Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Myth of Monotasking | HASTAC

The Myth of Monotasking | HASTAC

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Technology and Pencils

I'm at a Common Sense Media presentation with a student panel.

Students are sharing the dangers of the internet and how to avoid them.

I asked if any of them had ever been had any direct conversations with educators or parents about how to productively use social media in their classes. None of the teenagers had been given an assignment using social media.

So I wonder...

When we gave pencils to students, we immediately began teaching them the positive uses, so why, when we give students mobile devices and laptops, does our education focus on avoidance of potential dangers. Did we teach our students first and foremost to avoid stabbing each other with pencils?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How My PLN Saved My Life

Whenever I’ve been asked how building an Online Personal/Professional Learning Network has impacted me - my first internal reaction is that they saved my life. In order to explain how, you need some context first:

Born and raised in a high-achieving school district with the strong, mental stick-to-it-ive-ness of my mother. She ran a tight ship and I needed it. I was a teenage pill - self-righteous and wise beyond my years, they said. In order to get through college, I became a crossing guard, a 2nd and 4th grade teacher’s aide, then a writing tutor. All in the district from which I had graduated. I secured a teaching position at my alma mater and as much as I felt I was better than my peers when I was in high school, I did get along with my teachers. I had found a comfortable personal and professional space for me to test my professional boundaries and fearlessly suggest new ideas without fear of (too much) criticism. It was home. As often happens, administrators saw my fearlessness and talents and fostered my skills as a teacher into more leadership positions.

The next thing I knew, I was an English Department Curriculum Leader at a new high school in the district and ultimately felt a need to gain some experience outside of my comfort zone. I applied in neighboring districts and suddenly, after only teaching for five years, I was a Vice Principal at a neighboring high school in another District.

I searched for resources and people with whom I could connect in the same ways I had done in my “home” District. I wanted it. I craved it. I came to need it. Isolated, alienated and confused by too many new systems, I became depressed. I felt impotent. I continued to try to find ways out of my hole, and applying for the Google Teacher Academy seemed like one way to distract myself and maybe feel competent once again. It only took one person to encourage me to apply - I was desperate for any affirmation that I wasn't crazy and I had a voice that someone might want to hear, and I was willing to give my (previously) fruitless attempts at connection one. more. shot.

The rest is history: Facebook, Twitter, the CUE Conference(s), MacWorld, the CUE staff, meeting new people at GWEs, and the superb, unequalled Rock Star Faculty?

It started with one person who believed in my talents. Then it grew to one small group of folk who knew WAY more than I did, and were willing to let me tag along. Then it became a world-wide family. That I love. They are my second family and they saved my life.

So here’s my thank you - whether you know it or not, at some point you said something at just the perfect time - you’ve given me more than I could ever repay:

So...whose life will you save today? 

What are you saying to your colleagues that empowers them or brings them down? 

We all have a story - what is yours and when was the last time you took the time to discover someone else’s? 

Particularly the other people who care so deeply about our future and our children?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Raul - The Google Translate Story

I've been asked to repeat this story multiple times (thrice in rather public places and more times than I can count privately), so I decided to just make it into a post for...posterity's sake...and lest I forget...

As an English teacher turned instructional leader who embraces global perspectives and doesn’t know any other languages (unless you count Pig Latin), my greatest professional insecurity is being unable to communicate and connect with other people. Words matter and that’s why I got into this gig and what I love so much about it.
But I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge.

So when I became a Vice Principal at a public high school with a significant population of English Learners, I sought out every opportunity available to throw myself into the English Learner population. I volunteered to work with the English Learner Advisory Council and the English Language Development classes and teachers. I had been to the Google Teacher Academy and gathered the great people you have with you right now...around me...and used their support to keep my determination going.

At the start of this school year, I met Raul - no more than 4 feet 10 inches and 90 pounds soaking wet. He was an English Learner, significantly disabled and flirting with gang activity and 14 years old. I met with him multiple times each week, mostly at my own prompting and to his chagrin. He would sit, stone-faced and we would have our battle of wills in which I would usually win. But as much as he pretended that I was just some crazy teacher in an office, I was his safe place to land when he’d get thrown out of class by a substitute or he just didn’t want to get into a fight this week with another student. Raul was failing his classes. All of them. He told me he didn’t want to come to school and saw no point in being there. His attendance solidified his sentiment. I tried time and time again to meet with his mother, but calls went unreturned, notes home went unanswered.

So when I received a note stating that Raul’s mother would be coming in to meet with me and Raul, I cleared my schedule immediately. I frantically searched for someone available to translate to no end so when Raul’s mother showed up, and there was no translator still yet available, I attempted my best attempt at Spanglish until I Google Translate App.

I whipped that bad boy out and immediately began typing into it furiously (later on, realizing I could have expedited this process by just speaking into my iPad, but I was concerned with communicating in any way possible). I played my voice. But it wasn't in English. It was in her native language.  

And tears began to trickle down his mother’s face.

CRAP! What have I done?

She said to me, in her broken English - “Thank you...this is the first time in Raul’s school that there is nothing between you and me talking. Thank you.”

She wanted to see what I was typing into the iPad as I typed it and played it back - completely enthralled and fascinated by this tiny little app. The rest of the conference went well and she walked out ready to kill Raul for his grades and eternally grateful to me. I asked Raul to stay after the meeting to speak with him about how he felt about the meeting, but all he wanted to know was what that app was and what else it could do. We hopped on my MacBook and into Google Translate. His eyes lit up and he couldn’t ask enough questions about its capabilities.
When it became clear that we were done for now, he asked me two questions and the most determined statements I heard ever come from him.  “Do you think I could do something like this, or maybe be a translator someday myself?” I said “Yes, absolutely, Raul”. Then, he asked, “Do I need to graduate high school to be a translator?” “Yes, Raul”, I said with a smirk and finally, “I’m going to help my mom learn English with this.” And as he left, he said “I think I’ll come to school tomorrow.”

And then it was time for me to cry.

Raul finished his 9th grade year with improved attendance and he will not be transferred to the continuation school now because he was able to bring his grades up enough to be on track to graduate.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Breaking the Barrier - For One Moment

As hard as it is sometimes to break through cultural barriers, I had a bitter-sweet moment today. I have a student who moved from Mexico at the start of this school year, with no previous English instruction nor exposure. He was 17 years old.

He quickly disappeared off of our radar - never coming to classes and not answering the door when home visits were attempted.

One day, he came back to his classes. His Counselor immediately pulled him out of his class to discuss his attending Adult Education (he was days away from turning 18). The student never came back. Until today.

While the conversation below may seem very one-sided, what is missing is the fact that this student began to cry as I typed my words in English and he read them in Spanish. He was able to clearly say one thing to me in broken English "Thank you, Ms. Calhoon. No one speak my language to me, but you."

The last statement was written by the student as he was "proving" to me that he was, in fact, going to continue with Adult Education.