(This post was written 5/1/09 but is just now being published)

As a result of decisions made by the leaders in my district, today has been a day of great change in my life and I now find my professional career taking a turn in a direction that was unforeseen just few months ago, but welcomed. Let me preface this whole reflection by stating that this change isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply a change due to uncontrollable circumstances in our struggling economy and I am grappling with what this means for me as an educator.

So I found out today that I will no longer be a technology coach for 2 of the 3 middle schools in our district. This is a job I have been lucky enough to do for the past 2 years, something I have grown to love and developed a sincere passion for! Part of me is sad, part of me is bitter and part of me is excited about the change on the horizon. I am full of mixed emotions to say the least. I know, you are thinking ‘enough already…suck it up…these are tough times and you are one of thousands losing their jobs so stop being so selfish.’ Yes, I am losing my job but thankfully I am able to slide right into another position (7th grade social studies-civics/geography) in the same district without missing a beat. Also, I am sensitive enough to realize that unfortunately this isn’t the case for many people suffering lay-offs in our “jacked-up” economy. So please know that I am not writing to complain or blame. I am grateful!

Let me start by saying that I have never lost a job. And I have had my share of jobs…from digging holes and laying sod, surveying houses, loading/blasting thousands of pounds of high-explosives in holes in a quarry, delivering pizzas for Domino’s to bagging groceries at the local supermarket. During all my years of employment, I have never been asked to leave a job…until today. No, it wasn’t a total surprise. Rumors have been floating around for a few months and I had somewhat prepared for the possibility of being cut. In fact, I already my eye on a classroom position just in case I got this news. But it still doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow now that the news is “official.” Am I sad because I won’t be doing what I love anymore? Yes, for many selfish reasons. But I am really sad because we as a school district have made a huge investment in providing the tools, infrastructure AND SUPPORT to our teachers so they can effectively grow as professionals and successfully meet the needs of their students in our changing world and stay true to our vision. We have made it our goal as a district to be a leader among leaders and truly create life-long learners. Our teachers across the district, K-12, ALL have an amazing set of tech tools in their classrooms (projectors, doc cameras, student-response systems, audio systems, tablet pc’s, digital slates, etc.). But we haven’t just dumped the tools on them and left them to figure it out. Everyone knows that doesn’t lead to success. We wisely beefed up our technology coaching staff and have, for the past 2 years, provided intensive support to help ensure that our teachers could effectively use the tools to change what they do and provide their students with the experiences, skills and opportunities they need and demand to find success in this “flattening world,” as Friedman says. Well, our plan has been overwhelmingly successful (at least in my opinion)! We have lots of teachers who are flying high and the ball is definitely rolling, but there is still so much work to be done.

However, in this struggling economy budgets are cut and tough calls have to be made, like the one that prompted this whole post. I, along with 3 other tech coaches, have been reassigned, making our district’s tech coaching staff go from 10 to 6 serving 17 schools. But please don’t misunderstand me…I realize some districts have no tech coaches and that we are extremely lucky to be able to retain 6 of the 10 positions. And as I said above, I am grateful to have a job during these uncertain times and work in system that isn’t letting these tough times change the vision. But even with 10 coaches, providing adequate support for all the teachers was always a challenge, so with 6 it’s going to be even tougher and I am afraid we will suffer in certain areas where we were starting to see growth. Hopefully this is only temporary but there will be negative consequences. One of my administrators used this analogy and I like it.

“We have been driving a race car wide-open for the past 2 years, but now with these changes, we need to simply see if we can keep gas in the car a keep it on the road.”

After being in that car for some time and maybe even pressing the gas to the floor a time or two, I know that in order for growth to occur…for this change to happen within our schools, which I believe we all see as an imperative step towards the future success of our nation, support has to be there! There are numerous blog posts, journal articles, books as well as countless students and teachers to back this up this claim. So that’s why I am sad. For 2 years I got to be a supporting part of this change, of something much bigger than me and one classroom. I witnessed professionals developing, I watched students engage that had never engaged before, I saw minds opened to new ideas…I saw change with my very own eyes. And to be a small part of that, experiencing it daily and knowing that it can and does happen is what has driven me…it’s my passion and it’s what I have grown to love! I would be lying if I didn’t say that it’s going to be very tough to change gears as I begin to shift my focus back to the classroom. But as I do begin to look towards next year as classroom teacher again, I must look back and recognize that I got 2 years of the best professional development possible and enter into this new phase with an amazing network of professionals surrounding me that won’t allow me do anything but succeed! That’s the power of the PLN and I love it! Now the challenge becomes translating it all into creating a 7th social studies classroom where kids will come to be challenged, feel valued and learn how to contribute to something much larger than themselves! One door closes and another is opened…but regardless, I am a teacher and opening lids is my job! And do you really think the teachers will stop emailing me when they want to try something new or need to know how to set up a VoiceThread account? Yeah right…

I struggle with how and when is best to teach someone new stuff. I can teach someone the same thing 2 or 3 times and if I offered to do it a 4th time, they may take me up on it. When does it become enough? I am not saying there's anything wrong with the person OR with what's being taught. I think it all revolves around the willingness to change and the openness to new things on an individual basis. I have worked with my 8 year old on blogging...I set him up a blog, showed him how it works, how to get pics off of his digital camera and helped him post a few things AND STILL he could really care less about blogging. It just isn't important to him at this point in his life. Yes, I see the benefits of starting him young and teaching him the power of writing for an audiance, creating a positive digital footprint, etc. But he just doesn't get it because HE doesn't want to get it or he doesn't see the importance of it. So should I bother? Should I teach him something that he doesn't see as important for his life? OR, should I work hard to teach him the "why" in hopes that he will begin to the see the importance and then take on the challenge of learning something new for himself, making a personal connection to whatever that may be so that it has meaning to him and not just me? I am pretty sure the latter is the better choice. Well, I KNOW the latter is the better method but I often find that I teach something and try planting seeds in soil that isn't ready. All that to say I think there is something to be learned from nature, which is lots of cultivation paired with critical timing is a necessity for proper growth to occur. Trying to facilitate growth when the conditions are not right can lead to discouragement. But being there when all things are aligned is a pretty amazing thing to witness and knowing you are an active part of that is truly indescribable. It's why I teach.

Here's a blog post which I wrote a while back and intended to use as my first post for my new blog but obviously forgot about. Well, when Liz Davis asked a on Twitter if anyone had a post telling about PLN's, I remembered that this was sitting lonely on my desktop just waiting to be published or trashed. Well, here it is, so read on if you want to know my feelings about PLN's. And as it was orginally titled, a simple question is what motivated me to finally get my lazy butt in gear and create a blog so I can share and not just be a "lurking" consumer.

"Twitterpoll Question from @courosa leads to my first blog post"

So the question posed by Dr. Couros was “what is a PLN?” Seemed like a pretty simple, straightforward question, right? But then again, if it had a simple answer I don’t think Dr. Couros would need to ask his PLN for their ideas on the topic. Anyway, I decided to weigh in on this discussion and devoted some thought to this question. I have a PLN but really haven’t tried to describe it. I have talked about PLN’s with the teachers at my 2 middle schools but I really haven’t defined it in any certain terms…much less in 140 characters (actually, 132 characters by the time I added in the @courosa to respond on Twitter). So I distilled out what I thought was a somewhat thoughtful response and tweeted it. Well, just like any good steward of Twitter, Dr. Couros responded to my answer. But his response was another question! Isn’t that what good teachers do...use good questioning techniques to get students thinking on higher levels? Of course it is. And he must be a good teacher because his question led me to closely examine this definition of what a PLN really is…to discover what it means to me personally. It’s not that defining a PLN has been a pressing issue for me or something that I have lost sleep over. It’s the fact that I entered into a conversation, shared my thoughts and then the conversation didn’t just end. It was been furthered by his response and question…a true conversation. Now I am engaged and the ball’s in my court! I could very easily leave it alone and go read some blogs or tweets, but then I would be cheating myself out of this moment of discovery. This conversation has become a learning opportunity for me, my chance to create meaning and gain a better understanding for myself…a meaning and understanding that I can then share with my PLN. And then maybe I can further this conversation or enter into a new one, but the difference will be that I have something NEW to bring to the community because of my personal discovery. Isn’t that our goal for our students…for them to authentically engage in the learning process so as to create/discover meaning that is useful to them personally? Isn’t that what a PLN is all about…To act as a source AND catalyst for this sort of thought-provoking conversation and authentic experience mentioned above that leads us to a point where are required to engage, to reflect, and ultimately to contribute instead of just consuming? I don’t know if I defined a PLN or could explain it in 140 characters, but my PLN has been and will continue to be a major part of my learning experience. It’s a must is we really want to be life-long learners in the 21st Century.

Click to read Dr. Couros' thoughtful post about PLN's and to see all the responses he received from Twitter folks.

A cheesy graphic I made which may be more confusing than anything else!

One of the hottest 2.0 tools being used at my schools right now is Glogster EDU (click to visit Glogster EDU and also check out my getting started handout here) In case you are wondering about "glogster," it's a digital poster-making tool and is loved by students AND teachers as a way to present information. It's flashy, easy to use and gives students the ability to really personalize their content and make something that is unique and easy to share with their peers, parents and teachers. And just to share, I learned about Glogster from @cbrannon who is an awesome science teacher at my school. Oh the power of sharing...

So how do I teach more teachers and students how to use it?
I don't...they do! You see, I spent time during a TechIn20 Session on Glogster helping a few curious folks get started with the tool. Well, over the past few weeks one of those curious 6th grade science teachers started using glogster with her students, saw the value of it and decided to help another 6th grade science teacher's class get started with it (our 6th grade is made up of 3 teams). So basically, here's what happened...One science teacher started using Glogster, taught her kids how to "glog" and used it as part of a unit in her class. After her kids proved to be proficient "gloggers," she sent them to the science class on another team (where the kids & teachers were unfamiliar w/Glogster) and they taught those kids as well as that science teacher how to "glog." That teacher (the one who learned from the students, not me) then sent her students to the 3rd team and helped them learn how to "glog." NOW that science teacher is preparing her students to teach the math teacher nextdoor how to "glog." As my boss would say, that's a great example of "force multiplication." I taught one who taught another who taught another...and you get the picture. If you don't, then check out the graphic below.

Now all 6th grade 3 teams at one of my schools have a new, fun tool in their toolbox that they can readily use! That's a great success and I applaud my awesome teachers for spreading their passion for this tool and opening up to allow the students to teach them something. Afterall, a teacher must be a life long learner, right? And what better way than learning from their students is there for a teacher to demonstrate that teachers are learners too? Also, I am finding that Glogster is a great tool for getting teachers to test the 2.0 waters and see that it's not all sharks and jellyfish! Now I just need to get this model going in all curricula across 6th, 7th and 8th grades at both of my schools. Just seeing the results from this experiment excites me and shows me the the power of teachers and students sharing as equals in what they know, what they want to learn and what they can accomplish! All of this because someone shared...

To see some of Mr. Brannon's student Glogs on Body Systems, visit his wiki here.

This is a video I saw first posted on Twitter by @chrislehmann.    Here's the 3 tweet conversation...

There's a little Twitter talk for you in case you wonder how it goes down.  

So here's the video.  It's obviously meant to bring a smile and maybe even a laugh, poking fun at the apparent differences between digital resources and physical textbooks from a student's pov.  But it says so much more.  I think this is something that teachers, especially those who aren't very comfortable or confident with embracing new technologies, could watch with their students and then follow up with a conversation.  Who knows where it might lead!?  If there is an openness and students feel that their feelings and ideas are respected, they may be able to help their teacher understand why students today consider digital resources to be a vital part of their learning.  This isn't to say that teachers who love their textbooks need to toss them out, but there does need to be an awareness that the rich digital environments where many of us learn do offer things that a textbook can't touch.  I may just pitch this video and idea to a few of my teachers and see what kind of conversations are stirred.

And one more thing...does anyone else think the textbook industry and the prices they charge for these static objects that don't even have hyperlinks is a bit crazy?  It's a racket if you ask me.

So this is my first post on my first Professional blog devoted to technology and learning (I've had a family blog for about a year). This blog is one of those things that I’ve agonized over, procrastinated on for months and basically just put off until now. I even skipped an entire day and a ½ WITHOUT TWEETING! You see, I am sitting on 999 updates (well, I was!) and I decided to make my 1000th update a link to this blog, which meant I had to get this thing going!

Actually, making the blog was the big hurdle. What should it look like? What widgets do I put on it? What do I call it? How do I edit HTML to make it work like I want it to? What links do I put on it? All those kinds of silly things that don’t really matter to anyone but me have consumed WAY to much of my time in the creation phase of this thing, yet I did get it how I want it…for now. The next hurdle I have stared at for too long is the question of what do I have to say to the edtech world that someone hasn’t already posted? There are so many AMAZINGLY BRILLIANT folks contributing to the edublogosphere that I wonder if there is room for one more voice and if I even have anything original or valuable to say? Well, I guess we will find out!

So my reflection for this post is on silencing my “tweeter” for almost 2 days! I didn’t stop reading tweets…I just refrained from sending. I was present but just couldn’t say anything and didn’t participate in the conversation. And that’s what Twitter has become for me- a giant conversation w/Giants that changes quickly, challenges deeply and consistently equips me with the best resources and ideas for doing my job better. I don’t think I realized how much I share (which is very little compared to many of those I follow) until I stopped. Replying to others, retweeting, sharing links, posting TwitPics, adding in my comments and random tweets throughout my day are things I have grown very attached to and somewhat dependent on. I think many of us start our day with Twitter. I check Tweetdeck before reading email or Google Reader. It’s one of those tools that has gone from a novelty to a necessity for me. So let’s just say, I am glad the blog is up, the silence…or should I say “twilence” is lifted and I can get back to the conversation, as well as a few things here at work that have been neglected while getting this done.

And as for this whole starting a new blog thing…

It’s sort of like getting a new car. First, you research for weeks, shop around and kick lots of tires. Next, you buy it, get the seat adjusted, position the mirrors, tune the radio and press all the buttons. Finally, you are ready to take it out for that initial drive when you are not really thinking about where you are going and instead, focusing on enjoying your new ride. But pretty soon you get settled and it becomes less about the car and more about what it’s meant to do…which is get you from one place to another. I think that’s how this blog will be…I will quit tweaking the widgets and just start using it as a place to post my thoughts, reflections, and connect with others. Only time will tell if really discover the power that this thing has and really start using it for its original purpose, which is to share and connect.