Learning Together

fall-2016-headerThis week, our team held our 6th Convergence Learning Symposium at the McKimmon Center (NC State). This two-day conference is focused on digital learning, literacy, and libraries. We have a wide range of people who attend: school library media coordinators, instructional technology facilitators, technology contacts, principals, and central office staff. This year, we added our Teacher Leader Corps members as well as our Digital Portfolio Pilot schools. What an opportunity! Having teachers and media/tech staff attend together was such a learning experience. Several principals shared that their folks came back energized and excited to try new things. We will be looking to incorporate teachers more in the future!


We also invited staff from some of our neighboring school districts: Orange County, Wilson County, Chapel-Hill Carrboro City, Johnston County and Rowan-Salisbury.

We had two very knowledgeable, entertaining, and thought-provoking keynote speakers: Kevin Brookhouser and George Couros.

img_4357           img_4380

Here are some of my takeways from their keynotes:

416rfwlw-vl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Kevin and the 20time project:

  • Mindset matters. We have to allow learners (adult and student) time to work through their functional fixedness. Thinking beyond what we know to be tradition or traditional methods requires the opportunity for failure as part of the process.
  • Students will not necessarily embrace the idea of a 20time project. As educators, we have done a great job at understanding and promoting school but not always empowering learning. We have to help others understand the why of this work and support them as they do it for the first time.
  • Students will always amaze us with the ideas and work in learning. We have to stop the “they can’t handle this” talk and understand that if we build scaffolding, they can accomplish anything (even kindergartener).
  • Failure is an option. Failure to deliver is not. (Still have the song in my head!)

George and the Innovator’s Mindset:51uo6sbasql

  • Isolation in teaching and learning is now a choice educators make. There are many ways to connect with others who do what you do and who love to share their ideas. If you are not connected, you are not trying.
  • Student engagement is a low bar. What we should be striving for is student empowerment. Students need to be empowered to learn – through wonder, prototyping, failure, and resiliency.
  • Relationships are the foundation for all successful learning experiences. As educators, we must connect with others and build a culture of learning.
  • Failure is ok but we need to teach students that it is part of the process…not the end goal. We have to help them see that they don’t have to like failure but they need to be able to learn from it.

They also provided three concurrent sessions each. George did a full session on blogging and digital portfolios. He motivated me (who doesn’t like to write) to start blogging again and share my experiences. As you may guess, this is my first post back!

During the day we also had 85 presenters who shared their experiences and learning with others. Included in that mix were faculty and staff from NC State University and UNC Chapel Hill. Big thanks to all of those who stepped up! I know everyone there has so much to give. If you didn’t present this time, please consider doing it in April!




Leading Change


The old saying is that “No one likes change but babies in diapers.” (Barbara Johnson) If that is true, how does a district make systemic change? Kotter International states, “Urgency is becoming increasingly important because change is shifting from episodic to continuous. That means there is a constant need for an urgent focus on what is important.” Change is around every corner. There is no longer a period of breathing room in education. In North Carolina, it is no different. Our districts are facing very large changes:

  • Focusing on 21st century skills
  • NC Teacher/Administrator Performance Evaluations
  • Common Core/Essential Standards curriculum changes
  • Online assessments to be given statewide in 2014

We must communicate a sense of urgency to all education stakeholders. Parents, teachers, students, and community must be involved in how schools do business. They must understand the WHY of change as much as they want to know the HOW of change. Without a sense of urgency, it is easy to put off what needs to be done (spoken by a true procrastinator by the way!). Most change needs immediate action. By waiting, it can compound issues to where you have to climb a mountain to solve a problem rather than a small hill.

When I took my first leadership role, someone recommended I read the book “Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter. This is a very quick read (within an hour) and is presented in a narrative format. Through the example shared, Kotter reveals several steps to bringing about change successfully. These steps have helped me throughout my career. Upon reflection, I realize that I have developed my own off-brand approach.

  • Build the infrastructure: As a leader, you must know the political landscape and the resources that you have at your disposal. Are there structures in place for communication? How does everyone collaborate? Find out what is there and see if it can be used to accomplish your goals.
  • Know the players, build a team: People are important. If you are not a “people person”, education is not the place for you. A good leader will take the time to know the players of the game and figure out how to strategically place them to bring about the best results. Find strengths and play to those. If weaknesses are too great to ignore, figure out how to grow strength in those folks or help them find a place better suited for them.
  • Answer the “so what?” factor: Everyone wants to know what is in it for them. Why should I care? I remember asking my own high school teachers that very same question. It is the same for leadership. Teachers have tons of responsibilities on their plates. It is the job of the leader to make connections so that everyone understands how to work smarter. I use the analogy of “Chopped” on Food Network. On the show, chefs are given random ingredients and told to make a meal from them. The key is to make something that tastes good, looks good, and is good. Leaders in schools have to do the same with the different issues, programs and responsibilities on that teacher plate.
  • Bottom-up: Change needs to be a grassroots effort. If you can get buy-in by those affected the most, it can be very successful. There is a great video about leadership from the perspective of the “first follower.” Although funny, it illustrates perfectly how change can become a movement.
  • Top-down: Leaders need to lead change. Period.
  • Differentiate for the learners (a.k.a. give them choice): Have multiple methods for teachers to get on board. This might be in timing (letting some go first or let those who need to be last, be last), in presentation of the information (multiple formats), or in application of the change (let them choose where they will contribute to the adoption of change).
  • Meet them where they are: Don’t make the assumption that everyone is the same. Figure out the needs of your audience/staff and work towards that. My husband is NOT a technology person. He gets overwhelmed with the technical knowledge I have. If I tried to teach him on my level, he would shut down. Instead, it is important for me to teach him something about technology WHEN he needs it or wants to learn it. Then he embraces the knowledge instead of kicking back.
  • Be ready to drop back and punt: Not all change will be smooth sailing. Give the change time to take hold but if the writing on the wall early on says that this is not the way to go, don’t be afraid to stop the implementation of change and work toward a better solution.

 Image by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mabi/208649874

Are you addicted yet?

My name is Marlo Gaddis. I am addicted to Pinterest.

Pinterest is the latest tool for organizing and sharing content on the web. Visualize a large corkboard where you can collect ideas, plan events, or find inspiration. Now make it digital so that you can browse the ideas of others. Add a dash of collaboration and you have Pinterest.

By connecting with your social media accounts in Facebook and Twitter, you can easily find your friends, family and co-workers. As they pin new things, you can see what they find valuable on the web. Most people have boards that sort by recipes, books to read, fashion, home design, and much more. But as always, smart educators are finding a way to make this tool a great way to collaborate with other educators. As a former elementary school teacher, I love seeing my educator friends and co-workers share lesson ideas, posters, crafts, websites and so much more! The best part about Pinterest is that the links are visual so that you don’t have to guess what they are.

If you have a smartphone, you can download the Pinterest app in the iTunes Store or in the Android Market.

How Do I Know I Know?

(This entry was also posted on the InTouch Blog.)

Assessment is not a new trending topic in education. As teachers, we use various methods of assessment tools to try to figure out what our students know/learned or how well we taught a particular objective. Multiple choice, true/false, and other paper and pencil testing methods are prevalent in schools. However, in schools that believe in Problem-Based Learning or Project-Based Learning, teachers have to be more creative and flexible in how they assess their students.

This morning, our district Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services (Dr. Meg Sheehan), shared a resource for rubrics that was more extensive than I have seen in a while. The website was developed by and for the University of Wisconsin-Stout for their online professional development. They offer quality rubrics on using web 2.0 tools with students, collaboration evaluation, writing, multimedia, webpages, gaming, and much much more. I recommend that you check it out!


Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobalt/409924867

Defining 2011

2010 was an interesting year for me both personally and professionally. Those who know me know why (probably more than they need to) but the thing I am most proud of is actually accomplishing my New Year’s Resolution. This day last year, I decided that I would do the impossible. I would run a 5K. Now for most people, that may not seem to be much but for a lifelong asthmatic and non-runner, that was a tall order. Thanks to my good friend and coach, Jackie Allred, I ran my first 5K in May 2010 and completed my second in September 2010.

As I talked with friends and family today, everyone wanted to know what my resolution was going to be this year. I did not have a response for anyone. Now that my house has gone to bed, I sit here wondering what 2011 will bring. How do I want to define 2011? I am a HUGE fan of Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. Recently on her blog, she wrote a post about choosing a one word theme for the new year. I have been thinking about that for the past couple of weeks. Here are some of the thoughts I tossed around:

  • COMMUNICATE: do a better job keeping in touch with friends and family, develop a better method of follow through at work, email/text on my cell less, talk on my cell more, etc.
  • BREATHE: enjoy the little moments more, take time for me/my son/my husband/my family, get angry less, be more patient
  • GIVE: find ways to give to others in less obvious ways, be more present, be less self-absorbed, be a better mom/wife/boss/friend/co-worker

But after debating this, I find that there is not one single path I need to be on. So in the spirit of Gretchen Rubin, I am going to develop my own personal commandments (Gretchen’s are here):

  1. Be present.
  2. Laugh often.
  3. Forgive yourself daily.
  4. Take deep breaths.
  5. Dream big.
  6. If it won’t go, let it go.
  7. Follow through.
  8. Keep focused.
  9. Don’t wait.
  10. Give all you have all the time.
  11. Show you care.
  12. Write it down.

These may not make sense to others but I am hoping they will help me have a great year. Do you have a list of rules or ideals that keep you focused? Would love to hear your ideas!

Time to learn

It has been awhile since my last written post and I find that each day it becomes harder to take the time to sit down, think, and write. As technology advances in school, I seem to have less time for it and on most days, that is frustrating. You see, I preach to the folks in my office how it is important to spend a part of each day learning something new. I love to be on the cutting edge of new technology resources and yet that is something that doesn’t happen without some time management.

I say this in part because I have spent the past day and a half in a SMART Lesson Developer workshop for our district teachers. Last night (Friday) and today (Saturday), 14 teachers have been learning about best practices in developing Notebook files and incorporating the SMARTBoard in their classroom routine. They are talking and sharing and learning new things. Every few minutes you can hear someone say, “Wow” or “That is so much easier!” Teachers, like me, have less time for their own learning as the demands of the classroom increase. We had many more slots for teachers to participate and as the time has passed, the teachers here say they wish more people had taken the time to come.

I want to be creative and think outside of the box to give teachers that time that they so desperately need to play, learn, create, and share. That is difficult for me as I am not a school-level administrator yet at the district it is my job to do just that. How do we find time for such a valuable resource when time is already at a premium? I would love to hear about district and schools who have examined this problem. How do they evaluate the use of time and budget it wisely? How can you get the most benefits (student achievement) with so little? How do you prioritize?

Controlling the educator within

I am the proud mother of Mason. Mason started kindergarten this August. Although I am a big fan of change, I have dreaded this fall for years. Why? Because I have been in education for the past 16 years. In that time, I have been fortunate to experience several roles in schools and school districts including classroom teacher (K/1), technology teacher, technology facilitator, lead teacher for curriculum, and director of instructional technology. These roles provide different context or lenses with which I see schools, teachers, leaders, and districts.

As a teacher, I had one particular student whose mother worked in our district office. Susan Wells, now principal at Culbreth Middle in Chapel-Hill, NC, was a kind and knowledgeable parent who expected the best for her son and was not afraid to offer her advice. In thinking of Mason attending public schools, I aspired to be an educator-parent like Susan. The problem is how?

I read a blog post from Will Richardson about A Parent 2.0’s Back to School Dilemna, in which he struggles with the same issue. He offers a few solutions:
1. Introduce you and your child to the teacher.
2. Co-school when you can.
3. Opt out when you can.
4. Occasionally send resources and copy the principal.

And although I agree (and will try) many of these strategies, I find myself wondering if my expectations are too high. Now don’t get me wrong…I believe in high expectations. This was something modeled by my parents when I was in school. My parents were present at every event and in any way they could be involved. They believed that a B was OK but why didn’t I get that A? A C was just unacceptable. And although Mason is only in the first quarter of kindergarten, we are raising him the same way. He told his Grammie the other night on Skype, “Green is good but white is unacceptable.” (Behavior management program in his class is green, white, yellow, orange, and red) Where I am struggling though is with my expectations of the school but even more so with what the school’s expectations are for Mason. That is a question that has not been addressed in any parent meeting so far. We have our first curriculum night this week and I have a few questions already forming:

  1. What should he know by now?
  2. What is he doing in class?
  3. What differentiation methods are being used?
  4. Where do you want him by the end of the year? (because I want to keep the end in mind)
  5. How is he interacting with other students and teachers?
  6. What does he show interest in and can that be tapped into for greater engagement?
  7. What are his strengths and weaknesses (both in academics and in social interaction)?

Even as I write this, I know there will be more. And I already know some of what I am asking but I want to see if they answer the same way. Unfortunately, these may not be questions to present in a large group. So how do I facilitate this conversation with the staff at Mason’s school without being “that parent?” I am starting to believe that I need to come to grips with the fact that I am “that parent.” Why? Because I believe in the best for my child. Because I work with schools everyday and see great examples of fabulous schools and teachers but I also see the opposite. Because my legacy as a parent will be what my child will be both inside and out. So as much as I am trying to control that educator within, I am learning that it might be OK to let it out when it is in the best interest of my child. After all, I am his best advocate.

To YouTube or not?

In my role as Instructional Technology Director for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, I end up in a regular conversation/debate about why we block YouTube in our schools. My usual argument involves the following points:

  • YouTube was not designed for education and therefore has very little regulation
  • Although there are some fantastic videos available, the bad outweigh the good.
  • Most educational videos are being offered on both YouTube and Teacher Tube (which we do not block).
  • Although we keep it blocked in the buildings, we teach those interested how to download videos from YouTube at home in order to bring them in for lessons.

I must admit that I am a YouTube junkie. In fact, I have my own channel where videos of my son are posted (he will be a rock star…mark my words). This debate is something I struggle each time I am involved.

It does make me curious though…If you read my blog, what does your system do? How do you think this should be handled in order to keep children safe and be compliant with CIPA?


(This was originally posted on the InTouch blog)

As our division works in schools to help train teachers and administrators on what it means to be literate in the 21st century, one of two responses usually follow:

1. Wow! I didn’t really want to come to this but I am so glad I did! This is cool and my students are going to love it!


2. I do not have time for this. Why are you wasting my time? You cannot possibly ask me to do one more thing…

My question is this: Can we afford to be technology illiterate in this ever-changing world? Can we afford not to use technology in our teaching? Our district is reviewing what we call our “non-negotiables” in curriculum and teaching. When will technology become a non-negotiable? Would our students put it in that category? Is it not an integrated part of their lives?

For the teachers who do not want “one more thing added to my plate,” I wonder why you do not see how technology can condense and simplify your lessons. Why can you not see what technology does for student engagement? Technology is not going away. It will only get more advanced and integrated into our lives. Please open your mind and begin to see the possibilities. Without it, you may lay victim to the latest education acronym: NTLB (No Teacher Left Behind). I promise you that the students will not be left behind. You will.

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach stated last year at the NCaect conference, “Teachers will never be replaced by computers. However, teachers who do not use computers will be replaced by those who do.”

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/cgoulao/411835782/sizes/s/