Shifting The Notion of Writing

As I began thinking what I want my seventh graders to walk away with this year from the content that I am teaching, my mind continually goes to, “How will I get them to love writing?”  I feel confident that I can get them to love learning in my classroom.  I can build strong relationships to transform these students into empowered learners, but loving writing is a different challenge, a more personal challenge.

As a child, I loved writing things.  My parents lovingly remind me that at the age of three I asked every person I saw their name, how to spell it, and I would write it in my journal.  In fourth grade, I won a cultural arts award in the category of Composition from a story I wrote about my move from Illinois to Texas. I am writing this to say that as a child I enjoyed it, but somewhere along the way that enjoyment stopped.  Somewhere along the way I got the idea that I could not write, I was not as good as others, I did not have anything to say, and I was being told what to write.

This feeling lasted many, many years.  Actually, it wasn’t until two years ago when listening to an inspirational educator speak about blogging and the many reasons why that I began to write for me. (Thank you, George!) Yes, I was thinking about an audience as I wrote, but I felt inspired because I had found a way to get all of the thoughts that were spinning around in my head out.  It was blogging!  And it relaxed me.  I enjoyed it!   Even if no one else read them, I had found a way to share my thoughts, feelings, and have my voice heard.

It is this last reason that I feel is most important and I want my students leaving my classroom with this imprinted on their hearts.  I want each one of them to know that they can write to let their voice be heard.  They can do this as a kid, a teenager, and as an adult.  It should never stop.  It is hard being a kid, but especially hard during these teenage years when they have so many emotions and feelings that they are learning how to deal with and not sure who to talk to or if they even want to.

Side Note: It takes me back to when I was in middle school writing in my diary that I kept under my mattress, until my boyfriend discovered it. Gasp!  Then in high school the diary I wrote in every single night was on a computer like this!

I have always loved typing, and until recently did not even realize that this was writing.  This was my way of sharing my voice and feeling heard. Thankfully, a real person never heard it.

This is where I think the disconnect is in teaching writing and developing the love of writing in our students.  Similar to reading, when we tell them what to write it becomes a job. When they are given time to write in meaningful ways to them, they learn all of those things we are required to teach them. And they actually remember them!  I hope to share my love of writing for reflection and letting my voice be heard this year and that my sweet, precious students learn to do the same!




I Froze and It’s Okay!

The following thoughts are the start of a blog I began in September! That should show just how disconnected from the world of blogging I have been. 

Week 3 #IMMOOC thoughts….

Listening to the passion from Kaleb R. was awesome! Something he said really stuck with me.  When asked his advice on how to take all this passion and energy a leader brings to a place and have it continue after the leader leaves his response was around the book Multipliers.

Look inward towards your passion, and find the ability to tell a story around it.

It should tell:

WHO you are.
WHY you are in your space.
WHY you do what you do.
WHY you LOVE it!

This is powerful!! Imagine if we all were to ask ourselves these questions.  Would we be able to answer them?  It made me think that I want my child to be in a classroom where the teacher knows who they are, why they are in that space and why they love doing what they do.

You know what? I have thought about this blog every. single. day.  For the first time in a long time, I hstruggled to write down what was on my mind.  

By the time I sat down to do it I was so exhausted.  I couldn’t gather the energy or even remember what I was reflecting about.  IF I had energy and remembered, it was one of those things where I felt so behind was there even a point to try to catch up.  Nope.  

I truly just froze and couldn’t muster up the energy to begin again after feeling so far behind.  I admit it was not the best approach, but being honest with myself about not being able to do it all helped overcome this.

Well…those days are past.  I must remind myself that no matter how short the entry, blogging is for me and my processing.  It is my story after all. 🙂

The thoughts of this blog have not changed one bit since beginning it months ago.  Participating in The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC was such a great experience.  I needed to share these thoughts, even if they are incomplete and just something to think about. I need to write. What better way to start again than writing about being fearlessly authentic!

Excuse Me, Life…Can I Have Time To Process?

Sofie taking in the gorgeous city of Chicago one morning. #reflecting

I procrastinate on things I have zero interest in doing until the very last second and I HAVE to do them.  Then, I go into panic mode to complete them.  It’s true.  I will admit it.

I am also a compulsive tab-hopper.  Although I may not know the correct term for this, I do know that this article tells us why we do it. In short, the article says, your brain is releasing dopamine receptors that are giving you the illusion that you are being more productive. Your brain, however, is not actually processing all of these stimuli.” 
(I may or may not have tab-hopped and ran across that while taking a break from writing a paper and wanted to read about something else I heard about earlier that day, which led to this article that I ended up reading.)

All of the above mentioned to say, I have not blogged in a month.  This weighs on my mind every single day. It’s not because I lack the learning to reflect on because that simply is not the case.  At all.  I am on learning overload, but would not change it for the world because I am a Learner. I thrive in an environment where I can learn something new, question things, and feel the excitement of learning.

To take this a step further, it excites me more when I can share this new learning with others in hopes of it sparking a better idea that they share, and so on.

I had two big realizations after reading that article:

1.   Is this how our students feel?
          – information overload
          – no time to reflect or process in the shuffle
          – panicked over procrastinating because they are asked to do things
            of zero interest to them
          – tab hopping because it this is when they can learn about things
             that they choose

2.   Only I can change my situation in this matter.

As I was talking with a friend last night while watching my daughter at tumbling, these words came out of my mouth:

“….I know. I know. I really am incredibly lucky to be able to have the opportunity to learn from so many amazing leaders throughout this internship and my classes, but I HAVE NOT HAD MUCH TIME TO PROCESS and REFLECT on these things.”  

Right after I said it I stopped and thought quietly, “You have time for what you make time for.”  There are things I can stop in order to carve time for this because without reflection time where I can mentally put my new learning into a file and organize how and when I will use this, what’s the point?

So this blog is nothing of amazing, deep thought.  It is simply me acknowledging today, this 20th day of October 2016, that I must intentionally set an alarm or write the date in my calendar to reflect on my learning.  I must do this to secure it in my brain before it all flies by and I have not grown from this experience because I never made time to stop and really reflect.

The Power of Commenting

I am writing tonight as a result of my learning from my own blog post yesterday.  (Yes, you read that right.) Here is what happened.

I was reflecting on the thought discussed in the #IMMOOC about our moral imperative to share our story.  Like I always tell people, I write for my own learning.  I write to secure ideas and thoughts in my brain. If someone sees my writing and it helps them, even better. What I was not expecting were comments on my blog post.   So I am writing tonight to share two things: 
1. How commenting on other people’s blogs can inspire others.
2. My new learning came through realizing how “Sharing Our Story” can mean many things to many people.  Through these comments, it reminded me that not only do we share to grow as teachers and help each other, but we also need to shout the positive loudly. People will talk. Let’s help them talk about the AMAZING things we are doing in education!! Let’s share the awesome things we are doing with our community and other communities.  Positivity spreads. 
The final thing I want to share came from one sweet woman’s comment on her connection with my reflection and this quote.  
Reading her comment inspired me to go find this quote and something about it weighed heavy on my heart.  Then it hit me…..We cannot allow our deepest fear to be the fear of being too much for someone!  Or entertain the idea of feeling different because we share our passions, our dreams, our stories.  This is not okay.  
We have to let our light SHINE and never, ever water down who we are because of this fear!  So many incredible things come from knowing what we share comes from a place of love to make this world an even better place.
Thank YOU “sweet lady blog commenter” for inspiring new learning in me and empowering me to share even more. 🙂  
Share on, friends! 

My Aha Moment On Blogging

You know sometimes you have those moments when it takes a little longer for something very obvious to click, but when it hits you….it HITS you?!  Not to offend anyone, for me personally they are called blonde moments. 🙂

That was me last night in one of my favorite Twitter chats that I participate in on Sunday nights. #iaedchat  Okay, if I am being honest, it really HIT me in the early hours of this morning.

The question posed was about Digital Portfolios.  I instantly thought about how students submit work for their own portfolio, and joined the tweets with this perspective.  What I neglected to think about in that moment was blogging as a digital portfolio. I’m not sure why! I have read George Couros’s blog on this concept and discussed it with other Twitter friends out there.  Like I said, blonde moment!

As a teacher, my students blogged and looked back at their blogs to reread things and learn from people who responded.  As a parent, I went through a time where my daughter and I were establishing her blog presence in a way we both agreed upon. 🙂  You see, what a 3rd grader wants to freely blog about and what her mother feels is okay are sometimes different.  I realized I needed to teach this digital understanding before just letting her go!

Why in the world did I not think about my own blog as my Digital Portfolio? 

Not a clue! I guess I have always thought of blogging as showing student learning or reflecting my thoughts – not my learning or work. I have actually referenced this blog to show examples of digital projects I did with certain age groups to someone else so they could try them.  Isn’t that one reason we, as teachers, would have a portfolio? To keep track of our learning and share with others.  

Why do we, teachers, not think WE need to have a Digital Portfolio?

It’s a new kind of thinking!  Maybe we just need to change the way we think about our purpose of blogging?

How do we shift from using blogs to show the things our students can do to using them for our reflection, growth, and our digital portfolio? Or can they be the same?

If we are consciously thinking of this, maybe just this shift in thinking is what it will take. Some teachers I know think of blogging as reflecting on their learning, but many teachers think blogging is a way to document and show what they are doing with their students for the parents. My first few years blogging, this is exactly why I blogged.  But wait..can’t you blog to reflect on learning, use as your digital portfolio, and show what your students are doing?

Now that I am thinking more about my blog not just as a reflecting spot for my learning, but as my digital portfolio, I can blog with the perspective that I will continually refer back to these entries to share with others and to see how much I have grown.  Like an anchor chart! Funny thing is, I have used it this way!  Just like we hope for our students when they blog, when others comment and question my entries it makes me rethink and question my thoughts. This deepens the learning for all of us!  How awesome is that? It doesn’t mean if I blog it can only be geared one way.

It just means this…..

I am growing!  I am putting my learning process out there so that I can refer back to it whenever I need to.  I have found a new love for writing through blogging. How is that?  It forces me to reflect on my learning experiences which leads to even more growth by reflection.   That is all I can ask for!

I guess I can say my blonde or Aha moment created an awesome reflecting and growing opportunity for me!  🙂

First, Digital Divas -> Next, Twitter ->Then, Personal Growth -> Last, CHANGE!

There is a lot of talk about “The Twitter” these days in education.  It almost has turned into a buzzword, and if you are “doing it” at your campus then you are a rockstar and the most tech savy, knowledgeable teacher out there.  Don’t be fooled.  If you are tweeting with no reflection or process, chances are you are not really reflecting, which leads to growing!  If you have never used Twitter or professional purposes, I urge you to connect, but Twitter isn’t the only way to connect.

In this AMAZING book by three amazing educators I connected with on Twitter they elaborate on the idea of connecting through many outlets. These are people I have never met, but I liked what they stood for from participating in a chat session and followed them.  They are so kind and genuine in wanting to connect and help educators.  

As I met with my P2LN the other evening, I connected this to the book I am reading and began to think of what I do differently since becoming connected with them. (Not sure what P2LN is?  The P to the power of 2 stands for Personal and ProfessionalI wasn’t either until I read the book below.  It is a MUST read.  So many amazing ideas and examples.  An ideal campus book club selection!  It will change your life.  .

Here are 2 huge factors that played a role in my connected educational journey, so far!

First, is a group a dear friend and my fellow late night collaborating colleague, Erin Gerdes, started among educators with like minds to meet and discuss the digital changing we were going through. We meet every single month, even through the summers to collaborate, share ideas, learn, and grow.  This turned into our classrooms of students collaborating through Skype and other things across schools in our district.  We are the DIGITAL DIVAS! This is my Professional Learning Network that has turned into my Personal Learning Network of peeps, but now also my dearest friends.  This is what happens so often.

Second, I began “lurking” on Twitter educationally about 3 years ago when I was accepted as a Digital Classroom Teacher.  I finally jumped in and began joining the Chat Groups that interested me.  It was like 2 at first, but what matters is that I began connecting with more people in my district and out in the social media world. (Confession: Along the way, I did delete my Twitter account because I honestly couldn’t figure out what the point was and why only 140 characters! I opened another later on.)

Fast forward to this past summer….my world changed and I was lit on fire by attending iPadpalooza in Austin, Texas!  It honestly had nothing to do with iPads and technology, as much as it did the spirit, passion, and energy from the Keynote Speakers I heard and from the people I met there!  I wholeheartedly mean it.  There is this crazy intoxicating energy you get when you are around people like this at an amazing conference! Check out the youtube channel from iPadpalooza of the mini keynotes.  This is one of those moments when I will look back and say my professional focus shifted at that moment and I am on fire!

I made the decision right then that instead of just randomly posting a pic of my class on Wear Your Favorite Socks day or a Here is what we did in Math kind of pic, I began reaching out to random people because of their thinking.  That’s crazy a thought, right?!  😉

Here’s the thing: The most unbelievable thing happened…they reached back!  Without even knowing who I was!  I thought that was the most bizarre thing since pre-iPadpalooza I would do “research” on someone and their thinking before even considering following them!  So within a short time frame of one “unconference” I had extended my professional learning network a ton with some AMAZING people!  This was only the beginning.

Here is what started happening over Twitter:

  •  I began exchanging awesome ideas and Best Practices for the classroom or school with others.
  •  I began reading inspiring quotes and articles people tweeted to build others up.
  •  I began reflecting and seeking out different perspectives in order to grow.
  •  I began sharing GREAT things happening in our school.
  •  I began sharing GREAT things happening in other schools with our school.
  •  I began taking more risks.
  •  I helped connect others for global projects. 
  •  I was having conversations with people I had just met because of a belief AND they TRULY wanted to HELP you!!   
Are you ready for the top reason why you need to build your P2LN?  
IT WILL CHANGE YOU! (There’s no way it can’t, if you are doing it right!)  🙂
Here is what it does for me:
  • Keeps me on FIRE and loving this ever-changing profession!
  • Gives me the easiest and best way to seek out new best practices! You have round the clock access to brilliant minds. Have a question? – Tweet it out!  
  • Provides 24/7 Professional Development!  
  • Sometimes we can’t fly to Chicago for that awesome conference you are dying to go to, but you can follow their #hashtag and still learn so much.
  • It challenges me and stretches my thinking!!  Big time!  Why? The people on Twitter bring such a wide variety of experiences and knowledge and when you connect and gain their perspective, you can’t help but rethink how you are doing things.  
  • There is SERIOUS reflection going!

Don’t underestimate the power of people. If you want to know outstanding people to follow, go to my Twitter @OCTVisser and look at who I follow.  See what they stand for, and if you like that give them a follo.   Build your P2LN and remember…..

My Next Thirty Years

As our principal rolled out the 2015-2016 theme for our staff, honestly at first I had no clue what it was!  🙂  It was not until he began explaining why it was chosen did something awesome happen. First, I realized how great and intentional he is at everything he does for the school and staff.  Second, many feelings stirred inside of me.

Our theme is:                           
30 for 30 (like the ESPN series)

30 Years of Working Hard and Changing Lives. 

With of course, our goal to continue on even better for 30 more!

This year is our school’s 30th year anniversary and what an incredible way to celebrate it than with memories of our first thirty years.
If you do not know about the 30 for 30 series, here’s my attempt to explain.  🙂  It is a TV series of films on ESPN that showcase the issues, rivals, events, and such in the sports world that transformed the culture and impacted our world from 1979-2009.   Each one is told from a different filmmaker’s point of view and tells a compelling story that many have forgotten.  

Relating this theme to our school year:

  • What are the implications for O.C. Taylor and telling our stories this year?  
  • What stories do we want retold and not forgotten after these next 30 years?  

How empowering to students and teachers is that?!  It stirred up some really powerful feelings inside me – and this is my first year at this school!!  🙂  I can guarantee every teacher in that building felt a refreshed sense of WHY we are here doing what we are doing.  Mr. Kinney brought it back and made it real for us.

Here are a few things we know.

  1. We will be very intentional in everything we do.
  2. We will be very intentional in how we are putting our stories out there so that they are to be retold and not forgotten.
  3. We want stories to be told from kids and parents about how we are a community.  
  4. We want stories to be told from kids about how much they know they are loved by their teachers because we want to leave a legacy of relationships that will not disappear.
  5. We want stories to be told from kids about how much they love the learning they are doing and how proud they are.  
  6. We want stories to be told from kids about how empowered they feel because of their teachers.
  7. Inspired Minds = Innovative Society …..We need that innovative society for our future, so we need to inspire these minds TODAY!

We need to be the first ones to communicate and tell our stories.  We need to tell about the awesome things going on in our school and be an open window for parents and community members to peek in and see for themselves.

I will never forget when my daughter was in Pre-K at the ECDC with Mrs. Jennifer Pettit.  The amazing Mrs. Jennifer.  The one we loved so dearly because of the relationships she developed with each child and family.

Mrs. Jennifer and my sweet little Pre-K Sofie.

Do you know what she did that was so AMAZING!?  Are you ready, it’s a huge secret?!  She blogged.  She talked about the amazing things they were doing in her class.  She always had pictures of every single child on the blog.  For a mother to this only child, it was the little piece of sunshine in my day of being away from my child that I craved.  I got to see her happy and learning through this blog.  I never doubted anything Mrs. Jennifer did or said for one minute!  This is exactly why I started blogging with my class years ago.  I wanted every one of my parents to see a glimpse of their child’s daily life when they couldn’t be there. It establishes so much trust and understanding between all parties.  It means so much. It actually meant a lot to my daughter, too. Two years later, she still looked at the blog and wanted to remember those days.  Hmmm, this sounds familiar….stories of special memories continuing to be retold years later.  It all starts with communicating from the inside out.

I look forward to embarking on this incredible 30th year celebrating a school that has many sentimental, fun, and special memories to celebrate.

Here’s to Our Next Thirty Years!  🙂