June 3, 2011

Must be nice to have 3 months off...

School is out...
Time to sleep in, relax, and forget about everything school related...
After all, 3 months off during the summer is the only reason why we, teachers, do what we do... "Must be nice to have the summers off."...Right?

Last Thursday, was my last day of school.
My books are packed, and my classroom is "boxed up" and ready to be cleaned; my computers are unplugged, ready to be re-imaged. No more lesson plans, no more "counseling" students, no more schedules...
But if you think for one moment that my mind is off of school matters, that I'll be spending the next 10 weeks in a   "no school talk" mode, then I say you are out of your mind.

Unless you are an educator (or live with one), you have no idea/concept of what summers look like. Most of us use this time to catch up, on all the things that we would love to do during the school year but are unable to due to time constraints, and other restrictions.
Summer is a time of reflection, continuing education, and action...

This year, I was able to jump right into that phase, and I am so thankful for the opportunity... My husband had to be in the Chicago area at 7 am on the Tuesday following Memorial Day... (Side note: Gotta love Corporate America), and he suggested I ride up with him... I could relax, read, enjoy the hot tub at the hotel etc... Pretty enticing if you ask me... But the real excitement for me, was the fact that a plan was already forming in my head... My "Twitter friend" Jon Orech's school is located in the Chicago area... What if I could tie the trip with a visit to his school?  This could be fun... I never have time during the school year to go observe other schools... Plus this one is a different state.. different standards... different requirements... This could be eye opening and give me ideas.

DM Jon, schedule Skype call.. Done, planned and organized.. Wednesday June 1st, I would be visiting his school and talking to his teachers... And "eye opening" it was....

I'm not even sure how to verbalize how exciting, invigorating, and inspirational this visit was... Here I am, only 3 days out of school, and unable to stop babbling about what I saw, what I'd like to apply to my school, and how I'm going to get it done..

Best way for me to share with you, is to make a list (yes I am a list maker) of random reflections and comments:

  • They have more than 3200 students in the school... we have 2100 total in my whole district...
  • They have 240 Teachers... That's half of the entire student population at my school...
  • They don't have a "bring your tractor to school day" during FFA week... we do...
  • They don't have to worry about reminding students not to bring guns or bows and arrows on school property (cars in parking lot) during hunting season... we do...OK, yes I am pushing a little (not really, we do have tractor days, and have made the shotgun announcements)... but you get the point.
  • I was expecting Smartboards and projectors in every room, you know how rich those suburbans districts are... What I found was... technology was present and integrated in every class, but we seem to have a higher ratio of "equipment" per classroom. The difference seemed to be in the "planning" of the equipment distribution and integration.
  • What surprised me the most about Jon's school, is how casual, and relaxed the whole atmosphere was for such a large school ... Even though it was the last official day of school before finals... I got to observe master teachers leading students in revision activities. 240 teachers, and Jon seemed to know every single one of them.
  • My favorite part of the school day, was to be able to observe the library... What a buzzing place it was... Most definitely the heart of that school... The library staff was pretty amazing... checking books out, helping locate books, helping students in several of the "computer labs.".. They even took the time to discuss with me which e-readers they bought for the school, and all the procedures for students to get them...

But my favorite thing about the Downers Grove South Library, was the teachers Summer book check out... When my school, makes sure that all books are turned in, and on lock down for the summer, theirs allows every teacher in the building to check out as many books as they would like to read over the summer. Almost every teacher in the building came down to the library, and walked out of there with between 5 and 10 books.. Anything from catching up with what their students were reading, to books recommended by their librarians, to professional development books... I had never heard of that... I know my school doesn't do it, but I had not even heard or thought of other schools doing it... What a simple and genius idea... Why not use those fantastic resources? Why not make sure that every teacher was given the resources to keep improving themselves? Isn't that a form of professional development? I think so.

So to get back to the point of this blog post... "Must be nice to have 3 months off?"...
Well YES IT IS... because it provides us with the time to do these extra things... Read, collaborate, exchange ideas, plan and organize the next year and even visit and observe "out of State schools"...

And for all you skeptics out there... If you think I'm an exception..., if you think there are not plenty of other educators out there who are doing the same thing... Let me just suggest you take a trip in "Twitter-land", and see what's buzzing... Educators all over the world, are not disconnecting during the summer... they are RECHARGING...

And that my friends, is one of the keys to a successful, happy experience in the world of education...

It's my opinion and I'm sticking by it...LOL

May 13, 2011

I Love My Job... Yes I do

"I love my job, I love my job, I love my job..."

How often do I repeat this little phrase?

I say it every August, when I get all excited with preparations for the upcoming school year: from repainting and re-arranging my classroom, to creating new materials, to getting new equipment, or even to the simple pleasure of unpacking new school supplies (Yes I am a true nerd, and one of my guilty pleasures is the smell of brand new paper, pencils, markers etc...)

I say it every October, when I am finally at a point where I feel I really know my new students, and I keep being amazed by their creativity and their willingness to work with me, and try "new things". Let's be honest, if it weren't for their "productions", I wouldn't have anything meaningful to present at the conferences that I attend. It 's not about the many tools we use; it's about how they benefit and enhance the student's learning experience.

I say it every December, when we are half way through the year, and I can't believe how much we have accomplished together. All right, let's be honest, we all feel merry at that point and the little gift exchange may help keep the mood upbeat.

I say it in February, when the phone rings at 5:00 am, and the most beautiful voice in the world says :" No school today... Snow Day." Just kidding...Not really though... By that point, winter has gotten to me... I am tired... My students are tired... and a general lethargy most definitely seems to impact the whole school.

And then I say it again in April... But this time it is different... I still mean it... But I catch myself repeating it over and over, more like a mantra... Almost as if I needed to convince myself of its veracity.. So I will say it again... I love my job, I love my job, I love my job, but I absolutely hate April and May.. at least when it comes to the world of education... My world.

April and May are what I would call "Angry Adult Season."

I cannot take the credit for this turn of phrase... It was mentioned in a conversation at EdCamp Omaha, and made me laugh so hard that it stuck with me. It is so true... This is the time of the year, where, we (the professionals) the adults in charge tend to get so caught up in the requirements and stress of the end of a school year, that we all seem to forget some of the essential components of our job and may at times display behaviors that we would never tolerate in our own classes.

Hear me right...
I am not denying that Standardized Tests cause disruption and chaos and put a lot of pressure on core classes teachers... Yes, I am one of those who think that those "one size fits all" tests are useless, and am in favor of a major reform that would actually let us use a more personal way to evaluate our students progress....
I am also not denying that the approaching end of the year seems to upset the behavior balance that we have been accustomed to... The "good" students seem to check out early and may stop their effort, finishing the year on the "points" reserve accumulated over the winter.... The "bad" ones, suddenly wake up and keep pestering you for extra-credit activities, when they have yet to complete the regular assigned activities... The usually friendly and helpful colleagues suddenly go into hiding in their own classrooms, trying to accomplish the many required tasks ie: list of fines, inventory, orders for following year, etc ..etc..

But what I mean to say, is that I am disappointed...
Disappointed in us, the professionals, the role models, the people entrusted with the "shaping" of an entire generation... I know it sound pompous... But it is true... What we do, and how we act (or react in most cases) affects our students... Now... But also long term... I know they will remember us.. the way I remember my teachers... And I would rather them remembering me for the experiences we shared and for what they learned, rather than for a "temper tantrum," no matter how "justified" it might be.

Don't get me wrong, I am by no means a "holier than thou" innocent angel in this situation... I too have had my "Angry Adult Moments," and have partaken in the water-cooler discussions at times... but this has to stop... and for me... It ends now... with this blog.... As a reminder of what I am really doing here...

So I want to say it again... Loud and clear... But this time, as an ultra positive mantra....


April 20, 2011

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye...

Prom is over.... You know what that means????
Rampant "Senioritis"... Oh! and Graduation is just around the corner...

Scary, I know... Not only because I just realized that I only have about 15 classes (yep 30 school days) left to cram in the rest of my curriculum...(Just kidding) But mainly because I can't believe it is almost time to once again say goodbye to another fabulous class...

So just for fun I thought I'd share with you an example of what a graduation gift looks like...Mme Jones style.., 

Part 1. The Note and Deep Thoughts....

"One last piece of "un-requested" wisdom... Just for kicks"

As you leave the nest, you will often be on your own to make very important decisions. So I just thought I’d take one last opportunity to share some wisdom that was left to me by my elders and some that I discovered (sometimes painfully) on my own. 
To do so, I will share with you some of my favorite quotes from a French classic: “The Little Prince” (Yes I know... it is way over used... but seriously.. we all enjoyed it so much.... "Snake in the grass" anyone???)

  1. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always explaining things to them.  Just because you are older, does not mean that you have all the answers. You will make mistakes; the interesting part is how you react to them, and what actions you take to make it right. Growing old, and growing up are 2 very different concepts.

  1.  Here is my secret. It is very simple: one sees well only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes. As long as you stay true to whom you really are (your values, your faith, your beliefs etc.), things will always be fine. Follow what your heart tells you, and remember that “Not all that shines is gold.” A little of exploration here and there is very healthy and will keep you on the right track.

  1. Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.You do not always get what you want, you do not always meet good people, but the most important thing is that to reach a goal that means something to you, you might have to put up with a little thing or two, and who knows you might discover a lot in the process. Keep your eyes open, keep on trucking... There usually is a pretty cool light at the end of the tunnel

Part 2. The Gift... Yes I actually buy these things for all my graduating seniors...

Finally I wanted to share with you a few essentials for life after Mom and Dad (and out of their house)

  1. Band Aids: Cuts and bruises will still happen, now you are in charge.
  2. Lint remover: Presentation is everything. Most people judge a person in the first 10 minutes of meeting them.
  3. Tissues: Did you really think, everything was going to be fun and games? Your crying days are not over and it is OK.
  4. Phone Card: I don't care if  this is the era of cell phones... U can always use a prepaid phone card to call home.. or check in with your favorite soon to be, former French teacher
  5. Ramen Noodles: They are the key to every great meal on a budget. Breakfast, snack, dinner; cold, hot warmed up, re-heated you name it. You’ll eat plenty of them for about 4 years, and then won’t be able to look at them for another 10. Trust me.
  6. Laundry Detergent: Grow –up, you can do your own laundry now.
  7. Clothes basket: Who am I kidding? Of course you’ll be bringing laundry back on the week-end. (And here is the best secret: your mom will be praying for Laundry visits)
Good luck and make sure to keep me posted on you progress.... Because even though you are now transitioning from "one of my students" to "one of my former students"... the important thing is... you are "one of mine"... Always and Forever...

April 2, 2011

Where The Heart Is....

It all started with a former student's Facebook Status :

"If you want to know where your heart is look where your mind goes when it wanders."
~Henri-Frédéric Amiel~

For some reason this quote really hit me square in the face as I was lazily browsing through my Facebook feed this morning ... Because my heart has been aching, and my mind has definitely been wandering....

It is no secret that I have been somewhat "homesick" recently. And although I have been living and enjoying (let me make it clear, I like the US) life here States side, my heart still long for my native land, and very much so at the moment. Blame it on the fact that it's been nearly 4 years since I got to truly spend time with family and friends over there and won't be able to afford a trip back any time soon. Blame it on the fact that Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media Venues have re-connected me with my "former life" and "former friends" (do true friends actually ever stop being your friend?), or the fact that these venues have brought into my life new friends (see my last post on "Don't talk to Strangers") whom I like to call my "European Connections." Or blame it on the fact that my newly acquired duties as assistant soccer coach for our High School Girls Team, have brought back to me a certain joy (long forgotten or maybe ignored) and a flood of memories and experiences that I thought were part of my past, and would not matter in the future... 

Whatever the reasons.... I am "homesick"...

I miss Belgium... I miss the streets, the architecture, the public transports (on strike every other week but still...) 
I miss French Fries with mayonnaise (yes that's how it's done) at 2 o'clock in the morning...
I dream of a bottle of Jupiler while watching Standard de Liège play football (and yes, it IS football, and not soccer... you use your feet, and use a ball... get it? LOL)
I miss the silly political arguments between Flemish and Walloons, and how we all seem to forget that there is a third group involved in this discussion (Yes, my "germanophones" friends, I do remember you...)
I miss my friends, the ones that have known me for more than 30 years, the ones to whom I don't have to explain my twisted sense of humor, the ones who understand the excitement created in me when I find un "pain au chocolat" or how I still giggle when I quote an old French movie ("le fil vert sur le boutton vert...".)
I miss coffee..( No offense Starbucks, I still love you and always will, but in truth, there are times where I wish you could make something like this)

Funny how things that did not really matter to me in my twenties seem to really matter today...

It didn't matter then that my newly acquired American friends had trouble pronouncing my name . "Mireille" is not an easy "word" to pronounce for English speakers; I did not want to make them uncomfortable with endless corrections in pronunciation... This would only lead to uneasy feelings or lost moments... So I became "Mimi", and even used humor to justify it... I used to say that this transformation from "Mireille Lachi" (maiden name) to "Mimi Jones" (Married name), was finally providing me with a justification for a potential "multiple personality disorder." And as I immersed myself in American culture, watching movies (some of them really bad), and listening to music, so I could join the conversations and understand the quotes and references made around me, I slowly forgot about Mireille, moving forward with my "new" life.

Until recently... When I had some sort of an epiphany...

Maybe it was the cancer thing.. (Yes I am fine and doing well right now thanks)...
Maybe it was my "rebirth" as an educator (see my post "Who are you calling a sheep?")...
Maybe it's just a mid-life crisis (which seems to be the easy explanation that most people would embrace)... Apparently it is not a very popular thing to say out loud that "being a mother is not the greatest achievement of my life. It is in my top 3, but I refuse to be solely defined as a wife and a mother anymore.")That comment was really not well received at Bunco Night. Even though, when one on one, most ladies confided that they had similar feelings; I found out that it is not acceptable to say it out loud in society. My bad. Won't do that again... Or did I just do it again??? LOL 

I don't know.
I have no idea why, but all I can say is that my mind wanders. It seems to be searching high and low for "Mireille." 

As my self examination progressed, I was left to wonder.... Who is this guy??? This Henri-Frédéric Amiel???? Sounds French... and I have never even heard of him... I had to find out... So right away... I decided to research...  Funny story actually, I am now so used to reaching to my PLN  before even asking Google, that it' s what I did... Sent a couple of messages to my European connections (who in this case "failed" me... LOL.. I had to use Google after all)... 
What did I find you may ask???
Well the guy was a Swiss philosopher in the 19th century... Nothing Special you may say... Plenty of them right? Except that this guy left us with some true gems of wisdom... That I really feel should be more recognized and reflected upon... I guarantee you I will be reflecting on some of them, and I can only hope you'll join me in this "exchange of ideas"

Here are a few of the quotes that really resonated with me...

"Learn to limit yourself, to content yourself with some definite thing, and some definite work; dare to be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not and to believe in your own individuality."

"A man without passion is only a latent force, only a possibility, like a stone waiting for the blow from the iron to give forth sparks."

"I find myself regarding existence as though from beyond the tomb, from another world; all is strange to me; I am, as it were, outside my own body and individuality; I am depersonalized, detached, cut adrift. Is this madness?"

"The highest function of the teacher consists not so much in imparting knowledge as in stimulating the pupil in its love and pursuit. To know how to suggest is the art of teaching."

"The man who insists on seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides."

Happy Reflecting!!!!!!!

March 12, 2011

Don't Talk to Strangers....

At some point in our lives, we have all had the "Don't talk to Strangers" talk. We have either received it as a kid, or now that we have become adults, we have given it ourselves.

As a parent, I too have given that speech. My two kiddos have been warned of strangers; real ones and "online" ones.
So all is good... Or should be...

Except for the fact that this recent incident made me think; got my wheels spinning... (and we all know what happens when I start thinking...lol)

Z & Z (my kiddos, age 8 and 10) stayed at home by themselves for a grand total of 10 min, waiting for me to get home from soccer practice (yes I am assistant coach this year... probably worth another post LOL), while their dad had to leave. Later that night at dinner, when we are all sitting at the kitchen table,
Z. my 10 yr old daughter, mentions that the "Schwan delivery guy" stopped by, and they told him we didn't need anything this week.
My husband proceeded to remind them that the deal was "do not answer the phone, do not open the door, especially to strangers" if mom and dad are not there.
To this she responded "but it wasn't a stranger, it was Larry the Schwan delivery guy."
Hubby countered with "What is Larry's last name?"
Z answered "You know dad, I don't know."
Hubby wrapped up the conversation with "If you don't know his last name then he is a stranger."
Not badly done, I thought...

Later that night as I was reflecting on whether or not I was an unfit mother for leaving them alone for a bit, on how old they needed to be before being left on their own, on how old I was when I was first left alone; I was replaying the conversation in my head... and the "last name comment" struck me weird...

I knew that as an adult I was going to have some explaining to do regarding things that adults do (ie my husband is a smoker) and kids shouldn't. I am fully aware that 70% of my CD collections contains the "Parent Advisory" sticker, and was prepared to explain the adult language vs. the one appropriate for a child. I think I am also ready to explain the differences between growing up in Belgium and what was acceptable over there (is drinking well before 21, topless beaches etc.), and what is socially acceptable here. I never dreamt that my first big dilemma would be about a subject as cut and dry as "don't talk to strangers."

Why did it bother me so much?
Because I am a very straight forward person.... Some might even call me blunt at times.. I say what I think, and I think what I say. I am a big fan of "practice what you preach", "If you talk the talk, walk the walk." Heck I teach this to my students each and every day. And because in this case, I am not walking the walk.

I talk to strangers... Online strangers, on a daily basis.. Some of the most meaningful and "impactful" conversations in my life recently, have taken place with strangers. Twitter and other venues have brought in my life a myriad of strangers, with interests similar to mine. We talked... Conversations turned into meaningful connections... I now consider some of them "friends" of mine. I refer to them as "my friend so and so."... And you know what? I don't know their last names.... Shocking I know... Worse... For some of them, I don't even know their first names; I only know their user name. Now I do realize that the chances of me interacting with a crazy stalker in my PLN on Twitter are slim to none.

Yet how do I explain the difference?
I can't exactly give the "it's acceptable for adults but not for children" speech. Because it really isn't a matter of age here... I m not talking about a tattoo, or ear piercing, or hair highlights...LOL
I can't exactly give the speech of "this site is safe" because it's not exactly true... my tweets can be geatoagged etc.
I am even struggling with the explanation of the degree of friendship attained with these people...You see, in French, we have several words for the word "friend"... each of them carrying a nuance as to the level of friendship involved... Can't give that speech either, since English is limiting me...

So, here I am, facing a big dilemma... For the first time in a long time.. the talk and the walk don't match... and I am really not sure what to do about it..
Because I can tell you one thing for sure... I do not plan on stopping my conversations with my "strangers" anytime soon.. They have been way too valuable to me.. I would rather "take a chance" on "strangers", then go back to my "semi isolation."

I just may have to do something I swore I would never do as a mother.... avoid and delay that conversation with my kiddos...

Situation Status: UNRESOLVED

February 17, 2011

Where the H*@* is Mimi?

It happened again...
Just like last year...
M.E.T.C. 2011 just blew my mind...

Everyone keeps asking me "How was it?", and all I can answer is "Awesome".
I feel like a giddy 15 year old, who has no (or has lost) her vocabulary.

Yes, I'm crushing on you M.E.T.C... You once again left me speechless, and lord knows that doesn't happen to me very often.

How do I explain? How do I tell people that I can't fully wrap my brains around the whole experience?

Maybe I should start with this year's theme?
Motivate, Engage, Transform, Connect....
Did you even look at the program?

What is it? Like 180 sessions? Which reminds me...
Dear Mr. Creator of Twitter,
I love you.

I cannot imagine this conference without the power of Twitter. I can be engaged in one conference room, and actively participate in discussions taking place in different rooms or even out in the cloud. A real ADD fest... Perfect for me. But I digress.

I could go on and on about the variety of sessions and "tools" that I was introduced to (or reminded of)... but I think I would not be doing this conference justice.

You see... To me... the magic of the M.E.T.C. experience lies in the people... The organizers, whose "planning" tweets I have been following all year long... The presenters, whose knowledge and creativity always amaze me... These guys are very good... but the true magicians... those who motivated me with their ideas... those who engaged me in brilliant conversations... those who transformed me from a shy, sweet little thing (OK, here I'm pushing a tad)... To me, the beauty of M.E.T.C. lies in its attendees...

Between the session rooms, the connection lounge, the tweet-ups, the lunch lines, birds of a feathers, the sharing of power strips, and sometimes of "hot spot" (I cant thank you enough @hankb), conversations are started... Connections are formed...

Strong connections too... Connections that last through the year via Twitter, email, phone calls... Connections that I carry in my heart, when I go back to my (sometimes lonely) District... And it is to these connections that I reach out to when I feel isolated, in my quest to become a better teacher. I re-live the conversations... I smile at the memories of the jokes and the occasional "trash talk"... I tweet out... And then I remember... I am not alone... I am CONNECTED... No matter where I am...

Let me show you what I mean...
Here is the Video Essay that I have submitted to #METC_CSD... (Yes I DO want to win the Ipad), but I truly believe it provides a glimpse into the magic of M.E.T.C.

 "Where the H*@* is Mimi?"...
(inspired by one of my favorite viral video "Where the hell is Matt?)

February 9, 2011

Skype You Later Alligator....

We did it... We finally did it....
Repeat after me... " I Skype, you Skype, he Skypes, we Skype."

OK, let me get off my cloud, and backtrack for a sec, so you too can share in my euphoria.

Every year, students in my daughter's school (Cathedral School- MO) participate in a wonderful whole school geography project. Each class selects a country; and for a 2 weeks period students conduct research about it. They share their findings in a "World Fair" where other classes, parents, and anyone interested can come and learn about the various countries, their geography, their history, their culture and more. (this year, they are attempting to build a wiki to share with the world)

My daughter Zoë (a new 5th grader at Cathedral), had been praising Belgium (my native land) to such an extent, that the 3rd grade class picked it as its "2011 Country to learn about." I was pretty excited about it too. I love to talk about Belgium... (you know... that little country most Americans go through on their way to Germany or to Paris...LOL) Best kept secret in Europe if you ask me...LOL

After a quick chit chat with the 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Lauren Supple regarding what type of resources I could provide them with (yes it did include some Belgian Chocolate), we realized that my contacts in Belgium, might just provide us with the perfect opportunity to try and set up our very 1st virtual exchange via Skype.
Surely, I could find a school in Belgium who would be interested. So I quickly posted a message on Facebook, tagging about 20 of my elementary teachers friends, asking for anyone wishing to participate to contact me... Oh man...were they interested... Problem was, most of the answers were along the lines of "I would love to, but we are not equipped for it." Needless to say I was starting to wonder if my "big fat mouth" had once again betrayed me... Then came our saving grace... One of my college friend, Stéphanie Mercenier, offered to work with us. She was teaching second grade (1 year off), but was fully equipped with an LCD projector, and even a smartboard. We had our winner... We would Skype with the 2nd grade class from Ecole Primaire St Croix, in Hannut (Belgium). Perfect... Problem solved... NO issues... Wrong....

Neither teacher had ever used Skype in the classroom, but both were very determined to see this project through. Heck, Stéphanie had never even used Skype before, but in a true 21st century educator fashion, she ran with it. Both were kinda looking to me for advice on how to communicate (translation would be needed), and were kinda looking to me for "professional advice/guidance" on how to use it.... Way to go "Big Mouth."... OK I'll admit, I was so stoked... Over the last year, I have often been saying that I'd love to be a technology Instruction Specialist/Coach when I grew up... LOL... well... Here was my big chance... Two eager teachers, two very motivated classes, and a pretty cool project... Oh and we had exactly 4 days to put it together. My kind of challenge.

I was also worried about the technical aspect of this endeavor. I was not about to be responsible for letting down a whole bunch of 7 and 8 year olds. Thank God, for Joe Dale... He and his UK Tweeps (I think he refers to them as UK Twitterati), always come through for me with very valuable resources. Joe had the best step by step blog post on How-to Skype in the classroom. I went to work

I met with Lauren, and we discussed the need for this conversation to be students initiated as much as possible. Right away, she got to work. Her students came up with a list of questions they would like to ask their Belgian counterparts, and emailed it to me promptly. I Tweaked it a little by converting this Word document into a Google Doc, in order to be able to fully collaborate, and to publish it as a webpage... I was already thinking about the follow up...  Then I contacted Stéphanie, who by then had signed up for a Skype account. Within seconds of my phone call, she too was a Google user, and was accessing our document. She turned around and within 12 hours, had her students come up with their own list of questions... Same process... I talked to both of them about the need for "structure" during the conversation. Students should all have a job to do... Some needed to be the "interviewers", some would be the "interviewees", some would be on documentation duty (photographer, cameraman, reporter, etc.), and some might even be on crowd control duty. Both teachers  "got after it," and had a game plan in place within 2 days... My kind of pace... So we were all set... all scheduled in... the US students would come to school on Tuesday February 1st at 7:30 (1/2 hour early), and the Belgian students would stay until 3:30 pm (1/2 hour later)... See we were already learning about time zones... Wonderful.. Add to this the fact that Stéphanie had in her class a new student this year who used to live in England... How perfect was that... They were going to be able to have their own translator.

 Ready, set, SK... Wait.... What is that???? Oh yeah... That's when the "snowstorm of the century" hit Missouri, and school got cancelled all week. Talk about a bummer... I knew to expect glitches, but Really??? Weather delay???? How do you want me to explain that one to a bunch of 8 year old????

Never mind... We were on a mission, and it would take more than ice, snow and a blizzard to stop us. We were finally able to reschedule the experience for today, February 8. It ensured better weather in Missouri, and added time for the Belgian side to do a little more research of their own (colored a few american flags, discussed the statue of Liberty etc." To quote Stéphanie: " I have never seen a bunch of 2nd graders that interested in Missouri Weather..." Take that Mother Nature...

Today it happened.... Today was perfect....

So there you have it... 1 big fat mouth + 2 fantastic daring teachers+ a bunch of really cool kids + a little help from my friends = a great experience that I cannot wait to reproduce.

So now... Repeat after me .... " I Skype, you Skype, he Skypes, WE all can Skype."

Watch the video of the event... Recorded by Hunter (age 8)... Note to self... in the future bring a tripod...LOL

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Photo Gallery: USA side --- Belgium side (coming soon)

February 1, 2011

#30 Goals Challenge Day 1- "Be a Beam"

If I thought today was going to be a "lazy" snow day, I was way wrong. Leave it to @Shellterrell  to once again come up with something to challenge me as an educator and get we all worked up.

Shelly challenges all of us to take the #30days Challenge. (did you know that more than 4600 educators participated last year?) She suggest 30 "short-term goals we reflect on and see how they help us aim towards long-term goals." Once again, Shelly's practical yet thoughtful approach is what "got me". She posted Goal #1 today: "Be a Beam". The idea is that by helping someone who struggles (student or teacher today, it will have a long term positive effect. 

Never mind that I was going to re-read "Pride & Prejudice" for the millionth time (yes it is my guilty pleasure); never mind that my Christmas tree is still up (it might just have to become a holiday tree with valentine decoration and all), and definitely never mind the laundry; once again, the woman had me thinking...


“You cannot force commitment, what you can do…You nudge a little here, inspire a little there, and provide a role model.  Your primary influence is the environment you create.”
by Peter Senge, suggested by John Evans (@joevans

That seemed simple enough... helping someone... lord knows some of my colleagues could use some help (let's be honest, one of the hardest thing to do for us teachers is to collaborate with some people whom we would never have anything to do with outside of school. we call it "teaching philosophy" and we all know that we look down to some of them because of these philosophical differences; even if we are grown up enough not to say it out loud anymore) ... but I am snowed in... and probably wont be back at school until Friday (wishful thinking), so how was I going to do that? After re-reading that quote I realized, I could participate. I had been gathering all these links and tweets for several weeks now, in my hopes of convincing more people at my school to participate in the discussion via #twitter and #edchat. "A little nudge?" I could do that... I could start sharing these resources via personal emails with my colleagues, without the "smart aleck"/sarcastic comments that tend to be my trademark. People respond better to the "personal notes" rather than the mass email; even if by "mass" I mean their department only. So I "composed" and "attached" and "clicked" and "forwarded". I was nudging alright.

 But it's me we are talking about... not exactly the queen of self control... Yep, If I open a bag of chips I finish it (I can do that with Ben & Jerry's ice cream too). So what started as a little nudge turned out to be a wide campaign. Pretty soon it wasn't just the "struggling ones" I was emailing... The feeling of sharing, and looking for something special that would personally touch a particular person kinda felt like the hunt for the perfect Christmas present (Oh good my tree is still up.. I am ready..LOL).. And I liked it... It felt good...It put a smile on my face when I found the perfect links, and shared them. But not as big of a grin as when response emails started pouring in. So they were interested... They were needing the time to explore these resources I had mentioned to them (Thank you Mr. snow day)... and some of them were actually pretty excited... maybe not as disaffected as I thought them to be after all.

So you see Ms. Shelly... It's already working short term too... My frame of mind has already altered... from a somewhat judgmental/sarcastic outlook this morning; I am now pretty happy with the end result of Day 1. I am "beaming" alright. almost glowing (LOL)

#30Goals Challenge: "Be a Beam" Mission Status?
Accomplished... No... Let me change that mission status to "in progress", because it is only going to have a long lasting impact if we keep it up. And Long term is what we are really looking for after all .

January 25, 2011

Who Are You Calling A Sheep?

"Don't be a sheep."
If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I could probably be retired by now. If I had had to give out a nickel for every time I said it myself during the first 13 years of my teaching experience, my bank account would probably reflect a very negative balance (Wait, it does, but that's something to discuss in another post)

The point is, that I am not so sure that this saying still has a place in my world nowadays. If I want to be honest, I know it does not have a place in my world today.

"Do you want to be a leader or a follower?"
What a very difficult question to answer. You see, based on my personal experience over the last 2 years, being a follower turned out to be a pretty good deal.

I joined Twitter in January of 2009. I wasn't really sure what to do with it (I already had Facebook), but that was the "new" thing to try, so I tried it. I followed a few people that had been recommended to me. It was nice. I enjoyed reading about all the different topics, and discovering all these new resources that they were sharing. I was so impressed by how much knowledge they had. Where did they find this stuff? Needless to say, I was way out of my league and there was no way I would ever post a tweet; I was not about to embarrass myself with my lack of knowledge or poor written English skills.Who was I compared to all of them? They knew so much. Yep! Twitter scared the C@#% out of me. But I kept at it. Every day reading, learning and learning more. What I didn't realize is that, with all this influx of resources and ideas, I was in the middle of my own Renaissance, my own rebirth. Some of these tweets made me feel so irritated ("What? Seriously? How can he say that?"), some of them made me feel vindicated ("I knew I was right"), and some inspired me beyond words. Twitter felt good. Irritated, vindicated or inspired, I felt good. I felt good, because for the first time in a long time I was thinking, questioning myself, and coming to my own conclusions just like when I was young. That creative/daring spark that used to characterize me as a "new teacher" was slowly rekindling. "I can do that too." "I bet it would work better if..." Slowly, I wanted to be part of this conversation.

It started with a couple of re-tweets of ideas that were similar to mine. It was an easy way to express myself, put my thoughts out there, without taking a major risk. But soon it wasn't enough. I too had ideas, and I could share them. So what if I was a non-native English speaker; It was only 140 characters. Surely I could handle that. Right? So, little by little, I started tweeting, and posting, and sharing. And wouldn't you know it, the weirdest thing happened? People started to follow me, and ask me questions or advice. Some also really challenged me, and I loved it. I wasn't scared anymore. This conversation felt good. It forced me to face who I was, and what I was about. Talk about finally growing up.

Then came #Edchat. Oh man! How was that for a conversation? A new topic each week; new interactions, new ideas. So many people, so many interesting and inspiring people(and a few goof balls), I was so excited to be part of something like this. It felt like being part of a revolution. But soon it wasn't enough. The conversation was great, and I was talking the talk, but if I wanted to keep going on this "new" path, and truly make the difference that we as educators all secretly hope to make, it was time to walk the walk. It was time to really apply all of this in my every day teaching. Rules and regulations you may ask? Yep, they were there (and still are), but this was a revolution. It was not just about me; it is about all these kids, whose future I am entrusted with. This was about the cause, and when the cause is just, people find the means. And so I did. Starting with parameters that I could control (my website, my projects etc...), slowly moving to convincing other people to join the movement ("Let's do #Edchat together, I'll show you. Don't be afraid"); begging my administration to loosen some rules ("Please let me try this; if it fails we'll stop.")

Add attending quality conferences such as METC 2010, meeting face to face with some of the people whom I had been following (Tweet ups are great, but man, was i kinda "star struck" with some), meeting new people, expanding my "circle of trust" (I mean P.L.N.), letting some of them convince me to become a presenter at future conferences (Happy Hour may be to blame on that one), and then it hit me; things had changed; I had become a leader; a real one this time; the kind that strives to better things for everyone and not just themselves; the kind that takes risks and accepts challenges; the kind that might make an impact after all.

So this is me... Accepting the challenge (write more than 140)... Sharing this experience...Saying thank you to all those who helped me (knowingly or unknowingly) get to where I am right now: a "leader" in my little world, but definitely a "follower" in the big One,