reflection

Summer Break: Avoiding the Burnout

It has been a whirlwind since staff returned to school on August 1st. I started back myself on July 25th. Summer was at an end…and truth be told, it was an interesting summer for me. Usually, I spend summer continually learning and keeping up with professional development. I’ll read, research, tweet, and attend conferences or trainings. This summer, I did not. In fact, I did not do a thing that was related to education, and it was probably the best decision I made.

By the end of last school year, there were things occurring that made me unhappy. I disagreed with them (and still do). At the time, I was pretty angry. I also wasn’t feeling motivated to do anything. It took some time before I realized I was burning out, and fast. I was losing my desire and passion, and the last thing I wanted to do was work on continually learning through the summer. I had just ended year 9 of my educational career, so I suppose it’s good that it took that long before I started feeling the burnout creeping up on me.

I decided that I needed to cut myself off from everything related to education and learning for the summer. I would instead focus on the things that made me happiest and let me refuel my “spirit tank” so to speak. I rationed that by stepping away and taking a break, I would come back to work feeling more energized and ready to begin anew. I focused on my favorite hobbies instead. I bought a Nintendo Switch and played video games, mostly Splatoon 2. I focused on my rock kindness project and painted a lot of rocks to be sealed and hidden. I spent time journaling and working through my thoughts. There was even a 2-week visit to see my wife while she worked on an active duty assignment for the military.

When I returned on July 25, I felt so much better and ready to create new projects and provide assistance to my teachers. My passion came right back to me, and I felt energized for the new year. That energy has carried me forward and stayed with me. My current ITRT assignment is larger than last year, but my big goal is to do my best by my teachers because they are the ones who need me the most.

Having now been on the “other side”, I see why some teachers step away from anything education during the summer months and avoid anything related to work until they return to school for the new year. It’s hard to find joy and motivation when your battery is running on empty. Sometimes it takes that drastic step to step away from work and focus on one’s self. It may seem counterproductive, but it does work. Space gives time to think and work through issues and do the things that are most enjoyable.

Now that the school year has started, I plan to keep an eye on my own self and keep a check on any flare-ups of my burnout. That’s when I know to step away, recharge my energy, and then come back ready to go. It’s the only way I can be my best educator self and work at my highest levels for my staff.

Recap/Thoughts: Google Certified Trainer Bootcamp

Thursday and Friday of last week I headed to Orange, VA for Google Trainer Bootcamp. I was excited and eager to learn and to see how much I could prepare myself for the path of Google Trainer. Our Trainer was Sean Williams (@seani), and I found myself learning quite a bit!

My biggest takeaway from the bootcamp was how prepared I actually was for Google Trainer. Originally, I did not plan to apply for Trainer until May 2019 because I did not feel that I had enough material ready, nor did I feel very confident. By the end of the bootcamp, I had moved my application date from May 2019 to December 2018. I should be ready before that, but that’s the absolute latest I’m giving myself to turn in an application.

Prior to bootcamp, I had taken Kasey Bell’s (@shakeuplearning) VIP Google Trainer course. Even if you don’t take the VIP version, you’ll find yourself swimming in knowledge. Kasey provides a lot of information on teaching adults and becoming a Trainer in general. If you’re looking to become a Google Trainer, I highly recommend her course, especially if you are unable to attend a Trainer bootcamp in your area. She provides a lot of extra resources as well.

I have completed a good chunk of my Google Trainer application. I still need to create a video to submit, and of course, I need to take care of offering some more Google-based PD sessions. I offer PD all year long, but it’s not always related to Google, nor do I have the required materials/resources to accompany what I do offer, as most of it tends to be 1:1. I’m not sure what I want to showcase yet with my video. I’m going to peruse YouTube to see what others have done in their videos and hopefully, that will spark some ideas or at least give me a plan of action to follow.

The application did get me thinking about my goals for next year, and I have since been able to not only design my Google goals, but also my other goals for my role as an ITRT in my district. Here are the Google-based goals I have concocted so far:

  • Offer 2-3 session options a month (18-27 total) to staff in a 1:1 Tech Bytes format.
  • Offer 1 after school session per month to all district staff (9 total)
  • Offer 2 monthly scheduled sessions during the school day to staff at FCHS/FMS (18 in all)
  • Present at 1 conference on a Google topic
  • Add at least 1 Google tool/tip to the Fluco Toolbox resources section of my site per month (12 total)
  • Work with a small cohort of teachers in my district to train/prepare them to take the Google Certified Educator Level 1 exam in June 2019 (at least 6)

In addition to my goals being ready, I have already begun designing professional development sessions in a new format. I have developed a list of requirements that every PD session will have. I am requiring myself to have a Slide deck and an agenda with resources ready for every session. I created a master Slide deck to work from, as well as a master agenda template. Prior to every session, attendees will receive the agenda in a PDF and have access to the topics in advance. They can also check out the shared resources. This lets them think of potential questions to ask in advance.

So far, I’ve been able to develop 3 professional development sessions for next year. These are all on more advanced features of Google, and I’m planning to stay away from developing beginner sessions until I have flushed out a nice variety of advanced sessions. These sessions are designed so that I can use them as professional development or submit as part of a proposal to present at a conference. So far I have the following:

  • 6 Advanced Tips and Tricks for Google Forms
  • Google Calendar for the Busy Professional
  • Upping Your Google Forms Quiz Game

I’m also in the process of putting together sessions for Google Calendar on the Go! and Analyzing Google Forms data. I’ve got the list of key points to cover. I just need to complete some more research and put together the materials and images. It is definitely a lot easier to plan professional development with master templates and requirements for sessions!

Google Trainer Bootcamp is definitely worth it, so if you have the opportunity to attend one, I highly recommend doing so. It will definitely help you to prepare for the trainer application, and it also pays for your Trainer Skills Assessment exam.

 

Becoming a Google Certified Educator

As of Saturday, March 3, I have successfully passed both Level 1 and Level 2 exams to become a Google Certified Educator. This has been on my “to-do” list since I became an ITRT in Fluvanna County. I had originally intended to do it much sooner, but always put it off for one reason or another. That all changed when I had the chance to take boot camps on my district’s dime to better my craft. Of course, I jumped at the chance!

My journey to becoming Google Certified started with me working through some of the Google Training Center materials. I didn’t complete all of it for Level 1, and I learned a lot through hands-on application with other teachers. I had to take the Level 1 exam prior to Level 2 boot camp, so I instead used Kasey Bell’s Level 1 Matrix to see what I would need to know for my exam. I browsed the matrix and studied only the material I didn’t use often or didn’t feel confident using. My fellow Google colleagues told me that I based on what I did with my teachers and talked about with them meant I was pretty well prepared for the first exam.

I took the initial exam in December 2017 before winter break. It was far too easy for me, but that’s my own experience. I was able to finish it in just over an hour and felt very confident in my ability to pass. It wasn’t too long before I received the confirmation email with my pass status, and then later my Level 1 badge to display as proof of my knowledge.

From there, I waited for February and Level 2 boot camp. I opted to not complete any of the study materials in the Google Training Center this time around. This was mostly because I expected to get the best information from boot camp and not because I felt it was subpar. Until then, I continued exploring and learning G Suite.

Boot camp day rolled around, and I was excited. It was a very fast-paced, on your toes kind of day. I didn’t find the information to be too difficult, and by the end of boot camp, I felt very confident in my skillset. I planned to take the exam the following weekend, but that didn’t quite pan out. I actually forgot to take the exam because I was very involved in painting rocks. It was a good thing that I hadn’t registered for the exam yet!

It was probably a good thing I waited though because Kasey Bell released a Level 2 Matrix document that I could use to help me study. I reviewed the document, noting where I was weak and would probably have to Google something during the exam.

When I finally took the exam on the 3rd, I was very nervous. I knew from my tech friends who had already taken the exam that it was more in depth and would take me longer to complete. Because I’d completed Level 2 boot camp with EdTechTeam, I got a $25 voucher to cover the cost of the exam.

Taking the exam the 2nd time was indeed more difficult. I found that I would second guess myself quite a few times, and I had to look up more online than I had before. It also took me longer to complete, just over 2 hours this time around. I submitted my exam and was not completely sure that I passed. It was definitely a tense few minutes, that’s for sure!

In the end, I passed my exam. I was probably more excited than I had been for Level 1, but that’s because it felt so much harder on round 2. I’m pleased that I’m certified at Level 1 & Level 2, and I’m now ready to move on to my next goal – Google Trainer. I needed to have both of the GCE exams under my belt, and now I can focus on putting together all of the documentation for that instead. I have a long way to go, and I plan to apply for that in May 2019.

Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar, Round 2

If you’ll remember from this post, I worked with a group of 2 teachers to add some technology into the Socratic seminars they held with students every so often. It went over well, but I had some things I would have done differently upon reflection. Thankfully, I was contacted by two other teachers and had the chance to implement some new changes.

This time I had the pleasure of working with Virginia Staton and Theresa Scruggs, as well as their collaborative teacher, Janet Hunter. They had observed the work I’d done with the other two teachers and wanted to implement it with their own classes. I was more than pleased to assist, and they wanted my input because this was something out of their comfort zones. I assured them it was no problem, and that we’d take the risk and jump together.

Before I sat down with them, I sent them my observations from the previous seminar. Our first meeting consisted of them giving me insight on their classes, and me providing my thoughts and ideas. I wanted to change a few things from the previous time. I wanted to introduce just one new technology tool to the students, and I wanted to make sure they were introduced to it prior to the Socratic seminar. I wanted to also have smaller groups using this tool at a time so that the teachers facilitating each group could really focus on instruction with those students.

I felt that the benefits of Backchannel Chat were better for our first Socratic seminar over Padlet, so we focused on that tool. We would be completing the Socratic seminar on All Summer in a Day. Once our tool was selected, I focused on teaching it to each of the teachers and we had some practice chats during that training. Along the way, we discussed how to introduce the tool to students in the classroom to give them practice.

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It was decided that some time in class a few days prior would be spent introducing the tool to the students. I would assist where needed between classes. I would introduce digital etiquette and link the chat to digital citizenship, touching on how academic discussions are different than just chatting with friends. Then students would rotate in groups to get hands-on practice.

I had a chance to lead some of these groups. I usually had about 5 students at a time. We did a short refresher on what had been introduced to the entire group, and then we did a chat full of ice-breaker questions. I used the time to explain how students could answer or add more detail to comments, and also how they could continue the conversation. Each of these little sessions took 10-15 minutes.

On the day of the chat, the library was set up with the Socratic seminar table in the center, with two tables on either side of it for observers. Off to the left of that was the Backchannel tables. We had two tables, one for each group. Finally, in one of the mini computer labs, we had a research station. Since students would be reading All Summer in a Day, we wanted them to research on the real Venus vs. Bradbury’s Venus, and use that in their discussions. The rotation was as follows: Research, Backchannel Chat, Observation Table, Socratic Seminar. One of the teachers had gone a step further and made sure to add discussion starters/prompts to each Backchannel table. She had also given each spot at the Socratic seminar table a number placard and then assigned a matching placard to each spot at the Observation tables. That way, there would be no confusion over who was observing whom during the activity. It seems like a very simple touch, but it made a large difference.

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Each station was led by someone. Kate McDaniel, our librarian, and I led the Backchannel groups. Mrs. Hunter led the research team, and then Mrs. Staton and Mrs. Scruggs led the Socratic seminar groups. Teams had no problems rotating through stations, and students were able to implement the work from one station to the next. For example, students used the information gained during the research session in the Backchannel discussion, and then students used information from the Backchannel discussion for their turn at the Socratic seminar table.

Looking back through each group and their Backchannel discussions, I feel that the preparations we did in advance paid off. These students were able to give detailed discussions and even added to answers that classmates gave. While I worked with each group, I listened to the Socratic seminar sessions in the background and heard them using key points from the discussions we’d had in my group.

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Transitions were fantastic between groups, and while Socratic seminars were in session, groups were quietly engaged with each of their tasks. I was very pleased with the outcome, especially after looking over the transcripts. I had one group who gave very detailed answers, and they kept working on adding to what other members of their group. I would have loved to have had them longer just to have seen where their discussion would have led.

At the end of the day, I spoke with all involved, and we agreed that the first Socratic seminar had been successful with the students. In the future, we’d love to integrate Padlet, and then rotate the two tools in and out so that things are switched up. We are planning to do at least one more seminar this year and then plan on deciding how to begin using Socratic seminar earlier next year. I’m super excited!

 

A Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar

I spent most of my time yesterday with a team of 6th grade English teachers. These students were beginning their first Socratic seminar sessions in the library. Two classes come together. In the past, these classes have followed the traditional format for Socratic seminar where groups come together to discuss a text in a round table discussion setting. Some students were also along the sides taking notes as the discussion progressed, and others were observing the current session to provide feedback to classmates. The teachers were observing in the background as well, only stepping in to redirect if necessary.

This semester, the two teachers, Dawn Baber and Melanie Kennedy, wanted to change a few things with their seminars, and they wanted to add in some technology. They wanted to be able to assess student work after the task, and document student thought processes in terms of understanding the text. This would allow them to design further learning experiences for the students, as well as take notes for future instances where the text is used.

The first step was changing how the students took notes on the seminars that they were observing. Instead of taking pencil and paper notes, these teachers wanted to try using Padlet instead. Padlet would allow the students to see each other’s notes, and would also allow them to comment on each other’s replies to add to student notes. After the session, teachers can have students look back to these notes and add additional comments to keep the discussions flowing. It also becomes a way to review for any content quizzes or exams.

The second step was adding a backchannel chat option to the seminar. Originally, students in this section were observing and taking turns switching in to ask questions during seminars. The teachers had found an option for this called Backchannel Chat. They really liked the setup of this site, especially since students logging into a chatroom could have that login tied to their Google accounts. Students would be unable to create goofy names, or be anonymous with comments. Teachers could also remove comments or set the chat to moderated, even with a free account.

Originally, it was decided that Backchannel Chat would be used for students to post questions as they listened to the seminar in the center. However, when we implemented this, it did not work as well as we wanted. Students were so busy asking questions that they weren’t really focusing on the seminar in progress. Instead, this became an online discussion where students could ask questions and answer back and forth. I typically started the discussions with a question, and the students would take over after a few minutes.

We ran sessions every period, implementing these tools, and learned a lot along the way. There was definitely a lot of risk involved, and some failure along the way, but that’s how trying something new works. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it takes seeing the lesson in action to see the failure.

Based on both sessions, we realized that every class period needs a separate Padlet. The students were putting on short notes, which in turn added to the amount that had to load on the page. While Padlet can have unlimited users, it struggles to load massive boards, and our students encountered traffic jam error messages. I would also like to look at having students take notes in just one post on Padlet, versus every time they hear something new. It might make things a little easier. We also may look at removing it from Socratic seminar sessions, as it may not be the best tool for the job, and we don’t want to use it just to be using it.

Backchannel chat went over pretty well. We had issues with one of the groups in the last block of the day not being able to handle it, but otherwise students picked it up very quickly. It was nice to have a chat room that students cannot log into without their G Suite account. I could also mute students who were having trouble responding, and students were also able to “like” comments in chat.

Often, I started the chat with a question, and students began by answering that question. From there, they would discuss and ask more questions about the text. If I felt that things were a little quiet, I would through out another question based on the text, and that would help things pick up. We did have some students who did not respond, but they were engaged and following along with the chat. I think that with a few more sessions, these students will do much better.

The one group I mentioned above did have issues with chat. They were not ready to handle it in a group that size (about 10 students), and would often spam chat with ridiculous hashtags or unneeded information. The good thing was that I could remove comments and warn them first, then switch them to read only if they continued. With this group, I would try again with a smaller amount of students.

The best positive from using Backchannel Chat as the session the groups would attend before doing a Socratic seminar in the center of the room was that they were able to prepare better. They could pull from questions they had asked in chat, and continue discussions from chat. We noticed an improvement in the conversations that took place once we were using Backchannel as an online discussion tool instead.

The other great positive with Backchannel was that we set a Chromebook by the seminar leader at the center table. When they couldn’t think of a question, they could pull one in from chat and use it. Of course, students with me were pleased when they heard their question used in the discussion.

Overall, a lot of positives occurred, but so did a lot of failures. We are using these failures to redesign and rethink the next session so that we see more successes. Who knows what Socratic seminar will look like next time?