High School. I stole it. I have students read it out loud whenever I sense that they're not used to having positive experiences up in the office. And yes, I have to teach them what "retribution" is (I usually explain it as "payback").

I'm sure I could flesh this idea out a bit more, but as Cori Orlando (@coriorlando1) says, "Just hit Publish!"

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christmas Card link

So...I had visions of a full-blown letter, but this is more what I'm capable of right now! If you want more details, you'll just have to creep on our Facebook and Instagram accounts!


Job change to Assistant Principal: I am at the same school (Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Selma, CA), but moved down the hall to become an assistant principal. I love my colleagues, and am growing a lot!
CUE/Lead 3.0/Fall CUE (Site Leader): I had a great year with my "tribe". I had the opportunity to attend several conferences that stretched me and grew my PLN (professional/personal learning network). In the spring, I was named the Site Leader of the Year for Central Valley CUE!


More hours at the Well (Re:gen): Shanah continues to love her work at our church, The Well. She is the women's "shepherd" for the 12-Step-based recovery ministry (Re:generation) which is growing by leaps and bounds! It is so fun to see her in her element, totally serving out of her God-given strengths!
Swim: she also continues to make people shake their heads at her craziness by swimming at 5am 3 days a week!
Massage (Melissa): Shanah is still doing some massage, but the most gratifying client has to be Melissa. You can learn more about her on Facebook, so I'll just link that here.


Braces: Eden got braces this year. The transformation was amazing within DAYS! We'll see how long they have to stay on!
Band (flute): She is loving to play the flute in the advanced elementary band at her school. The growth over the past year is astounding
Robotics: At the recent FIRST Lego Robotics competition in her district, Eden's team tied for the second-highest score of the day.
5:16: Eden enjoys the craziness of her youth group, and absolutely loves her small group leader, Emily.


Girl Scouts: Emma has joined a local Girl Scouts troop. She's having a lot of fun with her friends!
Reading (Wonder): Emma is becoming a voracious reader, and is challenging me to read the book she finished recently (Wonder) before she'll allow the family to go watch the movie! 


Life Group: we've joined a small group on Wednesday nights (the same night that Eden has 5:16 and Emma has Girl Scouts). We're loving this small community of believers that are sharing life together. A highlight this year was spending time at Bass Lake with the group this summer. But prayer-request time every week is almost as good!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

I'm baaaaaaaaack!

Well...I burned myself out. I'm not able to blog daily. I tried for a while, and I worked really hard at it. But it's just not me. So I disappeared. But now I'm back. And I'm not making any promises. Just a goal: I'd like to post at least once a week. Today, I'd like to finally process my thoughts from CUE17.

I think this year, I made the transition from attendee to networker. Attending individual sessions became less important for me this year than the connections I could make with people in my PLN. PLN, if you're not familiar with it, means "Personal/Professional Learning Network". In simple terms, it means the people that I connect with on a regular basis on Twitter. In my world, these are educational leaders from around the nation (and even world) that I interact with frequently. For me, my "tribes" include #connectedTL peeps, CUE Admin folks, #CVtechtalk people (Central Valley of California), #leadwild principals, etc.

#CUE17 took place in Palm Springs, California this March 15-18. I was blessed to be able to send myself along with 5 teachers from my school site to the conference. I was super-excited to share CUE with these folks, and I feel like it really ignited two of the five teachers. The other three varied in their experiences, but I'm glad they got to go, too. [post edited]

As for me, I barely spent time with them. I was there to learn a couple of new things (expanded below), but also to connect more deeply with leaders in the #EdTech world that would enable me to bring new knowledge and information back to my site and district in ways that will pay dividends over the next couple of years. For sure, my connections with Jon Corippo and other CUE Admin leaders will push me to continually grow in ways that will improve LIFE for me and my colleagues moving forward. There are ideas that are "common" in circles at CUE that are pretty uncommon in my neck of the woods in Selma. I'm hoping that as I continue to grow personally, that I'll be able to leverage that growth to improve my school site, my district, and even my region. And all of that growth is not about's about doing what's best for kids. My love for technology is all about can we improve processes and procedures (empowered by technology) to better ensure student learning and teacher success?

One of my highlights at CUE17 was a dinner on Thursday night. I reached out via Twitter to my fellow foodie Jon Corippo (he's the Director of Academic Innovation for CUE...founder of Minarets High School)  because I was seeing his pre-CUE posts about meals (at The Hat, at Sherman's Deli) that were making me jealous before my arrival. He replied about a "super secret" dinner on Friday night. He invited me to join him and a couple of other fellows (Dustin "they're out of prime rib" Ellis and Robert "Pork Chop" Hochberg) for a simply amazing dinner at L.G. Prime Steakhouse. I had an awesome whiskey-based cocktail while we waited quite a while to order. That may or may not have played a role in my inability to say "bone-in ribeye steak" properly when relaying to our waiter what I wanted. It came out as "bone-eye"...and a new nickname was born! The steak was simply amazing, so I wear the new name with pride.

Another highlight of the trip was picking up my amazing friend Cate Tolnai. Cate is one of the moderator of the #ConnectedTL tribe, and is a world-leader in the TOSA community. She started the #sketch50 movement, helps run CUE Karaoke, and is simply a great person. I love her energy and enthusiasm, so it was a kick when I got an Uber call from a Catherine on Friday afternoon. I had a session at the far-away Riviera Hotel, and so I was simply going to miss a session. I decided to see if I could make a quick buck during that time, so I turned on my Uber app. I got Catherine's call, and noted that she was at the Riviera Hotel. When I rolled up, she was super-jazzed to see me, too. We had a great ride.

The #CUEber hashtag was revived (it was used the year before about some golf cart ride)...and I actually got to pick her up AGAIN on Saturday morning!

The best session I attended:
I'm sorry to bury this note so deep in my post, but I have to tell you about the session I attended on a Friday afternoon. Zach Smith and Ali Halsey from Sanger were presenting about UDL (Universal Design for Learning). Full disclosure: Zach is a friend of mine from church, and that was at least 75% of the reason I attended his session. The other 25% had to do with the fact that I was sorely disappointed by the UDL presentation that had been made to our ALMS staff at the beginning of the school year, so I wanted to give it another chance. Also, I've been totally impressed with the work I had seen Zach do with Special Ed. students in Sanger (think: 3D printing of digestive SDC students!). So here's my weird note:

I had a spiritual experience during this session. I'm a believer, and sometimes I'm touched by something I can only describe as the Holy Spirit reaching into my life. While Zach was describing how UDL helps us to reach the traditionally marginalized students (both Special Ed. and "gifted"), I couldn't help but hear it as a gospel message of how to love ALL of the people in our lives. UDL helps us to serve the students I believe God has placed in our lives. I know that standard instructional practices do a less-than-ideal job of loving our students on both ends of the spectrum, and I saw how UDL can help us do better in that charge. I was moved to tears as I considered the implications: how powerful to work intentionally to make sure that EVERY STUDENT MATTERS!

The second-best session I attended was hosted by Catina Haugen. She helped me see some better ways that I can communicate well with all the stakeholders at my school and in my district. I had followed her for a while on Twitter and Facebook, but this was the first time I had seen her present in person. She did a great job, and I brought home a couple of ideas that we'll put in place for this summer and next year.

I have to say that I came away from CUE17 kicking myself for four things in particular, all of which are strangely tied to George Couros. I had recently seen George present at the Tulare County Tech Rodeo, and fell in love with his message, presented clearly in the book The Innovator's Mindset. I chose to skip his keynote address (which is PHENOMENAL, but I saw a heads-up on Twitter that it was going to be a repeat of what I had heard).
1) while I don't regret missing the keynote, I do regret that I missed sitting next to Todd Schmidt for that session. He had saved me a seat, and I wish I had spent some more time with him. #opportunitymissed
2) at CUE Karaoke, I left early to drive for Uber. I missed the chance to perform, and I missed seeing George Couros (and Mike Lawrence) sing. #bummer
3) the next morning, I saw George in the hallway. The person I was standing with said "Great job, George!" referring to the Karaoke. In my jealousy, I made a sarcastic comment along the lines of " wasn't THAT good." I have no idea whether George heard me or not...but what could I possibly have gained from that interaction?
4) The final session, I went to see a person that I have followed on Twitter for quite a while. I have always enjoyed his contributions online, so I went to his "futuristic" session, even though that's not the type of leader I really am. I saw all my #edufriends posting from George's session at the same time, and had some MAJOR #fomo about missing it. Not just for George's content, but also for the missed connections with Amy Fadeji, etc.
I caught up with Voxer messages in several groups after the fact, and one of the pieces of advice for CUE was to "follow the dynamic speakers". I missed that chance with George. #mybad

In any event, I'm glad to be back in the blogging saddle. They won't always be this long, but upcoming topics include:
• Podcasts:
- (what do I listen to)
- (Teacher Tales: my FAVORITE new podcast)
- (Google Teacher Tribe: my second-favorite new podcast...and it's great!)
• #sketch50
• Twitter for my colleagues
• feedback for my presentation (I've reworked my #edtech conference presentation, and need some help)
- Lead Like a Pirate #LeadLAP (new study group starting now!)
- #KidsDeserveIt (I've been reading it, but need to post about it!)
- Innovator's Mindset (I can't believe this has been shoved down to third position! I can't wait to read it!)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Estoy agradecido poder hablar español

I'm a gringo. A güero. Whiter than white bread. Pero hablo español. Why? I'm not sure. But I'm thankful.

Being bilingual is a true gift.

I didn't learn it from my mom...her Spanish was limited to "Mantequilla, por favor (Butter, please)" at the dinner table. My dad may have known the origin stories (fake) of all our favorite treats, but he sure didn't speak Spanish.

I have an aunt on my mom's side (Lourdes) who was born in San Blas, Nayarit, México. So every Christmas season, we'd have tamales and sing posadas and drink ponche with her side of the family. I certainly loved those times, but I'm not sure what Spanish, if any, I really learned there.

I started studying Spanish in high school. Freshman year at Santana, Sra. Verrati (strange twist of fate: late in her career, she transferred to the school where I ended up teaching Spanish, and we shared an office space!). I took to Spanish right away. Turns out I have an ear for it. I have an ear for everything...I can pick out a tune on the piano after hearing it, I can whistle really well (I got THAT from my dad), I do accents, I accidentally parrot people I'm speaking with if they have an accent...I even learned phrases in Japanese from an exchange student, and in Chinese from some Taiwanese businessmen I drove around in college. All that to say, learning a language turned out to be pretty easy for me.

My second year, I had Sra. Nissenbaum. Third year was Sra. Jack, as was AP Spanish my senior year. My two biggest memories are: 1) playing the role of Sebastian in our Spanish version of Little Mermaid. I sang a rousing rendition of "Bajo el Mar" brought the house down every time!  And 2) I had a bet with a classmate that we would incorporate the word albaricoque (apricot) into the oral portion of the AP test no matter what. Well, I'm pretty sure that's the reason I got a 4 instead of a 5 (like it matters...AP tests are a scam and bad for kids; I dare you to get me started on that rant sometime).

When I went away to college, I knew one thing above all else: I was destined to be a teacher. At Baker University, I applied for the departmental scholarships in Spanish and History (my other love, evidenced in Context being my #1 Strengthsfinder theme). I won the Spanish scholarship, and that decided my future for me!

I always got a kick telling people that I left San Diego (right on the border with Tijuana) to go study Spanish in the middle-of-nowhere Kansas. At first blush, that sounds crazy. But the fact is, I ended up in really small classes (an environment in which I thrive). And in my upper-division courses, there were only TWO students! Angie Williams and I both received a top-notch education from our Cuban-born author/poet/singer/professor, Pablo La Rosa. He was great...the type of professor who would call me on a snow day to cancel class. The type of professor who moonlighted as a beer vendor at the Royals games. He was a lot of fun. And he helped me understand how lyrical a Romance language needed to be!

So then I ended up teaching Spanish. At my rival high school back in my hometown! I was there for 17 years. I dabbled in other things: I taught AVID, I was the yearbook advisor for 7 years...but teaching FIRST YEAR Spanish became my specialty. For one thing, all my colleagues hated teaching freshmen. Me...I loved it!

My primary mission as a first-year Spanish teacher was to help the students fall in love with Spanish. We sang songs, we played games, we grilled carne asada on the back patio...I knew that if I could get them to enjoy Spanish, they'd work of their own accord.

Late in my teaching career, I became an English Learners' Coordinator and started working on my admin credential. In both of those roles, I expanded my horizons as a community liaison, helping to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking parents as they engaged with the school. Little did I know what I was preparing myself for!

Today, I work at Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Selma, California (in the Central Valley south of Fresno). I am a Program Manager, so I continue to work with English Learners, but also with Title I programs. I use Spanish EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. With kids. With parents. With staff. As I translate materials (I'll tweet out our latest bilingual newsletter tomorrow!). As I help fix bad translations of existing materials (yikes!). As I banter with a mom who came to the office to sell her handmade tamales. As I hear from our parents about their dreams for their kids. In ELAC meetings. In SSC meetings. At football games.

And in my personal life, too. Helping strangers in Target who can't get their needs across. Surprising an occasional Uber rider who was struggling with their English. Getting the waiter to hook me up with an extra filet of the jalapeño-cream-covered tilapia because we connect. Understanding the meanings of weird words because the Latin root is similar to the Spanish, adding a layer to my grip on a Bible verse. Getting to enjoy awesome music (Julieta Venegas, for instance). And so on...

I didn't expect all of this to flow out of me tonight. But I am full of gratitude for the gift of language. I know I didn't earn it. I didn't work for just came to me. And I'm so glad. Doy gracias a Dios por haberme bendecido. Mi vida es más rica por poder entender dos idiomas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gather the right stuff!

I don't have time to process this idea right now. But I was in a department chair meeting today where the chairs (and, by proxy, their teams of teachers) were given the task of collecting, compiling, and sharing data about how students are doing (academically) at our school.

It's not the fun, all-smiles stuff that all my favorite educational leaders are posting about on Twitter, but it's really important, right? 

It was a really hard conversation, full of starts and stops. Confrontations (presented gently). Pushback. Fears names. Assurances made. Trust leaned upon. Missteps and course corrections. Really important work that we can't shy away from.

But I came away wondering how to package it better. How to make the case clearly. And I kept coming back to the pieces of data we're asking them to collect.

We were focused (with good reason) on how the data could INFORM. But how can we use the data to inspire? Do we need OTHER data? Do we need DIFFERENT data? Do we need MORE data? And (I think this is really it), do we need to SEE the data differently?

Is that a shift of perspective for administration? For teachers? For students? I think the answer is yes to all of these. But what does that look like? I don't know tonight. And I probably won't know alone. I will seek help from those around me. Because (as Mr. Coleman always likes to remind us) "together we're smarter than a supercomputer!"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Google Forms (now with pictures!)

Every so often, Google pushes out an update to the GAFE suite of tools. And every time, there's a gem or two. This one was a no-brainer from day one, and it's something I'm glad they figured out.

Google Forms can now include images. In a section. In a question. In a possible answer. In an answer given.

Personally, I think Google Forms are one of the most under-appreciated Google Apps. And that's weird, because among ninja-level users...they're heavily utilized. But the average user simply doesn't understand the power in their hands.

I'll brainstorm a couple of ideas for each placement of an image. I'd love to see YOUR ideas in the comments...extra credit for a link to an example!

In a section

  • A history teacher includes an image of a primary source, then asks 2 or 3 questions based on that source.
  • An art teacher uses an image of a painting, then asks several questions about that piece of art. Update: this appeared on Twitter shortly after I posted this. #greatmindsthinkalike ?

In a question
The several questions to an image (in a section) works just fine sometimes, but there is some scrolling involved. Sometimes that's not optimal, so...

  • An ELD teacher places an image, then gives EL students sentence starters and asks them to complete the thought.
  • A science teacher includes images of different animals/plant/minerals, and asks students to name kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus or species (depending on what they're learning). Side note: I loved my high school biology class and the units on nomenclature. Weird stuff sticks, like brown kelp is Phaeophyta (my mnemonic device included the fact that Tammy Faye Bakker wore a lot of brown makeup).

In a possible answer

  • A school administrator wants to get staff shirts, and presents his colleagues with three options. He has each staff member vote based on the the images (A, B, or C). I copied my real ballot here for you as an example.
  • A first-grade teacher teaching about the different emotions makes the question an adjective, then the four answer options are faces from that iconic emotions poster.

In a given answer

  • (overheard on Voxer #connectedTLtribe) Students are asked to provide evidence of having read a book or chapter, and that evidence is a photo of their favorite quote or passage. (Then they explain why they chose it.)
  • A principal wants to compile a "getting to know you" spreadsheet of his teachers and classified staff, and asks them to submit a favorite photo of themself (for inclusion in the "staff of the week" portion of a newsletter).

I just made a lot of these up on the spot. I'm excited to challenge the teachers at my site to think of other ways to use this fantastic new feature of an already great tool. What are YOUR ideas?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Your Words Matter

I was convicted when I watched this video.

See, the educators in the video were just trying to run the school in a way that maximized learning for the students. They were well-meaning...they just forgot how important relationships are. How much word choice and tone communicate.

It's powerful, and it's motivating, so it's my first #MotivationMonday post of the 2016-2017 school year (yeah, I'm back!).