I have once again been humbled and honoured by the opportunity to discuss my life and my thoughts about education and teaching with another amazing educator, Rolland Chidiac.
When Rolland asked me to participate in his podcast, I was taken aback (as you'll hear in our discussion about this in the podcast). I felt really inadequate as a participant compared to the other amazing people he had previously had as guests on his podcast. I couldn't imagine what I could possibly have to share that other people would want to listen to!
Rolland convinced me (I think he uses the word - strong armed?!) to join him for a chat about inspiration and I'm really glad I did. We had an amazing conversation and I got to share some thoughts on things that I love and am passionate about, especially in the realm of education.
Thank you again so much for this opportunity Rolland.
If you'd like to take a listen, you find find the Podcast - Rolland Chidiac Connects - Episode 35 here.
Here is what Rolland had to say about our episode:
This episode features Megan Valois, a High School Teacher at St. Pius X in Ottawa, Ontario. She is also a Mom, an Army wife, and a fitness enthusiast. With respect to teaching and learning, Megan is passionate about 21st Century Learning and the use of technology in the classroom (Edtech), Differentiated Instruction, Assessment for Learning, and a variety of other topics that make her an effective educator and an asset to any Professional Learning Network.
Listen in to hear what Megan has to say about how we connected, her current work as a High School teacher, working with English Language Learners, how it came to be that she became a teacher, past students who connect with/visit her, what she might be doing if she were not a teacher, what motivates her day to day, finding the time to eat well and work out, being married to a soldier and what it is like to deal with deployments, resources/support for military spouses and her volunteer work, the experience of parenting her 3 month old on her own for a period of time, what she would tell someone seeking motivation/inspiration, and fear of failure and the power of taking a step in a different direction.
This semester, in my Grade 11 English class, I decided to try something new. I decided to incorporate a new non-fiction writing assignment in my course, in place of a traditional "reading journal". This non fiction writing was optional but I was very pleased when I logged into my Teacher Dashboard in Hapara to see that over 90% of the students to chose to do the personal writing assignment.
I was inspired by a few posts I had seen on the Humans of New York instagram page - in particular, ones of students talking about struggles in their lives. I started to wonder how much I know about my students. I also started to reflect on what I would share if I was stopped by a "HONY" type of project.
I knew that in order to get my students to buy in, I would have to open myself up also. I would have to model not only what I was looking for, but also some vulnerability in what I was sharing if I wanted them to share true feelings and emotions with me.
So last week I walked into class ready to present my brand new lesson.
I polled the class to see who had heard of HONY. Not many. But many had heard of something similar, our school's own "Humans Of" page. I used that as my kick off to introduce their task.
"When people find out that I'm a teacher, they always want to know what it is like to be on the “other” side of the classroom… people always want to know what the hardest part about teaching is. It's not all the prep or the marking... although those are the most time consuming. And, most days, it's not even the behaviour issues or the disrespect, as frustrating as those are. Usually it's the battle to make a difference. To reach every kid. When kids are little, they are usually so excited about school and so open about their feelings and their struggles. They want to share their goals and dreams with you and they will tell you about their defeats and disappointments. By the time they get to me, in high school, that has often changed. They all have their own unique past life and school experiences which influence them, who they are and ultimately, how they are in my class. I have 75 minutes a day for 18 weeks to try to make an impact on them. To teach them not only curriculum - fundamentals of English or History or Civics, but to hopefully make a positive difference in their lives… one that they will carry with them further than their memory of metaphors and conscription and electoral reform. And it's not easy to reach them all. There are so many other factors at play - stress, depression, anxiety, poverty, hunger, gender and sexuality issues, self esteem, negative school experiences, bullying… to name a few - that shape who they are and what they are feeling. But I only know what I observe or what they choose to share with me. Usually there is so much more beneath the surface. And sometimes those stories are the saddest of all. The stories that I’ll never know. So that's the hardest part of teaching: the helplessness you feel and the tears you shed when you so desperately want to reach every single student but know that sometimes you just can't because it's not always about you... it's about them... and you need to respect that too."
That was a big share. A big vulnerability for me to lay that one out to them.
I then shared their assignment:
Imagine you were stopped by a “Humans Of” photographer. You can choose anything to share with him/her. It should be something that you think ‘defines’ you as a person - a life experience (positive or negative), a passion/goal, a memorable moment. It should be about 450-500 words. Use the Humans of New York social media pages (http://www.humansofnewyork.com) (and my example) as a guide.
Next, answer the question: Who am I? The first part should be background information about you (who you are, where you are from, where you have lived, your family, your hobbies, etc). Choose any quote that “speaks” to you. It can be from song lyrics or a poem or a famous “saying”. The second well developed paragraph of this assignment should about how this quote represents you or your life (or what you want to be or want from life).
And I waited patiently for the week to pass until they submitted the assignments to me.
I had no idea whether this was going to be a huge success or a huge failure.
The night that the assignments were due, I sat at my computer and watched the clock click to 7:30pm then I went into their folders and started reading. I stayed up until well after 1:00am reading all of these amazing reflections. Some were hilarious, some were so sad that they made me cry, and some inspired me.
But most importantly, they gave me insight into the students I was teaching. I got to know something about each and every one of them that I might not have known otherwise. I can't control how much they choose to share - perhaps some of the students who shared the funny ones have some deep pain that they chose not to share with me.... and that is okay. What is important that I gave my students the opportunity to share with me whatever they felt comfortable sharing and in turn, it offered me a chance to understand them better.
I am also glad that I chose to wait until a few months into the semester; while I understand that there is merit to knowing information about your students "right out of the gate", I think that my choice to wait a few months gave my students a chance to get to know me and hopefully feel comfortable sharing some things that they might not have otherwise shared, back in early September.
"No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."
I'm excited to have the opportunity to lead some professional development on Google Apps for Education at my school in the next few weeks.
Back in early March, I presented on Hangouts and Scripts at our Ottawa Catholic School Board IT conference - SummIT X. As someone who is passionate about Google, it was lots of fun to present on the advantages of using GAFE! If you're interested in my sessions, check them out here:
Since Windows XP is no longer being supported by Microsoft next year, our focus is really on using GAFE, which our board has been using for a few years now. In order to help my colleagues make the transition, I am offering some brief sessions. I will be doing my best to Hangout on Air for most sessions so keep your eyes peeled for later posts!
Google “Docs” 101 - Beginner Session (April 24)
Are you interested in learning how to log in to Google docs to create documents, make folders, upload your files from your USB “to the cloud” (on Google!) and share and edit documents with anyone in the world? Want your students to submit their work online and you can see exactly what time it was submitted and when it was last edited and by whom? Want to create a document that several people can work on at once, and be able to see exactly WHO typed what part of the document? Join us for this session all about how to get started with Google Docs!
Google Forms 101 - Beginner (May 15)
Are you familiar with how to log into your Google drive? Are you comfortable using Google docs but want to learn more? Do you want to learn about how to make surveys and even quizzes using Google forms? These are a great tool for formative assessment - and they are quick and easy!!
Google Hangouts 101 - Beginner (May 29)
Have you heard of Skype? Are you interested in having the ability to video conference with anyone across the world, for free? You can not only video call together but you can work on shared documents (from Google docs) WITHIN the call and work together! You can also use this to call other classes or do PD/meetings from home!
Simplify your life with Google! - Intermediate (June 5)
Are you feeling comfortable with the basics of Google? Do you want to find some cool tools (apps/extensions/scripts) that will make your life EASIER?! Join this session to learn about tips and tricks that will save you time!! You’ll learn how to clear a page of ads, screencast, block ads on YouTube videos, automatically “mark” formative assessment quizzes and more!
Here's something that I have been thinking about for a while... professional development. I have so many things to say about refining, revamping, re-assessing professional development opportunities for educators.... but I'll try to keep the focus narrow this time on one or two aspects.
The realm of professional development opportunities have been greatly opened, enriched and enhanced by the power of the Internet. Web searches, podcasts, resource libraries and sharing, websites, Twitter chats, Google Hangouts, virtual conferences, online libraries web 2.0 tools are just a small sample of the amazing ways that educators can connect online as never before, opening a whole world of collaboration and learning that was not available before!
I love my PLN. I have learned so much online through the amazing educators that I connect with. In fact, I love them so much, I wrote a thank-you letter in an earlier blog post! For that, check here: http://assessmentforlearning.weebly.com/1/post/2013/11/to-my-pln-what-i-need-you-to-know-ce13.html
But here's the thing... I appreciate traditional PD also. There are some really amazing conferences out there. This year alone, I can name 5 that I would like to have attended. What's the barrier? Funding. The biggest barrier, for me, is the lack of funding available for professional development opportunities. Take the GAFE summit in Montreal, for example. It's taking place on Saturday and Sunday, December 7-8. Transportation there/back (either fuel and parking, or train ticket) is about $100. Add in a night or two at a hotel (if I take the train, I'd have to go Friday night, because it doesn't leave early enough on Saturday) at $120 a night. Top that off with the conference fee of $249 and even eating thrifty costs money and a weekend conference costs almost half a grand! That's a weekend conference with no supply cost built in! ECOO happened in October in Niagara Falls. Again, same situation! Transportation, hotel, food, conference cost, supply teacher cost... you're looking at almost $1000. Don't even get me starting about ITSE in Georgia this year. The plane ticket alone is almost $500... add in 4 night of lodging ($600) plus food (~$200) and conference cost ($380), you're looking at closer to $1500.
The point? I can't afford $3000 in professional development costs a year. I wish I could. I am passionate enough that I will give up weekends and summers for PD (in fact, I often spend evenings and weekends at free PD, such as EdCamp Ottawa on November 23 of this year!) but I can't shell out that kind of money, on top of all the other expenses in my life and in my profession. When the only funding available is a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 split every 2 years, I appreciate this but I can't keep up with all the new and amazing opportunities available without breaking the bank!
And I get thinking... so many other organizations provide opportunities like this free of charge. As someone with many close family/friends working at various levels of government, I know that they often go on all-expenses paid professional development, across the province, country and even world. They are not asked to pay conference fees... not even their own food cost or flight cost. Meanwhile, if I want to attend a really great conference... even if it requires me to miss NO days of work, I'm still shelling out $250-$1500. And I think this is an issue. I think it's hindering me from becoming the best I can be.
I think if you want teachers to be better versions of themselves, you need to provide tangible opportunities for growth and inspiration. And in my board, I am lucky that we have great consultants and board staff who travel to conferences and bring back learning but here's the reality: sometimes, teachers get tired of hearing all the great conferences that consultant X went to and all the great things that department X wants teachers to now use in their classes. If you want your teachers to get inspired and motivated and excited, you need to send THEM to these conferences. Let them network and see awesomeness (yes, I used that word) in ACTION! Let TEACHERS come back from these conferences and share their learning with their colleagues.... showing how they are implementing these great things in a classroom. And while it's important for consultants and superintendents to learn about these initiatives and share them with teachers, sometimes it's even more important for people who are in the classrooms every day to learn these strategies first-hand and implement them and share with everyone else: "this is what I'm doing and it's working and I can help you do it too!" Because lateral professional sharing and collaboration is powerful.... usually much more powerful than top-down sharing.
And I say this from experience. A few years ago, I had the amazing experience of an all expenses paid trip to a Ministry Differentiated Instruction conference in Toronto. And it DID pump me up! I came back SO inspired that I created this DI strategies booklet (https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3R3CWEwwMLYMk1kRlp2b25seUE/edit) in one weekend! It has been shared with my staff, other schools in our board and even given out as a resource by the Student Success department at my school board to all DI teams. THIS is the power of PD!
And so I hope that maybe, someday, we are able to revamp and reassess the access to great PD that teachers have. Are we meeting their needs? How are we hindering students by not providing teachers with ways to access opportunities to improve themselves? What can we do to challenge teachers and keep them motivated, invigorated and passionate, like I was when I came home from Toronto and when I reached out to my online PLN.
Because sometimes, we need to remember that money spent on PD is not an expense, but an investment.
To my PLN… thank you.
As Connected Educators month wrapped up, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my journey in “connectedness”.
I turned to Twitter by happen stance a few years ago but was never very active online. I lurked, I posted a bit then abandoned it for weeks and months at a time. Finally, just over a year ago, I came back. I don’t even really remember the circumstances surrounding it but I decided to check out what was out there. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was grappling with who I was as an educator and where to go next. I'm a true Type A… perfectionist to a fault… and in many ways, I had begun to feel worn out and jaded. I didn't want to be THAT person. I wanted to learn more and do more. I was getting frustrated by negative comments about change and innovation. I wanted more than basic professional development workshops on subjects/areas that I felt comfortable in. I didn’t know what else was “out there” but I figured there must be more… and I wanted to find it.
And then Twitter opened my eyes. I started following “ed tech” gurus and learning about neat tools to try. I started using some of these tools in my classroom and experimented with them as a means of learning. I started to read and follow tweets from people who shared my views and beliefs and the passion that I once had and wanted to have back. I read thoughts that could have been my own… and then realized it had been retweeted and/or favourited countless times and I knew I wasn’t alone. I stumbled upon a new “chat”... Canadian Ed Chat (#cdnedchat). I had never participated in a Twitter chat. A month or so later, Michael Quinn, one of the co-founders, invited me to help guest moderate a chat on Differentiated Instruction when I tweeted to tell him it was a passion of mine. I was terrified. I was worried that everyone would think I wasn’t good enough, well versed enough, tech savvy enough. I felt like a fraud. I was new to this online realm. What could I possibly have to offer? I will be so much less than everyone else, won’t I?
And then I met the #cdnedchat team and they were amazing. They were welcoming and open minded and great sources of information, learning and support. And I realized, we’re all on this journey and we all had to start sometime and somewhere. What was most important then, was that I wanted to be better and learn more and integrate innovative teaching tools and strategies into my practice. Not surprisingly, everyone was there to support and help!
I was blessed to continue my involvement in #cdnedchat, having been asked to join on the moderation team full time. Participating in these weekly chats fuelled my drive to keep learning as much as I could about new educational technologies and educational initiatives. It became a passion. I started learning more and more about things that I knew some, little or nothing about! Online literature circles, Google Hangouts, blogging, Google Apps for Education, digital portfolios, 1:1 programs, QR codes, Flipping the Classroom, project based learning…. the list goes on and on. And the more I learned, the more my passion returned. Rather than feeling overwhelmed with how much was out there and how little I knew, I began to feel invigorated that there was so much potential and that all I had to do was learn about it and make it happen! I would look forward to Google Hangouts with the team because I felt I had found people who were similar to me. I’ve called Dana Ariss my “edu soul sister” on more than one occasion because we see so many things from the same perspective and are passionate about so many of the same things.
I began to participate in more Twitter chats and reach out to #edtech leaders on Twitter to share and gather ideas and feedback. I became inspired by the amazing Angela Maiers and her “You Matter” campaign. It changed the way that I viewed my role as a teacher and how I began my school year (2013-2014) with my students. Instead of focusing on rules, I chose to focus on relationships. I am seeing a huge difference already.
I also spent more time learning about and integrating technology into my practice. I launched my professional website and started sharing my research and presentations, and even included a blog… this blog… as a part of it. I wanted to start sharing all the neat things that my students were capable of doing! I started using more #edtech tools such as Edmodo, Pinterest, AudioBoo, Google Drive (docs/forms), and more recently, this school year, blogs (Blogger), Remind 101, Socrative, QR codes, ExplainEverything and Geddit. (This led the way to using innovative teaching strategies like Genius Time and project based learning and the creation of my alternative learning space this year).
The ideas became endless. My mind would be racing after a Twitter chat and I could hardly sleep, thinking of all the great ideas I had heard - things I had never even thought of before - and how I could make these work for my students! And the passion began to multiply. I would bounce ideas off of educators trying the same things or wanting to. And I’d get feedback and advice from people who had been long doing the initiatives and using the tools and strategies that I was just taking on. And I teamed up with amazing mentors, like Michelle Cordy, who pushed me to make opportunities to better myself as an educator- to steer my own ship and find my own niche - and inspired me to do things that challenge me and scare me because I can and what do I have to lose? (And here I am, one exam away from having attained Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer - Qualified Individual status! I couldn’t have imagined this 2 years ago!)
And so, as we wrap up connected educator’s month, I am thankful that I faced roadblocks, frustrations and feelings of being jaded and alone because it forced me to make a decision; make a change or stay the same. I chose change. It’s scary, terrifying, exciting and inspiring all at once. It needed to happen and I’m glad it did. I’m glad I felt the push to look further to find something to challenge me to be better than I was. Something to make me better for myself, and thereby, for my students… because isn’t that what it’s all about? Being the best version of yourself?
A few of the key people that I have learned the most from are included in this post but there are many more who have impacted my journey…. some with one post that stood out to me and some, who with their every post inspire me, daily. Some of these people do not follow me and will never see this blog post. Some will. I am okay with both of those facts.
I just want to say thanks. Thanks to the PLN for helping to open my eyes to the amazing world that is out there. Thank you for showing me the endless possibilities in education. Thank you for reminding me why I have never wanted to do anything other than teach. Thank you for showing me ways to reinvigorate the passion that has never died inside of me. Thank you for being people that I learn from and thank you for inspiring me to be the best that I can be.
I feel very privileged to have been asked to participate in a "thought leaders" 5 question session, organized by Michelle Cordy (@cordym) inspired by this piece: http://www.esparklearning.com/ed-tech/. Michelle realized that there were no #edtech women included in the "thought leaders" category and sought out women who were active in the #edtech community to share their thoughts.
I am so honoured to be included in the first edition of 5x5: Thought Leaders.
Please check out Michelle's "thought leader" Q&A here: http://hacktheclassroom.ca/2013/09/5x5-5-thought-leaders-5-questions-5-answers/
What does it mean to be a leader... to show leadership skills... to lead? There are probably more answers to what is a leader or what makes a good leader out there than anyone one person could ever read. A Google search of the word "leadership" brings up 294,000,000 results!
This year, through my school board, the Ottawa Catholic School Board, I completed a course in the "Leadership Journey" series called "Leadership, Part I".
This course was a five part session in which a variety of leaders in our board came to speak about what leadership means to him/her. We learned about the different types of personalities and leadership styles and how these affect our journey to leadership and how there is no one "right" style of leadership or one "best" way to lead; that successful leadership is a package of many different, interconnected pieces, variable by person, role and situation.
One of my take-aways from the session was the concept of "small l" versus "big L" leadership; the idea behind this premise is that "big L" leader are those with official leadership roles - coaches, mentors, managers, principals, etc., whereas "small l" leaders may not be in a formal leadership role but still have the opportunity to impact change and inspire others.
Many of us in education are "big L" leaders to our students but "small l" leaders in our schools, boards and professions. When we think of leadership, we are so apt to think of the formal leaders that sometimes we can forget about those informal leaders who we meet everyday.
I, for one, as a teacher who is connected to many inspiring educators on Twitter, have come to see the true power and influence of small l leaders. I spent hours each day (yes, even in the summer... more than ever!) reading their posts, clicking their links, re-tweeting their tweets and researching the information they share to try to incorporate the innovative ones into my own professional practice. Whether these educators are first year teachers or twenty year veterans, they have taken the initiative to share their professional practice and learning with me. In doing so, many of them have inspired me to try something new or reflect on my own practice and find ways to improve or incorporate new things. If that's not leadership in the profession, what is?! They have not have formal titles of leadership but they are leading from within.
This is a very exciting time in education with the continual development of all sorts of new and engaging educational technologies. As with anything new... any change... there is always some reluctance, resistance, fear, etc. As always, we need leaders who are willing and ready to embrace the journey and help pave the pathway for others, offering guidance and assistance on the journey. Perhaps the most #edtech savvy person in the school isn't an administrator but a rookie teacher. Small l leadership at its best! What a great opportunity to connect with admin who may not feel especially comfortable with technology and find ways together to help expand professional development and learning!
For educational technology to be effective, we must be open-minded. We must accept that it is a vast realm that can be overwhelming and reach out to others for support. Developing a great PLN (professional learning network) online is an ideal starting point; connecting with others who have already been on the tech journey for months or years will help, as it has helped me. My Twitter PLN has opened my eyes and mind to far more educational technology opportunities than I could have imagined. Slowly but surely I am learning about more and more tools and practices in #edtech which I will pass on to those who learn from me, as I have learned from so many before.
Leadership isn't about having all of the answers; it's about having the open mind to try new things and find solutions.
At our final "leadership" course, the keynote speaker was the President of Algonquin College, Kent MacDonald. My favourite part of his speech was when he shared a sentiment of Michael Dell saying (I'm taking liberties here and paraphrasing...) "Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room."
A leader must always be willing to learn from others. If not, then why lead?
I leave you with two of my favourite quotations on leadership....
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
On Friday at our PD day, I was honoured with my Associate Teacher of the Year Award from Queen's University. The picture I've shared is one of me with Peter Brodribb (Practicum Supervisor) and Nadine Thompson, Practicum Placement Officer, who presented me with this award.
I am truly honoured, humbled and grateful to have recieved this award from Queen's. Thank you for such kind recognition.
Who am I?
Hi! I'm Megan. 21st century learner and teacher. I am passionate about DI, assessment, student success and #edtech. My blog is where I share what is happening in my classes, my professional learning and sometimes things that are on the outer circle of education. Comments always welcome!