Saturday, May 24, 2014

Backchanneling Isn't Just For the Classroom

As I've thought about what I want for my writing and why I'm sharing it, many thoughts swirl around in my mind.  Do I want this to be a place where I share about my life as a teacher or about my personal life as a wife and mom?  As an educator, I have been on a two-year journey trying to ride this "wave" of technology, and it has been exciting and overwhelming at the same time.  I have also been on a personal journey since 2012 while grieving the loss of my nephew and dealing with how that has impacted those closest to me.  These two areas of my life go hand in hand.  I cannot separate the two because they are so intertwined.  Therefore, I can't separate my writing into one area or the other.  They both make up who I am and what I believe.  This time in my life has shaped who I am as an educator and who I am as a person.

This brings me to the use of backchanneling in the classroom.  I have been doing some professional reading about using backchannels and informal assessment tools with my students.  I have tried several different ones like Padlet, Socrative and TodaysMeet.  Student feedback is another way to think about it, but in the world of technology we now have digital tools available to more easily meet the diverse learning styles of our students.  In the traditional classroom setting, the teacher might initiate a discussion with students about a topic or their opinion about something being learned in order to gage their understanding.  In this setting, the same students are usually the first to offer a response.  While the more reserved or introspective student does not respond at all which is a valuable loss to the classroom dynamic.  This type of student needs time to "mull it over" before responding.  He or she needs time to figure out what they believe and how to express or verbalize it to others.  In many areas of teaching, technology can give every student a voice, and this is what I love the most about using these tools in the classroom.  It is not just the iPad or device in and of itself, but what that device allows every student the opportunity to say and create in their own way and in their own time.  For example, Padlet can be used to pose a question to students and be left open for responses for as long as the teacher chooses.  This allows even the most shy or reserved student time to share a response which gives them a voice and an identity.

As I've learned more about the use of backchanneling in the classroom, it has made me think more about the significance of the past two years of my life.  Sometimes in life we have to take a few steps back in order to move forward.  Grief is universal; yet, at the same time, it is very personal and individual.  Each person deals with grief in a different way.  Some people are like that student who is always the first to speak when the class is asked for feedback.  I am not like that student.  These past two years have been a time of "back channeling" of sorts for me.  I've had to take the time to "mull over" the life-changing events of the last two years in order to verbalize all that it has taught me and how it has shaped my beliefs about life.  I tend to think long and hard about things before I am able to share my thoughts with others.  My nephew Colton was like that in many ways.  He was not usually the first to speak up or give his opinion.  He was a deep thinker and soaked up everything around him.  So when he did voice his opinions or thoughts, they were usually right on target.  His discernment of the character and sincerity of others was beyond his years.  I valued his thoughts and opinions.  We as teachers, need to show our students that we value their thoughts and opinions.  Implementing backchanneling in a thoughtful and organic manner with your students does just that.  Through the digital conversations exchanged with backchanneling, we can make connections, build relationships and create community in our classrooms.  We can move forward, learn and grow.

So, now that I have read and experimented with backchanneling on my own, I realize the importance of  it not only in the classroom, but in life.  Take the time, however long it takes you as an individual, to ponder and process the information or the experience until you are ready to give it a voice that can be shared so that others can learn from it, relate to it or simply... hear it.  This weekend, as we celebrate and honor the lives of those who sacrificed everything for our country, slow down and allow yourself time to backchannel; think about what you've learned and what you believe.  Then, give it a voice in the manner that you choose and allow it to be shared with others.  Just like in a classroom setting, this will allow you to make connections, build relationships and create community with others.  This is how we move forward.  This is how we learn.  This is how we grow.

Here is an example of our Padlet about their favorite 6th grade memories:

Backchannel Resources:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

It's Just Mud: A Special Mother's Day Story

So, the design on the Relay for Life T-shirts that I was selling has a very special story behind it.  I unexpectedly shared it with an audience at Relay for Life, and I've decided it is too good not to share with others.  It is a powerfully, bittersweet story about love and loss; an ugly-beautiful moment that moves and inspires people.  It is not my story or about me.  It is his story and about how his life continues to move people to want to live better, do more and love unconditionally.  On January 2, 2012, my nephew Colton Evans, passed away after a long, hard-fought battle with brain cancer.  His 7 1/2 year battle with cancer was long and painful, but he never complained.  He was a very special person who inspired and taught others more in his 17 years than most people will in a lifetime.  He loved to laugh, watch movies, play with dogs of any kind and eat chocolate.  I have so many special memories of Colton, including his outlook on life that was well beyond his age.  Colton loved to have fun and make people laugh.  Even his cancer treatments didn't stop him from carrying on and living life to the fullest.  Not too long after Colton was diagnosed, he went with his mom to watch his big brother’s football game.  His radiation and chemotherapy treatments had made him very weak, so they watched the game from their van.  That was fine with him.  He was just glad to be there instead of at the hospital for a change.  While resting in the van, Colton watched as some kids were laughing and playing in some nearby mud puddles.  Each time they ran back and forth through the muddy water, their clothes and shoes became stained darker and darker.  His mom could tell he wished he could join them, but he never complained.  While he was watching them, the mother of one of the little girls came over to her and was obviously not happy with her for getting her shoes muddy and wet.  The little girl cried as her mother led her away from the mud puddles and the fun experience with her friends.  As the mom and daughter walked away, Colton asked his mom why that mother was so mad at her daughter.  Colton’s mom attempted to explained to him that the mom did not want her daughter to get her shoes dirty.  However, this simple explanation did not make any sense to him.  So, Colton looked at his mom in serious disbelief and said with great wisdom, “It’s just a little mud, Mom.  It will wash off.”  Her heart broke into pieces.  Hearing those simple words from her own child completely overwhelmed her.  Colton’s mom held back tears as she agreed with him and took in the irony and wisdom of the moment.  Oh, how she wished that her little boy could run through those puddles and get muddy too!  She would have given anything at that moment if he had the strength to run through puddles and get his shoes muddy!  This story reminds us all that we should not let the little things in life that are not really important rob us of our joy.  We should appreciate every moment we are given and not worry about getting a little “muddy” sometimes.  Life is too short to worry about a little mud here and there!  So if you get the chance...get your shoes muddy and be grateful for the experience!  Colton would want you to!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Last night I did something completely out of my comfort zone. I spoke on stage to an audience about something that I had not expected or planned!  How did THAT happen?!  I was at our local Relay for Life event helping my sister sell t-shirts for the C-Team and the next thing I knew she had talked me into explaining the design on the shirts in one of the Relay team contests.  I wanted to give her a million reasons why I didn't want to do it or couldn't do it, but something inside me said to be as brave as Colton was during his battle with cancer and do it for him.  His story is too good not to share with others!  And isn't that what life is about?  Sharing our stories with others so we can connect and relate to one another.  I don't remember much of what I said because I was too busy telling myself not to cry and to just keep breathing.  But in the end, I did it and was still alive to tell about it!  Sometimes there are moments in life that make us feel like we can't take the next step; we may feel like we are not capable or good enough.  Fear of failure can rob us of growing, learning, or making a connection with someone.  As a classroom teacher, I want my students to take risks with their learning, to create and share their stories, and make connections with others.  I tell them to just write down what they are thinking and not to get too worried about the mistakes or typos.  How can I expect this of my students if I'm not willing to do it myself?  Because of this realization, I've decided to share not only Colton's story, but my own.  Not because I think I have in-depth insight or knowledge, but because I don't want the fear of failure to keep me from growing, learning and making connections with others.  My hope for this blog is to be a place where I can share some of the life lessons that Colton taught me and how they shape me as a person and as an educator.  The design on the Tshirt that I shared with the Relay for Life audience was "It's Just Mud."  A simple saying with a powerful story behind it that inspired everyone who knew Colton.  This is the story that I shared with the audience last night and the story that inspired the title of this blog.  I will once again push aside the fear of failure and "what ifs" and share his story here with others because...
it is too good not to share.