As I boarded the plane for my journey from Indianapolis to Denver, I was overwhelmed with excitement and nervousness. Thoughts of the last year raced through my head. I never would have thought that by joining the NextGen Cadre and diving into an unknown year, I’d be flying to Keystone, Colorado to be a presenter at InstructureCon 2017!
I was given an opportunity to join this cadre and learn more about how I could use and incorporate our new LMS, Canvas, into my classroom. It was a yearlong endeavor that took some convincing for this kindergarten teacher who wasn’t always so sure I could make it work for my young learners. What I learned throughout this process was that it was alright to make mistakes along the way while I tried to find the best path for my students and myself. I had to shift my mindset to the positives and look at all of the wonderful things coming from being pushed out of my comfort zone.
When I first found out I was going to InstructureCon 2017, of course I had to share the news with my friends and family. The common thing everyone would say to me was, “be prepared for the air up there in the mountains.” I had done my research and was ready to hydrate. I didn’t want to push myself since I knew the air would be thinner and regular activities might seem more challenging. I must say the air up there (or lack thereof) is definitely a real thing! Sometimes it made daily activities more difficult, but mostly it just made me slow down and take more time to breathe.
InstructureCon allowed me the opportunity to slow down and take the time to look back at how far I had come and look ahead to the future. Between the amazing keynotes, breakout sessions, and preparing for my own presentation, it offered beautiful scenery, great conversations, and unique gatherings. InstructureCon renewed my love of learning and pushed me to want more. The excitement and spirit of the conference was contagious. I realized just how much my mindset had shifted for the better. I just hope those who attended the session, led by Hunter, Richard, and myself, were able to feel our excitement and take it back to their colleagues.
The last day of the conference was full of reflection and camaraderie. Our entire Richmond group decided to take a break and venture up one of the mountains. When we made it to the top there was a lot of quietness. It was a time we all needed so badly to just breathe and reflect upon our experiences. Did we struggle throughout the year like we did walking up the mountains? Absolutely, but the view at the top was worth every breath we worked for. Just like the pride and satisfaction we had of knowing how much we had accomplished in one school year.
So when people tell me to be prepared for the air up there, I can tell them the air up there is perfect!
Melody Williams is a kindergarten teacher in her 8th year of teaching at Richmond Community Schools. She has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from IU East and a Bachelor’s Degree in Middle Childhood Education from Wright State University. Melody has previously taught Reading Recovery and Special Education although her passion lies in kindergarten. In 2015, she earned REA Teacher of the Month and in 2016, was named Crestdale Elementary Teacher of the Year. Melody and her husband, Lee, have two young children, Kyson and Kynsie, who keep them very busy. In her spare time, Melody enjoys spending time with her friends and family.
As our 737 rolled up to the gate in Indianapolis, I felt a number of things. First and foremost, I felt that a great getaway with a terrific group of professionals was coming to an end. Eight of us, the largest contingent from any district (to our reckoning) at InstructureCon put a stamp on this national ed/tech convention. We also witnessed inspiring keynote speeches and concerts by the remarkable Jewel and CCR. We took a summertime ride up the ski lift to 12,000 feet with the vast views of the central Rockies . . . clearly we left a very special and bonding experience behind us.
Other shots captured unremarkable moments of trudging here and there, staying hydrated, eating far too much, and laughing just the right amount. Wow.
when we struggled through our ‘walkthrough’ should know that the input we received from you gave a great boost to this final show in Keystone. We crushed it! Special thanks, of course, to Megan and Joanna, instructors from IUPUI.
So now what? The laptops have appeared in our classrooms. The struggles continue as we roll out into this amazing future. How will they change our thinking as teachers, how will our classrooms change, our methods shift? Hopefully, all of these change in many ways, better ways. I realized from that microcosm of bonding up in the mountains that the greatest asset we share at RCS is our community, our village. Who knows how far this extended cadre of professionals can go. I know two things: one, we have to keep on moving forward, and two, a part of me will always be coming home from Keystone.
Today's thoughts come to us from Mr. Richard Green. Richard currently teaches art at Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond, Indiana. A native of Massachusetts, he taught in the Bay State for a decade before making his move to the Sunshine State. During his tenure in Florida, he spent a year in Nagano, Japan as an exchange teacher. This eye-opening, life-changing experience fired up his teaching with a worldview and the confidence that comes from pushing outside your comfort zone. Now a resident of Indiana for nearly a decade something just as awesome has happened. He found a home and a renewed clarity for teaching art. His passion for teaching, writing, and producing his own brand of art continues to rise.
During my undergrad years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I was a member of a fraternity. People have different connotations for the prototypical "frat guy," but I didn't see myself as one of the privileged, cocky, and boisterous individuals that are often portrayed on television and in movies. What I remember most from that experience was the immense sense of belonging that I felt. The community that I was tied to included not only my particular fraternity, locally and internationally, but also to the larger Greek system on my campus. I felt an unspoken connection between myself, my fraternity brothers, even members of other fraternities. Like many societies, secret or not, there is comfort in belonging.
I connect and reflect on that experience because it most closely relates to feelings that were conjured up during my recent experience at InstructureCon in Keystone, Colorado. For 3 days, I was part of a group of like-minded, positive educators and thought-leaders from a variety of locations and backgrounds that shared a common vision – making teaching and learning experiences more closely resemble the way that people communicate and learn today, while preparing them for a future that is unknown. The reason that this was such a moving experience was that, for 3 days, I did not feel like I was part of the minority, by which I mean part of a relatively small segment in the profession that seems to share my disposition about the role that technology should play in education. In some ways, it does feel like a "secret society". We don't lurk in the shadows nor do we have a secret handshake, but we recognize and are drawn to others that are part of this community. Sometimes it is through something they say, how they talk to others, things that they Tweet or just through the vibe that they emit.
Events such InstructureCon are so critical to continuing the mission that we are an integral part of. Without opportunities to think differently, challenge the status quo, and learn from others' experiences, there is a significant risk that the approach to teaching and learning will not change and we will continue to produce graduates that do not possess the skills necessary to thrive, let alone survive, in the world that awaits them.
In my role as an eLearning Specialist, there are many times that I feel like I am alone as I fight this uphill battle for our kids, my own included. Then, I take a step back and realize that I am not alone. There are others on my amazing team that feel the same way. Then, there teachers out there, putting theory into practice every day, no matter how challenging it is. The RCS NextGen Leadership Cadre is just such a group of teachers that are taking risks and tolerating failures, both big and small, because they truly believe that the lasting success that their students will experience will greatly overshadow the momentary failure. Beyond my school district and its visionary leaders, there are others in my region that gather, collaborate, and help each other pursue the mission. Finally, on the national and international stage, there are events like InstructureCon that feel more like a family reunion than a typical conference. Even though we all don't know each other, it feels like family because we are all connected by our passions, professions, and philosophies.
To Instructure, I am thankful that you value your customers enough to create such an amazing production for educators, from Kindergarten to Higher Ed. To the amazing keynotes and presenters, most of whom are mere mortals that are working with students every day, thank you for your insights and sharing your experiences. To Richmond Community Schools, thank you for valuing me enough to send me as well as my colleagues out to forage for the key ideas, innovations, and skills that we can bring back to share with our staff. Finally, to the group that truly became my family for 3 days, I want to thank Richard, Tim, Joani, Melody, Kathy, Hunter, Mike, Joanna, and Megan for making the experience so amazing. From Hack night to the Cadre's outstanding presentation and everything in between, InstructureCon 2017 will remain fixed in my memory for many years to come.
They say your third year of teaching is when it finally starts to come together.
I’m not sure it went exactly as planned. Sure, I knew how to handle the usual stressors better, but it was also a year full of new challenges, new things that I didn’t know how to handle, and new people that were constantly pushing me to be a better teacher.
You see, I thought I had found my limits in the first two years. I learned that I’m good at allocating time to things that need to get done and that I’m terrible at using that time efficiently. I love interacting with students and working with them daily and I loathe interacting with their assignments and assessments.
I spent a lot of time shaking off the imposter syndrome that seems to affect a lot of young teachers. We step into this role that we’ve known about from the day we start kindergarten or preschool, and suddenly we look around going, wait, really? I fooled them into giving me the keys to a classroom and they’re just going to…let me teach? Aren’t there checks and balances to stop me from getting this far?
I think you could say I spent the first three years of teaching convincing myself that I was actually a teacher.
Then I went to Colorado.
After a year of work in Richmond Community Schools’ Next Gen Cadre, I was selected to join a small group of my co-workers to go to InstructureCon and present about what we did. I got to talk about building a community of risk-takers, about getting permission to fail, and about sharing those failures (and successes!) so that we encourage that culture and that the lesson we learn don’t just stop with us. It was a phenomenal experience, and I’m extremely fortunate to have been able to experience it.
If the first three years were about convincing myself that I was a teacher, this summer was about determining what kind of a teacher I’m going to be. It’s not just about survival anymore. It’s not just about hitting standards and getting to things before the state test. I hate to admit that those were some of my greatest motivators, but they hit that primal, animalistic instinct of survival, and I rolled with it.
I finally have the peace of mind to look to the future and what that looks like for me in education. And with the fancy new tools at my disposal, the support of a very risk-friendly administration, and a wonderful community of peers, the future is exactly what I’m ready to make happen.
Look out, school year 2017-18. It’s going to be great!
Last year Kevin Schamel came to Starr Elementary introducing the #RCSNEXTGEN Leadership Cadre for our new LMS Canvas. As much as I love technology, I was very hesitant about applying. The reason had nothing to do with Canvas, but the fear of rejection. The fear was real, and it was big. Rejection of what you may be asking. Rejection from being accepted into the Cadre, even rejection from peers listening to me.
From the moment I walked into the room people were were saying things like “Oh good, Kathy is in our group; she can show us how to do it!” and “We’ll let Kathy talk!” They already knew things about me that I guess I had “yet” come to fully believe myself.