I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Digital Footprint Awakening

Note: My summer posts have been all about what I have learned, and not with students. It is a reflection journal, so I'm going to continue reflecting!

In all the tweets, in all the blog posts, in all the websites, I keep seeing threads of discussion on our "digital footprint." Well, I learned a big lesson about my own this week.

When I first started following teachers and principals, I realized the fact that "PD on Twitter has become everything a teacher's lounge or after school meeting SHOULD be." I believe someone tweeted it, I retweeted it, and it soon became my mantra when I got online. (Update 8/17/12 - I finally found the author - Sean Junkins! I put this quote in my PD in Your PJs keynote, as well! Thanks, @SJunkins!)

I loved the positivity of educators on Twitter. Sure, there were still people who tweeted about concerns they had in education, and most had links to articles they'd read that were worrisome. And some don't separate their personal tweets from their professional tweets, so I'd hear how someone's son's baseball team did not win, or some restaurant service or food that wasn't the best, but it was mostly positive. I learned to skim over the personal tweets and only focus on my goal - of learning from this beautiful PLN I had carefully built.

Well, I was humbled this week. I posted what I thought of as my first (was it really, though???) negative-with-a-plea tweet as a reaction. I was upset, so I tweeted what I heard. I only have a tad over 100 followers, thank goodness. Who really wants to follow a 7th grade LA teacher who's just on Twitter to learn? The only "accolade" in my bio is NBCT, and that was in 2007 (yikes! The year to renew is approaching fast!)! So I viewed the 140 characters as a tiny vent session.

When I came home, I knew I had vented, and started wondering why. I realized I had veered away from "teacher's lounge without the complaints" after what I consider a very valuable discussion I had three days later... 

That discussion I had was with a man who is from the source of my frustration that day. I was contacted, and we talked for half an hour [my true Genius (Half-)Hour today]. This is a person I know & respect, and yet was not expecting to hear from. He inquired about the situation from which my tweet stemmed. He listened when I detailed the background of it's reactionary nature. He then proceeded to thoroughly educate me (in the truest sense) about the Common Core Standards and he alleviated some of my fears that come with such as big change. I don't know if he is aware of all he truly taught me... about so many things... (a partial list follows!)!

--> I learned, as so often happens in my life, that I am still ignorant of the digital world, of the power my words can have, and of the ease of straying from my own beliefs to be a positive person. I am humbled by this experience.

--> I learned (and I suppose I already knew, but it was instilled in me this week) that we can write and say (and tweet) whatever we choose. 

--> I learned that most companies, no matter the size, have someone on staff who monitors the web (yes, the entire web, including tweets) for any mention of their name, or their services, or their affiliates, and most likely their competitors, as well. This can be to see concerns, successes, ideas, and to keep the revenue coming in. They keep their business by keeping up their image in this image-driven society. This could mean they try to help customers if there are issues, spread the word about what they do well, attempt to keep up with their competitors, and perhaps glean ideas for improvements - all by hovering over and examining the web.

--> I learned to go to the source if you have an issue with something. This could be difficult in some situations... Such as teacher salaries or overcrowded schools. But it could be easier in other situations... Such as a hair in your soup or a student who won't participate. Such situations we can deal with quickly, and even get results, or at the very least bring awareness to the situation. We have so many resources - we can choose to go to them instead of venting our drama out to the world.

--> I learned that if you Google (I can't believe it's a verb these days!) your name, you'll get every tweet you ever typed, every comment you ever made on any blog post, every website organization you belong to, and, of course, your blog and school at which you work. I am creating my digital footprint each and every day. I am taking risks - everything I write can be taken out of context, misconstrued, and used against me. I am still figuring out who I am by what I write. So much of my verbal life has landed on these "pages." I've always said what I feel, as my family is well aware. However... our online community is IMMEASURABLY larger than any family and friends we have that know us. We need to make sure they know US, and not just what we type.
And now I'm off to spend time with just my husband to celebrate our anniversary. --> I've learned that you need to let the cherished people in your life know how you feel. If you want to leave a "footprint" on their hearts, you need to communicate your love in multiple ways to get your message across. Thank you to my husband for helping me sort through my feelings this week and figure out what I truly want to communicate to you... whoever you are. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Learning Across States - In Real Time!

Today... in the time span of about one hour my day took a twist I didn't expect... After my morning ride, I received this tweet, retweeted from Laura Coughlin:

So, naturally, I had to see what was going on in Laura's day of learning with Dean Shareski!  I clicked on the link provided.  I heard Dean speaking about technology... even about how BOOKS changed our culture - suddenly we didn't need to learn from people to get information - we could READ. By ourselves. (Obviously, there's more to it than that, but that was the gist - had me thinking all day!) I could even see Dean walking in front of the screen, clicking an app on his phone so the slides changed on the presentation. The only downfall was that the volume was a little low, and I could only see half of the screen. But hey! I could be in the same room as Laura, learning in St. Joseph, MO, even though I was in my own home in IL!

Next, I saw her tweet...

What to do?  Open up Today's Meet, of course!  Just clicked on the link and BOOM! I was THERE! I could see a couple of notes typed by a couple of people I didn't know, regarding Dean's presentation.
I still couldn't believe I was there.  I ran to my husband and showed him the video and Today's Meet, and he couldn't wrap his head around it. He thought they could see us, however, because he said, "Well, turn it away from me!" (Not quite Skype...)  I was so blown away, I had to tweet it out...

And then, just when I was feeling really guilty for "listening in" on a day I didn't pay for, was able to watch in my PJs (if I so wanted), and could even participate on the sidelines, I heard the volume go up on the presentation.  Great! Now I didn't have to strain to hear him! So... I "talked" on Today's Meet and thanked them for raising the volume, but asked if they could move the camera up a tad.  And VOILA! Someone in MO kindly moved it - I could now see the entire screen at their presentation!  I felt even more guilty then, but so utterly AMAZED! Unbelievable. Just when I was thinking how utterly incredible it was I was feeling like a participant in the room at EdWeek St.Joseph School District (#edweeksjsd), I received this tweet...

Still amazed 10 hours later, I had to write this post. This was one hour of my life - a true Genius Hour - and I learned of the power of technology. It may seem a simple thing to some... set up a camera, set it up to produce a live stream, set up a back channel such as Today's Meet, and ta da! ANYone, from ANYwhere, can participate. The whole hour, I was just astounded at the power we have as teachers, but we need to be learners so students can have the same benefit. We all need to have our own Genius Hour. What will I be learning during my next personal Genius Hour?  Well, of course, Melissa Corey archived the video, so I'll return to that another day and be stunned all over again...

A huge thank you to St. Joseph School District for sharing out your week!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Summer... One Big Genius Hour!

Just yesterday, I realized something, so I tweeted out my thoughts to a great teacher in my PLN - Gallit Zvi (@Gallit_Z). She had just tweeted something to her school district in Surrey, BC about Genius Hour, and there I was again, thinking!
She retweeted it, and I looked at it once more.  It's so true. Lately, I feel like my life is a CONSTANT Genius Hour!  I spend all of my free time exploring tweets, reading educator and principal blogs, and learning about new technology (the good and the bad!). This fills my day when my husband and I are not doing something together.  He used to call it work - "You're working again?" - but I think now he knows how much I enjoy learning.

This is the goal, correct? To facilitate learning so that it is a life-long passion.  Each time the school year ends, I KNOW I can do better the next year. And so, each summer, I work at learning and exploring more ideas / options / theories, etc. so that I can be "the best teacher ever!" Always a pipe dream.  I'm always reaching for it.  I'm always changing what doesn't work, and hopefully growing as a skilled teacher. I'm always questioning what to do - and evaluating it when it's finished. I hope, that some day, I will NOT feel like a first-year teacher.  This will be my 18th year (?!?!) as a teacher, but each year feels like my first in so many ways.

One of my (myriad) goals for 2012-2013 - Let the students in on how thrilling it is to be a life-long learner, and to follow your passion.  Big sigh.  It takes up most of my time this summer, but I'm ecstatic to keep learning new things and figuring out ways to implement them and let students teach themselves. To go along with this goal, I hope students will be reflective of their learning as well - I hope they see the intrinsic value, grasp it, and use it to their advantage.  May every day be filled with Genius Hour experiences! Genius Hour is no longer just 20% of my day... Can we make it "12 Hours of Genius Time" next summer?!

[Note: If you've forgotten the premise of Genius Hour, please visit the wiki that Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs) & Gallit created, Gallit's post describing it here, or how I started my journey with it here.]

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ray Bradbury's Wisdom

"It doesn't matter what you do...so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardnener is in the touching...The lawn-cutter might just as well have not been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime." - Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, pg. 150.

I decided today that I needed to read this classic, since it's been on my list for years, and Ray Bradbury passed on, at the age of 91 this week. I read it in one day (you can do that when you don't have children!), and it was even more thought-provoking than I thought it would be. How can I relate it to Genius Hour?

Genius Hour can be just that - an hour when students pursue their passions. Or... It can go another step or two. First step - teaching others in the class their passions. Second step - teaching more than just the small scope of their classrooms...going out and teaching to another, broader audience, or putting what they've learned out on the web. The biggest step, however, would be to change something. To put their mark on something. To spread their message enough that others knew they'd been there. My hope is that my students, some day, will not just cut lawns. My hope is that they will cultivate gardens and leave their mark.  Thank you for your inspiration, Mr. Bradbury.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


I've read a lot this past week about change...

Pernille Ripp's (@pernilleripp) blogpost is about how change doesn't have to be all or nothing - changing whatever you're comfortable with.  No one has to change everything all at once!

I don't know how I got to Rosalind Goldsmith's (@rozgoldsmith) blogpost (following a tweet, maybe?), but she talks about how she needed change in order to love her job again.

Following one of Rosalind's tweets, I read David Culberhouse's (@dculberhouse) blog post about complacency.

Justin Tarte (@justintarte) will embark on change in meetings at his school - excellent ideas here, and his staff will definitely benefit. He wants to encourage his staff to "question the status quo."

Will Richardson (@willrich45) posted No Quick Fix, saying "Meaningful change ain't gonna happen for our kids if we're not willing to invest in it for ourselves first."

Tweet from @Oprah_World, RT by @gallit_z, "Whether you think you're ready or not, just start right now. There is magic in action."

Blog by Leslie Whittington (@whittclass) about how change came about due to her Twitter PLN!

I've been invested in change since... since... well, okay - I embrace change - with the stipulation being I get to decide what changes will be implemented!  When it's forced upon me, I cringe. I look around to see how it can fit into my life in the easiest way possible, and adapt by doing what I can to accommodate those in charge.  But when it is MY idea, I run with it.  If it will benefit me, or those around me, I go for it.  I feel the need to change when it will benefit the world around me.  Those who know me closely, know that the last three years have brought about tremendous changes in my personal life.  I would not have turned over the apple cart had I not felt it was a necessity for my well-being.  As for my career as a teacher, I tip that cart each and every day I question my teaching strategies, my classroom management, my lessons, my homework (or lack thereof), my assessments, etc.  I keep thinking all teachers must do this, and then I hear of a teacher poo-pooing an idea I've implemented, and she hasn't even tried it herself.

This post is not about IF change is needed.  I have the belief that change IS needed.  How - this is the question for teachers resistant. If teaching is your true goal, and you know your students aren't getting all they can from your class, how can you change - without it being painful or stressful?  It makes me think of how I changed this year.  (I won't go years back in time - read my bio and you'll see I embrace change!!)

In just this one year, so many things happened...
1.  Brian Kaye, our principal, encouraged teachers to go on Twitter.  I signed up, reluctantly, and used it the first day of school, then forgot about it.
2.  In October, I was offered the chance to pilot four weeks of reading and writing on iPad2s - each student would receive one!  I was scared out of my wits, and didn't want to do it.  I was strongly encouraged, however, and my saving grace was that it would be finished the day before winter break. This change had an end point that I could see ahead of me.
3.  The four weeks were over - but not really.  What I had learned about the technology, about the students, about a new way to challenge students... stayed with me.  I longed for more.  The students reacted so well to reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (mind you - they're 7th graders!), that I needed to challenge them more.  I was more of a facilitator than ever before, and students blossomed.
4.  I received an iPad2 to use until I retire!! YES! I got on Twitter once again, and began to build my PLN.
A few of next year's plans...!
5.  I went to a one-day workshop in Birmingham, MI to see Ewan McIntosh talk about Design Thinking. Why was I chosen to go? Perhaps it was because I took the chance to pilot the iPad lessons. Either way, I wanted to go - I wanted to change my independent reading process...  This time I wanted the change - I was invested in it...
6.  And then... my Twitter PLN grew, and I found out about Genius Hour (#geniushour). This blog shows my reflection from then on...

I'm not saying change is easy.  Some of it takes time.  Some of it requires help from others.  But I do believe it is necessary.  Genius Hour was my big change this year.  What will it be next year...??  I look forward to having an open mind toward future changes...