When I glanced at my airline ticket last night, I had a moment of shock as I realized my return home from ISTE 2017 was going to include a 12 hour layover in San Francisco. In the midst of my dismay, a friend quickly replied, "this will be great....it will give you time to reflect and write!" The original shock turned to gratitude as I realized this time was given to me as a gift. This extremely long layover would give me an opportunity to process the amazing week spent connecting with some of my closest friends in San Antonio, TX. Let me share with you some of the highlights:
Presenting with my #XPLAP (Explore Like a Pirate) Tribe!
Presenting for the first time at ISTE with four of my closest friends was an amazing experience. On Saturday, we facilitated a 3-hour workshop called 8-bit Engagement. In this workshop we shared how to create an immersive and transformative classroom experience by layering story and game mechanics over your curriculum to make it come to life! Educators came away with a game plan to begin their own gamified classroom adventures. It was awesome and I can't speak highly enough about the amazing educators that I had the honor to present with:
Michael Matera: Author of book Explore Like a Pirate and 6th grade World History teacher
Carrie Baughcum: gamified special education teacher & sketchnoter extraordinare
Nick Davis: gamified genius hour and science teacher
Adam Bold: gamified science, social studies, and genius hour teacher
Though we all live in different places, these educators have been an incredible support, encouragement, and source of inspiration to me. To come together to present, learn, and play was amazing. It truly is special how five friends who rarely connect face to face can be such an important part of each other's life. Wonderful memories made this week with a very special crew!
Hangin' with my Girl, #booksnaps Queen, and my REAL Soul Sister, Tara Martin!
Once in a blue moon, a person is placed in your life that "gets you" at all levels. A friend that understands and shares similar passions, dreams, and journey; one that you feel like you've known your entire life. Tara Martin is this kind of a friend to me. We connected on Twitter, became friends on Google Hangout and Voxer, and finally met face to face at ISTE 2017. It was so incredible to see her connect and share her edu-awesomeness with hundreds of people with a REALNESS that is one-of-a-kind. It was an honor to watch her give her first Ignite speech in front of an audience of over 500 and she CRUSHED it! This girl is as genuine as they come. I learned so much from her this week that I would have never found in any session. Sisters for life!
Meeting author of Gamify Literacy & seeing it on the ISTE shelf!
This past year I had the honor of contributing a chapter to the book, Gamify Literacy, by author Michele Haiken. To see this book on the ISTE shelf and to meet Michele Haiken in person was a true highlight to my experience! To make it even better my dear friend, Carrie Baughcum (pictured bottom left), contributed a chapter too! Special thanks to Michele Haiken for giving me this amazing opportunity to share my story of how gamification has transformed my classroom and renewed my passion for teaching!
Surprise Run-ins with DBC authors!
I am a huge fan of books published by Dave and Shelley Burgess because they are inspiring, full of rich content and ideas, and written by educators who are passionate and speak from experience in the classroom. What makes me love these books even more is that the authors that I have met face to face are genuine, generous, and kind. My first session on Monday was called Social LEADia: Empowering Students to be Digital Leaders by author, Jennifer Casa-Todd, of the recently published book by DBC, Social LEADia. This session opened your eyes to the power of social media to get kids connected and equip them to be digital leaders. Powerful and inspiring! It was an exciting surprise for author of Ditch that Textbook, Matt Miller, to sit next to me and sketchnote the session. I'm glad he created such an awesome sketchnote, because I was so intrigued by his, that I neglected to create my own! If you haven't read his book, you are missing out! It is chock full of amazing ideas and inspiration! It will shift your mindsets about education to transform your classroom into one that empowers!
As an additional bonus, I had the pleasure of joining the #ditchbook fam for lunch! What a powerhouse of amazing educators! I was honored to be in their presence and grateful for the opportunity to hang with them for a bit!
Another exciting surprise was running into Aaron Hogan; author of the recently published DBC book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. I love how genuinely kind he is and I quickly picked up on his passion for all educators to THRIVE! I'm only two chapters in on my 12 hour layover and I'm hooked! A must read!
Meeting #xplap Family Members
It was super fun to meet so many from the #xplap Twitter family face to face this week at our informal gatherings in the PLN Lounge and Blogger's Cafe. Loved chatting gamification and playing games with these passionate peeps! Lots of laughter & memories made! Love our growing #XPLAP family!
Meals with Friends!
I find the best learning comes from the informal meet-ups, especially when they involve food! I loved all of the meals spent with friends and learned so much! Special shout-out to Papa Fritz for the amazing breakfast tacos and belly laughs!
Mind Blowing Keynote!
Tuesday's Keynote speaker, Jennie Magiera, blew my mind! She did an unbelievable job of presenting an incredibly inspiring message that had the entire crowd giving her a standing ovation at it's conclusion. This slide had me in tears....
This simple, yet powerful call to action gave me the extra boost of courage I needed to take the next steps in telling my story. We all have a story to share and if we don't share it, who will?
This slide was really what got the tears flowing. We need to stop trying to tell someone else's story and tell our own. What we do may seem ordinary to us, but to someone else it may be amazing and the catalyst to something transformational in someone else's journey. Too often we compare ourselves to others, when what the world needs is us to be our truest self. Powerful stuff and a message that resonated deeply for me.
The beauty of being a connected educator is that I have tribes of educators from all over the world that I can look to for continued inspiration and support through Twitter, Voxer, and Google Hangouts on a regular basis. This week I had the opportunity to connect some of my favorite educators together. My good friend and local peep, Heather Marrs, was able to meet my #xplap crew. It made me so happy to see Midwestern and Pacific Northwest worlds colliding. Heather is a powerful edurockstar who is a powerhouse of innovation. So thankful to have Heather as a nearby source of inspiration and support.....someone who "gets me". It is a special gift to have a friend like her in my life!
Rodney Turner and Tara Martin may be two of the best connectors of people I know. Rodney has made a significant impact on my journey as a connected educator by helping me find my tribe back in November of 2014 at Miami Device. My journey of being a connected educator has been a wild adventure and one that I am extremely grateful for. While hanging with my good friend, Tara, this week I witnessed another connector in action. These two have a genuine kindness and love for people that truly is awe-inspiring. I'm very grateful for these two and what they've taught me about the beauty and power of connecting. We truly are all better together!
I'm finishing this blog post with 4 more hours to go of my layover before I head home. Though I can't wait to get home and hug my family, I am thankful for this time to reflect on an amazing week of connecting with my Professional Learning Family. Of all the many memories and learning that happened at ISTE 2017, the most poignant take away I'm coming home with is this..... Being a connected educator has brought into my life a family that is close and dear to my heart. My Professional Learning Family gathered in San Antonio this week. It's hard to explain how much these people have changed me. Aaron Hogan said it best in this tweet he posted today on Twitter.....
Thank you to all the amazing educators I connected with this week! You have changed my life. Until we meet again face to face.....I'll see you in the Twittersphere!
Ending the year in my culinary class has always brought a significant layer of stress. Instead of winding down, we amp up to prepare Senior Board refreshments for 700+ people. Since Senior Boards typically happen the last week of school, immediately after we head into clean-up and inventory mode to close out the year. Instead of finishing the year in a fun positive way, we often end the year with student's least favorite thing to do....cleaning. This is not the last memory I want my students to have of my class. The end of the year should be filled with happiness and joy and time to celebrate and reflect!
This year I was determined to close the year out right. Typically, Senior Boards are the last two days for our Seniors and we don't see them again until graduation. This means that we are frantically scurrying around in catering mode the last few days in my class leaving no time for reflection or celebration of all that they've accomplished. To change that, I decided I would invite my Seniors back the following day to join our underclassmen and do just that....celebrate and reflect. We cooked French toast and bacon and set up our tables in a big square so we could all eat together as a family. Once everyone had settled around the tables with their breakfasts, I played a video of all the pictures taken throughout the year (I think I counted 300!!) You could hear a pin drop as students looked back at all they had accomplished and all the amazing memories made. Once the video was over, I announced the winner of our semester long competition, the Amazing Food Truck Race, and talked about each team and the growth that I had observed throughout the course of the semester. I also shared favorite memories and gave the students a chance to share as well. The winning team received a personalized apron and their picture on The Legacy Wall that I will be creating before the beginning of next year. After our time of reminiscing about the food truck race, I called up each Senior, handed them a Class of 2017 tumbler filled with candy and shared what I appreciated about each one and my favorite memories. I cried, my students cried, and my heart was full.
There are no words to adequately describe how powerful that time with my students was. We took time to appreciate the journey; reflect on the growth from failures and successes, recognize the strengths of each individual, and savor the memories made. Was my classroom a mess? YES! Was it totally worth it? ABSOLUTELY! This was a school year end that I will not soon forget and hopefully the beginning of many to follow. I have finally figured out the ingredients for a successful school year close... Celebrate and Reflect! It's a magical combination!
For some, the school year winds down as teachers and students get ready for summer break. That has never been a scenario I can relate to. For the past 11 years the end of the school year means getting ready to cater Senior Boards. Senior Boards are two days at the end of the school year where students give their Senior project speeches in front of a judging panel made up of staff members and community judges. It's a day they have been anticipating after months of hard work. It's a really big deal.
Our culinary department has always had the honor of catering this event by serving savory and sweet delicacies all lovingly prepared by all levels of our culinary students. It's a huge undertaking to say the least. We spend 2 weeks planning and preparing food for this event to make sure it is a special and delicious spread for our Seniors. After 11 years of catering this event I had it pretty much dialed in. I had detailed ingredient lists and plans of how to organize the preparation and storage. It was a well-oiled machine and I was in control. I knew what students would make, exact quantities for each item, and who would make them. Students have always followed through with the plan and impress and amaze me with the quality food they produce. However, this year I realized something. Being in control was preventing my students from "owning" this experience. Sure, they were making amazing food, but they were my ideas, my plan. and students were just going through the motions. A well-oiled machine is great, but if the students aren't operating the machine there is a problem. Were they learning, yes. Were they empowered, no.
So what did I do? I decided to lose control and change it all. I changed the venue, the layout, and threw out some of the recipes we've always done to give my students agency over the planning. Culinary 1 and 2 made some of our tried and true recipes that staff and community members always look forward to, but I gave my Culinary 3 and 4 students complete control over what was made. In culinary 3, I had each food truck team plan a table with food showcasing their final destination in their journey across the United States; the Pacific Northwest. Teams planned dishes and calculated quantities needed to serve over 700 people as well as designed their table presentation. Culinary 4 students, came up with their own menu to serve that would showcase their skills.
In addition to giving students more agency over the preparation and planning, we changed the venue and layout of how food was served to allow for students to be at each of the stations and communicate with the guests. There was also a station set up for guests to vote on their favorite food truck so I could determine the final winners of our Amazing Food Truck Race.
Let me tell you, this was super scary! This was more than taking a risk that would only affect the students in my classroom. This risk could shake up a long standing tradition at South Medford High school. Community judges and staff members look forward to the refreshments every year and it is a way for us to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of our Seniors. I really didn't want this idea to fail.
After I set this new idea in motion. there were moments where I second guessed my sanity and decision to make such a bold move. Losing control is hard. It's uncertain. It's risky. It's just plain scary. However, as I was walking around my class on a day when I was especially feeling out of control.... I realized something. My kids were the ones in control. They all knew what they needed to do and they were getting it done. Do you know what was even better? They were excited! They had owned this experience and were empowered to make it the best they possibly could. They knew they were going to be serving their dishes to their peers, teachers, staff, community members and they wanted to impress!
At the event, students completely shined! They set up beautiful displays, were professional, and served amazing food! I received numerous comments from guests on how impressed they were with the quality of their food and their professionalism. I even heard feedback that they could tell my students were empowered.
Taking this huge risk reminded me that it is okay to be scared sometimes and jump out there on big things as well as small things. Traditions are great, but sometimes they need a little shaking up. Losing control can be a good thing....especially when it empowers our students!
Traditions. Those markers in time that hold special significance and memories that we cherish. There are many meaningful traditions at South Medford High School. However, the Senior Tunnel is my very favorite. It marks the passage of time; the end of an era and a relaunching of another. It is a time of reflection, gratitude, hugs, and tears.....lots and lots of tears.
To truly understand the impact of the Senior Tunnel, you have to step back four years to the Freshman Tunnel. When students begin their first year of high school they make a special entrance onto our campus by walking through a tunnel of staff members that reach from one end of our gym to the other. As students make the reluctant walk through, there is loud cheering, high fiving, and clapping to celebrate their arrival. Student leaders are in the surrounding area holding welcome signs eager to be introduced to their student teams. The gym is filled with electricity and excitement as Freshman enter this new big world we call high school with trepidation of all the unknown adventures ahead.
Now fast forward four years and this tradition comes full circle. On our Senior's last day of high school, we hold a special assembly called the Senior Tunnel. It begins with the Freshman Tunnel video. As our seniors watch the video of themselves and their peers entering high school as nervous Freshman, all of the memories created over their high school experience come flooding back. The gym is filled with laughter and tears as they see how much they've grown, changed, and matured over their time at South Medford.
What happens next is the part the most poignant of all. As the video ends, staff members move onto the gym floor and form a tunnel just like the one formed four years prior. However, this time the students aren't walking into the gym, they are walking out. Seniors come flooding out of their section in the gym and start filing through the tunnel. However, there is a stark contrast to how students approach the tunnel this time around. Instead of the fearful sprint through the tunnel they made as Freshman, there is hesitation as they approach. This walk is a symbol of the ending of an era. The tears don't take long to flow as Seniors begin slowly making their way through the tunnel making eye contact with those staff members who have made a significant impact on their high school experience. Instead of the high fives and cheers of their entrance into high school, there are hugs and lots of tears. It is a moment to look back on the journey that has brought them to this point; a chance to acknowledge all of the hard work and to show appreciation and gratitude to the adults that have shaped and helped them to this point. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of relationships and how each connection we make holds lasting value in the lives of our kids.
Every year I bring a box of tissue. Every year I cry crocodile tears. These kids have made an imprint on my heart. I hope that I have made a difference in their lives, but I know they have made a difference in mine. They have taught me that I never stop learning, growing, and refining to be the best teacher I can be.
This year the tunnel brought a whole new level of poignancy and emotion as this class held special meaning to me. It is my daughter's class. These are the kids that I watched her grow up with. The tears flow in full force as I not only reminisce about the high school memories, but I also remember kinder soccer, field trips, class celebrations, and slumber parties.
Then the moment comes that I have anticipated and dreaded. My daughter makes her way through the tunnel towards me. She embraces me and the tears become a sob. This tradition now holds a whole new level of significance. This tunnel may end an era, but also the promise of all that is to follow.
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.