Tuesday, February 18, 2014

WV Future Educators Association Conference and Competition

I have had the opportunity to meet the next generation of educators in West Virginia - and they are amazing.

I spoke at the opening session of the fifth annual West Virginia Future Educators Association (FEA) last Tuesday at the Stonewall Resort. The FEA is a career and technical organization for high school students interested in careers in the education field. While many of the students involved in FEA are interested in becoming teachers, some are planning on other careers that involve working with and the development of children. Students involved in their local chapters take classes related to education and child development, and prepare projects for the state competition. Some of the project categories are Lesson Planning and Delivery, Public Speaking, Electronic Career Portfolio, and (my favorite) Storybook Creation and Presentation. Students then proceed to the National FEA competition based on their placement at the state level.
Roane-Jackson Technical Center being introduced

WV FEA student president Symnatha Franklin opening the conference

I admittedly did not know much about the FEA before I attended this event. I figured I would come and give a speech and then proceed on to the next event on my agenda for the day. Well, I was wrong. Out of all of the events I have attended so far this year, meeting these students and learning about the mission of the FEA has impacted me the most. The students in our classrooms right now are our future teachers. How incredible is it to be able to reach our pre-service teachers before they even set foot in their first college course! For a state that will have 50% of its teaching force eligible for retirement within the next decade, the programs that FEA provides give West Virginia the opportunity to prepare high school students - some of which are the most articulate, caring, intelligent teenagers you will ever meet - for the rigor and skill needed for the classroom.
Dan Brown, FEA National Director

Let's get back to those high school students. Wow. The positive energy in that room as the FEA students were preparing their posters for their introductions was evident. It is exciting to know that these are the young men and women that will be teaching our children in the next 5-6 years. They are smart, compassionate, motivated, and break every negative stereotype you can think of when it comes to teenagers (except for maybe the music, but most of that was even okay :-)
With future art therapist Symnatha Franklin and her entry for the storybook competition :-)

With sophomore Emily Williams and her storybook entry

WV FEA student officers (left to right) Hayley Hollandsworth, Haley McNeil, Symnatha Franklin, Jacob Sargent, and Katlyn Daniel

I also had the chance to talk to Jacob Sargent, one of the vice presidents of the WV FEA, about his tremendous act of courage and quick-thinking a few weeks ago. How he sprang into action without a second thought and helped his peers is remarkable. You can read more about his story at this link.
Drema McNeal, 2011 WV Teacher of the Year

Susan Rice, WV FEA Advisor

...So about that speech I was set to give. I didn't give it. Oh, I had one prepared that I thought high school students would want to hear, something fun and cool. In a way, I was a little intimidated by talking to high school students, because I didn't want them to be bored by what I had to say. The energy in that room further prompted me to feel that I was going to need to up the ante on this one.

And then, someone said something right before I was introduced. It doesn't matter who or what was said (although I may let him or her know), but it took me back to 16, 17-year-old me. With five minutes and counting, I realized that these future teachers, with their own strengths and shortcomings, didn't need to hear a speech. They needed to hear a story. My story.

The teaching profession needs people from all backgrounds and experiences to educate our children and motivate them to succeed. There is no perfect person to become a teacher, just people with perfect qualities and potential. You never would have expected me growing up and as a young adult to someday be the West Virginia Teacher of the Year. Those with the desire to be successful teachers need to know that the obstacles they face and overcome build your character. Those of us that look like finished products have been years in the making - and are still a work in progress.

It was hard to leave that group of students, because they and those that organize the WV FEA are very inspiring. I left there with a greater understanding of who I could impact this year. Unfortunately, that also meant I was late, as in "diva late," for my meeting with the high quality teacher committee in Bridgeport. Thankfully they were very forgiving, as I explained to them what incredible future teachers were in store for West Virginia.
Explaining why I was "diva late" :-)

Thank you WV FEA for having me at your conference. You are preparing yourselves for your future students in ways I never could have anticipated as a high school student. I'm convinced that someday I will be calling at least one of you a fellow West Virginia Teacher of the Year.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rewind Wednesday: Digital Learning Day

I write this as the snow begins to fall here in the Eastern Panhandle. The past week has been busy, but the weather is going to ground us for the next few days. I've had several wonderful experiences in the last seven days, so many that I'll have to split them into several posts. We'll start with Digital Learning Day.

February 5th was National Digital Learning Day, which promotes awareness and encourages the use of technology in our schools. It's a chance to showcase the amazing ways that teachers are able to connect their students to the world that ten years ago wasn't fathomable. So much has changed in how we can reach our students, in ways that those outside of the education community may not know about unless they visit a classroom on a regular basis.
Wired for success!

Part of my job as teacher of the year is to feature the classrooms in our state and draw attention to how our schools are moving forward with the tools of tomorrow. To recognize Digital Learning Day, I visited Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary in Charleston to conduct a lesson to second graders via video conference with three other second grade classrooms across the state. In addition to the students at Mary C. Snow in Kanawha County, students at Hollywood Elementary in Raleigh County, Burch Elementary in Mingo County, and Norwood Elementary in Harrison County learned about the state symbols of West Virginia and some of its landforms with the help of Berkeley the Bear. I have been meaning to write a blog post all about Berkeley and his mission this year, but things keep happening...maybe since I'll be snowed in the rest of the week, I will get around to it. Check out his blog in the meantime to see what he's been up to. Yes, the bear has a blog. Humor me.

When I arrived at Mary C. Snow, Gerald Comer, the academic coach, took me on a tour of the school. It is a beautiful, K-5 school with 500+ students. Everything about that school made me feel positive and proud to represent educators in West Virginia. Every child should have such a caring staff and exciting, vibrant atmosphere to learn. Something I loved particularly was how there were large, poster-sized pictures on the walls of their students in action. I think that is great for those visiting the school, such as those in the community, to see that when they walk in and immediately know what that school is all about.
Berkeley's ready for his big debut!

We held the video conference in the school's library. I was met as soon as I arrived by a lot of very hard working people that had coordinated this event, because making sure you have video conference software equipment in working condition from four locations AND internet access AND all schools accounted for AND the presentation on the computer AND the teacher of the year who lives four and a half hours away is no small feat. I appreciate all of the "people power" behind making Digital Learning Day successful.

Click here to go to the WVDE's YouTube clip of Digital Learning Day.

So at 10:00 the video conference began - and I was excited - because I miss the kids most of all this year, and what was I getting for 20 minutes? Four classrooms at once!!! Whoo-hoo! That's every teacher of the year's dream, if you are missing your own classroom. Of course, they were great. I love West Virginia, and I am looking forward to sharing Berkeley and all his buddies as they help young children learn about their beautiful state. This was the first time I presented Berkeley to students - didn't think about that until everything had started and I looked at all the cameras and the computer screen showing the other classrooms.
Introducing Berkeley and the rest of the state symbols :-) 

Talking about the Mountain State!

Movements for the landforms :-)

Talking with the other students across the state. Pretty amazing, wouldn't you say?

The best part :-)

Getting bookmarks with Berkeley's favorite facts about West Virginia!

Speaking to Eyewitness New after the event. I love this part of my job, because it's a chance for the public to hear from a teacher about what is going on in our schools - and there are so many good things they need to hear!

Back to all those hard working people. I go through theses "waves" of feeling that I don't deserve all of the goodness that has come to pass since October (has it really been that long?!), so I am very grateful to all of the helpers I come across the way. So I would like to thank the following people that made Digital Learning Day happen:
- Liza Cordeiro for coordinating the event and introducing me to the students
- Mellow Lee, the principal of Mary C. Snow Elementary, for allowing us to come to her wonderful school
- Gerald Comer, for letting me see and learn about your amazing school and how it serves the community
- Mark Williamson and his team from CISCO
- the team at CityNet in Morgantown that coordinated the video conference
- Brian Adkins, Shannon Poole, Leah Sparks, and Connie Mirgliotta from Kanawha County Schools and Anthony Gill from RESA III for their help in setting up the equipment and making the video conference run smoothly
- Greg Chapman from the WVDE who taped the event and put together the video
-  The students and teachers at Mary C. Snow, Norwood, Hollywood, and Burch Elementary Schools
- and last but not least Mark Moore, who took pictures and video for me, showed me how to get to the Capitol complex, parallel parked my car for me along the street because there was no parking at the Capitol complex (and I can't parallel park anymore...okay, ever), and put quarters in the meter so I didn't have to leave the meeting I attended after the Digital Learning Day event. Thankful...embarrassed to be such a pain...but absolutely thankful.

It was energizing to having my first "meeting" with students outside of Berkeley County through Digital Learning Day. Technology is the great equalizer and connector to bringing our classrooms and teachers together, and to kick off my message to school children this way is just a sign of all the great things to come - right after we dig ourselves out of another snowstorm.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The 12th Man in Education

This post is based on remarks I made during a speech to the Rise and Shine Program at the Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce on Friday, February 7th.

I hate football.

Wait, keep reading. I promise it gets better. I mean, I really do hate football.  I completely understand the value of sports and exercise and teamwork, but professional football is just too commercialized and dramatized for me to find any value in it. This post-Super Bowl week has been complete bliss: no more ESPN Red Zone or heated Facebook posts on the Seahawks and Broncos. I don't watch a lot of television, but it's nice to hear and see something else when it is on besides a giant green field and fellows in shiny, mascot emblazoned helmets. And the Star Spangled Banner sung off key over and over again? Don't even get me started.

In the midst of the hype leading up to last Sunday's national holiday, I kept hearing about the number 12 regarding the Seattle Seahawks (keep in mind I really make a concerted effort to have nothing to do with professional football). 12, 12, 12. What is the big deal? Who is this 12th man, was there a story behind it? I like stories, even if they are related to sports. I finally caved and Googled it before Bruno Mars performed and made the Super Bowl worth watching (at least the half time show portion of it).

What's this all about?
So this is what I find (thank you, Wikipedia): since there are only 11 players on the field at a time, the "12th man" is all the fans supporting the team. They aren't on the field playing the game, but they are supporting them from the sidelines. Their energy and enthusiasm, even when the score is down, gives the team motivation to keep trying. Texas A&M trademarked the phrase, although several NFL teams, such as the Seahawks, recognize "12" as their loyal fans.You probably already knew all of this, but I didn't.

Suddenly, for a brief instant, I liked football - because we need the "12th man" in education.

This year, I am not on the field playing the game in room 104B, but am getting a view of education from the stands and occasionally the box seats (State of the State...Scottsdale...White House in a few months) as I learn about the policies and people behind our classrooms and schools. I am seeing and hearing things from another perspective than I do when I am working with my teammates, as we pass the ball and go for the touchdown, all in the name of giving our students an engaging, quality learning environment. I'm learning a lot about the people in the stands, the families, the community, the lawmakers - they watch the game, sometimes up close, but often from afar. They only know what they can see and hear from their seats.

The players on the field are only human. We go for that touchdown everyday, and are often met by an interception.There are injuries, fumbles, missed field goals in the midst of every yard gained. As teachers, we are painfully aware of the set backs. We want to win. We want our students, more specifically, to win, and we are their defense. There are times we succeed, and the crowd goes wild. Everyone loves you when you are ahead. And there are times of stunning, heartbreaking defeat.

Which is why we need our 12th man. We need those who can't be on the field to support us, to lift us up, even when it's difficult and it looks like we aren't trying. Teachers are already in overtime, making special teams, learning new plays right in the middle of the game. We're playing for the future of your children. It keeps us up late at night, leads us to study better practices during the off season, and has us overextending our already exhausted mental and physical well being. We know we have the eyes and ears of the community upon us, and it sears the soul when disgust is heard in their voices or read in their comments - or when they just leave the stands because it's not worth it to them to watch anymore. The 12th man needs to cheer us on, expect us to succeed, and ask us what we need to get there. Teachers aren't the enemy; they are the home team, and the success of your children is worth hanging in there and staying involved regardless of the score at half time.

We're on to another sporting event that will take over the airwaves for the next two weeks - the Olympics. Now, even I like the Olympics. Every four years, athletes come together to compete in the games from every corner of the earth. Our teams must have the skills to compete against those from other countries, to be effective in the pursuit of their goals among a global audience. The world is watching to see who will come out on top. Sometimes we're sure that the USA is going to take home the gold, but are surprised when another country knocks us out of medal contention.

Everyday teachers are on the field in the Super Bowl of education, when we are ultimately preparing our students for the Olympics of life. This stadium, our classrooms, are just setting the stage for our students to be in the game with the rest of the world. Prized rings and endorsements aren't what we have our sights on, but knowing that we have prepared students who are motivated to learn and are on level with their peers and future colleagues around the world is more valued than any spray of confetti or glossy trophy. It's a stunning task teaching the doctors, artists, presidents, and scientists of the future, as the clock ticks down the seconds to the end of another quarter, another school year. That same enthusiasm that you see on your television 9 PM on a Monday night in October needs to be equal to the support in a child's classroom 7 PM on Open House Night in August. What will settle the final score in education won't be a number on a scoreboard or a test but how those with the greatest influence off the field choose to support it.

Teachers are the hardest working athletes you'll ever meet. Those that love the game stay in it because we believe we will succeed for the sake of your children. But if we are going to do that to the best of our ability, we must have have the 12th man behind us.

Erin Sponaugle: Nothing to fear about Common Core  - Op-Ed Commentaries - The Charleston Gazette - West Virginia News and Sports -

Erin Sponaugle: Nothing to fear about Common Core  - Op-Ed Commentaries - The Charleston Gazette - West Virginia News and Sports -