Sunday, January 25, 2015


Dear Teachers,

It happened again yesterday.

At yoga class. I walked up to the desk to sign in, and the person there greeted me with a warm smile and said very enthusiastically, "Hi! I haven't seen you in so long!"

Which is kind of weird, because yesterday was only my third class at this particular yoga studio, and I'm 100% positive I had never met the friendly person before.

This happens to me more often than I can count: I meet a new person and they know someone who looks just like me. Almost everyone seems to have a cousin or a friend from high school that is my double. I am frequently mistaken for people's sister or dentist or former roommate. My brother swears my twin works at a diner near his home (to be clear: he knows I do not have a twin).

Are my face and demeanor really so common?

Often I will stop to consider what these look-alikes of mine do and what their lives might be like. I imagine one is fabulously wealthy and spends her time golfing and volunteering at adult literacy centers. Another one is an actress; one is a horsewoman. Several live in interesting cities abroad and speak more than one language fluently. Most are physically fit and have way better hair than mine.

That's the way it goes for most of us: the alternate lives we imagine for ourselves are significantly more interesting, glamorous, and (most of all) trouble-free than our actual lives.

Statistically, though, if there are people out there who resemble me, some of them have to have lives I wouldn't eagerly trade for. Maybe somewhere a twin of mine is working three jobs to support a family after escaping an abusive partner. Perhaps one holds a cardboard sign on a street corner, hoping someone will give her enough money for dinner, or a couple of drinks. Maybe one is trying to remember her life before she got involved in human trafficking; one is embroiled in petty jealousies and gossips endlessly and is mired in self-loathing; another struggles with addictions; one just got a terrifying health diagnosis. Chances are no one's going to say to me, "You look exactly like a client at the homeless shelter where I volunteer" - even though it's possible that's exactly what they're thinking.

The next time someone tells me I remind them of someone they know (and my history suggests that the next time will be soon), I will probably smile politely like I always do and say some version of "Yeah, I get that a lot."  I will hope that my doppelgangers everywhere will have, far more than fame or fortune or good hair, a spirit of compassion; a life that builds up and encourages others; extravagant kindness; and at least some experience of the redemptive power of love. If I happen to remind someone of a person with those qualities, I'd be okay with that.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Doing My Part to Tech Over the World

Dear Teachers,

In my continuing efforts to tech over the world (or at least, the tiny corner that is my school district), I offer some thoughts on what I've been doing this school year so far.

When planning tech training at a school, the first step is working with our ETSI teachers and/or the principal at each campus to determine a day when I can come for a full day of training.  During this initial planning phase, I try to get a sense of the level of tech use in that school so the choices I present will be in line with what teachers will feel successful (and not bored) trying.

At schools where many of the teachers are "tech timid," I offer easy on-board websites like Popplet and Padlet. For teachers who seem to be a bit more "tech intrepid," I've suggested sites that might require a little more time to learn, such as Thinglink and Powtoon. Here are a few examples of training menus that I have provided to teachers this year:

Example 1 - using a Thinglink/Popplet mashup (previously reported here). Mouse over the words for a description of each:

Example 2 - using Padlet. Click the image and the Padlet will open live in a new window.

Example 3 - using Powtoon, possibly my new favorite tool. Click Play to see how cool Powtoon can make your presentations:

In every instance, I have teachers reply to me using a Google Form. How did we ever live before Google Forms? They make so many aspects of my life so much easier! Teachers tell me their grade level, the lesson in which they would like to use the new tech, and the tech tool they'd like to learn about. The Google Form allows me to have all of their answers in one place. I request that I get all responses at least a week prior to my showing up at their campus.
After teachers respond on the form, I look over the accompanying Google spreadsheet to see what lesson the teachers are interested in "teching up a notch." I then try to locate that lesson in our district's online curriculum to see the objectives of the lesson so I can be sure to touch on them during my presentations. After I have a fairly good understanding of the curricular objectives, I take a look at the tech tool they have chosen and design a way to show how that tool can help students meet those objectives. 
I ask for the schedule of planning periods at the school. Then, to keep things straight in my own mind, I use the notes section of the calendar on my iPhone to help me remember who wants to learn about what, and in what order I'll be presenting. For example, this is my schedule from yesterday:

On the chosen day, I meet with each grade level during teachers' planning times. I remind them of their choices, and show them some examples of how their selected tech tool could enhance their selected lesson. I always try to tell teachers that I'm not there to give them one more thing to do (since every teacher I know has PLENTY to do already!), but that they should think in terms of substituting what I've shown them for something they might have been planning previously. 

In most cases, I have gotten a very warm reception from the teachers; I think that's because they've gotten to choose the training, rather than it being mandated to them like so many things are these days. And it is SO GRATIFYING when I hear the teachers say, "I can use this with my kids tomorrow!" or "My kids will love this, and I know they can do it - it's not as hard as it looked!" I also love it when they engage in conversations with each other about how "This would also be great for that ____ lesson" or "I wish we had known about this a couple of weeks ago when we were studying _____. This tool would have been perfect for that." I know they are starting to have ownership of the tool when I hear them talking about its additional applications! In addition to having some confidence that the teachers are likely to use the chosen tool in their classroom, it's also great for me because I don't get bored saying the same spiel 6 or 7 times. I haven't always presented things as clearly as I could have, and I've learned from those sessions so I can make things better the next time. But overall, I have felt fairly successful with this type of tech training. Others in my department are offering the same kinds of training, and I do believe that we are effecting some meaningful changes in our schools.

What about you? What are YOU doing these days to tech over the world?