Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thankful Thoughts: The Gift of Professional Learning and Growth

I was fortunate this Thanksgiving Holiday to spend time by my parents; I am ever indebted to them for all that they have done for me and continue to do.   Of course, there are many other things that I am thankful for in my life. One of them is having the gratitude for my ability and openness to learn and grow as an educator.

Being a reflective practitioner is easier said than done. It requires constant meta-cognition as I need to realize what I have accomplished thus far as an educator, what I want to accomplish, and how I will get to that point.  Education is dynamic as it is constantly evolving.  Our jobs as educators are to continue to learn and change in order to meet the needs of our students.  Many educators realize this and recognize the value of professional learning.  Other educators are unfortunately stuck in the 1980’s.   Why should I change?  It’s our students that need to change!  Entering a classroom with that belief is completely futile.  Neither the educator nor the students will benefit from such a situation.  

I could not have reached the point where I am today without the guidance and support of many of my colleagues.  Challenging my thoughts and beliefs about what education is and what it should be has definitely opened my mind and has left me with the desire to continue to learn and grow.  Inspiring me to become vulnerable, stepping outside of my comfort zone and to take risks as I try new things, has tested my self-esteem as well as my patience.  Whether I fail or succeed, what I have learned during the process is more important than the actual outcome itself.  

I have learned so much from participating in PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) and PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) over the past several years.  Being able to communicate and collaborate with each other - whether face to face or virtually, has enabled us to tackle important issues in education at hand as a group and learn from each other at the same time.  We might have different opinions, and that’s fine.  When we disagree with each other, we do so with respect.  Whether this has taken place on Twitter, Google+, Moodle, or another form of social media, I cannot underestimate how much I have gained professionally by learning in these groups.

Another driving force of my professional learning and growth during the past several years has been SMART Technologies. Yep, as hard as it is to believe, an educational hardware and software company has definitely pushed me towards greater heights in my professional learning.  As a SMART Exemplary Educator, I don’t view SMART as merely a company that is trying to sell hardware and software.  Rather, I view SMART as a company that wants to support teachers in making a positive difference in their students’ education.   Teachers extend their students’ learning as they empower their students to become natural, authentic learners, discovering more about their world each day.  

Last but most definitely not least, I am thrilled to be participating in a school leadership during the course of this school year.  I have never viewed myself as a leader before.  Because of my experience in integrating technology in education, I have been fortunate to be able to coach other educators in this area as well, making a positive difference in their instruction and in their students’ learning.  This has definitely boosted my level of self-confidence as I learn how much of a positive impact Educational Technology can make in students’ learning when it is integrated properly in classroom instruction.  Aside from learning how to be a school leader and coach in the area of Educational Technology, I have been fortunate to learn with experts in the field of education about many other important educational topics, including but not limited to:
  • Type and Temperament for Leadership
  • Time Management
  • Supervision and Evaluation
  • Instructional Vision
  • Curriculum Goals and Outcomes
  • Student Support
  • Alternative Models of Education
  • Change Management
  • Leading From Within

For someone who never dreamed of working in the field of education - and even more so, in the area of school leadership, I must say that overall it has been a bumpy yet enjoyable ride.  I have been fortunate to teach in a variety of school settings, each with its own culture and morals.   Though I do not know where my educational journey will take me next, I am sure that it will be somewhere that I can continue to learn and grow professionally.  And I am grateful for that.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Do YOU Know Where Your Students Are Online? The Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship

You've got some downtime for some of your students since they finished their work early.  Rather than giving them a book to read or another activity to complete, you give them permission to "play" on a computer or another mobile device in your classroom.

Before you allow your students to use the technology, it would be a good idea to think about the following questions.

  • Do you know what website your students are using?  
  • Do you know what your students are doing online?  
  • Do you have a proper filter installed?  
  • Is social media allowed or blocked?  
  • Do your students have the ability to communicate with others online?
  • Do you have Google SafeSearch or another safe search engine enabled?  
  • Are there inappropriate ads on the websites that your students are using? 
  • Last but not least, is there someone in your school who can guide you in taking the proper steps to ensure that your students are using their devices appropriately?

If you answered "no" to one or more of the questions above, it would be a very good idea for you to learn about Digital Citizenship, why it's important, and how you can provide your students a safe and responsible use of technology.

So, what IS Digital Citizenship? Digital Citizenship is the understanding of human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and the advocating and practicing of safe, responsible and ethical use of digital information and technology. (ISTE, 2007)

As educators, teaching our students social skills is not enough anymore.  In the 21st century, we need to teach them how to embrace the online world responsibly too.  Our students are not only communicating and collaborating with others face to face, but they are doing so with others whom they encounter in the digital world.  Digital Citizenship reflects the world that our students live in and we want to be able to understand the lives that they lead.  In addition, teaching these skills to our students allows us to address things and to be proactive as opposed to reactive.   Students have so much more engagement now with the digital world, and as they are doing that, sometimes they don't make the right choices.  Students sometimes don't really know what they are doing or the effect of how they are communicating with others.  We want to make sure that our students know how to use technology wisely and safely.

So HOW, do we teach them Digital Citizenship?  We do this in the following three ways.
1) We DISCUSS the concepts and importance of Digital Citizenship with them.
2) We MODEL proper use of digital tools - even to our youngest learners.
3) We PROVIDE our students with the necessary tools and experience so they receive practice in performing good Digital Citizenship skills.

I have spent the past few years teaching Digital Citizenship to students in elementary grades.  When I first started, I absolutely had no idea where to begin.  I was fortunate to learn about Common Sense Media's Digital Passport Digital Citizenship curriculum.  The program includes many educator materials, resources, interactive games for students, and it's FREE.  This past year, Common Sense Media released a Digital Citizenship curriculum for students in middle school entitled Digital Compass.  I'd highly recommend you checking out these resources if you have not done so already.

The information below serves as a guide to teaching students about Digital Citizenship and its importance.  This was developed by Mary Beth Hertz (@mbteach).  You can find the original document at  I have found this resource very useful in teaching students various Technology Skills.

      K-8 Technology Curriculum Scope: Digital Citizenship
  • Kindergarten: What information is safe/not safe to share online?
  • First Grade: What information is safe/not safe to share online? How do people use online tools safely to communicate?
  • Second Grade: How do people use technology communicate responsibly?
  • Third Grade: How do people use online information responsibly?
  • Fourth Grade: How do people use online information responsibly and respectfully?
  • Fifth Grade: How do people use technology responsibly?
  • Sixth Grade: How do people use technology responsibly for research and communication?
  • Seventh Grade: How do people use technology responsibly for research, communication and collaboration?
  • Eighth Grade: How do people use technology responsibly for research, communication and collaboration?

Here are some great resources for teaching Digital Citizenship:
Common Sense Media
What Your Students Really Need to Know About Digital Citizenship, by Vicki Davis
Edutopia lists many resources on its website too.