A New Challenge

My two worlds have collided to bring me my most recent opportunity. The first is the world of connected educators. The second, my mom.

Being connected has provided me with a plethora of opportunities, resources and friends. My Twitter world has helped me start an EdCamp and two international chats, be invited to facilitate at a conference, present at an AppsEvent Summit, led me to learning with COETAIL and now given me the chance to become a COETAIL instructor.

But being connected isn’t quite enough. My mom told me years ago, that it never hurts to ask. So when an email came through from COETAIL saying they had this exciting new collaboration with the Google for Education Certified Trainers program and it ended with 

I figured they meant it.

So i asked:

Why not right? The worst that could happen is I don’t get any response.  But I did get a response, and it started a conversation I didn’t really expect with the directors of COETAIL. All of a sudden, I was offering suggestions and talking about becoming an instructor.

In the midst of this conversation, a Twitter friend became a part of the COETAIL team. Lissa and I had originally crossed digital paths as I was working through the COETAIL program about two years ago.  Thanks again to Twitter, we discovered we would both be in the North Carolina mountains last summer and got to meet face to face. (I owed her a drink for all the resources she shared with me as I started as a tech coach)

And so, here we are. Thanks to a random collection of connections, and one little question, a new challenge for the coming year.

#COETAIL is excited to welcome @rharwood17 as the Online 8 Cohort Instructor! https://t.co/RDAMf4StEG pic.twitter.com/yyEfqaTXeq

So, if you’re trying to decide if it is worth your time to create that Twitter profile or join a Facebook group, figure out what hashtags are, or if you’re super hip start Snappin, I’d say yes. It is. But, don’t forget to listen to your mom too. It isn’t enough just to show up, you have to ask some questions, share some thoughts and take some chances.

To think it all started with me talking trash with Jimmy Conrad.

L’eggo my Ego

Sometimes the best laid plans just don’t work out. Sometimes, when you really want to tell someone to quit complaining and just do what you need to do, you really need to just sit still and listen.  Sometimes, when you only get to ask two of your three questions, someone gets the wrong idea.  And sometimes, you’ve got to see that your idea wasn’t perfect and just make the adjustments.

These are lessons learned in the first month of a new job.

It has been a great learning week as I’ve run into some quite unexpected situations and had to really push myself to step outside of not only my comfort zone, but also my ego.  One of my big projects seems to be having the breaks applied and that’s not easy to face.  Thankfully, I have an administrator who is patient and understanding.  When the news was shared with me, she let me talk it through and listened.  In the course of the conversation I went from the frustrated little kid, to ok, this isn’t about me and we can move forward now. I’m slightly disappointed of course, but as I step back and look at the process I’m a part of, I’m thankful for the experience.  Now, what I thought was set up in a nice neat package is giving me the opportunity to take it all apart and figure out how to differentiate learning for teachers.

I’m in a position right now to not only effect great change as our school is in a time of transition, but also to gain incredible experience.  I’m in on the ground level of improving our technology plan and creating better systems within our school.  Its an exciting time, but it is also quite challenging.  I’m learning that I need to go into each challenge as a learner and with my ego  in check.  I’m excited to see each new challenge now as I adjust to this new realisation.

When we realize that we are all part of the ocean and not individual waves we see a power that we have together and how important it is to work for and with one another.

Sometimes you just have to l’eggo that ego.

A Post From the Bleachers

This week my post comes from the bleachers as I’m on my weekly lunch duty assignment.

Out to Play
Out to Play

One of the things I love about our middle school is the freedom the students have during their lunch.  They have multiple areas, all outdoors, where they can purchase and enjoy their lunch, and they are free to hit the library for some quiet or the field to burn off some energy.  Its some kind of controlled chaos or sure as there are usually multiple balls and teams on the field at once, but somehow they manage to make it work.

Its been a good week in the world of technology coaching. The focus right now has been primarily on our Google Certified Educator initiative which seems to be going pretty well so far.  I actually just sent out a survey today to get a little feedback from the staff so more on that later.  (I do love the real time results you get from Google Forms)I’ve averaged about 20 participants a week over the three week period.  Not terrible, but not great.  That means I’m only reaching about 25% of our staff directly, but I’m counting this as a blended learning model as teachers have the option of coming to my sessions, working directly through the Google Training Center, using the resources I’m creating along the way or some combination of both.  I also figure this 25% means I’m hitting that middle group between the early adopters and the ‘not gonna do its’.  

I’ve gone back to reading the Art of Coaching as I try to build my skill set and develop this job.  It feels like a good place to start.  I’m also contemplating a go at ISTE’s Coaching Academy series.  I had hoped to start it with the beginning of the new year, but in the midst of running Google Training, the usual start of the year stuff and planning a couple of workshops for AISA’s conference in October, I’m thinking it will have to wait.  For now I’m relying on my Twitter friends, personal experience and reading for my professional development.

Alright, lunch is over and its time to get back at it.


Getting in the Flow or “The Slow Clap”

My first full week of the school year is complete. So far, I absolutely love what I do.  It is completely different everyday, full of puzzles, people and practice.  I’m dedicated to looking at this with the beginner’s mind as I go through each day.  My colleagues come to me for help and to learn but I want to make sure I’m learning from them as well.
image (1)I’ve decided to keep some data about how my time is being spent as I start the year.  So far it is about what I expect.  There’s a larger portion for parents right now because of open house presentations.  That will level off soon enough I’m sure.



The majority of time being spent on ManageBac is no surprise either.  With new staff and the transitioning process into the new year there are always some bugs to work out. ManageBac is a great LMS, but it takes a little getting used to and is constantly being improved.  It can be challenging for new staff to get comfortable with the system.  Especially when you add in getting used to a new school and life in a developing country.

I’m hoping the data can help me not only demonstrate the value in my position to my supervisors, but help me understand how to develop future trainings and workshops.  I’ve already adjusted my categories a few times as new things have cropped up throughout the week.  I’m sure it will continue to morph.  If you’ve ever done anything like this with your work and want to share ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Finally, I have to share a highlight from the week.  (My family does this at the dinner table every night by the way.  A great practice to get our kids talking and sharing)  There’s a little backstory here before we get to my point.  At some point last year, I convinced the high school staff to give me a “slow clap” as I began a presentation because we all need to take ourselves a little less seriously.  Anyway, somehow it kind of stuck and was a reoccurring event throughout the year.

Back to the present times.

We had a consultant come in to work with the entire staff on implementing our new vision this week.  I volunteered to write for him on the board and a colleague from the HS got the slow clap going.  There was some confusion from the lower school, but they joined in and there were smiles and laughter all around as I danced my way to the whiteboard.

I don’t share the scene to brag.  In fact, I would usually rather be behind the scenes than in the spotlight.  I share it because one of the first steps to becoming a successful coach is building relationships.  As I made my way back to my seat and heard the chuckles and saw the smiles on my colleagues faces, I couldn’t help but feel positive about the relationship I’m building with our staff.  How others perceive you can be one of those things that is hard to measure.  However, moving into this new role with a slow clap under my belt, I’m feeling like I’m off to a good start.

I hope you’re week has been as good as mine.

One of my all time favorite movies.  I get a little teary eyed every time.

Surfing Safari

As I submit my final project, I’m still working on the unit in the classroom. For various reasons, the timing just didn’t quite work out, but we are about 92.7% finished.  Throughout the unit, the ideas have swelled, broken, and reformed.  They continue to come in waves.  I have so many ideas of where this project could go and how it could grow in the future.  The fun part is, most of those who are involved do too.  Its been a great experience.

The definite changes that will be coming along in the future are creating more roles for the students in developing the structure of the project.  I think it would be great to have students involved in the scheduling of interviews, the creation of the website, cataloging interviews, promoting the project and creating some sort of celebration at the end to showcase what they’ve created.  There’s a lot of potential there for differentiation and even passion projects.  Students could be involved in design projects, logistics, all sorts of things.

Ironically, the biggest issue we faced un this project was the technology.  Thankfully, not on the instructional side.  The students’ involvement and use of technology was great.  The structure of the project, the timing, participation all of that was easy.  It was dealing with the files that were created in a way that allows for longevity that has given us the most headaches.  As of the time I’m typing this we still have an error message appearing when the files are accessed in Chrome (it seems to be ok in Safari).  Images work fine, but if you click on an audio file on the map below, you’ll probably get a warning from Chrome.  Its safe though.  I promise.

On the other hand, this has provided a learning experience as well.  I’ve been able to have discussions with students about the handling of files, naming protocols, all kinds of issues I didn’t expect. As you might notice, the map is still a work in progress as students update and format their pins.  This is a result of  files being created, needing to be renamed and relocated.  We’re working through it. At the suggestion of students, once the map is completely updated, it will be split into two maps one highlighting the student’s work around their communities and one for the interviews and where students call home.

I could ramble on and on about this project and what I’d like to see happen with it. I honestly think it could become an entire semester of work, but I won’t go there. My video and some resources are below.



Below I’ve attached:

my original unit planner

and our working document for tasks for this project.

I have to say I’m quite happy to get this project wrapped up.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my COETAIL experience and the challenges it presented.  However, I must admit to be happy closing this chapter of my own learning.  I’d forgotten how demanding it can be to take classes while teaching classes.  Throw in moving over to a new job and raising a couple of kids while still trying to find some time for playing with my friends and its exhausting.  But I’m truly thankful for the learning and connections I’ve made throughout the course.

Let’s go surfing now…

Surfing Time

Light Up The Sky

And so it would seem that we have come full circle.  My very first post for COETAIL described the Long Strange Trip to my PLN.  Now that we are coming to the end, its time to revisit this magical group of people who qualify me as a connected educator and help me continue to grow and learn.

So, what does it mean to be connected?

flickr photo by GotCredit https://flickr.com/photos/jakerust/16659706488 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo Connect by GotCredit  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

It means after struggling alone in the dark with a pile of ideas, wondering if they are going to work and finally finding the secret that lights up the night.  My PLN is full of educators and non-educators Who are happy to provide feedback.  Honest feedback.  The kind that helps.  They’re supportive when I need it but also challenge me to think about the other side of things or look at something in a different way.  They are filled with fantastic imaginations, incredible resources and a never ending dose of positivity.

It means linking up with others that do similar jobs so that you can work together and be more efficient.  I’ve recently found #ISEdCoach that has become a fantastic resource for coaching tips and articles to read.  I even helped to moderate a chat at one point this past year.

It means finding a bit of sunshine on a rainy day.  My friends from #BFC530, the original chat that got me involved in Twitter, are always full of positivity.  There’s someone popping up in my feed just saying hello or checking in wondering how things are going.  Its pretty amazing to have friends that actually know a few things about you even though you’ve never actually met.

It means running into a wall throwing out a rope and your friends pulling you over.  I’ve been on the receiving end of so many generous gestures of sharing information.  From everything I could ever need to plan an EdCamp to a folder full of over a dozen examples of job descriptions my PLN has come through when I needed it.

Case in point.

My original intention for this post was to include some animated GIFs. I really wanted to use Chevy Chase lighting up his house in Christmas Vacation.  Because, you know, that was a big connection.

But then I started wondering about citations and fair use for animated GIFs made with copyrighted material.  Enter my PLN.



and finally…

PLN Helping


That was only a portion of the conversation.  Ideas and thoughts continued to trickle in over the course of a couple of days.  It turns out there’s a lot of grey around the idea.  No one had a clear answer.  In the end I decided to steer clear.

My Connection

Over the past two years I’ve also continued my work developing the #AfricaEd chat.  Its been an up and down experience for sure.  There have been weeks where I felt like the whole world was chiming in on our conversations and others when it was just me and the crickets.  But that’s part of the growth right?  If it was easy all the time, it wouldn’t be a challenge, we wouldn’t learn from it and everyone would host their own chat.

Figuring out what the hot topics are and what topics are really meaningful is a big challenge.  There are lots of feel good chats out there that allow teachers to pat each other on the back and talk about how great they are.  I’m hoping to create a bit deeper conversation about best practice and the changes that need to occur.  Then discuss how we make that happen.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Some weeks I’m sure I’ve got a winner and it just doesn’t go anywhere.

Today was a good one though and #coetail even got several mentions. It may have only been three or four of us in the conversation but it was quality and how else do you have a semi-asynchronus conversation between Ghana, Kuwait, Qatar and Ethipoia?

So where does this leave us? For one it leaves us quite connected.

My Profile
My Profile

I’ve got over a thousand colleagues at my finger tips (ok, some of those might be sports stars and musicians and such) to confer and with which to  learn.

But most importantly, I think it leaves us happy, well rounded and with friends from around the world.


Oh, and then there’s this. I had to have one GIF after all that conversation…

Taking a brain break
Taking a brain break


Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Its always a challenge to work on a project that relies on creating a project with others that will be completed by someone else who has to ask another group for their participation in order to complete the project.  Huh?

It creates a bit of a tangled web of planners, participants and producers that looks something like this chart. http://popplet.com/app/Popplet_Alpha.swf?page_id=3135521&em=1

Photo By Me
Photo By Me

The ship was feeling a little crowded and seemed to be drifting at sea from time to time in search of land.   But, I think it has finally righted itself and we are headed for open water.  We’ve passed through the Straits of Longterm Digital Storage Solutions, made it through the Doldrums of Spring Break and Conferences and are entering the Seas of Productivity.

The students have been working on developing their recording and storytelling skills along the way through a series of assignments adapted from the Out Of Eden Learning project that my colleague Andy has been using in his 6th grade classes, the #HearMyHome project, that I stumbled upon on Twitter and had hoped to have our classes participate in but didn’t find the time, and of course our own amazing imaginations.

As you can see below, students have started sharing some of their work as a way to introduce themselves to our audience.

The process has been a bit of a struggle as we’ve been waiting on our IT department to set up some server space to ensure long term storage for our content.  You see, I realised as this project got underway for the second year, that all of the audio from last year’s interviews was linked to individual student’s Google accounts.  Rookie mistake.  I’m in the process of downloading all of the audio and making copies of their documents so that parts don’t begin to disappear as students leave and their accounts are disabled.

It has been a bigger challenge than it seems it should be to develop not only a storage solution, but a work flow that makes sense as well.  We went through several different scenarios that would have required uploads, changing of ownerships and multiple account managements.  I’m all for helping students develop their tech skills, but with each step that is added to the process the chances of something going wrong increases.  We needed a way to create URLs to link images and audio to our site and to the maps that we are creating.

As you will find if you start clicking around on the map, some students found ways to embed their info and images and others just added a link. We want to develop a little more consistency, and now that we have a storage solution, I think we can. Eventually this map will include layers of audio and photo content created by the students about their own communities.

We start recording interviews next week and that’s when the real work begins. I’m excited.


Turn, Turn, Turn

Life is a process of change. Without change, life is impossible.  Once you accept that with joy, there is no fear. – Thich Nhat Hanh

flickr photo by Moyan_Brenn https://flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/7912377858 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) licenseI came across this quote in the past couple of weeks and as I was planning today, it popped back into my head.  If we substitute “teaching” for “life” I think it sums up our jobs.  I’ll be honest here, the planning part has never been my biggest strength.  I like to work in the moment with rough outlines and ideas.  I’m not going to claim that I do this without fear, but I do feel that it has made me a better teacher.  I’ve grown to be ok with the days that the lesson doesn’t go quite as planned or when we spontaneously take a 10 minute break to watch the sandstorm that just swept over our campus.  

The winds of change are blowing all over this final project.  I thought I had a fantastic plan nailed down for our oral history project this year, but I keep coming up with ideas I want to try out.  Oh, and I’m working with another humanities teacher this year so as I bounce those ideas off of him, he inevitably has some ideas of his own.  He’s also participating in the Out of Eden Walk project with his sixth grade class, which brings new ideas to the table almost weekly.  So although the process might not be as streamlined as I’d thought it was.  I think its developing into a pretty cool project.

0075 TimeThere’s also been the issue of time in the classroom.  Our transition to this unit almost perfectly aligned with my trip to Mumbai for ASBUnplugged.  So I had a day to introduce the concepts and beginning activities and then had to leave my students to their own devices and at the mercy of a substitute.  We have this week to sort things out, and then we’re on Spring Break.  I may not be exactly where I want to be on this project, but I’m not afraid.

Here’s some of the highlights of the plan in process. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments

  • students collect photos, videos, audio recordings and journal entries of their own experiences as a teen and a student
  • these are shared via Padlet or ThingLink to encourage conversation and reflection
  • students use their peers’ photos, audio, video, to create a story of being a teen living in Ghana and attending LCS
  • students interview LCS staff and teachers about their experiences as teens and in school.
  • QR codes of teacher interviews will be placed around the school, possibly on teachers’ doors to share the interviews
  • students reflect on the similarities of their teachers’ experiences with their own
  • students reflect on the advantages and limitations of this type recorded history

I’d love to attach the day by day plan here to show you how perfectly organised it is and how nicely I see it flowing, but as they say here in Ghana, “Please. It is coming.”


flickr photo Meditation by Moyan_Brenn  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo 0075 Time by Mark Morgan Trinidad A  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


Let’s Get It Started

Its time to really start thinking about this project and getting things rolling.  Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for while, I just need to start taking some action.

Here’s an outline of my plan. I’m hoping to drastically improve last year’s oral history project that I started with my 8th grade humanities class.  It was a mild success last year, but it I walked away from the project with lots of thoughts on how to make it better.

microphone-307365_1280This year we’ll be adding a few more elements to the project that will hopefully make it more meaningful to not only the students participating, but to the community of our school as well.  The basic plan is for our students to collect stories from the staff at Lincoln Community School about their teenage years and educational experience.  We’re hoping to build a collection of stories of youth around the world and throughout different eras of history.  Our staff, like our students, is quite diverse and should provide an intriguing array of stories.

The project is part of our service learning initiative at LCS as we ultimately share this collection of recordings on a website that I created last year for this purpose.  I’m also considering giving students the option to work on redesigning the website or looking for ways to enhance it as part of the project.

I plan on beginning the project by tapping into another project that I stumbled on via Twitter.  The #hearmyhome project closely relates to some of what we are hoping to do ourselves and will provide students with an opportunity to practice recording, finding stories to share and challenging their creativity.  The hope is once we get to the point of interviewing teachers, the students will be somewhat comfortable with the process.

Throughout the project I want students thinking about several things.  One of the top ideas being: How and why is history recorded?  One of our first activities will be a reflection on a house color event we had last week.  Students competed in an obstacle course, tug of war and jump roping to earn points for their house.  We’ll use the reflection to open a discussion on perspectives and details in a story.  In a moment of what was hopefully genius, I decided, while they were sharing their stories, to ask them to go home and record their stories so that we can begin the work of creating good recordings, and telling stories.  We’ll see how this turns out.


It Takes Two

Sometimes the first idea is a good one, but not the right one.  It turns out my plan for course 5 wasn’t quite on track so here’s a remix.

This will be the second year my classes have worked on an oral history project as a service learning and cross-curricular unit.  It went well last year, but as with any first time project, it could use some tweaking.

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

Last year the project incorporated several different types of digital storytelling.  However they were not fully developed ideas and were put together as we went along.  The students created a “day in the life” Google Slides presentation based on their social media use as well as a video with audio clips from their interviews that was supposed to link the ideas with images of the area being discussed.  I think that this time around each of these aspects of the unit can be drastically improved based on the learning from Course 3 around infographics and digital storytelling.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

Its always a challenge to redesign a unit, but this year I also will have a new language arts teacher to collaborate with as well as an additional humanities teacher working along side me.  It can be a little more difficult to get my own vision for a project completed when collaborating.  I’ll add that I still haven’t met the new language arts teacher as she was an emergency replacement over the winter break.

Other than the human element, time is always an issue.  I felt like the project was rushed last year even though we spent over four weeks on it.  Time is always hard to carve out of a school year when you are working across curriculums.  We’ll see how it goes.

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

I think one of the main shifts I’ll have to make is in my planning stages.  I tend to like working in the moment, but with the way things are shaping up here and in order to work with multiple teachers, I’m going to have to buckle down and really map this thing out.

I also want to make sure that we focus on teaching the technological skills that the kids need.  Too often, we assume that students are experts with whatever technology we throw at them.  This time around I want to make sure that I work in little tutorials and work sessions for the varying platforms or programs that we ask them to use.  I’d love to see these be student driven where they teach each other or take turns sharing tips.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

I think this unit will really push the students out of their comfort zones.  It requires them to go out and talk to adults that they don’t usually interact with and really think about the questions they are asking.  They have to learn to ask probing questions instead of yes and no questions and figure out how to get people talking to them and not just answering questions.  Just as I stated for myself, they also have to really think about their deadlines and working with others.  Group work is hard and they’ll have to figure out the best ways to collaborate, and the best partners with which to work.

Below is the updated version of last year’s unit plan.  I’ll be annotating as I go along this year as I make improvements and changes.  This way you can follow along live, kind of like a stat tracker for your favorite ball game.  Exciting huh?