Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Reflecting on My Core Beliefs

 Well . . .  one of them . . . . .

Over the past three days I had the opportunity to attend the Gardner-Webb University Center of Innovative Leadership Development Conference (#GWUCILD). One of the sessions I attended during this conference was with Dr. Julie Morrow, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for Rowan Salisbury Schools. Her session, Opportunities and Challenges of Creating a Happy, Healthy Culture with Leaders at Every Level, left attendees with the personal challenge of defining and reflecting on our core beliefs.

The first core belief that I have been reflecting upon is my belief that in whole, we are built by the different positive and negative experiential instances we have throughout our lives. Whether they be work related, spiritual, personal, from childhood, or fall into some other category, I believe that the root of who we are is shaped by our life experiences. I can remember the experiences that drove me to become a teacher. In fact, several teachers that I have had the opportunity to work with as an adult were my actual teachers. They left me with positive childhood experiences that directed me to the field of education.

As an adult, I have had the opportunity to serve in the Eastern European country of Moldova and the Central American country of El Salvador. While in Moldova we cared for the homeless and teenage victims of trafficking, and in El Salvador we cared for the children and workers in an orphanage. At the end of one trip to Moldova as our team was boarding a van in route to the airport, Valentine, a homeless gentleman that I had spent the week with brought me a heart shaped out of wicker. He touched the wicker heart to his heart and then to mine, and he handed it to me with a slight nod of his head. Valentine lived in a landfill, had nothing but the clothes on his back, and he managed to take someone else's "trash" and turn it into something; an experience I will cherish forever.

I know that my experience as an elementary teacher impacted my decisions and actions as I transitioned into a middle school teacher, and both of those experiences have made me better in the role that I have now as an Instructional Technology Facilitator. I could continue to discuss the things that have shaped me; friendships, marriage, becoming a mother, even the death of a parent. The tiny, or monumental, experiences of my life are pieced together into a big puzzle with no boarder pieces and make me who I am. My experiences shape how I interact with others and react to situations.

What is the importance of experiences to educators? Teachers are leaders in their classrooms and shape the culture of the school, principals lead in their school and shape the culture of their community, and district level personnel lead and shape the culture of the whole organization. I believe we are responsible for creating experiences for others.

Students come to school everyday, and we have no control of their past. However, we can give them positive experiences with each new interaction. We can listen and speak in a way that tells them they are valued, and act in a way that shows them they are cared for. We can be understanding of past negative situations, and build positive experiences that leave students with the mindset that they can and will accomplish their goals.

Teachers are shaped by their experiences as well. As a school leader, we can listen and speak in a way that tells teachers they are valued. We can shape the culture of our school where trust and relationship is the norm. We can build experiences that leave teachers looking forward to coming to work and with the mindset that they can and will accomplish their goals.

The most valuable takeaway from this session was not that Dr. Morrow asked me to reflect, but she left me compelled to act. I hope that I can create experiences for others that leave them compelled to act.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

5 Characteristics of Effective PD

Professional Development is an essential piece of education. It allows educators to stay up to date with the latest curriculum and classroom practices. I have made an infographic based on the research from the Center for Public Education, view the full report here. The research supports the following in regards to PD.

Duration - Professional Development should be held in multiple sessions over a period time. The extended amount of time allows more opportunities for practice and is more likely to be carried out in the classroom.

Support - Professional Development should offer follow-up and support. When implementing new classroom practices or new content, support is a critical piece of the puzzle. Coaching and being available to offer feedback is essential during the first stages.

Engage - Professional Development needs to be actively engaging for participants when introducing new topics. Just like students, adults need hands on, out of their seat experiences.

Model - Professional Development sessions should model how to implement the strategies in the classroom. Modeling allows the teacher to act as the student and view the information from a student’s perspective.

Specific - Professional Development should be content or grade level specific. Higher order questions are best practices for teaching students, but apply differently to content areas of mathematics and English Language Arts, therefore, a generic professional development on higher order questioning or checks for understanding would not benefit teachers when offered to K-12 teachers at one time. Specifically targeting grade levels and subjects while allowing time for collaboration with peers would have the most impact in the classroom.

In reflecting on these principles, I believe that another characteristic of Professional Development should be teacher choice. The content of the PD should be offered in multiple ways to allow teachers to engage and interact with it in the way that best suits their needs as a learner. Perhaps one teacher needs the face to face offering after school, while another prefers an online delivery that they can access at their own time and own pace.

Gulamhussein, Allison. (2013). Teaching the Teacher - Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes 
Accountability. National School Boards Association Center for Public Education. Retrieved from

Garman, Rod. (2013). Snapshots: 5 Principles of Effective PD. Retrieved from

Saturday, April 8, 2017

When Students Finish Early

I was reading my teammate, Donna Wells', Blog and came across a great post that I turned into a visual. In her post, Donna mentions ideas to implement when students finish early. You can read Donna's post here and follow her on Twitter @DonnaWells50 .

All of the ideas revolve around students creating a product of their learning.

Create a Comic Strip:
  • Pixton
  • Google Drawings
  • Educreations (iPad)

Create a Video Trailer:
  • iMovie
  • Quicktime to Screen Record
  • Educreations (iPad)
  • Animoto (iPad)
  • Paper Slide Show (iPad)

Explain your Mathematical Thinking:
  • Google Drawings
  • Quicktime to Screen Record
  • Educreations (iPad)
  • Paper Slide Show (iPad)

Create an Infographic:

  • Discovery Education Board Builder
  • Google Drawings
  • Pic Collage (iPad)

Create a Digital Story:

Create your own Quiz:

  • Google Docs
  • Google Forms
  • Kahoot
  • Quizzizz
  • Quizlet

Create an Audio Recording / Podcast:
  • Quicktime
  • Voice Record Pro (iPad)
  • Sock Puppets (iPad)

This is just a short list of ideas and resources to utilize when students finish early. Imagine the possibilities that could take place when your students begin contributing their learning processes with their classmates. Once your students begin creating, they could also begin to share their learning with the world!  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Innovator's Mindset a Reflection

I am in my 12th year in education, and I can remember when I was going through college, being told that I should embrace being a life long learner. I feel like I have done that. I have opened the opportunity for growth and knowledge. Now, after reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, I understand there is so much more to being a continual learner.

It is one thing to learn something, and then take it back to a classroom or to teachers. It is another thing to learn, share my thoughts on my learning with the world, accept feedback, then respond and grow through the process. Being a life-long learner is no longer enough. We must learn to cultivate innovation in ourselves and in others. It is no longer enough to simply learn, I must also challenge the norms and empower those I serve to find their voice and their passions. I must continually develop and cultivate relationships with those around me.

I will embrace the idea of becoming an innovative leader, not by conforming to the characteristics listed in this book, but by embracing each characteristic, challenging myself to work through them, and developing a mindset of continual growth. There are so many relevant take-a-ways from this book. I know I will read and reflect through it again. The beauty of The Innovator's Mindset is that it is not a one and done book. You can read it over and over again and it will always be applicable.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Learning is Messy

"Learning is messy, and we have to be comfortable with risk, failure, growth, and revision." 
~George Couros, The Innovator's Mindset, p. 131

Learning is messy, and sometimes the process that one must go through in order to learn something new, something different, is even messier! 

What makes learning messy? 

It looks different for different people. We all learn at different paces and in different ways. There is no cookie cutter way to learn or to go through the process of learning, and there is definitely no guarantee that I will not fail before I succeed. Since there is no prescribed formula for learning, my approach to a situation can be completely different from a colleague's approach, yet we both still learn, we both still move forward. This causes a MESS and messes can be difficult. 

I have two girls, I can remember when they were beginning to prepare their own snacks and pack their own lunches. It was messy. Perhaps there was more peanut butter on the counter than on the bread, and the jelly may have dripped onto the floor, but they went through the process of making their own snack and with practice, there is less "mess" and they have become more independent in meal preparation. At 12 and 9 years old they can successfully use the microwave, stove top and oven too (I still assist my youngest with the oven)! I could have saved the headache of cleaning up dried jelly off the floor or wiping up peanut butter off of the counter by making the snacks and lunches myself, but they were eager to help. Who am I to squelch that independence? 

In schools and classrooms there is no peanut butter or sticky jelly to clean up, but sometimes it is hard to sit back and watch or work through the difficult process of learning. As a teacher, it is difficult to restrain from giving too much assistance and information. It is difficult to watch the students struggle, but the learning that can take place when students are allowed to work through difficult processes can be beautiful. 

I have facilitated several BreakoutEDU experiences for teachers and students. I totally struggle with restraining the impulse to give too much information or too many clues too soon! I want the students or teachers to be successful in breaking out, so my initial thought is give a hint, or point them in the right direction. After a year, I have realized there is power in the process of struggling to figure something out, and when a group is successful on their own, their experience is much more meaningful. 

As an instructional leader it can be difficult to embrace each teacher's individual pace. Maybe if we are all on the same page, at the same time, going at the same pace, it will be easier to manage or prettier to look at, but when we focus on keeping teachers at the same place, at the same time, we can keep some teachers from exploring new possibilities while at the same time dragging others along for a ride they just are not ready for. 

We are all in a continual process of learning. Our paces are not the same, some strides are longer, but as long as we are all moving forward, we are heading in the right direction. 


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Focusing on Strengths and Unleashing Talent

I want to open with a question.

1.  Teachers: Do you know more about your students areas of weakness than their areas of awesomeness?

2. Principals / School Leaders: Do you know more about where your teachers need to improve or more about their strengths and passions?

Strength-Based Leadership is tapping into the areas that your staff, or students (if you are a teacher) are really good at and empowering them to continue growth in that area. I think this is a fabulous approach to working with adults, especially teachers. Many times while looking at data our sole focus is looking at what is lacking, and while this is important, it is not the only information that data provides. Focusing on strengths and passions requires an established relationship and investment in people. I think it is easy to find deficits, faults and areas of weakness, but it takes a genuine eye to focus on areas of strengths. Allowing teachers to grow and share their strengths and passions is a great way to build confidence in an individual. Passions and strengths are where our sparks come from, and it only takes a spark to ignite a fire!

Innovator's Mindset

Saturday, March 18, 2017

200 Words, Less is More

"I am taking part in the #IMMOOC “3 Blog Challenge” this week.  3 blog posts under 200 words.  If you are interested in participating, details can be found here."

Sometimes, less is more. I am reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros and participating in the Book Study / IMMOOC (Innovator's Mindset Massive Open Online Course). Part of the IMMOOC is blogging. This week our blogs are to be short, 200 words or less and more frequent, three times this week. Because the blogs are shorter, I have been able to read, process and respond to more of them than in the weeks prior. Sometimes, fewer words make more of an impact.

Here are a few of my take-aways for the week:

"Be the spark...Then get out of the way..." ~Tara M. Martin, @TaraMartinEDU Check out Tara's full post here.

"What if at the end of the school day a student asked you 'What did you learn today about your teaching?' instead of the other way around?" ~Jamie Wiitala, @Jamie_Wiitala   Check out Jamie's full post here.

"Today, will I innovate, or let the excuses win?" ~Aaron Hogan, @aaron_hogan  Check out Aaron's full post here.

"Give me a leader who is humble all day because I know that they are that and more!" ~Justin McKean, @JMcKeanK12

"But really, I just needed to ask the right questions and then get out of her way." ~Amber Teamann, @8Amber8   Check out Amber's full post here.

How can we apply less is more? 

Less mandated PD so teachers can get more out of PD they are passionate about.
Less homework for students in trade for more learning in the classroom.
Less "No", more "Yes, I will support you in taking that risk".
Less teacher doing, more student doing.
Less schooling, more learning.
Less talking, more listening.

The ... list... goes... on! But remember less is more, the less I say the more thinking you can do!

Simply stated, sometimes less is more. Let's get the most out of the time we have with our teachers and students. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

It Only Takes a Spark

By definition, Passion is a strong and barely controllable emotion. Passion can take on a different look for different individuals. For an athlete, passion is leaving everything out on the court or field after every practice and every game, not just the championships. For a parent, passion is that impulse of doing anything and everything within your power to protect and support your child. Passion in and for education is no different. Principals who lead with passion and teachers who teach with passion have a significant impact on those they lead and serve. I believe that a person's passion is the small spark it takes to ignite something bigger within a larger group of individuals. If we look at significant moments in history, passion is what sent a spark which ignited change.

Continual growth and learning is what ignites my passion and excitement. Reading, being networked, questioning ideas (my own included), supporting individuals in their classrooms, risking failure when trying something new, all of these things ignite a spark me.

I would argue that in the School vs Learning infographic, learning is about igniting passion, not just exploring your passions. I was unaware of my "passion for innovation" prior to reading The Innovator's Mindset. Instead, it was my passion for learning and personal growth that led me to this book, this book study and the #IMMOOC. The more I read, and the more I participate and connect with others who are impacting education, the more passionate I become about the changes that need to be made in education . . . the changes that I can make in education. Remember, it only takes a Spark to ignite a fire!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cultivating Trusting Relationships

As an Instructional Technology Facilitator serving three schools, serving over 1100 students, serving 50+ teachers and managing 1100+ devices cultivating trusting relationships is imperative. Here are a few things that I try not to lose sight of.

Be consistent - It is important that I let my teachers and students know that they can count on me. I try to let them know that I am going to approach each situation, classroom lesson and challenge with enthusiasm and persistence. 

Be honest - I do not always know the answer. I try to be honest in letting teachers or administrators know when I don't know. If I make a mistake, I own it, I apologize, and I try my best to get it right the next time. 

Be visible - It is so easy to just be a profile picture on an email. Face to face follow-up is crucial to building trusting relationships. 

Be servant minded - I try to never lose sight that I am here to serve. I serve the community, schools, teachers, students, parents and all other stake holders that I see on a daily basis. 

Be compassionate - If it is important to them, it is important to me.

Kristin Edwards

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

An Innovative Approach to PD

For a little over two years I have been serving as an Instructional Technology Facilitator (ITF) in my school district. This position comes with many different facets, and I have had to learn a multitude of new things from device management through a management system to the best most effective classroom strategies for utilizing devices with students in a 1:1 environment. As I was reading through part one of The Innovator's Mindset, I found so many great quotes and ideas, that I could not possibly use them all. My book is marked up and has many sticky notes, (I like to interact with the text when I read). As I am reading, I am thinking...I am not always in a classroom directly impacting students, but I am always impacting teachers. How can I take the Innovator's Mindset and use it daily in my interactions? How can I encourage teachers to be risk takers, to be thought provoking, to be creators and not just consumers of content? In short, we cannot continue to deliver instruction to teachers the way we always have.

We have to be innovative in our approaches to professional development. If we truly want to see a shift in pedagogy, we have to offer learning experiences for teachers. The key word here is experiences.

Recently, my teammates and I participated in an Edcamp. This is definitely an innovative approach to professional learning. One teammate in particular had been exploring BreakoutEDU and had brought a breakout box and materials so others could participate in an actual breakout, if the opportunity arose. If you are not familiar, Edcamps have no set schedule of sessions, the participants suggest what they would like to discuss and learn more about. BreakoutEDU happened to be one of those topics. During the Breakout "session" my teammate mentioned that she had brought a Breakout activity and she began to lead the group through a breakout experience. To actually experience a breakout was far more engaging than just talking about it, and it allowed the participants to interact with the concept and truly walk away with a vision for the possibilities in their classrooms.

Personalized Professional Development for Teachers
Professional Development for teachers that is delivered or offered in the way teachers are expected to teach is a start to making PD more of an experience. The PD has to be personal and relevant, and allow teachers to explore their own interests instead of mandating what they should "learn". These are all take aways from part one of The Innovator's Mindset. I am going to put a spin on a statement from page 21; "'What is best for this teacher?' Individualizing education and starting with empathy for those we serve is where innovative teaching and learning begins." Teachers need to meet students where they are, but as leaders and coaches, we must meet teachers where they are. "Effective leadership in education is not about moving everyone from one standardized point to the next but moving individuals from their point 'A' to their point 'B' (page 47)."

The innovative idea that I will share comes from The Digital Teaching and Learning Team that I am a part of. We saw a need to offer teacher choice in Professional Development when it came to learning about all of the technology resources that are available. We took an idea that was shared at a local conference, NCTiES (North Carolina Technology in Education Society) #NCTIES15, and made it our own. We spent several hours planning and creating "challenges" and creating a website to house the PD. In the fall of the 2015 school year, the #PDChallenge was born. You can check it out on our #PDChallenge Website. In our first year we had over 1,000 submissions for completed "challenges". You can read more about the #PDChallenge here in one of my previous Blog Posts.

A few key factors that make this professional development innovative:

  • It is, and always has been, a working, live, document. If we see a way to make it better or more effective we change it!
  • It is completely open source. My teammate, +Erin Wolfhope (@ewolfhope), and I have presented this idea several times and have always provided resources and said, "take this and make it your own"! 
  • The participants choose when, how and if they want to use it. 

I understand that some PD has to be mandatory, but I think we can minimize the number of mandatory things and allow teachers to participate in PD that they choose, like #IMMOOC, as a part of their professional learning. We cannot do the same things over and over, and expect different results. At least that is what Einstein thought!

I am very fortunate to have a "boss" who supports innovation, crazy ideas, collaboration and who allows me to fail without fear. FAIL - First Attempt In Learning. Now, what I do with that, and how I grow from this support is up to me.

Kristin Edwards

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Do I have an Innovator's Mindset???

I am a conformist by nature. A rule follower. A believer in black and white....those gray areas, man they are tricky. So, I am probably the least likely to call myself innovative, let's just say going against the grain does not come naturally to me.

However, I do believe that continuing to learn is critical. In fact, I learn something new every day. I may learn it through necessity in my role as an Instructional Technology Facilitator, through the curiosity of my two children, or through my own adventures in connecting with others. That is why I am here! To continue to push myself, to connect with other educators who are pushing themselves, and to challenge my thinking on education and learning; something that is very near and dear to my heart.

Innovation goes hand in hand with education. It is important to understand when it is time to hold on to conventional methods and when it is time to change things up. It is easy to get caught up in the idea that "innovation" is something completely new and revolutionary. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it is as simple as changing the way we think about things. Innovation can begin with something as simple as questioning the norm and giving a little push-back to provoke critical thinking.

One of my key take aways from the introduction of "The Innovator's Mindset" is from page 8.

"In reality, you can't make anyone change; people can only change themselves. What you can do is create the conditions where change is more likely to happen." 

This made me reflect upon my role with as an ITF, and it made me ask myself; do I help to create conditions where change is likely to happen? Do I build trusting relationships? Do I model risk taking in education? Am I available?

I am looking forward to continuing this book study, challenging myself, connecting with innovative educators, and developing my innovator's mindset!!

A selfie, a signed book, and
a photo bomber!

Kristin Edwards