I spent all last week working with educators in Western North Carolina on the Digital Learning Competencies (DLCs). As a DLC Ambassador, I am charged with delivering multiple workshops that engage educators in professional learning related to the DLCs. One of the DLCs for both teachers and administrators involved Digital Citizenship (DigCit). DigCit is an area that I am very passionate about. As a previous technology facilitator, I worked within an extraordinary middle school where we provided DigCit training for students. But I did it completely wrong. Not necessarily wrong, but I was not as effective as I could have been. I worked with an awesome team composed of the school's instructional coach and media coordinator. We taught 3-4 lessons during the course of the year to all grade levels. During the lessons, our students responded positively and seemed to understand some of our main points. However, too often, students seemed to falter from these lessons that we thought that they had learned. It became obvious at several times as administrators had to intervened in several issues related to parent concerns or social media. As I reflect on this, I realize that we are not as effective at teaching DigCit since we were not actively involving teachers. As a technology facilitator, I do not see students on a regular basis; teachers do. Since teachers have regular interactions with students on a daily basis, they are the ones in the best position to regular remind and reinforce many of the DigCit lessons and preferred practices. Thus for an effective DigCit training experience, classroom teachers must actively be involved. It is a lot like parenting. I can tell my son not to do something and he indicates that he understands. But too often, he falters and does what he is not supposed to do. He is six years old. As a parent, I fully understand that somethings are a process and not a "one and done." DigCit is like this for our students. We have to constantly and consistently reinforce effective DigCit practice with our students and help them when the falter. We have to push gently sometimes so we do not damage our relationship with students and our ability to influence them. At other times, we need to be frank and direct in helping our students understand the impacts of their actions in digital world as well as teaching them how to be responsible and good digital citizens.
As I worked with educators this week, I expected to have a number of media coordinators (they really understand why DigCit matters). But I also had a good number of counselors and administrators attend which was awesome. I even managed to have several classroom teachers attend which was even more extraordinary. In each session, I asked participants to share their reason for attending. This allowed me to personalize the sessions to meet their needs. I found that participants recognize that DigCit matters and many shared stories of where students not understanding the implications of their actions online resulted in disruption to the learning process. As we continue life in the digital age, we must see DigCit as a necessary life skill just like financial literacy. We cannot fail to educate our students and staff in the importance of effective DigCit practices.
As I move into my final week as a DLC ambassador, I am recommitted to providing more resources and information for educators on DigCit. We must also help educators learn how to integrate DigCit into their classroom. I clearly heard from participants that many classroom teachers see the importance of DigCit but are uncertain how to best do this with students. As a result, those who support teachers must help in provided training and resources to support classroom teachers. One amazing resource that I have recommended multiple times is Dr. Kristen Mattson's book "Digital Citizenship in Action: Empowering Students to Engage in Online Communities."
This past week, I served as a DLC (Digital Learning Competencies) Ambassador with the Department of Public Instruction. We visited four different sites around Western North Carolina. We started off in Northwest North Carolina in Wilkesboro on Monday. On Tuesday, we moved into the Triad area where we worked with educators. Wednesday, I got to return to my home region and work with Charlotte area educators. Our final stop was Brevard with extraordinary educators from Western North Carolina. Each day provided amazing opportunities to learn, grown, and share with other educators. I offered two sessions. One involved Digital Citizenship and how we can move that into Digital Leadership with our students. The other session introduced participants to using Goosechase in their classroom. Goosechase is an online scavenger hunt tool that is very motivating.
Each day I worked with a variety of different educators including teachers, substitutes, retirees, counselors, administrators, and university level educators. I learned so much from the individuals that I worked with this week. There is still a great range of access to devices for students. In one of our largest systems, elementary students do not have regular access to devices on a daily basis. There are other systems that provide devices during the school day. We also reminded that for some of our more rural mountain counties, many students do not have access to the internet at home. Having grown up in the mountains, I fully understand about not having access to many services such as cable and the internet. Often utility companies do not provide access from the main road to houses in mountainous regions due to the expense of creating the infrastructure. I remember that my family did not have cable at home till I was in the 8th grade. Prior to then, there really was not option for television outside of the traditional antenna. As one teacher from Polk County shared, many of her students live on a mountain side and there is limited cell phone reception for hot spots and the cable and phone company do not provide high speed internet to their homes. Further, there is the expense of having high speed internet. For many of our regions, there is only provided which limits competition. I am fortunate to live in a place where we have at least three different providers for high speed internet. As the teacher shared with me, she cannot realistic expect for students to complete digital assignments at home due to the lack of internet. Thus, she only holds them accountable for digital assignments while they are at school. It is important to remember that even today, many regions and areas of our state still struggle with a missing infrastructure for services that some of us take for granted.
I also learned that we have a strong creative group of educators who are true innovators. They are able to see new and unique approaches to using digital tools to help students have access to a larger world. I was inspired by another DLC ambassador, Chris Tuttell (@ChrisTuttell), who was sharing some of the phenomenal work that she has done with elementary school students. These students are using podcasting as a way to collect oral history of African-Americas in Southeast Raleigh. Their school was the first high school for African-Americans in Raleigh. The students have connected with alumni to learn what it was like for them to attend this high school. The students have interviewed these alumni and recorded their stories. With these stories being recorded, they have learned the importance of oral history and why stories matter. The students have also become empowered to see that they can make a difference in their community even at a young age. With the access to simple digital tools and software, they have been able to go beyond. As another DLC ambassador, Amy Tart (@cards4scholars), shared "Use tech to expand what students can't do in real life." These students have creating a lasting legacy for the school and the African-American community in Southeast Raleigh. An interesting caveat to this story illustrating the transformative effect that digital learning can have involves the students and the adults supporting them seeking to have the school recognized as a historical landmark. Having recognized the importance of the work that they were doing, they sought to have the school recognized as a historical landmark. In seeking recognition from the state, they found many obstacles. However through their research, they discovered that the school had an approved application from the national level but that due to some changes in administration at the school and the transition of moving from paper based applications to digital versions of the historical requests, the school was not officially notified of their approval for historical landmark status from the national level. Due to the vision of Chris's students, they learned that the school was approved and they were able to formally host a recognition ceremony for the school.
This is the power that Digital Learning brings to our classrooms and the new realities that can be created. We now can help our students dream big, create strong visions, and turn those visions into realities. These are just some of the things that I learned and experienced this week as a DLC Ambassador. The DLC Ambassadors provide some amazing learning opportunities that not stimulate your mind but will touch your heart as you are challenged to grow and learn in new and exciting ways. Next week, we shift down east where we will roll the DLC Train to four additional sights. It should be another exciting, opportunity filled week. Join us if you are able.
This week I started my two week excursion as a Digital Learning Competency (DLC) Ambassador with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Today we will be working with educators in Western North Carolina. Earlier this week, we worked with educators in Northwest North Carolina, the Piedmont Triad, and the Charlotte region. In this role, I along with nearly 30 other awesome NC educators are sharing various professional learning opportunities that will help our educators with implementing the DLCs. Truth be told, the DLCs are simply quality teaching that implement digital tools and technology. But more basically than that, it is high quality instruction that results in meaningful learning for our students. I am sharing two presentations. One of my presentations, titled The Goosechase Is On; Motivating Students Through Scavenger Hunts, involve the use of Goosechase to create digital scavenger hunts that motivate students while they explore the 4Cs (Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity). We not only experience a Goosechase activity, participants share some amazing ideas about how to integrate this tool into existing curriculum and content standards. I have already worked with over 100 educators who have experienced a Goosechase using Peter Reynolds' book "Happy Dreamer." The educators that I have worked with this week have been extraordinary and shared many creative ways to use this tool in their classroom. One of the things that I love most about this tool is that it motivates students. I have seen students who are very motivationally challenged actually respond positively and productively in using this tool. With all that said, you may be wondering about the roles of a DLC Ambassador. It is a role that I take very seriously and commit fully to supporting my fellow educators. In this role, ambassadors prepare quality professional learning experiences that focus on the Digital Learning Competencies and content standards. We are also charged with creating an environment that supports educators in learning the tools and content needed to integrate digital learning into their classrooms. Ambassadors work to create a professional network among participants where they are safe to share their thoughts and ideas as well as receive feedback from other professionals. Many ambassadors will form lasting friendships with teachers who attend sessions also. DLC Ambassadors create a world where all educators can learn new tips, strategies, and ideas to more fully integrate digital tools in their classroom to improve student learning. In short, a DLC Ambassador is a magical individual who helps teachers create new possibilities of learning at higher levels.
Today, we finished an amazing two day training from the National Foundation for the Teaching of Entrepreneurship (NFTE). NFTE is one of the partners that North Rowan High School has partnered with to #changetheequation for our students. As a classically trained chemist and science educator, I could not have been more removed from all my training in education. However, I firmly believe that entrepreneurship is an amazing opportunity for students to change their trajectory. As someone who grew up in rural Appalachia, I understand the challenges associated with living in poverty. Having taught in an inner city school and worked with various populations of students in London and Cincinnati, I am really aware of the experiences and challenges experienced by students living in urban poverty. I understand the challenges experienced by immigrant children as their families seek a better life in the United States. When I first moved to Salisbury, I recall driving through some of the more economically distressed areas and noticing the "Fresh Fish Sandwich / Fish Fry" signs that seemed to pop up every weekend. As I enjoyed the delicious fish sandwiches, I recall thinking of the creative genius at work here. The signs advertising the fish fry were handmade and very original. While some may have described them as crude, they were highly effective because they attracted the attention of individuals passing by. The product being sold was one that many individuals wanted and I suspect that the entrepreneurs did quite well judging from the crowds of people lined up. With the various experiences I have from working with students in poverty and having grown up in poverty myself, I know full well how industrious individuals can be. Without the ability to simply go and buy a "new one," you figure out how to make something work even when it is broken. I have long thought that many individuals living in poverty often have amazingly high creativity and are very innovative. This often occurs due to necessity as much as anything else. But it is precisely these skills of creativity and innovation that will help many students to have successful lives in our new economy. As I reflect on what I have learned from the NFTE training over the past two days, I am even firmly convinced that teaching entrepreneurship is a necessary life skill for our students. Students will learn many new ways to consider various products and services while carving out specific niches. With this creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship comes a stronger financial foundation for our students. For students who are nimble enough to adapt and pivot, they will be able to create products or services that people never realized they needed or wanted. I am excited about implementing entrepreneurship into our work at North Rowan as we change the trajectory and lives of our students. It is my belief that these skills will help our students to experience a more fulfilling life. A big thank you to our awesome trainer and partner Diahann from NFTE.
Today was a tough day. I finished moving out of my current school where I had the perfect job. It fulfilled me in every way. I was treated as a professional and valued by the contributions I made to make our school a better place to learned. I had an awesome administration who allowed me to explore so many amazing opportunities both inside and outside of the school. They were always supportive and encouraging. Each day I felt like what I did mattered and was valued. With that said, I had the perfect job. There was absolutely no reason to leave. As I was packing, I began to wonder if I made the wrong decision. Did I not spend enough time considering all the pros and cons of switching jobs and returning back to the classroom? I spent some time second guessing myself. I went to my new school and was unable to get in. It made me think even more, did I make a hasty decision? I know that in my heart I am doing what I am called to do. But I was beginning to second guess myself. Upon gaining entry to the school though, it was confirmed that I made the right decision. I met several of my new coworkers who instantly knew me which was amazing and encouraging. As I went back out to move more items into the school though, I had an unexpected conversation with a parent. As I walked by her car, she said "Hi and Welcome to North Rowan." She asked some about what I would be teaching and we discovered that I would have her son this year. Our conversation evolved into her sharing about the amazing success that her daughter had at North. She graduated last June and is on her way to becoming a nurse. I congratulated her and shared that I knew that she must be a proud parent. As our talk continued, she shared some about her son who will be in my class. She stressed that he is still maturing and encouraged me not to let his past define how I see and work with him. It was at this point that I was reminded of the incredible power that teachers possess. We have the power to influence students and change their trajectories. I shared stories of previous students I had at Salisbury High. When many of these students entered from middle school, their reputations definitely proceeded them. However, I learned early in life that people change. I recounted several stories of students who ended up going from potentially "we will be lucky if this person graduates" to earning a full scholarship to a college. I have several students who I still see now in our town who have turned their lives around. Many of them have stable jobs and are raising a family. I shared with the mom that it is important that we work in tandem to encourage our students to make good choices and choose a trajectory that takes them where they want to be. But I also explained that students are still learning how to be better decision makers and have more positive interactions with others. One event should not define any teacher's relationship with a student. Additionally, we must realize that our students do and will make mistakes. We cannot penalize them for making a bad choice. I am not saying that there are not consequences for choices and behaviors but we must not pigeon hole students into a specific mode due to one choice. The greatest thing about humans is that we have the ability to change. If a student is working to change and become a productive adult who contributes positively to our society, we, as teachers, must allow them the latitude to make mistakes and help them to learn from their mistakes. I shared with the mother that I will work hard to ensure that I guide her son in the best way possible with the realization that he is still learning and maturing. She was so appreciative. As I reflect on this experience, I know that transition back to the classroom will be challenging. I will have some great and extraordinary days but I will also have days where I am challenged and discouraged. That is teaching. But what I was reminded of is that teachers have an extraordinary amount of power that we must use in a way that allows our students to grow in the best ways possible. It is a lot like parenting. My son will occasionally do things that are less than ideal. However, he is learning. I must afford this same courtesy to the students that I teach. I am reminded that sometimes we may not see our students fully matured until after graduation even. But we must take our students as they are and work to cultivate them in the best way possible so they have the best chance of future success. This conversation definitely helped to ease my doubts and second guesses. It cemented that I am definitely where I need to be. So I look forward to helping to #changetheequation for so many of these students by believing in them but also helping to guide them along their path. We, as educators, must be mindful that we use our power to help our students and allow them the opportunity to grow and change.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.