As Educational Mentors, We Aspire To Inspire

In my ongoing work as an education leader, I strive to establish various informal mentorship relationships to cultivate growth and leadership opportunities for educators who demonstrate both ambition and potential. I believe that serving as a mentor can truly make a positive difference when connecting various experience levels, specific skills, and interpersonal abilities. As I spend time with fellow educators, I try to align their strengths with potential growth opportunities. I look at qualities such as dedication, time commitment and willingness, varied interests, self-motivation, leadership potential, ability to collaborate, pursuit of continuous learning, and overall grit. As mentor, I adjust my analysis to remain cognizant of shifts in any of these factors. It is always my purpose to support, teach, involve, provide guidance, encourage, and whenever possible – construct opportunities.

Here are 10 goals I aspire to as I build leadership capacity in those I mentor:

  1. Build a culture of continuous growth and learning in which knowledge is continually shared in a collaborative team approach
  2. Bring innovative programs and experiences to our schools and encourage mentees to become active participants in these new opportunities.
  3. Enhance the leadership and coaching skills of future education leaders by finding mentees (or mentor candidates) for them – allowing them to practice advisory roles or assume responsibility for the learning goals of other educators
  4. Model ambition and continuous self-growth through active engagement in organizations, education communities, scholarly opportunities, publishing, presentations, workshops, certification programs, networking, etc.
  5. Encourage mentored educators to voluntarily and eagerly pursue greater productivity in the workplace. (Committees, after-school clubs, service projects, representation at events, etc.)
  6. Encourage mentees to seek advice without fear of judgement or failure.
  7. Support educators to work toward their full potential and promote their OWN goals for personal and professional development. Help them to realize their strengths and overcome obstacles.
  8. Spread positivity through our work environment and organization. Publicly share the successes and triumphs of those who are mentored loudly and proudly. Raise them up by presenting them as role models.
  9. Give them wings and let them fly! Encourage mentees to create new ideas and projects of their own, and assure them that there is always a willing support, understanding listener, or helping hand.
  10. My overarching goal is always to grow new leaders. When it comes to leaders of the future, I aspire to inspire.

Recently I was filled with tremendous pride when I received the news that several of my dear friends – and especially a few of those whom I mentor – achieved recognition for various accomplishments in the field of education. It is indeed akin to the intense pride a parent feels when his child goes off to build a home for himself, or that a mama bird feels when her babies are ready to test their wings beyond the comfort of the nest.

As mentor leaders, we hold their hands as they negotiate their paths, we build their confidence, we watch them take their first steps, we watch nervously as they test and climb so many tenuous rungs, and then… we can just swell with pride as they use all that we have given them…to leap, and hopefully soar…and to begin to find their own place as they, too, aspire to inspire.

And we remain ever dutiful with outstretched hands to hold, shoulders to lean on, safety nets for comfort, and the wisdom of experience available for the asking. As mentor leaders, our pride is secondary only to our profound gratitude that we have been chosen by you…to inspire you.

With extreme gratitude and heartfelt congratulations to my many friends and innovative learners & leaders who have gone on to earn awards, distinctions, certifications and accolades of your own. Bravo!

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What Are The Non-negotiable Traits For A “Teacher of the Year”?

I’m sitting here ready to write my annual recommendation for someone who I really feel exemplifies a “Teacher of the Year”. I don’t take this lightly at all. I probably put more thought into this than most people, but if it is to be an authentic honor that maintains a reputation of respectability, then it SHOULD be given great consideration.

Just think about the very words: Teacher Of The YEAR! OF THE YEAR! The number one, best, most outstanding and deserving person in an entire SCHOOL? What would be the traits and the accomplishments of someone who deserves this recognition over ALL of the OTHER teachers in a school or district?

Wow. If every person REALLY weighs these lofty and noble considerations before writing a recommendation, then it will be clear that a Teacher of the Year is someone who goes WAY above and beyond and is a shining example of excellence in teaching, leadership, selflessness, and professional learning. It’s not a popularity contest and it can’t be a consolation prize. Awarding this honor for any of the wrong reasons “dumbs down” the award – and everyone in the organization will not only know it, but lose respect and hope for the very title of Teacher of The Year. The legitimacy will remain tarnished for years. So choose wisely, young Jedi.

If you’re writing a recommendation for someone, or if you’re on some sort of evaluative team that considers nominations, I beseech you to look deep and be intensely respectful of the title Teacher of The Year. It’s our collective responsibility to keep the integrity of this honor intact.

  • Above and Beyond: This is a person who volunteers and shows up for all kinds of things. He is at the fundraisers and the pep rallies. She volunteers to lead workshops or coordinate assemblies. He comes up with new programs or ideas that benefit the whole school or organization – and then leads that charge to fruition. This person does education things during non-contract time (YES, even weekends and summers) because teaching is her PASSION….and everyone knows it.
  • Team Player: You’ll see this person spreading positivity with a can-do attitude! Someone who is the Teacher Of The Year strives to lift others up, builds the capacity of other teachers, and shares recognition for team accomplishments. This person shares – a lot! He joins committees willingly and everyone can attest to the fact that he is an enthusiastic participant. She invites others into decision-making. He is a cheerleader for his colleagues. She feels more successful when the department/ team/grade achieves goals than when she achieves them alone.
  • Lifelong Learner: Without a doubt, this is a non-negotiable necessity for ANYONE I ever nominate for Teacher of the Year. You cannot be an outstanding educator if you’re not continually updating your own learning. And I don’t mean those things your district provides. It’s got to go beyond the mandatory stuff, because a truly deserving teacher OF THE YEAR (think about the weight of those words again) is that person in school who finds the optional, on-your-own-time, just-because-you-really-❤️-education kind of learning. A REAL Teacher of The Year seeks out his own PD – college classes, conferences, edcamps, webinars, professional organizations, educator blogs, cultivates a PLN, and more. Most importantly – he or she is a CONNECTED educator…one who frequently communicates and collaborates with many other educators outside of the district.
  • Leadership: This person volunteers for committees. This person signs up to mentor new teachers. Other people go to this teacher to learn how to do new things. This teacher tries to stay cutting edge with technology and current best practices – and then teaches those things to his peers. This person takes advantage of every “optional” opportunity and then has a way of persuading others to join, too.
  • Innovation: A worthy Teacher of the Year candidate is widely known throughout the school as someone who oozes creativity. Very literally, he or she innovates. She finds new ideas at workshops or on social media, modifies it so it works for her school, and takes a leap of faith to implement something new! He is a risk-taker, a trier of new things, a go-getter, and an idea guy. She has crazy ideas at all hours of the night and comes to school having formulated highly-detailed plans to make it all work. He eagerly puts ideas into practice. She braves new worlds and has an adventurous spirit. Others in the school frequently comment about how clever or creative she is and ask, “How does she even have time to THINK of all this stuff?” He is transformational and a change-maker.

As I said at the beginning, I take this Teacher of the Year business seriously. It matters to the future of the profession and certainly to the future of this distinction. When you sit down to write a nomination this year for a TRULY worthy and deserving person, I hope that you’ll remember this post and my list of non-negotiables. I hope you reflect and add a few other criteria of your own. I’d love it if you would share them with me. I’ll look forward to your comments, thoughts, suggestions, and stories.

Celebrate & Elevate The Experts Within

🔵 Universal truth in education #1: There is never enough time for professional development.

I connect with educators and leaders all over the world and this is one of the most widely-known conundrums we face in every country, district, and school.

🔵 Universal truth in education #2: Educators want to be able to choose PD that is meaningful and appropriate for them. Yes, they actually want the autonomy to select their own learning.

So many districts insist on bringing in gurus and paying thousands of dollars for each “show” in which these experts spray their enlightened methods upon an audience of teachers. We pull teachers from classrooms, sometimes for several days, and we pay even MORE thousands of dollars to substitutes to cover these classes. Teachers then dutifully sit and get anointed with the topic that has administrators have deemed appropriate for the masses. No choice and no voice equals disengagement, lack of relevance, and resentment over time lost.

🔵 Universal truth in education #3: There are qualified expert teachers in every single school who do creative, research-based, tried and true, pedagogically sound amazing things every single day.

Schools can save thousands upon thousands of dollars every single year if administration recognizes that there is plenty of know-how, expertise, and ambition right within its own school walls. When it comes to PD, there needs to be significantly more reliance on home-grown over nationally-known.

🔴 Herein lies the opportunity for a perfectly symbiotic solution. Celebrate and elevate the leaders within.

I’d like to share two ideas that I was recently able to introduce into two of our district’s elementary schools. Neither idea is mine, and I’ll attach credit for the inspiration for each of these ideas in the descriptions below.

Last year, the schools in our district each actively pursued a certification known as Future Ready NJ. Each school had a truly dynamic site-based team that met regularly to collaboratively and reflectively evaluate their school on a series of indicators. During this process, a few of the teams realized and discussed the universal truths that I outlined above. They lamented about how there is never enough time, they shared their cravings for continuous learning and growth, and they desperately hoped that someone would listen to their yearning to choose individually-relevant PD. Coupled with the fact that these teams were comprised of teachers who clearly have the capability and the drive to be leaders, I suggested a couple of ideas:

1️⃣ One Small Thing

This idea was born out of the TeachMeet model. Originally created in the United Kingdom, a TeachMeet is an informal but structured gathering of educators willing to share clever ideas. The idea is for participants to volunteer to share an idea in their choice of time increments – 2, 5, or 7 minutes. I’ve attended one of these in England, and I’ve also attended several in the US, and I suppose they’re all similar but take on their own “rules”. My favorite has been the huge TeachMeet that is run by my friends Kyle and Liz Calderwood, William King and Allen Martin at ISTE each year. They always reserve quite a large room, have a podium & projector set up, and just welcome any attendees who pop in throughout the day to fill out a card indicating their presentation length and topic. As the day goes on, they just call these volunteers to the front one by one, setting a timer and just letting the presentations happen! This is one of my favorite things at ISTE every year because I absolutely love learning this way – quick little rapid-fire snippets of great ideas one after the other from all sorts of creative people who just have one small thing to share!

It’s this notion of One Small Thing that I shared with a Future Ready NJ team at Wedgwood Elementary School. I told them the story of TeachMeet and suggested that it could easily be replicated at their school by setting aside time at the beginning of any faculty meeting and giving voice to any staff member who might volunteer “One Small Thing.”

The team loved the idea and added it to their Future Ready Wish List of things they’d like to see happen during this school year. For the November meeting, the principal supported this request by advertising it as a voluntary pre-faculty meeting option. Teachers were invited to come 25 minutes before the official start of the faculty meeting, and I was pleased to see about 15 people take advantage of the opportunity!

One teacher got the ball rolling by sharing One Small Thing that she had gotten from Pinterest. It’s called an “I Need” Box. She keeps it in her room along with some colorful note cards, and students know that they can write private communications to their teacher about anything they need, and that she will privately respond to them in due time. This teacher shared that she has had students ask for extra help when everyone else seems to be understanding the lesson, ask to have a seat moved, ask for school supplies that their parents can’t afford, and even just ask to have some private time to talk to the teacher about how to handle various issues at home.

Needlessly to say, the rest of the room was glad to know of this One Small Thing, and then the ideas started flowing. We heard from about 7 different teachers by the end, and I have a feeling that this will gain more and more momentum now that teachers know that:

  • their voices are respected and valued
  • they can serve as thought leaders
  • they can learn a lot each other in very little time
  • there are all kinds of different experts on faculty with tried and tested, powerful ideas to share
  • presentations don’t have to involve prep work or be a big deal – just 1, 2, or 5 minutes is all it takes to inspire colleagues and spark ideas

(Click HERE for my favorite blog post about TeachMeets – by Naomi Ward, 2014.)

Teachers became inspired to share and to respectfully learn from each other

The “I Need” Box, which gives students a private way to communicate things that they don’t feel comfortable saying out loud or in front of classmates

2️⃣ The Pineapple Chart

Again, this idea is not mine – it’s just something I shared with a Future Ready NJ team at another one of our schools, Bells Elementary School. They were another ambitious group looking for solutions to the same problem….fitting in PD and giving informal leadership opportunities to the talented folks in the building. I mentioned something called The Pineapple Chart, and nobody had ever heard of it.

I first learned of The Pineapple Chart from a blog called Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales. Click HERE to read the article that explains the origin and premise of The Pineapple Chart. It’s also an idea that is widely and positively shared on Twitter. I’ve been following success stories about Pineapple Charts for years, and I am excited that we have a school with teachers brave enough to put their ideas out there and learn from one another! Last week, I stayed late one day to create the Pineapple Chart that is pictured below. Again, this idea is supported by the building principal, who is an advocate for celebrating the strengths of her staff. She is planning to present this model to the teachers at the next faculty meeting, and I can’t wait to write future follow-up posts about the fantastic things that result from this new-to-us PD model!

This is truly the idea of “celebrating and elevating the experts within.” Putting one’s name on a Pineapple Chart requires a certain amount of vulnerability by welcoming anyone into the classroom to see an idea. More importantly, it relies on a high degree of excitement and pride about the experiences one’s students are having – and hoping others find inspiration in those ideas!

Teachers write their name in the day/time block and also write the topic, skill, tool, or ideas that they welcome others to come in and observe.

Microsoft Learning Tools: Where Independence Is Free For ALL Of Us

reach out learning tools

  • Remember last year, or the year before, when students who couldn’t read called the teacher over to come read it to them…whether it was a text, an assessment, or even the directions?
  • Remember not long ago when students submitted rough drafts a dozen times, returned by the teacher for corrections again and again because the drafts were still riddled with errors that were truly unintentional – the student just hadn’t noticed them?
  • Remember how just the other day, teachers and classroom aides acted as scribes for students who had difficulty writing?
  • Remember when – ages ago – a student didn’t know a word’s meaning, we sent him to go look it up in a classroom dictionary? Remember how that “stoppage in play” totally interfered with the flow necessary for comprehension?
  • Remember how teachers would prompt students again and again to “just follow along” because they always lost their place when text was being shared or read in class?
  • Remember how it was a struggle for some of those students whose families speak different languages at home? Remember when those English Language Learners who still didn’t know every word, phrase, or colloquialism had their own special teacher – or even left class to go to another room?
  • Remember the time, it seems like only yesterday, when teachers were at the copy machine enlarging text and then highlighting key parts so that students who had trouble seeing it were handed their own special copies in class…just for them?
  • Remember back when some students had to pull out index cards or bookmarks to read in class, because too much text on a page made it impossible to focus? Remember how sometimes the teacher just copied chunks of text on individual photocopied pages to reduce visual distractions?
  • Remember how stigmatizing it all seemed…it was all done with good intention. It was all meant to help.  And it all relied on students needing PEOPLE to help them achieve success.

Thank goodness those days are gone!  Thank goodness for Microsoft’s Learning Tools.  If you are in education: teachers, principals, administrators, counselors, therapists, specialists, paraprofessionals, and even parents…the most critical thing that you should do is to learn about Learning Tools, and then show ALL your students how to use them.

First of all, everyone needs to know that Microsoft Learning Tools are free – completely free – for everyone in the world.  This is not a special license, or a paid service, or a subscription, or only something that certain schools have.  And yes, even if your school is a “Google school”, you can still use Learning Tools.

Secondly, I mentioned teaching ALL your students how to use Learning Tools.  I mean that.  These are not just tools to help students with special needs or disabilities or who require accommodations.  All students – all people – can benefit from knowing that there are helpful tools built into their computers or devices.  A tool by definition is just something that makes a task easier.  I used two Learning Tools to write this article.  First, I used the Dictation feature because I work faster with speech to text capabilities.  Don’t you?  I also like to get my thoughts out verbally and then go back to tweak or edit later.  Second, I used the Read Aloud feature and had this whole text read back to me (several times).  I listened for errors – typos, misspellings, grammatical errors, omissions, etc.  I was able to change the sound of the Read Aloud voice and also the speed at which it was read to me.  When I heard something that didn’t sound right, I stopped and fixed it.  It’s the best editing tool I’ve ever used.  (Bonus tip: I often use the Read Aloud feature with my Outlook emails, too…I have long ones read aloud to me while I do paperwork or some other task.)

read aloud feature.jpg

I’m writing this in English and I’m a native English-speaking person, but what if you’re not?  What if you don’t understand parts of this?  Please let me direct your attention back to that ribbon above.  Look at that Language section of the ribbon.  Push a button, and this whole document is accessible in dozens of different global languages – and that list is growing!  Accessibility is a HUGE focus for all of Microsoft products.  Your ELL students can stay in the class, push a button, and be included.

translator.jpg

Learning Tools also has an invaluable tool called Picture Dictionary.  It’s not just for elementary, or special education, or non-native language speakers – it’s for anyone who comes across a word in text that they don’t know!  That certainly happens to me, and I’m pretty sure it happens to ALL of us from time to time.  Don’t run for a dictionary, and don’t open a new tab to find one of those online dictionaries with gobs of big words and parts of speech and definitions that still often don’t make sense.  Just open Learning Tools Immersive Reader, click on the word, and a picture appears.  There’s also a reader button on that picture that will pronounce the word…another ability I’m grateful for from time to time!

picture dictionary.jpg

There are other invaluable features in Learning Tools depending on your students’ needs.  Show it all to them.  Teach them all to access what they need when they need it.  Let them turn on the Line Reader to focus.  Let them turn on the Syllabication feature to help them “sound it out” or the Parts of Speech feature to let them know exactly what kind of word they’re trying to read.

line reader      syllables & parts of speech.jpg

These are tools that STUDENTS can turn on or use, WITHOUT asking another person to help, WITHOUT calling someone to their desk, and WITHOUT drawing attention to themselves.  They’re free, they’re embedded, and once students know that they’re there and how to access them, they are empowered to learn better.  I need to say that again:  They are empowered to learn better.

When you need a little help to do something, you either reach out for a person or a tool.  Give your students the gift of independence.  Show them the gift of Microsoft Learning Tools.

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Endnote: I wrote this whole article in Microsoft Word – both the desktop and the online version.  I generally do this rather than writing directly in my blog platform because I truly and honestly like to take advantage of the Learning Tools and other features that Microsoft has made available.  I then copy/paste it into my online blog.

Presenters:  If anyone has an upcoming opportunity to present Learning Tools, please feel free to use and reference this blog post.  The “Remember” questions at the top are sure to get a hearty dialog started in your presentation, which will make the magic of Learning Tools all the more powerful once you demonstrate it.  If you’d like for me to share the Word version of this article with you so that you can use it as the interactive piece for your presentation, please just contact me and I’ll email it to you!

As always, I’m available here at my WordPress site (wordpress.kerszi.com), on Twitter as @kerszi and on my Facebook page called “Integration Innovation”.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Type Accented Letters on iPads

📱Micro-tip: If you have an iPad or iPhone, did you know that if you “long hold” on some of the keyboard letter keys, you get variations of that letter with accents? If I long hold “n”, I can type señor. If I long-hold the “u” key, I get über-excited! If I long-hold the “e” key, I see this:

This is especially great to know if you have students and families from other countries, but I think it’s a wonderful tip for all teachers and students to know. Add that to your edtech resumé! 😉

As always, you can find me on Twitter as @kerszi or on my Facebook page called Integration Innovation!

Text Giraffe

I love fonts & strong graphics, so when I found this website called Text Giraffe, I got happy! If you’re looking to create a logo, or you just need to build strong graphic for a blog post, website, newsletter, or even to make a Twitter post stand out, try Text Giraffe!

This site is super easy and self-explanatory. Just type in your name/word/phrase and hit GO! Pages & pages of cool, colorful choices appear!

Choose the one you like, and it’s then available to download in five different sizes as shown below:

I think you’ll really love Text Giraffe, too! Just for fun, I’d love it if you’d post your Text Giraffe creation in the comments!

As always, you can find me on Twitter as @kerszi, and at my Facebook page called Integration Innovation!

What’s A #Fliphunt?

This #Fliphunt movement has absolutely been an evolution of ideas.  It started with:

EdTech? On a Field Trip?… which led to …

I Had a Flipiphany!… which led to….

Fliphunt LOGO

So what’s a #Fliphunt?  It’s a video-based scavenger hunt that is completely organized and run in the AMAZING Flipgrid environment.  Since the entire UNIVERSE is using Flipgrid now…or should be…this is a wonderfully fun way to get students up and moving while exploring new learning or documenting understanding using the most beloved edtech site for amplifying student voice and student engagement in ways never known before!

Would a #Fliphunt motivate even the most reluctant learners?   Is video a powerful way to capture student learning?  Can a scavenger hunt be a formative assessment?  Can it be differentiated?  Do kids like stuff like this?  Uhhhh….yeeessssss!  Just take a look at this simple example of one Geometry #Fliphunt:

geometry fliphunt.jpg

Here’s another one I created to assess students’ knowledge of the skeletal system:

skeletal fliphunt.jpg

Here’s a super simple visual of how it’s done…

rrr.jpg

Are you starting to get ideas about how you can adapt this to your own curricular content?  These can literally be created and used for every subject and for every age!  I have created this infographic of planning considerations to help you think through a few things as you begin to craft your own #Fliphunt:

Fliphunt Planning Considerations.jpg

Here’s some extra-great news for those of you who are eager to jump in and get started.  Next week, at the #FlipgridLive event, Priscilla Heredia and I will be formally introducing and running THE FIRST grand-scale, crazy, off-the-charts, not-actually-educational #Fliphunt for folks who are there at Flipgrid HQ in Minneapolis.  I have a pretty good feeling that that grid and the not-too-secret password are going to be released via social media…and the WORLD will be able to play along (somewhat)!  I also happen to know that that grid is going to have bells & whistles that you REALLY, REALLY want:

  • other sample #Fliphunt ideas organized by subject
  • a place for you to add your OWN creative awesome #Fliphunts for others
  • clever #Fliphunt game adaptation ideas
  • …and even more #Fliphunt resources!

My favorite thing about the WHOLE #Fliphunt thing is that once this grid is released…..the content is forevermore totally created & curated by the Fligrid community!  YOU ALL will be the contributors, the askers, the solvers, the brainstormers, and the make-it-betterers! 😎

I have one teensy request….share loudly and widely!  Please use the hashtag to share cool #Fliphunt success stories and pictures and link the #Fliphunts you create, and most importantly please add the things you create to the new, collaborative grid once it’s released on 8.1.18.


As always, share your thoughts & amazing ideas with me here on the blog, on Twitter at @kerszi, or on my Facebook page Integration Innovation.