Here we go… my very poor, horrendous excuse for my case of FtB – Failure to Blog 2016-2017. I changed jobs. There… that’s it. I know what you’re thinking; I’ve heard it all year. “But this is the BEST time to blog!”, “Your reflections could help others.”, and “You’ll look back on this and be thankful you wrote about it.” To all of that I say, “I know, I know. You’re right.” However, for some reason this year, it just wasn’t in me. Professionally, this year was tough. (To be honest, personally, this year was tough, too.) What made this year so hard? I couldn’t tell you. I can’t pinpoint one particular cause; believe me, I’ve tried. In my 11 years in education, this was one of the two most challenging years (strongly rivaling my 2nd year in the classroom).
Flashback to last summer when my phone rang as I was on my way back from EdCampSummit for EdCamp Organizers held in Atlanta, Georgia. The number was from central office and I believed it to be one of those automated calls. Upon listening to my voicemail, I quickly found out that I was being summoned to my superintendent’s office for a meeting the following day. I subconsciously heard that ominous “oooooooo” sound when someone is sent to the principal’s office. The end product of that meeting was an outstanding offer to pilot a new position in my district that formally merged the role of the media coordinator and the instructional technology facilitator (my two loves). I was excited to lead this change for my district, but was also incredibly nervous as I would be heading to a middle school for the first time in my career. I’d always heard that middle school is a love it or hate it position, similar to teaching kindergarten. Some people are just born to teach those grade levels and they love every moment spent with that age group, and some aren’t and don’t… at all. There is no middle ground. Reluctantly, I packed up my things at the elementary school I’d only been serving for 2 1/2 years, and moved to a middle school.
I feel that I need to set the scene as this will aide in future posts. This middle school isn’t just any middle school. It’s also the first magnet school in my district, the first school of choice in my district. The school itself was less than 20 years old, and the magnet was established just three years ago. With 10 years of experience, I was coming in as one of the most veteran teachers there. The administration in the school was new – a first year principal although she had many years in education & was the former assistant principal at the school & an assistant principal that was new to the school, coming from a high school. Title 1 funding had just been pulled from the school due to the change in demographics. However, both of the feeder schools for the middle school are Title 1, with one of those schools listed as 100% free and reduced lunch. (Sidenote: Students from two feeder schools automatically attend the school and there are several spaces open for students to apply to attend. These students are chosen from a lottery.) All students at the school participate in the magnet program with a focus in STEM Education, which is awesome! There is not a case of haves and have-nots in regards to access to educational experiences. Every student in the school receives a Chromebook and they are allowed to take the Chromebook home with them for educational purposes. The school also has a BYOD policy, two Project Lead the Way classes, and operates on a 6-block schedule, with every class being 52 minutes in length. There are roughly 425 students enrolled in the school. I would be the third media coordinator in four years in the school. With the 1:1 initiative, the previous media coordinators spent the majority of their time working on Chromebooks, troubleshooting issues and replacing minor broken parts. I needed to break that mold to allow for availability to serve as the instructional and digital coach, as well as serve as the media coordinator.
As part of the pilot position, I was to build a strong media program and begin coaching the staff, building relationships “from the ground up”. I was so incredibly overwhelmed. The media center space was much larger than my elementary school media center, the students were usually bigger than my former PreK-5 students, the collection was enormous, and I desperately missed my makerspace that I had created at my former school. We had signed up for a virtual reality research project with an educational research organization, but had nowhere to put the equipment (more on that in another blog post). I had two enormous storage rooms packed to the gills in classroom book sets, thematic units, manipulatives, calculators, old textbooks, and old technology. Oh, did I mention that I was to distribute and manage the chromebooks in the school, which were haphazardly in bags in the floor? I was totally lost. My directors stepped in and helped me create an entry plan, which allowed me to focus on one thing at a time with a flexible timeline.
Throughout the year, I worked hard to earn trust from my faculty, my administration, and my students. Although I constantly felt like I was falling face first, I reminded myself that I needed to keep a growth mindset and relied heavily on my PLN to keep me inspired. This year has been a lesson on “failing forward”. Now that summer has (finally) started, I feel that I can take a moment and reflect on the year, sharing what I’ve learned and some of the awesome things my students did throughout the year. Look for more information to come, with posts on virtual reality, transforming the media space, building a makerspace, collection development, building relationships with students and staff, coaching successes and failures, and my observations from the year.
So there you have it… my FtB 2017 story – the short version. Subsequent posts will be from the eyes of a new Lead Digital Learning & Media Innovation Facilitator at a STEM Magnet middle school during Pilot Year One.