Sunday, November 23, 2008

National Board Certification

Friday, November 21, 2008 I was sitting at my computer just before 7 AM waiting for that magical moment that I could press the button and see if I had achieved National Board Certification after my second year through the process. My husband was by my side assuring me that he felt good about it, but I was mentally preparing myself to take on a third year. I was beyond delighted to see that I had succeeded!

I must say that I am thrilled beyond words to be Nationally Board Certified, but there is a tiny part of me that is sad this phase of the process is over. Going through certification has been the best professional development I have ever had. It was personal - about me, my teaching, my students, my classroom. I have changed a number of things over the last two years and really feel like I have grown as a teacher. I have learned much from reflection and it is a practice that I will continue.

I am excited that 16 members of our staff have signed up for Take One! this year. I am going to get to assist them in the process and that is very exciting. I hope they get as much from the experience as I have.

All in all, professionally, I am having a fabulous year!

Reflections on the Past Year and Some Current Thoughts

Last weekend I had to prepare remarks for the South Dakota Board of Education about my year as a Milken recipient. I love times of reflection because I truly grasp how fortunate I am. Not only did I receive the Milken and all that goes with that, I had a number of opportunities open up before me. I was asked to serve on the Governor’s TCAP Summer Study Committee and I learned more than I could have imagined from there. I am part of the first Teachers Advisory Committee to the Board of Education. I was part of the planning team for the Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference. While there I got to be part of the opening and speak to about 400 teachers. I was also presented a plaque from the Governor for my Milken award. I was introduced to the state legislature and asked to speak to the Board of Education at the beginning of my year. I had the opportunity to submit some of my lesson plans to Corwin Press for publication. (But since I haven’t heard back, I am not hopeful!) I got to witness the South Dakota Teacher of the Year process up close. I always knew we had some amazing teachers in our state, but having those teachers in the room was inspiring!
I was also names one of Black Hills State University’s 125 Accomplished Alumni. This was quite an honor. It was their 125th anniversary and they selected their top from everyone who attended the university. They treated us to a great lunch. Introduced us all with a short bio and gave us a medal. I was also asked to ride in the Swarm Day parade the next day and be introduced at half-time of the homecoming football game.
I have also had an impact on how my district recognizes and utilizes national award winners. We have the newest Milken in our state right in our district again and I suggested that we honor the fact that we have so many in our district and perhaps pull these people together to do some good for the district, particularly in the area of good PR. In this day and age, teachers need to be recognized in the public as the professionals they are!
I enjoyed my time with the board on Monday. They are always very receptive to hearing from teachers. I also enjoyed my time to reflect. It made me think about the growth I have experienced over the last year in particular!
I realized over the past year that I have gotten over my fear of public speaking. I also realize I have some pretty definite opinions on a few things about education. I worry about how prepared new teachers are fresh from the university and what kind of support they get when they get into the trenches. I worry that we are truly going to see the effects of the teacher shortage soon and it is going to cause things we really don’t want to see happen. There are already rural schools closing and overcrowded classrooms. I don’t think most teachers are doing a very good job of integrating technology in the classroom and we are currently teaching the students that are going to have to be proficient with that when they get into the workplace. I worry about South Dakota being lowest in the nation for teacher pay. I think it is going to prevent us from being competitive attracting new teachers and we are going to lose them to neighboring states.
Perhaps most of all, I worry that our profession as a whole is not as respected as it once was. In many ways, I think teachers are our own worst enemies on this one. Most teachers are very modest about what they do. We are called to serve and we feel no need to toot our own horns. I most certainly understand that. But it has led to people saying things like, “Oh, you are just a teacher.” It has also become the fall-back career – well, you can always TEACH! Sheesh! Where did this come from? When parents drop off their children at the school each day, they are leaving us with their most precious possessions. They better hope we are up to the task of not only caring for these children, but helping them become the productive members of society that we need for them to be. I know I take this responsibility seriously – as do most teachers I know. I think we should, at the very least, be respected for our choice to teach!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's been a tough year so far!

This is shaping up to be a tough school year. Two students that were in the other 8th grade Core last year have committed suicide this year. Two of my current students have been hospitalized for suicidal thoughts this year and five students in our school were hospitalized this week. This just terrifies me! We have heard about suicide pacts and I know a lot of our kids are feeling stress.

I think the economy problems must be playing a factor. I know it hurts all of us, but those in poverty situations must find it overwhelming. It is good to see gas prices coming back down, but I know that has caused a great deal of turmoil for many of my families. Food is more expensive and when you can barely feed your family how can you deal with that?

I try to keep my classroom a safe environment so that kids can stick to the task of learning, but they come in with so many things on their minds it’s no wonder they have trouble dealing with English. And that’s if they make it there at all. I had a student missing this week whose family is dealing with a fire in their home. Grandma is currently taking care of 9 grandchildren and they had a fire in their rental home. The oldest grandson awoke and alerted all the family and three of the boys helped get blankets and such and take care of the babies and little ones in the snow while the fire was being put out. Now they are displaced and have no money to survive on. He is supposed to be back in school next week, but only time will tell.

I have another student that has been a handful for a week – picking on other kids and generally just messing around. A few conversations with administration and I have discovered that his younger brother (6th grade) is struggling with cancer. I am certain that my student is worried and also probably not getting much attention at home right now.

Another young man’s house was foreclosed on and he has missed school to help his family move. A young lady had a note intercepted that discussed her first sexual experience. There is one that is struggling because English is not his first language and is not spoken in the home. I know there are several on probation or DSS is involved. My list of IEP students is very long.

Logically, I know that I must continue to keep my classroom a stable and nurturing environment. I know it is often the only constant place in their lives. While I empathize with their problems, education is the best way out for most of them and I must continue to not only give that to them, but to make them see the value in it for their lives.

Emotionally, I am struggling a bit this weekend. I know it is the suicide thing that is bothering me the most. I don’t know how to deal with that. Our two that are back from the hospital concern me. One is acting out a bit and everyone is afraid to come down on her the way we should. One is still in contact with the boy she has the suicide pact with. How much are we supposed to be watching her? And as I look out on the sea of faces, how many others are feeling that death is the only way out right now? What more can I do for them? Our counselor is overloaded and seeing students as fast as she can.

I try very hard to not take this kind of thing home with me, but this weekend it has not given me that option. Worrying about my kids is weighing heavy. Maybe I need to take a suicide prevention class of some sort. (Like I have any more time in my schedule to fit in more stuff.) Maybe something smaller, like some sort of Thanksgiving activity where I tell each of them how thankful I am to have them in my life and why? I don’t know if that would help with the big stuff in their lives, but even though most of them know I care, it never hurts to tell them again and tell them why. Hmmm…. Something to think about!

Thanks for listening to my ramble and I am open to any suggestions for my kids you might have.

Monday, October 13, 2008

South Dakota's Governor's Teacher Leadership Conference

We in South Dakota have a great working relationship with our Department of Education. They are so much more than a regulatory board. They truly are about being support for the teachers in this state. They have a good understanding of teachers’ frustration with pay, but are limited to solutions, so they try to support us in every other way they think they can. The Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference is a good example of that.

This year’s conference was a bit different that past conferences. This year we combined the veteran teacher (the teacher leaders) with the new teachers (the teachers within their first five years of teaching.)

Sunday Afternoon

The first day was Sunday, October 5th. First the planning team got to have brunch with our Day One Facilitators, Dr. David Henderson, Maggie Anderson, and Treopia Washington. David and Maggie were the first two Courage To Teach facilitators that came to our state and started the fabulous program. (I have written about this before as I got to be part of the second cohort.) Treopia is Vice President, Partnerships and Minority Affairs, The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in Washington D.C. I have gotten to know her through the National Board process and the fact that she has organized a program in my school where 16 teachers and principals are taking the Take One! part of National Boards this year at no cost to them.

At one o’clock the Day One Facilitators met with the teacher leaders. We had the opportunity to do some reflection – as we do whenever we do Courage work and then come together and discuss those reflections in groups of three. We talked about the poem, The Woodcarver by Chuang Tzu. The poem is about how we are called to excellence as both a teacher and a person. It also made us think about how we help others reach their levels of excellence.

Here is the poem:

The Woodcarver

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
"What is your secret?"

Khing replied: "I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

"By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

"Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
and begin.

"If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

"What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits."

- Chuang Tzu
from The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton

The part of this poem that struck me most was how Khing prepared himself before he went into the forest and before looking at the trees. I rarely take time to prepare myself to be in the right frame of mind when coming to my students. I prepare my lessons and I know what I am going to assess, but I needed reminding to just clear away all the other junk that gets in the way before seeing my students. It is the only way I will be able to see their potential. It was a very powerful reminder for me!

Sunday Evening

That evening all the teachers came together for a celebration dinner. Secretary of Education for South Dakota, Dr. Rick Melmer and Governor Michael Rounds took the time to honor a number of teachers. We have three new Nationally Certified Teachers in our state, Nicole Keegan, Rapid City School District; Angie Hejl, Yankton School District; and Doreen Schultz, Edgemont School District. I was fortunate enough to work closely with Nicole Keegan during my first year through the process. All three of these ladies are hard-working, dedicated, fabulous teachers and are much deserving of the recognition.

I was also honored as this year’s Milken Award Recipient. It has been a truly amazing year and I think this is just the beginning. While the Milken Award is amazing, it truly inspires you to go out and do your best work in the coming years. I think that is coming for me.

We got to recognize the seven regional winners for Teacher of the Year and had an unusual experience. This is the evening they name the state Teacher of the Year and our winner could not be with us that evening. Paul Kuhlman was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the announcement. He is one of five finalists competing for the Discovery Education 3M Top Science Teacher. Gov. Mike Rounds and Dr. Melmer called Kuhlman from the awards banquet to let him know he was our winner. He is a math and science teacher in the Avon School District and a truly amazing and inspiring man. I wish him all the best in the coming year.

The other highlight of the evening was our speaker: Michael Geisen, the 2008 National Teacher of the Year. After only seven years in the profession, Michael won this prestigious award and is as energetic as he is inspirational. Since he talked a lot about 21st century tools for our 21st century students, he was talking my language and I enjoyed him very much.

Monday Morning

Monday was our long day of the conference and started off with a bang. The planning team had the privilege of sharing some classroom and/or personal stories that we wrapped in sections of Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture. I have read the book and it made me cry more than once, but I also laughed. We picked sections of five chapters and our planning team of ten divided it so that one person read a passage and one person told a story that went with that theme. I braved telling a story, but in my usual lack of self-confidence, worried that it wasn’t the right story or I wouldn’t fit in with the other four stories told by teachers that I truly look up to and admire. In the end, I think it was a fabulous rainbow of stories and they all had their place. Somewhere during the worry about WHAT I was going to say, I forgot that I was speaking to 300+ teachers. That part never bothered me. I guess my fear of speaking in public has diminished a great deal! We ended on a story (or stories) told by Reva Potter that had us laughing so hard I had tears streaming down my face. What a marvelous way to send teachers off to their morning sessions.

During the morning sessions, run in five rooms by the planning team, we had the opportunity to discuss and reflect on perseverance, high productivity and effective communication, commitment to students and their learning, and being members of a learning community. In our usual fashion, we had planned less for us to talk to them about and more for the teachers to group and discuss among themselves. One of the things I always enjoy is to have them think about the phases of their teaching year and at which parts of the year they felt most and least effective. Then we show them a chart of the national averages and they are always relieved to find that even the most experienced teachers hit those low points. Our final activity was to send them on a “Walk and Talk”. They paired themselves with a teacher they didn’t know and talked about some of the challenges of their year and ways they were going to get around those.

Monday Afternoon

The afternoon session provided the Department of Education to highlight some of the groups around the state that are in place to help teachers. These groups moved around to each of the five rooms to give presentations. They were (taken directly from our agenda):

Better Than a Byte of Google: Online resources for you and your students

Never enough time or money to find all of the good “stuff” on the Internet? We have it for you! Explore the reliable online resources available to all schools from the South Dakota State Library to meet your K-12 curriculum needs.

High School 2025

Back in “the day,” schools focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic. A high school of the 21st century focuses on three new Rs: relationships, rigor, and relevance. Without these, schools won’t ever get to the 4th R: results. This session outlines key practies to prepare students for success in the 21st century world.

Healthy Students, Healthy Schools

We’ve all seen the headlines about youth obesity rates, teen drinking, suicide, sexual activity, drug use and physical inactivity. Do you eve wonder how bad the problems really are? Do these issues affect school performance? This session covers South Dakota data regarding youth risk behaviors and how they relate to academic achievement. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, School Height Weight Report, and School Health Profiles will be highlighted.

Teacher 411

From e-mentoring to differential pay, this session covers big-picture initiatives designed to enhance teaching in South Dakota. Learn what some districts are doing to recruit and retain good teachers. You’ll also get a refresher on renewing your teaching certificate via the state’s online system.

Native American Education: Success Begins with Understanding

This session will look at the many ways poverty impacts the educational process. We’ll review socio-economic status indicators, achievement data, and talk about issues and possible solutions to helping all students in poverty, particularly our Native American students, reach their highest potential.

There was a lot of information packed into the afternoon. Every bit of it was wonderful information, but I think for many it got to be a bit too much sitting in their seats and just listening. I saw a number of people doing other things. We may have to rethink how we do this next year!

Monday Evening

Both before and after dinner we were entertained by Sheltered Reality Drum Group. These are some very talented young people that choose to spend their time doing something wonderful to impact the environment around them instead of making some bad choices.

We also had another amazing speaker, Shannon Pickard. He is a comedian with a message. He often speaks at schools and universities and has written, “The Choice is Yours: A Formula for Success.” He was entertaining and engaging and we picked up a brochure to see if we can bring him to our school to talk to our middle school students. I think he could have more impact than many of us teachers! I hope it works out!

Tuesday Morning

We started our morning with one of my favorite speakers, Dr. Julie Mathiesen. She is the director at TIE (Technology & Innovation in Education) and spoke to us about 21st century learners. I was very pleased that I was “in the know” about much of what she talked about and that my thoughts parallel hers. I think it is so important that we keep talking about how we should be doing a better job integrating technology into the curriculum at every teacher gather we are at! Now I need to spend some time in Second Life so I quit flying into walls and dressing like a newbie!

Our last sessions were by grade level and again facilitated largely by the planning team. We discussed a lot of technology, as that was our theme for the day and showed them Karl Fisch’s video “Did You Know.” We also had them group up and talk about how 21st century skills look in the classroom today, what we think will happen, and what we would really like to see happen. Nothing is ever going to change unless we start really discussing the changes and why they need to happen!

Tuesday Lunch

We had one final lunch and were delighted to have Treopia Washington speak. Her brother, Ernest Green was one of the Little Rock Nine and was the first to graduate from Little Rock Central High School. She is an amazing speaker and history really comes alive from one who knows. She has promised that the next time she is in Rapid City during the school year, she will plan of coming in and talking to my 8th graders. What a great opportunity this will be for them! I will make certain they see The Ernest Green Story before she comes.

All in all, I think the conference was a huge success. I saw new teachers feeling a little less alone and teacher leaders really stepping up to help them. I got to visit with a lot of teachers about a variety of topics and I got to hang out with some of the best of the best in the state! It is my very hope that I will be on the planning committee again for next year. I would love to be able to be there as the newest Nationally Board Certified Teacher in the state as well. (Although I am prepared for it to take me another year.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Teaching with Fire

Fire by Judy Sorum Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

I start my blog this evening with this poem. I first read this poem during a Courage To Teach retreat and it had such an impact on my life that I make certain to revisit it as often as possible. When I read this for the first time, I was working on my Master's Degree and National Board Certification. I also served on several committees in my school and district. I had three sons living at home and a husband of three years. I was encouraged to do Courage to Teach by a wonderful that I have come to truly love. I wasn't sure I could put one more thing on my plate and she assured me that this was the only time in the year that I was going to take to nourish my soul. She was right. I had so many logs on my fire that I was truly going to burn out. This poem made me look at the spaces. From time to time, I need to think about those spaces and make certain my logs have room to breathe. This summer I chose to not take any classes because I knew I wouldn't have enough space. A few years ago that wouldn't have been my priority. This year I am going back to school feeling rested and recharged. I still have a lot of logs on my fire, but since I have been taking care of myself, I see that fire only getting brighter.

Courage To Teach truly changed my life. I am bonded to my cohort and have support like no other. I find peace when I reflect and get in touch with my inner teacher. It is an experience that I wish more teachers would have the opportunity to have.

The final part of the poem mentions that the fire knows how it wants to burn. I have a plan for my next five years, but I keep my mind open to how the fire wants to burn. My path has changed since I first became a teacher and it may change again. I must follow where the fire takes me. I wish for all teachers to take care when laying their logs this year!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Everything In Its Proper Order

In the past few weeks I have been saddened at the thought of my youngest son going off to college. I know this is tougher for me this year after having lost both of my parents and having the oldest son graduate from college - while living at home - and moving to Kansas. Tonight I am sitting in a motel room in Marshall, MN watching my son sleep and instead of being sad, I am feeling like a very lucky woman. Jamie is 18, focused on what he wants to do in life, and very passionate about getting the education that will move him towards those goals. He is mature and ready for this phase in his life. His choice in colleges was a well thought out and logical decision on his part. We arrived here this afternoon after a six-hour journey in two cars. We explored the town and went out for dinner. He made me laugh until tears were literally streaming from my eyes. He is so excited about college and is approaching it with curiosity instead of fears. I will miss him and he may experience some feelings of home sickness, but this is the way life is supposed to work. If I shed a tear tomorrow on leaving, I will do so steadfast in the knowledge that this is right.

I have further reflected on my other two sons tonight. I suspect that is normal during a pretty life-altering event. Chris is in Kansas working in an aerospace engineering company. His actual project is secret, but when he mentions it at all, he does so with pride and enthusiasm for what he does. He is taking advantage of the tuition-paid college classes his company provides him and is working on his engineering degree while working about 60 hours a week right now. A few years ago, Chris had trouble deciding which direction he wanted his life to go in and now he is thriving. Again, he is farther away than I would prefer, but what mother could want more for her child than to hear absolute joy about what he is doing? I am proud beyond words.

Tony has also struggled at finding his path in life. He is in his third year at our local technical institute and on his third program. He is studing auto mechanics and has taken a second job working in a garage. Tony has ADHD and to be honest, I am shocked he is continuing his education. He struggled in school every year and graduation was a major accomplishment. He still struggles, but firmly believes that he has to have an education to get ahead in life. Tony often presents me with challenges, but when I take a step back and realize how far he has come, I can only be amazed.

Do I sound like a proud mother? Well, I am. Day to day life with three sons has had its moments - good and bad. My divorce from their father 8 1/2 years ago was traumatic and trying for all of us. But we all survived and have gotten to a point where I am watching my little boys turn into incredible young men. While I would like to take the credit, it isn't that easy. The one thing I do seem to have passed on to my children in my love of learning and my belief that education unlocks doors. Seeing it in action only inspires me to pass that on to my students. I know they short time I have within the classroom makes it harder than with the long-term relationships with my sons, but I still believe I have the power to influence and that makes getting up each morning exciting.

Tomorrow I leave this college freshman in his dorms and go home to prepare for my 8th graders. How sad can I really be?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Summer Reflections

It is hard for me to believe that summer is ending. It seems like we just got started. It has been a busy one for me and before I start school, I feel I must take a few minutes and reflect.

This summer has seen me in my car more than any other. I have been on numerous committees. I was honored to be on the Governor’s Summer Study committee to examine our state’s Teacher Compensation Assistance Program (TCAP). I learned so much through this process. I always feel torn when we discuss teachers wages in the state of South Dakota. I know I don’t teach for the money – I love what I do. But I also believe we deserve more than being 51st in the nation in pay. I know that we are losing teachers to surrounding states that pay more. I know that we are struggling to find good teachers to stay in our state and that it has been through creative problem-solving by superintendents, principals, and the DOE that we have avoided a full out teacher shortage so far. I don’t think that is going to be enough in the near future. I know a number of excellent teachers that have left the profession to do something else to be able to support their families. It is our students that pay the ultimate price for that. I also understand that our money in the state can only go so far. We are one of six states in the nation that does not have a state income tax. That limits us even further. I remember when limited gaming came to the state and that was supposed to be the savior for education. What happened there? It was rewarding to see that all members of the committee – teachers, superintendents, legislators, association leaders, and the Department of Education all agreed that teachers deserved more, but I think it is going to be a long time in the making before there are any real solutions coming.

I was also on the Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference planning committee. I have taken part in the Governor’s New Teacher Academy for the last couple of years and this is being combined with the Leadership Conference this year. I think it is a good melding of two ends of the profession that can learn a lot from one another. I love being with the new teachers and witnessing their enthusiasm. It rejuvenates me in ways I just can’t explain. South Dakota has some of the finest teacher leaders around and they also give me the boost I need to try new and innovative things in my classroom. The conference is in October and I am so looking forward to it!

I had the opportunity to meet with the seven regional teachers of the year that are in the running for the state TOY. What a talented group of people! That will be announced in October at the Teacher Leadership Conference as well!

I serve on a teacher advisory council to the Department of Education. It is so wonderful to meet with our department and know that they truly care about what teachers need and work to provide that if at all possible. They care what we think and really listen when the council meets. I feel like we have had some input on what should go into the highly qualified teacher standards in the state and I know we want high quality teachers to be in classrooms.

I had the opportunity to go to the NECC conference in San Antonio this summer. This was my second year and I find it to be an amazing experience. I get tons of great ideas and feed off the energy of the thousands that attend. I am so inspired that I am looking for a topic to present at NECC next year. Okay, I want to present so I can be certain my district will send me to Washington D.C., but I still want to present!

While at NECC, I learned about Plurk. I have been a Twitter girl for a while now, but think I may have totally switched. Plurk is a micro-blogging site that I have made great connections at. I have this fabulous PLN (personal/professional learning network) that inspires me as well as shares great educational ideas. I know I spent too many hours on Plurk, but it has been worth the time!

On a personal level, there were many wonderful highlights. We moved into a new house and I made some gains in getting some things sorted, purged, and organized. (If only I were finished!)

I got to go to Kansas on the way to and from NECC and see my oldest son in his new surroundings. It is such a humbling experience to see what was your child become this amazing man. I am so very proud of him and all that he has accomplished. I am glad I got to see where he is living. I hate that he is so far away, but I have no worries that he is going to do great things!

While at NECC, I got to finally meet Heather and Glynn. After several years as online friends, it was beyond wonderful to meet these two wonderful people. Heather and I are truly Soul Sisters and kindred spirits. They were both everything I expected and more. What a blessing they are in my life.

I just got back from a vacation with my husband. Michael and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary this month and this is the first real vacation we have taken together. It was much needed and long overdue! We drove to California and, while that is ever so many hours in the car, it gave us many hours to just be together. We stopped on each end in Las Vegas and played in a couple of Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments. I do well when we play in our local home game, but I just don’t seem to have the hang on the Vegas scene. Michael finished in the money in one tournament and 12th in another. We went to California to visit his family. His brother had a heart transplant in June and it is simply amazing at how wonderful he is doing. He is living with their mother and I needed to see for myself at how she was holding up to the stress and worry of the situation. She is a strong and resilient woman who is doing just fine. I will still be glad when things get back to normal and she has more of her own space. The vacation was wonderful in all aspects!

I have one more bit of business before I am all about school. My youngest son is heading off to college this week. We will drive over to Minnesota on Wednesday and he moves into the dorms on Thursday. I am not particularly looking forward to this, but on the other hand, he is excited and ready to move to the next phase of his life. I will only have the middle son home finishing school here locally. Not quite an empty nest, but given how little we see of Tony, just about!

I am going to start my principal internship this week and will be working on it all year. This is part of my doctorate program in Educational Administration. I hope to spend a few years as an assistant principal and then go on to prepare teachers to enter the profession.

While I have truly enjoyed my summer, I am really eager to get back to school. I miss the students and I am excited about starting my second year as an English and Social Studies teacher. That still astounds me after so many years as a computer teacher. I have a lot of ideas and I can’t wait to implement them. I get to do a Technology In-service for our teachers on the 26th and I have been working on my presentations. I hope they enjoy what I have to offer as much as I have enjoyed preparing it. I won’t get students until September 2nd, but I am truly looking forward to that day!

Let the school bells chime! And a special thanks to Terry Shay for encouraging my finishing this post!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Inspirational Influences

I was reading TJ Shay’s blog about what or who inspires him and it got me thinking as well. I think that from time to time it is something you should reflect on and, perhaps, take the time to thank those people for that inspiration. So have much pondering, here is my top five of the moment:

(1) Mrs. Lily Brown – Mrs. Brown was my high school History and Government teacher. I don’t remember a single fact I learned in her class (although I have a great love of history and always vote like a good citizen) but I can never forget how much she cared about each of her students and how respectfully she treated us. I know we all that that one – or if we are lucky, more than one – teacher that inspired us to go into education and Mrs. Brown is that for me. I try to teach so that each of my students will remember that I cared.

(2) Will Richardson – I heard Mr. Richardson speak at a TIE conference in South Dakota and he spoke with such passion and conviction about technology and our students! Not only did it make me look at my technology practices, I have become nearly as passionate as he is. I bought his book immediately and have the new one on order. I had the opportunity to speak with him this year at the NECC convention and even though he was hanging out with the Big Dogs in the Blogger’s Café, he took a few minutes to speak to me and give me some info about his new book. He was very nice and encouraging and made me admire him even more. His blog keeps me informed and thinking. We all need to have our beliefs challenged from time to time so we take stock in where our passion is leading us!

(3) Jeanne Burckhard – Jeanne is my principal and she is easily the hardest working woman I know. We have a tough school climate – 86% free and reduced lunches, transient population, and a lot of dysfunctional home lives for our kids. Jeanne thinks outside the box to help these kids because she knows an education is their only hope out of generational poverty. Jeanne also knows that a happy staff is better for the kids and goes to great lengths to maintain a positive working climate. She works long hours and most weekends. Being a Title I school, there is endless paperwork and phone calls. She has personally pushed me into leadership roles, even when I have sometimes not wanted to go. She brings out the best teacher in me and is truly and mentor and a wonder!

(4) Dr. Rick Melmer – Dr. Melmer is South Dakota’s Secretary of Education. I am not sure that many people would add the Secretary of Education to their lists, which should automatically say something for Dr. Melmer. This man believes so strongly in education and supporting teachers. Listening to him speak you can feel the depths of his caring heart. He is so intelligent and hard-working. He is modest in all that he does and has wondered if he does anything to make a difference. Teachers are stunned that he could even think that, as we all know how committed he is to making this the best place to live and teach. We are going to lose him in this current position in November as he moves to take over a Dean position at a state college. We are glad he is staying in-state, but will feel his leaving his government position for a long time!

(5) Mike Crofut – my husband! Mike is probably as big a workaholic as I am, so he understands when I have papers to grade or lessons to prepare. He supports me in the ventures I undertake, but also warns me when he knows I am stretching myself too thin. He is my sounding board when I am struggling and my cheerleader when I need that. He is the logical voice of reason – particularly when I stack more and more on my plate and is my rock that keeps me grounded.

I suspect I could add a number of people to this list, but I think each of these are quite solid in the inspiration arena of my life. I am grateful for the influence each has had in my life!

Thanks TJ for getting me thinking tonight!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Teacher Leadership Conference

Today I finished the third set of planning meetings for the South Dakota Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference that will take place in October in our capital city of Pierre. I am so excited about the agenda and the rich conversations and reflections that I believe will occur. The conference is undergoing a bit of a change this year and is being combined with our New Teacher Academy. I think this is going to be a great combination. Putting master teachers together with new teachers will be enriching for both and will encourage some wonderful networks to be formed. More information about the conference can be found on the SD Department of Education site here.

I love getting to be part of the planning committee, not just because I find the purpose and the work we do to be fulfilling, but also because I get to spend time with some of the finest educators South Dakota has. I find that our conversations inspire me and get those creative juices flowing. Last night, I had the opportunity to introduce some of the Google tools to Lisa, a most brilliant educator. I think I have created a junkie, but she got me so excited to plan the technology in-service that is fast approaching next month. Conversation with Lisa always causes me to re-evaluate my practice to be certain that I am doing everything I can to be the best teacher I can be. We had a great conversation last night about school climate and low morale. We discussed what we as individuals can do to change that. It is a topic that I still find myself pondering today. A happy school is good for teachers and students.

I have two other committee meetings next week in Pierre. I seem to be spread out all over the state in committees, but I am enjoying it immensely. It has been a true honor to be asked to serve in so many ways. My life is full of so many blessings!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another Day of Unpacking, Reflecting, and Purging

I started my day with my three goals shining in front of me: (1) Move all the stuff from the small garage to the game room [clearing one of my storage areas completely]; (2) give the entire house a cleaning - leaving the weekend to have with my husband; and (3) organize my desk so I can get some schoolwork done. Yesterday, things went so well and my husband was so pleased that I was anxious to get started. But I think I am a little ADHD. I managed to get a little sidetracked. As I started moving boxes from one place to another. I realized that a number of the boxes contained clothes that the boys had long ago outgrown and some I wanted to get rid of. At one time I had thought to have a garage sale, but today I was being very honest with myself and realized that probably wouldn't happen. Our school - with 86% free and reduced lunch - started what we refer to as the Eagle Closet a few years ago. It is like a second hand clothing store where our families can come and "shop" for free. Now over the year I have bought my children some very nice clothes and I know they could be worn by other kids. I seem to have drifted upward in size (something I keep swearing I am going to correct) and have tons of clothes I no longer wear. So with all of this in mind, I set up the table on the deck and started sorting. I also realized I had two boxes of clothes in my closet that I had set aside for donations when I was putting things away in there, so I added them to the stacks. In the end, I decided that I cannot wait so long in the future to purge. Sheesh! Stuff stacked EVERYWHERE as you can see in the pictures. So I boxed it all up and off to the Eagle Closet it went - all six boxes and six lawn and leaf bags full!Okay, that felt good, so back to the garage I went. I decided to go back to the original plan of just moving it into the game room. I was cruising along until I hit the boxes of china and crystal. Stopped moving to sort. Again a little reflection. When my first husband and I got divorced, I split the china up - he got a couple of sets and I took a couple. (Okay, china is a weakness for me! And I did entertain a lot!) We had crystal glasses that could serve 100 because we used to have HUGE New Year's Eve parties. I split that 50/50. A few years ago he remarried and one day he called me and offered to give me all the china and crystal - as well as all of his mom's stuff. Turned out that his new bride didn't want any of that stuff in her house and he hoped that by giving it to me, it would eventually make its way to our sons. Plus, he knows how much I love the stuff and told me he couldn't stand seeing it go somewhere it wasn't appreciated. At the time I had NO room for it, so it went into storage. Which brings us to today. I went through all of it. There were some random pieces that weren't very nice and were mismatched. Those all went to a pile that I am saving. This fall our school has an annual rummage sale fundraiser. Those people buy everything and I know they are going for a good cause. I filled the china cabinet with glasswear until it can hold no more. Not sure about getting rid of that, so I put it on my list of thinking about it later. I took one very large set of my ex's mom's china and packed it for my son that now has his own place in Kansas. She wanted Chris to have this set and he said he will find a place for it if I bring it down at Thanksgiving. I also found all the dishes and pots and pans my husband had before he moved to South Dakota so I packed those nicely for the next boy that moves out. When all the dishes were dealt with, I finished off the garage. Well, unless you count the fact that I have a desk and a curio cabinet that need to have someone look at to refinish and a number of bicycles. Oh, my husband is going to be so happy with me!

Tony had to run errands this morning and Jamie had to work until 2. After they got home, I had them help me clean the kitchen and I sent them both off to clean their own bathrooms. I have cleaned my bathroom and ran a quick dustcloth, broom, and vacuum. On the whole, the house looks pretty good. I fear the desk will have to wait a bit for organization. So if you veer off your three goals and miss one, but you do tons more on another than planned, did you succeed for the day or fail. Either way, I am feeling pretty darn good about another day.

I promise, this blog will get back to reflecting on education and students and technology, but sometimes life gets in the way. Summer is a good time to clear the cobwebs literally and figuratively and I know I am getting that done. It will be so wonderful to start school this year feeling organized at home! I so needed this time. I hope my Three-A-Day Club is having as much fun as I am!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Going through some of my personal history

When I was 23, I got married. I married a very nice man, but did so on the rebound from another. Being Catholic, I threw myself into the marriage. We had three sons and a fair amount of drama in our lives. I had a miscarriage the first time I got pregnant. While I was pregnant with my oldest son, my father-in-law lost a lung, and almost his life, to cancer. Right after I had my third son, my mother-in-law had her second bout with cancer. (Her first was before I met my husband.) We nursed her for five years and she died in our arms. After her death, everything changed. My husband worked for his mother and there was a great deal of stress on him to learn more about the business to take over. As my youngest went off to school, I went back to college and got my teaching degree. My first year of teaching was awful and I quit at the end of the year. It was in a private school and I also pulled my children and put them in public school. I was a substitute the following year in public school and that proved to be fabulous because when I applied for a teaching position the following year, I knew just where I wanted to be. During these years, my husband and I grew far apart. I am not terribly certain he ever wanted me to go to work. When I was a stay-at-home wife and mother, the house was always clean and dinner was always ready. We entertained extensively (something I really loved) and traveled with some frequency. His busy schedule added to the stress. After 17 years of marriage and a bit of marriage counseling, we divorced. As in most divorces, packing was not an easy time. Things got thrown into boxes and I went from living in a 5000 sq. ft. house to a small two bedroom apartment. The three boys made it clear they wanted to live with their father – a fact that drove me to counseling and almost did me in. (They all came to live with me eventually. Thank heavens my therapist helped me with patience!) Because of my much smaller living space, I rented a storage unit and stored most of my boxes.

Three years later I married my high school sweetheart – the love of my life! He had gotten divorced a few years earlier and moved from California to marry me. Neither of us came out of our marriages financially secure, so we rented a house for almost five years. Well, this year that has changed. We have moved into a beautiful house and have tons of room. But all those boxes have come back to haunt me. They are all out of storage and lurking in our game room over the garage and our smaller garage.

I am doing a pretty good job of getting rid of junk – using the old “if you haven’t needed it in 8 ½ years, you don’t need it now” theory. But there are some things that are just not that easy. When I used to entertain, I had tons of stuff – crystal, china, silver, linens – you know STUFF. We haven’t been able to entertain in the last five years as our house was way too small. But now? So do I keep the stuff? Pare down the stuff? I also used to cake decorate. I have made a number of lovely wedding cakes as well as other kinds. I have three or four boxes of cake decorating pans, cake plates, and other paraphernalia. Will I get back to using that? These are things I don’t feel quite ready to get rid of yet. At what point are you just holding on to the past? I find myself planning a New Year’s Eve party as I write this. I found all the stuff I used to do that with! Oh, my husband is not going to be a happy guy. He isn’t quite as social as I am!

I guess I will keep going through boxes and get rid of the easy stuff. I will have to think about the rest. And see what I can convince my wonderful husband I NEED to keep! Feeling pretty good about the day : 9 boxes of books gone (a few sold and most donated) , 7 boxes sorted and put away, 2 boxes filled with more donations, and three very large trash bags full. Thanks to my Plurk friend, Karen for getting me motivated on three goals for the day. I got more done than expected!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

High Paid Teachers!

How cool that I got this in an email today. Seems all things like this speak to me today!


Are you sick of high paid teachers? Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - baby sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan — that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children.

Now how many do they teach in day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE…. That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student–a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)


Guess I could be a babysitter for those wages! Maybe not.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Summer State Work

I have had the pleasure of spending the last two days with members of our Department of Education, state legislature, superintendents, and teachers discussing some money the state has allotted for teachers and the wages of the teachers of our fair state. I have learned so much during this process. It is so easy for one group to blame another for our woes, but when you put all in one room and give them the opportunity for dialog, so rich discussion comes forth. It was so gratifying to see that all in the room believed teachers deserved more money, but we have to be creative to find it. Change comes slow and I think patience will be necessary, but at least the conversations are in progress.

I am so honored to be included in this team. The group is genuinely interested in what the teachers on the team have to offer. I invited the legislators to visit my classroom at any point in the coming year. I think it is important that they see where they are looking to spend money. I do hope some of them take me up on my request. I would love to have them see our entire school.

I will not be able to attend the next meeting, but I would like to make a presentation for the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) that I learned about at the Milken conference. I think there is so much the program has to offer and that starting a pilot in our state could be a wonderful thing. Since I am unable to attend - but so strongly believe in technology - I am going to put together a presentation and have TIE (Technology in Innovation and Education) help me video tape it. I will have to spend the coming week working on my presentation.

I have two more state meetings this month. I am working on the Governor's Teacher Leadership Conference planning committee. This year's conference is being restructured to combine it with the New Teachers' Academy. I think it will be a wonderful experience for new teachers as well as teacher leaders. I am very much looking forward to it!

My final meeting of the month is a Teacher Advisory Committee to the Department of Education. This is a fairly new committee and the department felt that since they had advisory committees of both superintendents and principals, that it made sense to have teachers involved.

All of these committees are a direct result of my Milken award and I am so pleased to have the opportunity to serve the state in these ways. I love living in South Dakota and we have some truly amazing educators here. We overcome many obstacles and our students perform very well. I am proud to count myself among these teachers.

I still need to get boxes unpacked in my new house and I have so many lessons I want to work on for the coming year. Summer seems to go so fast! I am not sure how other teacher manage to handle it all. Some of them even find time for rest. I must be doing something wrong! :-)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

NECC Final Thoughts from a NYFB

By Tuesday, I seemed to have stopped blogging. I think I was overwhelmed by the number of people and the whole experience. I started Tuesday morning with a headache that showed signs of a migraine. Luckily, I brought medicine for that very purpose and only missed the keynote. I showed up 35 minutes early for Stephanie Sandifer's session, Marzano and Web 2.0: Ed Tech That Works, and was disappointed to find it was already closed. (This was not my first experience with a closed session, but I really wanted to hear this one!) I made my way to the Blogger's Cafe and ended up having a fabulous conversation with Kevin Honeycutt. I learned a lot from this man! I have some great ideas I am going to use and he was very encouraging. I am glad Stephanie put up her Ning page and wiki. I am going through them this weekend.

I did get into a couple of other sessions in the afternoon and then scolded myself for not doing better research beforehand. They were not what I was expecting and I simply didn't learn anything new from them. I will try to do a better job next time.

Wednesday morning, I went to two quick sessions before I had to get into my car for a 10 1/2 hour drive to Kansas. Again, I am not sure I took away much from either session, but I did get to visit with some people I sat with and that is always great.

I was really looking forward to Washington DC next year and then a conversation online made me rethink that. Scott McLeod posted about whether FB (Famous Bloggers) had an obligation to NYFB (Not Yet Famous Bloggers) and LR (Loyal Readers). As a NYFB, I could see his point, but as I was following conversations in his blog, Christian Long's blog, and on Twitter, I started worrying that I had offended someone by introducing myself. I had to think through it long and hard. Everyone I spoke to seemed really nice. I had a number of awesome conversations. I didn't introduce myself because I was starstruck, but because I really admire what they do and hoped to learn more from them. While in the Bloggers' Cafe, there were a couple of FB that did not appear to want conversation, so I stayed away, honoring their personal space. The conversations that occurred online really took me by surprise. I could have gained much information from the conference online, but the face-to-face connections are what really matters to me. I spent much of my drive back to South Dakota wondering if I even should go next year. In the end, I am still going to try to get to DC. I may revise my thinking a bit and make appointments with people I would like to get to know in a face-to-face meeting, but I know how outgoing I am and that I would probably still introduce myself to someone next year if I think there is an opportunity to learn.

Thinking back to last year's conference, I came back very excited and wanting to try all kinds of new things. I regret much of that didn't happen this last year. Learning two new content areas was fairly overwhelming and the death of both of my parents pretty much knocked the wind out of me. I feel better about what I teach and am again excited and ready to go. I have some time to work on lessons. I like that NECC is early enough in the summer to give me that opportunity.

All in all, I had a great time. I got to meet and spend time with Heather and Glynn. I got to meet a number of other people and am thrilled to have real faces to go with their online presence. I rediscovered the enthusiasm I had for using those 21st century tools. And San Antonio is a really cool place!

My deepest appreciation to those that challenged my thinking and helped me to grow! And an even bigger thanks to those of you that were willing to talk to a NYFB.

Monday, June 30, 2008

End of a Productive NECC Day!

I love being back in my blog and having a place to journal and reflect on best practices and my teaching. Today was a great day for me at NECC and that has had me excited all day. I have gotten enthusiastic about blogs and wikis. I am rejuvinated about PowerPoints. I may try some PhotoStory 3 (or something similiar if I use the Macs in my room.) With all this enthusiasm, I also have a sense of thinking about what is best for my students. I try to never use technology just for technology's sake, so I always evaluate how each assignment will benefit my kids. Konrad Glogowski was right on target concerning 8th graders taking more pride and ownership of a space they have some design of and choice in. I have been a big believer of choice in writing, but I love the thought of them speaking to one another about their writing. I have decided that composition notebooks for journaling are off my school supply list. I have 25 computers in my room and my students can journal in their blogs. I want my students to collaborate, so I have several ideas for wikis. I think the students will enjoy this methodology. I know a small part of it is that it is a novelty, but at this point, I will take whatever works.

I also need to think about what I can take back and teach our teachers. They are not all as enthusiastic about technology as I am - although a few are. What can I teach them that they will actually use this year? What can I get them excited about? A few of them started using wikis last year as a place to put up their assignments for students to access. Not collaborative, but a good use of technology. Maybe those same teachers are more willing to try it with the kids this year? I didn't get many of them to write a blog this year, but I did get some to start reading them. I haven't podcasted yet, but that doesn't mean several of us can't try it. Of course, there are no microphones in our building, but why let that stop us. I am sure I can find some that will do. I still have two days of NECC left and a lot of miles between San Antonio and Rapid City, SD. I am sure I can figure it out! In the meantime, I need rest to get through another exciting day.

Konrad and Jakes

It is now just past noon and my head is already spinning. I have seen two amazing presentations and I took a short walk through the exhibit hall. I have to recharge my laptop battery - and perhaps my own as well.

This morning I started off with Konrad Glogowski and Blogging Communities in the Classroom: Creating Engaging Learning Experiences. I have followed Konrad's blog and Tweets for a while and have become a huge fan, but seeing him in person was even more than I could have expected. He is quite funny and presented blogs in an inspiring as well as informative way. I can take everything I heard today and go right to my classroom and get to work. I wanted to blog last year, but life got in the way. There just will be no stopping me this year! I just went online and pre-ordered Will Richardson's 2nd edition of Blogs, Wiki's, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. It won't be available until July 15th, but I got a nice price! (Picked up David Warlick's book while I was there, too!) I have Will's first version, but he said this one is updated with 25% new information.

I was glad to hear that it took Konrad a year to become a good teacher blog reader. I will not beat myself up if it takes me a while as well. I am not sure if I have an advantage because I have only been an English teacher for a year. I think the previous ten years as a teacher still has the teacherly voice embedded within me pretty deep. I am going home to prepare my lessons to set my kids up for forming a community and how we are going to make it a safe and comfortable environment for all. I have several thoughts as to how to get started, but I am going to have to wait until my head clears to sketch them out!

I took a brief walk through the Exhibits and was quickly overwhelmed. I really want to get in there, but think I will have to do it in short chunks. I did get to talk to the Promethean people and am signed up to take an online class. I have a board, but I know I didn't use it to its full potential last year. That is another thing I want to be better with this year. Last year I had to learn both new curriculums and between the Milken and my parents accident, I was in over my head. This year is a fresh start and I am pumped!

I then went to as session on One Hour PowerPoint: A Strategy for Better Presentations by David Jakes and Dean Shareski. This presentation was great for several reasons. I have still been using PowerPoints and feeling like they are just not as Web 2.0 as the world seems to be moving in. I was reassured that there is still a need for this. There list of ten ideas gave me loads to think about as wells as some new tools. I use Flickr, but have not used Flickr Storm or isharephotos. I will be checking these out. I have addressed color and font, but I see I still have a few more things to address. I always address too much text and bullets, but I have not added a lot of multimedia in our PowerPoints. We will have to do some of that from outside our school. Our firewall is not multimedia friendly, but there are ways around that.

As I have been in the Bloggers' Cafe, I have gotten to hear a couple of presentations, including a great one on wikis. There is rich conversation flowing around me and that is so exciting! One of the reasons I love this conference is all the face to face meetings and the ideas flowing between educators. What more could you want?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Are You Punishing or Preventing Plagiarism in Your School? Presentation

Okay, I admit it...I went into today's session with a bit of worry that after following Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk blog for a while, that there was the possibility that he might not be as wonderful in person as he is in written form. I had nothing to worry about. Doug is a very engaging person. He puts great stories about his kids in the middle of his presentation and makes his thoughts very real and easy to follow.

I have only taught English for one year and have worried about plagiarism. I discovered today that I have been doing some things well and have some excellent ideas for this year! I already believe in giving students choice and having them work in groups. I love peer review. Today I heard about a wax statue project that I want to try. I have been toying with ideas of kids making videos. I am very excited to put some new ideas into play. I certainly know I need to do a better job of explaining plagiarism to 8th graders.

While in the session, I was surprised to hear there was someone else from South Dakota. It turns out it was Jackie Jessop Rising from South Dakota's own TIE. TIE is Technology and Innovation in Education and is a great organization that really puts itself out there in the support of teachers in so many ways! I understand there are a few of them in San Antonio and I can't wait to see them.

I made my way to the Keynote speaker, James Surowiecki. I found him interesting, but I don't know that I took anything usable away. I guess I will just have to settle for all the great info I have gotten from my two sessions I have been in. After the keynote, I was going to stay for the reception, but there were SO many people there! Suddenly, free food and music did not sound so appealing. I am very much looking forward to tomorrow! Have I mentioned that I love this conference? I am going to have to do some serious work to get my school to let me go to Washington D.C. next year, but I am going to figure out something!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday Evening Entertainment

After some time to relax and reflect about today's session and the upcoming days, Heather, Glynn, and I went out to dinner. My sister used to live in San Antonio and she directed me towards Dick's. I did get the warning that it was a rowdy place and the advertising said they were irreverent by design. That is short for extremely rude - but in a pretty fun way! We decided to eat on the patio, since their was immediate seating and it is a rather pleasant night. It was great to spend some more time with Heather and Glynn! I have considered us friends LONG before we actually met, but this has concreted that. Dinner was far from fancy, but the beer was tall and the chicken and ribs were tasty!

We had the absolute pleasure of sharing a table with a young couple from Oklahoma City who were celebrating their first anniversary. (Awwww!) Jason and Kim were funny and a blast to spend some time this evening with. They are also into the whole Dick's atmosphere. Dick's has a habit of putting funny hats on some of the diners with rather rude things written on them. If you can't read their hats, hers says, "Easier to get into than a community college" and his adds, "Look what I paid $20 for" with an arrow pointing at the lovely Kim. Luckily, they found this very funny and theirs were not nearly as bad as some of those around us. I was a little worried whether WE would get out of their unscathed, but I think the fact that I told our waiter that he was messing with ornery, middle-school teachers may have place him on his best behavior!

The River Walk was beautiful and the weather was pretty great. There were a ton of people down there, but all appeared to be having a good time. It all bodes well for a great conference!

Happy Anniversary Kim and Jason! And pre-Happy Anniversary to Heather and Glynn who are celebrating 15 wonderful years together tomorrow. How nice that I get to be surrounded by so much love!

Instructional Design Strategies Using Wikis at NECC

Today was my first session at NECC. I spent the afternoon at Instructional Design Strategies Using Wikis with Lorraine Trawick and Amanda Hefner. First, I learned that I am strong in TWO of the multiple intelligences: Verbal-Linguistic and Interpersonal. That gave me something to think about. I do enjoy learning in two completely different ways. I love the social interaction that comes in the classroom, but I am equally happy in my online classes.

I have done a little with wikis, but I have had a tough time trying to figure out the logistics of using this collaborative tool with my 8th graders. I had the opportunity to put together a real lesson plan that I plan to use this year and finally understand how great this is going to be with my kids. I always worried about the fact that only one person can be editing a wiki at a time, but by placing them in manageable groups and setting up plenty of pages for each group to work on. While I teach both English and Social Studies, I set up a wiki about the Boston Tea Party. I had a lot of help from MaryBeth – a lovely woman that teaches technology to upcoming, new teachers. She has a presentation in Houston in November and wants to show my kids and their wiki pages. Not only did I learn the how today, I also have the push to get it done. I am so excited! We start out Social Studies with the Native Americans and I can see a fabulous wiki emerging! Thanks, MaryBeth!

To find the wiki that Lorraine and Amanda used, go to: They do a lot of presentations and they really do a beautiful job! Moodle is another great tool!

I managed to scoot down to the Blogger Café to meet a few of the bloggers and Tweeters I have followed. What a delight to put real faces with these people! I can hardly wait for tomorrow!

Friday, June 27, 2008

New House

I have pictures of the new house on Flickr. These were before we moved in and before we filled the pool. When I get home from San Antonio, I will take some more!

You can find these at:

They are kind of a random assortment, but enjoy!

The Road to San Antonio

When I Google mapped my trip from Wichita to San Antonio, the time was right around 9 1/2 hours. That seemed right. NotW so much! The trip took me 11 1/2 hours and I was lucky at that. First there was a pile up on the Interstate in Oklahoma City. That slowed traffic down causing me to lose 25 minutes or so. Grass fire near Waco and rush hour traffic in Austin! Ugh! I was frustrated when I finally rolled into town, but a wonderful dinner with friends that I have known for 2 1/2 years, but never officially "met" until tonight cured all that. It is amazing how well you can get to know people over the Internet. When I told friends in South Dakota that I was finally going to see Heather and Glynn, they were aghast that I would meet someone I had only met over the Internet. I assured them I knew what I was doing. I guess in this age caution is normal, but I feel like I just had a marvelous meal with two dear friends (which is true!)

I am excited to attend my first NECC session tomorrow. I am attending Instructional Design Strategies Using Wikis at 12:30. I really want to use Wikis in my class, so hopefully, this will give me more ways to integrate! I will let you know.

In the meantime, I suppose I should try to sleep so I am well rested. I am just like a kid - too excited to sleep!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Long Overdue Update!

I knew it had been a while since I have written in my blog, but opening it surprised me just HOW long. The reason is a sad one. First after winning the Milken award, I was pretty overwhelmed. It is an amazing and humbling experience. Then on December 10th, the unthinkable happened. My parents were in a car accident and my mother was killed instantly. My father had a broken neck, among other injuries. December 27th, he had surgery, which went well. Then there were problems getting him off the ventilator. That finally happened. He spent time in the hospital and then time in the rehabilitation hospital. Finally, insurance sent him off. Because he still needed medical care, we had no choice but to put him in a nursing home. That was a very difficult decision. We always promised we wouldn’t. But it turned out fine. One of our friends is a nurse and surprise – the week he went to the nursing home she had taken over as Director of Nursing. She was such a blessing.

Dad had a bout of pneumonia which sent him back to the hospital for a few days, but by Easter he was doing well enough to take him out for the day. We had a great day. He ate more food that day than I think he did in all the months leading up to that. Tuesday after Easter, I told him we would get him out more often, but that I was heading to California for the Milken conference. We had a great visit. Unfortunately, it was our last. On Saturday, March 29th – two hours before the Milken Conference began – my Dad had a heart attack and passed away. When I got the call, I was going to come right home, but my sister’s called back and told me there was nothing I could do for Dad and he would be upset if I missed the conference. With a heavy heart, I stayed. While it was hard to focus, the conference was awesome.

Since then, I have been trying to pick up the pieces. I missed a lot of school during those four months and had to get caught up. We are working through probate to get my parents’ estate settled – something I knew VERY little about, but am still learning.

One great thing happened – my husband and I are buying a house. We actually are leasing it for a few months until I get all the financing in order, but I love the place. I kind of feel like my parents are helping me arrange some things.

Mom’s birthday would have been May 8th. That was tough, as were Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, my birthday, and my sons’ graduations. I have heard the first year is tough, but I know we are all pulling together to get through.

Chris graduated from college on May 17th and left for Kansas on the evening of May 18th. He has a wonderful job at an aerospace firm and has already started taking more college classes at TWO colleges. Go Shockers!

Jamie graduated from high school and we just took a trip to Minnesota to get him registered and set up at Southwest Minnesota State University. Move-in day is going to come on me pretty quick. Not sure I am ready for my baby to be off to college, but ready or not….Go Mustangs!

Tony will be home with me this next year and complete his automotive mechanic program at Western Dakota Technical School. At least I won’t have a completely empty nest!

I am currently visiting Chris in Wichita, on my way to San Antonio for NECC! I am so excited!

Now that my blog is sort of caught up, I hope to blog about all the fabulous stuff I learn. I hope I get to meet so many of you there! Twitter me. Message me. Find me! Have fun! See you soon!