The 3Rs of Summer

The year is winding down, and you can almost hear the sounds of summer calling. The waves on the beach, the ice clinking in the glasses of your beverage of choice, and the distant sounds of tunes coming through someone’s Bluetooth speaker. I look forward to this time of the year, it means I get to do the 3 Rs that teachers are really looking forward to: Relax, reflect and read.

Ok, so maybe not all teachers are looking forward to summer reading, but at least I can get you with the reflection and relaxation parts. I look forward to the summer reading lists that I have been curating all year because most times during the school year I am too busy with all my “work” stuff and have no real time to read what I want to. The other two Rs are very important as well, and luckily for me I can blend the three of them together and read while I relax and reflect on my past year.

I have about 5 books on the reading list this summer, and being a voracious reader, that might get me through half of July. These are all PD-style books that I have heard about during the year but never had time to crack open. Top on this list this year is Lead Like a Pirate. I am a big fan of “Teach like a Pirate” and I can’t wait to crack open this latest book.

Next on the list is Disrupting Thinking. I got this recommendation from the #ConnectedTL chat, and being an English Major and former English teacher, the whole premise of “how” we read and why it matters fascinates me. I have read Notice and Note from the same authors and loved it. It really changed the way I taught my students to close read. I am excited to see what insight I can steal from this new book.

Another book I can’t wait to dive into is Tony Danza’s I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had.  This book chronicles Tony Danza’s rookie year as a high school teacher. I have heard that it is funny, light reading and very compelling. It gives a candid and honest view into the struggles, successes and “light-bulb” moments as Tony tries his hand at teaching. It is full of awesome portraits of teacher and students he encountered, with the hard-earned wisdom and laugh out loud funny moments of a teacher we all grew up watching act.

Last on the list (until I get more suggestions from you at least) is Shift This. This is another #ConnectedTL recommendation, and it talks about how little shifts in the classroom can produce massive changes in learning and culture. Shifting culture in a school or district has always been an area of interest for me, so even thought I am not in the classroom anymore, I can’t want to see what kind of applications Shift This can have in my current role.

If you have any recommendations for summer reading books, please share them in the comments below. I would love to pick up another two or three to add to the list. Also, if you want to have some book club style discussions, hot me up on voxer, my username is techtombusd. Remember to recharge those batteries over summer my friends, and I hope to hear some recommendations soon!

Evolution of Teaching, #BetterTogether

How did I get to where I am now? Funny you ask. I had to submit something just like like that for my CSULB Masters of Ed. and Administration program. Here is that statement.

My educational philosophy started forming around the time I started high school. I attended St. John Bosco in Bellflower, and it was at that time that I started to see the different teaching styles present in the faculty. I had never experienced such a wide range of teacher styles before, having come from a K-8 private school with only one class per grade level. There was no difference from one class to the next because the same teacher taught it all. Moving into high school, I had seven teachers a day, most with a distinct teaching style. It was a marvel, and it really made me want to come to school and be able to learn so many different ways.

There was the English teacher who expected much from his students, and had a lecturing style that I have tried to emulate myself. He drew all these images on the chalkboards, seemingly disconnected and with no context; it was a little overwhelming walking in the first time. But then he would lecture, about a book, about a chapter, about a poem, and he would connected all of these hand-drawn images together like a symphony, connecting them, explaining them, and making them come to life as the lesson went on. I can still remember the Ulysses lecture and the images he used. It was then I saw that it was not enough to know the curriculum; you had to make it come alive. In my own classroom, I have found myself using this strategy of dressing the stage and then using a lecture or lesson to tell the story. It is a great way to build anticipation and excitement into a lesson.

Continue reading Evolution of Teaching, #BetterTogether

Why Podcast?

There are several reasons to start podcasting, from tackling a certain issue, getting news and information out quickly, replacing a blog or journal as a means for reflection, or just having fun with friends around a microphone. But each journey is unique, and finding that path may take you to some out of the way places!
Podcasting has been around for over 10 years now, and the roots of podcasting stretch back to the earliest days of radio. But radio and podcasting are fundamentally different. Radio is more of a live event, happening repeatedly and updated constantly, where podcasting is more of an audio snapshot in time. Podcasting is the audio Polaroid: produced and admired for its ability to capture a moment quickly, and then shoved in a box somewhere, maybe to be heard from again, maybe not. But in the back of our mind, we take comfort in knowing it is there if we need it.
I started podcasting in 2012 as a project. I was heavily involved with my teacher union, and this new case was filed that could change teacher seniority rules, just absolutely flip them on their head. It was well covered in the news, but when speaking to my colleagues and teacher friends, they were in the dark. Being an English teacher, and feeling it was my duty to help inform them as a union negotiator and vice president, I dove into the podcast pool with both feet. My first podcast, “Tom Talks About” had three episodes. The first one was dedicated to the Vegara v. California case, a Detective Friday-Just-the-Facts-Ma’am hour long snoozer. I researched for about three weeks, making sure I had all the salient points and knew what I was talking about.

I was going to be putting this online, and I didn’t want to look/sound ignorant. I recorded (which took about three-one-hour-takes) edited and published over three nights, and it was on iTunes two days later. I followed up with a heavily pro-union opinion piece, where I could let out my shock and amazement and show some more mention about what I thought the case would mean to seniority and unions in general. I was passionate and had my soapbox moment. The last episode of “Tom Talks About” was dedicated to back to school, what certain things you do to get your classroom ready and such, but my heart wasn’t into it. I spend all my passion and fire on the first two episodes and didn’t have (so I thought) anything else to talk about that I thought others would want to hear.
It was a fun and insanely geeky adventure I loved, because it had cool tools, an underground cult following, and I was immersed in a world I knew nothing about. I was constantly learning new tips, techniques and ways to make my craft better. I was on almost daily, listening to his and other podcasts on the art of podcasting. I was geeking out on gear and software and consumed by a new world. Sad thing was, I didn’t have anything to podcast about. Tom Talks About ended after three episodes, and anything else I tried to talk/write/podcast about just didn’t ignite that fire inside like the Vegara case. I scrapped episode after episode. I thought the fire was gone. I was sitting on great gear and some good podcasting methods, but didn’t think I had anything worth sharing.
Then two years ago I became a Tech TOSA. Well, a “Technology Integration Specialist” to be exact. It was now my job to teach others how to use tech in the classroom, how to integrate strategies and tools to increase engagement, and thereby increasing attendance, behavior and scores (at least that is dream, right?) In my district of just over 200 teachers, there are two Tech TOSAs and there is no way to meaningfully address the needs of all those teachers with personalized and differentiated technological instructional practice improvement. And it wasn’t like technology was the only thing on their plate either. We had 8 big district initiatives to drive home to teachers: Common Core Alignment, Project Based Learning (PBL), Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a new math textbook adoption, a new English textbook adoption, transition on a Microsoft Office 365 Environment, and one or two more things that have become lost in the shuffle.
I needed a meaningful and lasting way to reach all my teachers to bring them tech, on their schedule at their pace–Lightbulb—Podcasting! It sounds like an easy decision now, but I struggled with convincing my co-host, Michael Jephcott, to join me, and then struggled to make sure that we had enough material and practiced enough to convince people we knew what we were doing. Podcasting is not like leading a PD session or helping someone one-on-one, it is a performance. More of a portable and lasting conference session than a training. Jumping in with both feet, we “practiced” a podcast. Without telling Mike, I quickly edited and added bumpers, and that afternoon it was on iTunes.
We had another one in the can (producer term for recorded but not edited) and that was when we went to FallCUE. There we met Brian Briggs and Ryan O’Donnell. Inspired by their session on podcasting, we surged on and have been going strong since. Has it been easy? No. Has it made us insanely rich and famous? HA! (If you are asking that, you are in the wrong place) But what it has done is made us better at our craft, improved our researching and networking, and connected us with the #PodcastEDU community, and gave us a built-in time for reflection. Sure, podcasting is part of our job, but it is more than that. It is something we enjoy making and we hope you enjoy listening to.
If you have some feedback or suggestions, we can be reached by email (edtosas(at) or you can leave a comment here. Your feedback is always welcome!

Teachers aren’t Taffy

I have been a TOSA for about a year and a half now and there have been some valuable lesson learned and some great Ah-ha moments along the way. First one was that even though teacher is the first word of the TOSA acronym, many of our colleagues will no longer see us as such now that we are in this position. That was a hard and fast lesson that came about a week into our jobs.

The one that I have learned more recently, and that I am really still learning, is Teachers aren’t taffy. What do I mean by this? Simple. Take my district for example. Right now, as I speak, here is the list of programs and initiatives going on:

  1. Common Core Adoption and Standards Alignment
  2. NGSS Adoption*
  3. ELA/ELD book adoption 2016-2017
  4. Math Adoption 2015-2016
  5. District Wide PBL*
  6. PBIS Implementation*
  7. Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)*
  8. Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT)*
  9. Touchscreens and teacher laptops in each room*
  10. Office365 Integration

*Denotes year 1 or 2 of adoption

At the same time as all of this, I am tasked with the job of introducing, training and providing ongoing support, and pushing the Office365 system out to the teachers AND students. There is a lot going on, as I am sure that most districts have the same amount of things going on at one time. It is that one more thing, that final straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. In my district, that seems to be technology.

The change from analog to digital has seemed to be the biggest gap to fill. The rest of the items on the list above are analog, and that is a world that most teachers currently teaching are familiar with and fits squarely in the wheelhouse of even the least veteran teachers. The above list turned digital would increase efficiency, but that would take a few extra step and that magical and finite resource: time. On top of all of their planning and teaching, this one new extra thing is the one that gets lost most frequently.

Technology has a tough, steep learning curve, even for early adopters. We spend lots of time learning about and testing new technology for use on the classroom, or by our teachers, or for our students and teachers.  A little bit of investment of time can yield huge and game changing results, but many teachers are not willing nor able to invest. There are just too many other projects, initiatives, directives and programs pulling at the most valuable resource we have, time.

Towards the end of year one as a TOSA, attendance at trainings started falling off. That lead to questioning ourselves, topics and job futility. Were we too broad in our scope? Were we too general with our topics? Were we boring and making an already tough subject harder? We needed to figure this out, and quickly, so we turned to google forms for the answers and specificity we needed to improve our offerings and make them timely and relevant to the classroom. We carefully crafted our offerings based on the feedback we received and planned for a year jam-packed with what the teachers wanted. We had digital sign-ups and pushed out our menu-style offering to the sites to promote the new and exciting trainings available. It was going to be great.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry,  and that seems to have happened. While attendance has picked up a bit, it is not the sardine packed results we were hoping for. The reason? Teacher’s Aren’t Taffy. With taffy, you can put a hook in it and pull it in several directions, stretching it out and pulling it apart, folding it over itself and even breaking it apart. Teachers, on the other hand, are highly resistant to pulling in more than one or two directions at once, as they should be. After-school trainings happen after a full day of teaching and planning. No one is at his or her best after putting in a fill day at work.  And with so many other programs and initiatives pulling for attention it is only a matter of time before we get pulled apart.

So what does this mean for technology TOSAs? For those of us mandated with the training of teachers?  Patience is key, and like a good taffy, teachers need some rest and recuperation before being able to start yet another something new. When teachers have time to start exploring they will, and it is our job to be ready to take advantage of it. Are you ready?

TTTP034- Conference Tips

  • Episode 34 “Cue Jitters”
    • Going to a conference- how do you prepare?
    • Prep Before:
      • Business Cards, make sure you bring them
      • Something to take notes with, your choice analog/digital
      • Chargers for electronic devices
      • Twitter handle- if you don’t have one make one. You miss half the conference without one.
      • Comfy shoes and walking clothes
    • Tools for going as a team?
      • Meet before and decide on sessions.
        • does it benefit you to split up to cluster into sessions?
        • decide on a tool for communicating while at the conference
          • text message, voxer, phone calls, emails
        • Debrief each day and review the next day’s offerings
      • How can we continue to collaborate while in different sessions?
        • Google slides
        • OneNote
        • Sketchnoting
        • Take photos
    • Etiquette for attending-
      • Be active in your sessions, if you a have questions, ask.
      • get the link or the handouts. Bookmark them in a folder so you can keep organized (or use google keep!)
      • If you have a question that requires more than a one or two sentence answer, better to ask after the session, or by email/DM
  • Documenting your journey
    • Notes/handouts
    • Photos
    • Twitter handles and qr codes.
    • Online resources

TTTP033- We’ve Got Mail

  • Code Café (lessons learned)
    • Don’t assume a challenge area will be used by a certain age group. Our Kinders went to the most challenging areas and thrived.
    • Need more devices
    • A Plus-Students were training each other
    • shared story of student sick at home but wanted to come to school anyways because it was her turn in the Code Café
    • Rainy days
    • Sharing apps between grade levels-erasing progress, restarting app,
  • Questions from the mailbag- Ascension Reyes-Technology Resource Teacher-De Anza Magnet School-El Centro Elementary
    • How do you like Office365 and all of its features Onenote class notebook, Sway, Skype in the classroom, Forms, Microsoft classroom etc. in comparison to Google Apps for Education & Google Classroom? 
    • What does your district use?
  • podcasts we are listening to
    • check this out-Ryan and Brian long but has gems.
    • learn with John Eick quick and to the point, and I love his excitement and sound effects
    • Drunks and Dragons, Dark Secret Place special interest
    • Cult of Pedagogy-Jennifer Gonzalez
    • Ridgelife Podcast-Kyle Anderson
  • Different styles and purposes of podcasts.
    • long format conversational
    • short format tips and tricks
    • interviews
    • tips and news
    • edtech focus or not
    • different audiences- tailor your propose to that

TTTP032- Giveaway Extravaganza!

CUE news updates (Tom-Vista) We first went to Vista RockStar in June 0f 2016. I believe we did a review of this conference back on Episode 19.

Digital Formative Assessment Options

  1. Microsoft Forms review (added quizzes) recently Microsoft Forms has added quizzes along side their survey.
  2. review.
  3. review.
  4. EdPuzzle- make video quizzes and get reports, free for teachers!
  5. Quizziz- easy and simple way to integrate tech
  6. Plickers with giveaway

Keeping Focus, Monitoring Time

Time management has always been a strong suit of mine, until I moved out of the classroom that is. In my classroom, I was the master of starting class on the right foot, pacing lessons to stretch student engagement, and I could always find time when to break off into smaller group work or some individual tasks so that there was a great flow and pacing in the class. Students wouldn’t spend too much time on one class and get bored, which led to happier students and better results in class. I don’t care how much you love poetry, or physics or history, everyone has a limit of how long they can hold focus and be actively learning. I was a great judge of that, in my classroom.

After transitioning out of the classroom, I found it a struggle to calibrate my own engagement levels and time management when it came to tasks and projects. I was frustrated, and I had days where I looked at my calendar and thought “why would I schedule 10 appointments today?” or “when am I going to have time for ‘project x’ when ‘project y’ is taking up so much time?” And why did I say I would help with “project z” when I don’t have enough time to eat lunch? It had been a long time since I felt this overwhelmed about what is going on in a day, maybe even back to my first days as a classroom teacher. I needed a system of organization that worked with my workflow, something to help identify and prioritize those things I need to do now, and those I can wait to do tomorrow, or next week.

After searching the internet (because what else would a tech TOSA do?) and asking a few administrators and fellow TOSAs/Specialists, I narrowed down a few things I could do to ease my stress, make my workflow more organized, and untangle the stressful mess of projects and assignments into manageable chunks.

First step was recognizing I had a problem. Once I realized that, it was a matter of coming up with a plan to help me work it out. For me, step one was making sure I was properly scheduling appointments. Was I allowing for travel time and organizational time between appointments? Was I allowing for prep time before? It wasn’t enough to use my calendar, I had to be strategic about it and build it for my success, as a tool for helping me rather than just keep record of what I needed to do. After restructuring my calendar and building some pre- and post- meeting time for reflection, preparation and organization, I felt much less stressed about my schedule. It also forced me to schedule less in a day than I was, which also helped me breathe a little easier.

Next was coming up with a system of prioritizing my work, making sure the hottest fires got dealt with first and leaving the others to simmer until I had some time. This process was daunting at first. As a TOSA, I have a very well-defined job description and duties. I started with those things explicitly on that list, and placed them at the top of the To-Do pile. All those things that fell outside those defined duties needed to be reevaluated: am I the one to do this job, or am I taking it on because I was asked to? This was hard because it is in my nature to help when people ask for it, and when I was in the classroom, the last thing I wanted to hear when I needed help was “that’s not my job.” But if I wanted sanity, I realized that sometimes you must redirect assignments to someone else, and I had to be OK with that.

I took prioritizing one step further by categorizing things into 3 groups: To Do Today, To Do this week, To Do within two weeks.  I scheduled 15-30 minutes every night at the end of the day to go over that list and adjust for the next day. I could cross off what I did, promote things to get done, and push things back that needed more time. This 15-30 minutes a day has proven to be my saving grace, and I have become much more purposeful and focused on tasks now. I estimate that those 15-30 minutes save me at least two to four hours a week because I am better organized and can manage what is coming up without it being overwhelming.

not my actual desk!

Lastly, I cleaned my desk. I read that you can waste 10-15 minutes per project just looking for the right materials. I do not have the best organizational skills when it comes to my workspace, I am more “organized mess” that I just happen to call my “system.” It wasn’t very systemized at all, and mostly based on when I last touched something. If I touched it in the past day or so, it was on the top of a pile. If I hadn’t seen it in a week, start looking under piles. I knew that I needed to straighten up (literally and figuratively). It took about three hours of good organizing and sorting and labeling and foldering for my desk to be clear. I found things I was missing, discovered things I didn’t know were there, and got to see the actual top of my desk for the first time in a while. I felt accomplished after that cleaning and organizing. Now to keep it that way. To make sure I don’t regress back to my “system,” I now use my 15-30-minute closing routine to put everything in its place. I put away what I finished today and take out what I need for tomorrow. In this way, everything is ready for me in the morning and I can start my day organized and on the right foot.

I am still working on perfecting this method, and there are times when something gets dropped in my lap, but unless it is due that day (which can be rare), it makes the organizational list during my planning at the end of the day. I place it under the right heading and deal with it like my other duties and tasks. It felt strange for the first two weeks or so, but it has evolved into something that is helping me become that master of time management, like I was in the classroom.