A Personal Journey with the Internet

A Personal Journey with the Internet

11 months ago I wanted to remove online devices from my children at home and I questioned the usefulness of technology in schools. 11 months ago my beautiful, intelligent, caring, daughter disappeared. She turned 18 on June 1st. 15 days later I had a sick feeling that only a parent could understand. It was around 9:00 am and she was supposed to be with a friend, but something was very wrong. I began texting her friends and sure enough there had not been a sleepover. My daughter wouldn’t respond to texts nor answer her phone. No one knew where she was. There had been no clues leading to this day other than her talking to me four days prior to her disappearance about possibly changing her college destination. She had decided to attend college in our home state of California, but now was interested in Georgia. She mentioned participating in an online college chat and meeting someone from Georgia. We talked about cold feet and that she could always switch colleges after a year. We also talked about not meeting someone in person from online because we don’t always know if they are who they say they are. She agreed. We hung out. All seemed fine for four days. Then she was gone.

Mother’s intuition connected our talk about college to her possibly going to meet someone in Georgia. After being unable to reach her, my husband and I drove to our small local airport. We found her car in the parking lot with a parking permit that had been time stamped at 5:00 am. We hurried in and questioned the agents at the counters. No one would help us or even tell us if she had been a passenger on a plane because my daughter was 18. She had only been 18 for 15 days, but she was an adult. We hit a wall. We were terrified. We went home and I began scouring her room for clues. Miraculously, buried in the bottom of her trash can was a printed itinerary. We now knew where she was headed. My husband and I bought airline tickets and were about 11 hours behind her. As we flew on the red-eye flight, bad thoughts rushed through my head. I didn’t know if we would find our daughter alive. She was headed to a very small town in Georgia. While we were in the air, members of our extended family contacted private investigators in Georgia. A private investigator followed my daughter to her destination. 11 hours after she arrived at a home in the backwoods of Georgia, my husband and I drove up to the same home and knocked on the door not knowing who would answer or what we would find.

What happened when that door opened shook me as a mother and changed me as an educator. I found a daughter who now believed she belonged with a strange family. She was ready to give up college, move to Georgia, and alienate her entire family. I also found out that my daughter had met this family via a school project. This is when I became passionate about limiting the use of online devices in schools. I knew the possible negative effects of technology. I began to wonder, how can teachers really supervise students online? Would my daughter still be at home had she not had an online school project? I went from being a supporter of technology in the classroom to a skeptic. Then, in March of this year, I attended the CUE Conference and heard George Couros’s keynote address.

George Couros’s speech included a reference to pencils. Students may get in trouble with a pencil, but do we ban pencils? Students may use online devices for inappropriate behaviors, but should we ban them or educate them? The reality is I want my own children and my students to know how to use technology to create and be productive. I don’t want to ban them from those opportunities. Couros’s speech encouraged me. While still heartbroken about my daughter, I am raising two young boys and I participate in the education of over 1000 students at my school. I want them to be future ready and I know that includes the use of technology, but we as parents and educators can be smarter in how we teach our youth to participate in the online world.

After hearing George Couros speak, my thoughts toward kids and the Internet began to shift. In his blog titled Protecting or Ignoring, Couros states:

Am I saying that there are not dangers out there? Absolutely not. But helping our kids learn to navigate the messiness and complexities of our world is more likely to protect our students than pretending the Internet doesn’t exist in the first place.

Couros is right. Our kids will navigate the Internet. It’s up to us to decide if we want to be the ones to educate them about it or not. I believe as parents and educators we need to:

  1. Allow kids to explore the Internet, but with supervision and guidance. I work with elementary students. My own children are eight and ten. I don’t feel it is appropriate to just let them go on the Internet with no supervision, but I now don’t block sites that I once blocked. For example, my boys and students know about YouTube. They are curious about YouTube. When I banned my sons from it, guess what they did at their grandparent’s house? They were on YouTube. I now embrace YouTube with supervision. In the school setting we have filters in place, but that doesn’t excuse teachers to sit at their desks and let students go. I am present when they’re on YouTube. I learn what my students’ interests are by what they are searching. Recently I learned that there are a lot of cool and informative videos all about fidget spinners from a student. At home, I have conversations with my boys. We talk about inappropriate language and what do if a video is inappropriate. When a friend of ours posted a video and some people left negative comments, my son wanted to respond. We discussed the reasons we shouldn’t participate in online arguments. I have transitioned from banning to having discussions and supervising their online activities. **Of course there are some sites that are inappropriate- I am not condoning everything.
  2. Know that we will never be the experts in the area of the Internet. I was recently talking to a district tech leader. His own children are now reaching the age to search the internet. He acknowledged that it is scary. He pointed out that we must be willing to learn all the time because we are the first generation of adults navigating how to lead children through the world of the Internet. We must be willing to stay up-to-date in the area of technology. We must also listen and watch our kids. I’m amazed at what my own children and students know about the Internet. They teach each other about sites and apps, we need to listen and observe to be aware and learn from them (and intervene when needed). My daughter had been using Google Hangout to meet with her online acquaintance. I was satisfied with knowing about GAFE, but failed to learn about Google Hangout. We can’t know it all, but we must not stop pursuing knowledge about what is out there on the Internet.
  3. Be a better teacher of the positives of the Internet. I believe that if you stay busy with the positive, you don’t have time to dabble in the negative. The more we include the Internet in lessons where students are creating and learning, they will have less time to use the Internet for negative activities. We want them to become self-directed learners. We need to guide them in the way to use the Internet in this modern world. Let them create and teach them to use the Internet to contribute to our society. Let them research and learn about the amazing learning opportunities we have via the Internet.
  4. Include Internet safety conversations in all grade levels and subjects. As educators and parents, we need to be purposeful about our instruction of Internet safety. My daughter had a device in high school, but most questionable sites were blocked. Instead of offering her instruction on how to use sites in a mature manner, she was just blocked from anything questionable. I am convicted that blocking doesn’t transfer to teaching safety, especially during the teenage years. At home, we thought we were safe by checking her texts and apps, but we didn’t have honest conversations about Internet safety. These talks shouldn’t prevent our youth from using the Internet, but inform them about possible dangers and positive ways to express yourself online. I’ve had these talks with my sons recently when they signed up for an app and strangers were friending them.
  5. Parents must keep devices out of bedrooms. This is a huge regret I have as a parent. Our daughter was responsible. She always did well in school. She never partied. We trusted her, but the temptation of an inappropriate online relationship can mislead even the best of children. Most of her conversations with him occurred when we were asleep. We should have had her park all of her devices before we went to bed. We now know why she was often tired. For this, we are truly sorry.

The story of my daughter has not ended. I still have hope that we will one day get her back in our lives. This experience has affected my husband and I greatly as well as our other children, extended family members, and friends. We can never look at the Internet the same, but we cannot hide in a cave and pretend it doesn’t exist. We just hope we can be smarter as both parents and educators to truly lead others to the wonders of the Internet by also including the truth about Internet dangers.



Why Isolation Kills Innovation

Why Isolation Kills Innovation

When I think of the word “island” I think of Hawaii. My vision includes warm days on beautiful beaches, coconut drinks in hand, explorations of waterfalls, and by my side are my favorite people enjoying the island with me. The truth is our vision of an island can be magical if we have the right people on the island with us. But the vision of myself on an island all alone brings images of Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. That vision of an island is anything but desirable. Even in the most beautiful place on earth, I would be lonely and miserable if I had no one to share the beauty with.

In education, our islands can create feelings of loneliness and isolation similar to that of a castaway. When schools are able to create a culture of collaboration, the results are full of impact. Students learn more when educators connect with others. Educators enjoy work more when working with a team rather in isolation. We need to do all we can to avoid isolation. In education (and in life), isolation kills innovation by:

Creating ruts. We get in a rut of doing the same things over and over again if we have no one questioning or encouraging us. As Albert Einstein stated:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It seems obvious that doing the same things over and over again wouldn’t offer different results, but often we see this problem in education. Ideas are sometimes recycled by giving them new names. For example moving a worksheet to a computer-based program is still a worksheet even if it called innovative. We need inspiration or words of encouragement from others to try something new that is truly innovative. We also need others to question us and hold us accountable for making changes when change is needed.

We may miss the opportunity to ignite someone else’s idea. When we work in isolation, we miss opportunities to influence others. Our innovative ideas that impact student learning are great for our classrooms, but what about other students on campus? When we connect and share ideas we make a larger difference. Great ideas spread and reach more students.

We risk losing our passion. When we work in isolation, we burnout. We can only maintain a high energy level that allows us to do it all by ourselves for so long. We need others to share the load. This is true in the classroom when we do too much for the students. We need to allow them the opportunities to share in responsibilities. It is also true when we don’t connect with colleagues. The most successful teams work together. Each load is lightened when teams work together. Dividing up necessary tasks within the team takes items off our plates to free up more time for discussions and time for developing new ideas. All stakeholders benefit when we connect.

None of us are immune from moments of isolation. We may work in teams that are not collaborative. We may have administrators who don’t encourage connections. We may be the only one in our position on campus or we may just be too busy to make connections. Whatever the reason, we need to be aware when we are working in isolation and begin to connect.

Building a professional learning network is crucial to our survival as educators. We need each other. It is by sharing ideas, reflecting, and learning from each other that the most innovative ideas are born. Don’t be afraid to reach out and build your PLN. Also, be there for those reaching toward you. You  might be the one to save an educator from feeling like a castaway.  As a colleague said the other day, “We’re all we’ve got, so let’s be there for each other.” She is absolutely right.




Why are we Teaching Johnny Appleseed in an Ice Bucket Challenge World?

Why are we Teaching Johnny Appleseed in an Ice Bucket Challenge World?

Jimmy is a boy at my school. He’s seven years old, a little chubby, one eye crosses, and he wears the cutest round glasses. Jimmy struggles with reading, he is fidgety, and often isn’t favored by teachers. But Jimmy is smart. Every morning Jimmy is waiting by my classroom door. I open my room in the morning for students to come in and explore. I am creating my own version of a Maker Space on a shoestring budget. My principal was nice enough to purchase 30 Chrome bookIMG_0508 (1)s that students may use. I have also brought in various games, art supplies, and my daughter’s old felt boards. It is amazing how students of all ages gravitate toward the felt boards.

One day Jimmy was creating a design on a felt board. When he finished, he proudly called me over to show me what he had made. I looked at the felt guy with a pan on his head and I immediately said, “Oh you made Johnny Appleseed.” He looked at me perplexed and said, “No. That is a guy doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.” Then he proceeded to tell me about the rest of his picture. Of course his explanation of the Ice Bucket Challenge made much more sense than Johnny Appleseed would have. The guy was on a beach and Jimmy had all sorts of details to add about his picture. At that moment, I felt foolish. I had supposed something without giving Jimmy time to explain. Jimmy’s answer was much more interesting than the simplistic answer I had expected. The exchange with Jimmy affirmed three things:

1. All kids are smart. In his blog titled, “Focus on the ‘Learner,” George Couros states:

When we talk about our “smartest” kids, do we talk about our students who do the best academically?  If we focus on the “learner”, we realise that some of our “smartest” students are not the best at school. 

I love the reminder from George that some of the smartest students aren’t academically smart. Jimmy is a perfect example. He may struggle with decoding, math concepts, and putting his words into writing, but that boy is creative. Jimmy can recall an event from over a year ago, create an image of it on a felt board, and carry on a very detailed conversation about his creation. I hope Jimmy knows he’s smart. His grades don’t tell him he’s smart.  I hope the structure of school doesn’t defeat Jimmy. He needs educators to appreciate his abilities and allow him to express his ideas. He needs educators that value him and let him know his areas of strength.

2. Why do we keep teaching Johnny Appleseed in an Ice Bucket Challenge world? When Jimmy told me about his picture, I thought his response was wonderful!  It made sense that students would be more familiar with the Ice Bucket Challenge than Johnny Appleseed. The Ice Bucket Challenge was all over the media. Jimmy probably knew someone who participated in the challenge. The truth is, I have taught about Johnny Appleseed for 15 years, but I can’t even tell you why. Much of what we teach about Johnny Appleseed is fiction. We don’t even know if he wore a pan on his head, but we have students create construction paper pans and wear them home on “Johnny Appleseed Day.” Would it be more beneficial to teach about the Ice Bucket Challenge that was started by one man who suffered from ALS? That event went on to include people of all walks of life around the world and raised over 115 million dollars for research.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach about Johnny Appleseed or any other topic for that matter, but I do think we need to reexamine why we teach certain topics. Is is because we have taught it for 15 years or because it is truly meaningful to our students? Jimmy reminded me that even our youngest students are aware of current events and the world around us. Maybe we need to update some of our lessons to better connect with our learners.

3. Give students the opportunity to create and explain.  I felt foolish when I had supposed that Jimmy’s answer was Johnny Appleseed, but the exchange could have been worse: I could have not asked about his picture at all.  How often do we just look for the right or wrong answer without giving students time to explain? We’re often in a hurry and we are programed to teach to mastery and move on.  We forget to allow time for creating and explaining to occur in our classrooms. I learned so much about Jimmy in the few minutes that it took for him to create a felt picture and explain it to me. Imagine the stories we would hear, the creations we would observe, the collaborating we would witness, the thinking learners would demonstrate, and the real-life skills that would be gained if we allowed our students more time to create and explain.

I’m so thankful for my time with Jimmy. That boy taught me. I look forward to seeing his next felt board creation, but this time I will say, “Tell me about your picture.”


I GET to Teach

I GET to Teach

My biggest challenge as an educator has been feeling inadequate as a mother because my work takes me from my children. This past school year began with me presenting a staff development session. Prior to presenting, I received a video text from my eight year old son. Here is the two second video: 

He melted my heart! At that moment I felt so loved and I immediately began feeling the guilt of not being home with him. But then I caught myself. My little guy was not miserable. He was well-cared for. He just wanted to send me a loving text message. I immediately added the short video clip to my presentation and I started my presentation with my “Why.” Luke’s text was a reminder that I leave very precious people at home every day for a job that I believe is very important. This message resonated with other teachers. Some began to tear up.

The truth is we all leave people and hobbies that are important to us to come to work in schools because we feel called to make a difference. That is why I think it is crucial that we use our time at school to make the most impact we can. It’s not worth our time to leave our treasured people to just put in time to get paid, but it is of value to impact students’ lives who will someday be the leaders and creators in the world that we and our loved ones live in.

Our impact begins with our mindsets as educators. A week ago I was home with those precious people in my life and I viewed a video titled “One Phrase to Stop the Fizzle” by A.J. Juliani. He suggested changing “have to” to “get to” whenever thinking about tasks at home or at work. Wow! Those words were what I needed to hear at that very moment. The day I watched the video, I was home on Spring Break. Spring Break offers time for me to read, rest, relax, exercise, and spend time with some of my favorite people. Usually I enjoy my time home so much that I dread going back to work because of my parenting guilt and negative thoughts of all the work ahead, but after viewing the video I challenged myself not to let that guilt and negative mindset to sneak back into my thoughts and to now see my work through the “get to” lens.

I get to work with remarkable students every day. I get to work with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. I get to be a part of students learning how to read. I get to watch students go from not speaking a word of English to becoming fluent English speakers. I get to learn and grow in my occupation. I get to collaborate with others. I get to read original pieces of writing from students. I get to hear the funny things kids say every day. I get to bring home new learning to my own children. I get to model being a devoted parent and teacher to my children. I get to teach.

I’m hoping to keep my “get to” lenses on at home and school. What will I get to do today?

And so it begins…

And so it begins…

This is my very first post. I never thought I  would be a blogger. I assumed bloggeFAIRY (1)rs were experts, famous, or narcissistic. I am not an expert, famous, nor am I a narcissist, but I have been inspired by George Couros and his book The Innovator’s Mindset as well as A.J. Juliani and his Innovative Teaching Academy. Couros made the excellent point that as educators we must always reflect. When we blog, we hold ourselves more accountable for our reflections by making them public for our colleagues to read.

I look forward to writing intentional reflections. It won’t be easy. I am going to have to prioritize my time and gain confidence in sharing my ideas. I am ready for the challenge!