Vol. #9: Reflecting Pool

Today was the first day of school for the traditional calendar schools throughout the state.  There are 36 middle schools in the county in which I teach, but ten of them, including mine, are multi-track year-round schools. So while the majority of the county welcomed students today for day one, our students arrived for day 36.

The sight that greeted them on this day was a sight most students never see: the halls being20120827-174943.jpg painted. This would normally be done when the students are out of the building (likely during the summer) but with the exception of Christmas break, there are students and staff in the building of a multi-track year-round school – literally – year round.

This means several things are fundamentally different logistically, Continue reading Vol. #9: Reflecting Pool


Vol. #8: Tech Tools are the Power Tools of Education

Last week’s post evidently left some room for further interpretation and discussion. My colleague Paul Cancellieri*, as usual, pushed my thinking deeper. He rightfully noted in a comment to the post that I did not completely and fully answer the question posed by the Kenan Fellows program:

“How we can best use technology to its maximum advantage in education?”

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I certainly don’t know more than some* about technology. However, it is my assessment that this question is most powerfully, truthfully, and best answered if it is simply as flipped as some of the cutting-edge classrooms of today:

We can best achieve an educational goal to its maximum attainment by utilizing technology.

This may seem at odds with what I stated in the previous post:

“It is important to remember is that technology is simply a tool. It no more accomplishes an educational goal in and of itself than a pencil and sheet of paper (or a slate and chalk before that.)…”

However, I go on to say:

“Educators’ understanding the right tool for the right task is imperative. A hammer does the plumber fixing the leaky faucet very little good.”

Please allow me to develop this “metaphanalogy” further… Continue reading Vol. #8: Tech Tools are the Power Tools of Education

Vol. #7: Leveraging Technology in Education

Based on your experiences, what are the greatest challenges for leveraging technology to empower learning in your classroom and school?

I have considered the above question at great length. It’s one of my favorite prompts thus far in the Kenan Fellows program blogs, and I wanted to get it right. Like many other Fellows, I thought first about the lack of funding, student access, and teacher training. Then, I read how fellow Kenan Fellow Kellie Perkins started her post with the definition of “leveraging”. One part of the definition caught my attention specifically:

leveraging: to use (something) to its maximum advantage.

So, to rephrase: How can we use technology to its maximum advantage in education?

Continue reading Vol. #7: Leveraging Technology in Education

Vol.#6: Changing the Core

As a multi-track  year-round teacher, I’ve just completed the first week of school: a new administration, a new demanding schedule, a new PLT, a new batch of seventh graders, and many other new challenges. However, this group of students is wonderful, my new PLT is off to a great running start, and this new administration has expressed unwavering high standards for its staff. If your undergo a change in your surroundings, I think it’s safe to assume you’ll change as a result as you adapt.

So looking ahead to this school year, I realize this new context coupled with the unique and intense Kenan Fellows experience will be nothing shy of completely transformative for me. Continue reading Vol.#6: Changing the Core

Vol.#5: The NCCAT Experience

As Volume #4 mentioned, I attended NCCAT in Cullowhee, NC the last week in June with the other Kenan Fellows. Kenan asked us to write about our NCCAT highlight  for our third post to our Kenan Fellows’ Blog. Here’s my response.


I’m what you call “indoorsy.”   ~Jim Gaffigan

I hesitated long and hard before submitting the survey about paint-balling and whitewater rafting. In fact, I was on the list of Fellows to which they’d had to send the survey a second time. This was not because it had slipped my mind. However, Paul Cancellieri finally put it this way to me:

“Do it. When else will you? And…it’s where the memories will be made.”

This turned out to be ingenious advice.

Honestly, the scariest part for me about paint-balling was signing the waiver. “Possible serious injury and death.” I read this and glanced around. We’re all signing this? Seriously? Well, okey-dokey.

As each paint-ball scenario went on, I got better at knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and in which way I would best serve my team. (We initially played in the woods, then moved to a little city built just for this, with cars and three-story buildings.) I much preferred the city’s required strategy over the unpredictability of the forest. I’m sure this says lots about myself, and could go on here to analyze it.

falls0001_1-e1337353864916However, the prompt for this blog assignment asked for the NCCAT highlight. I’ve already discussed my Top Ten Tech Takeaways, and individually and as a whole, they are an invaluable, amazing highlight. But looking at the experiences outside of those classroom-altering tools, what was a highlight for me? That would have to be jumping the rock.

For starters, I was certain I was going to fall out of the raft. In fact, if I hadn’t grabbed poor Robin, I know one time that I definitely would have. Our guide, whom the rest of the Fellows all knew by his lack of rafting attire but we came to know as “Dan”, was really great. (Dan was in a black Speedo.) Caroline jumped in and went for a swim at one point, and Dan was teaching Kristine to steer as our guide during much of the trip. Tammy is an experienced rafter who’s conquered class five rapids before. And nothing seems to bother Kenny. I was certainly the most nervous “fish out of water” in our raft.

When we got to the jumping rock, it looked pretty high even from the ground. I’d decided against it. I watched many of the fellows jump off confidently, and many others hesitate. I started to consider doing this. Then, I saw Ryan G.

Ryan went to the edge…and stopped. He paced. He shook his head, as if to say, “Oh, hell no!”. Then, people stared to cheer him on. From my perspective back on the shore, I would say it looked like he was probably not going to do it, but for the encouragement of his fellow Fellows. We cheered as he finally screwed up his courage and jumped.

Ryan just did this. I can do this. *deep breath*

As everyone started to head back to their boats, I nervously edged up to the top of the rock. Holy mackerel, but it’s high. Again, my resolve wavered. Then, like with Ryan, I heard some of the Fellows, and then more still, start to cheer me on. I looked back and saw wet Fellows who had met this challenge. I saw Lisa H. had jumped, and was smiling. More Fellows started to cheer, “You can do this!” “Go Erica!”

I jumped.

I heard everyone cheer all the way down. The water was so cold, it seized all my senses on impact. When I surfaced though, they were still cheering.

Dan had us spinning like a washing-machine as we went over the class-three falls, and I didn’t fall out. I didn’t grab Robin. Something within me had changed.

We are all going to have experiences in this adventure that will be new, and difficult, and even scary. But, the rock taught me we also have each others’ backs. We are each others’ support, encouragement, and example of success. Pride grows from expecting more from ourselves than we thought we ever could accomplish…and then rising to the occasion.

So, what was the highlight of NCCAT for me? That it was the perfect storm of experiencing confidence-building adventures, acquiring new tech tools for the classroom, and cultivating powerful professional contacts and amazing new friends. The power of this storm will surely reshape the landscape of myself as an educator and a person.

Vol.#4: My Top Ten Tech Takeaways from NCCAT

I attended NCCAT in Cullowhee, NC this past week along with the other Kenan Fellows. While lots of experiences were built into our stay, the instructional focus was on educational technology.

It. Was. Amazing.

I am passionate about learning educational technology and integrating it into my classroom. Therefore, I was thrilled to be immersed into such a rich technology training environment over several days.  It was the most powerfully intensive technology training I’ve ever experienced. Continue reading Vol.#4: My Top Ten Tech Takeaways from NCCAT

Vol.#3: Paralysis By Analysis

Image Credit: girlsguideto.com

My work with my Kenan Fellowship started a collaborative chapter this past week. The four other ELA DPI Kenan Fellows and I came together to the NC Department of Instruction for the first time. We’d been using the NC DPI Self-Study Binders to delve into the common core independently, and had a very intensive nine-hour study of the common core Monday to kick-start our journey together.

I realize now there is so much in the Common Core that will have me fundamentally looking at my own instruction, and major instructional shifts will happen for all educators of literacy and English Language Arts: Continue reading Vol.#3: Paralysis By Analysis

Vol.#2: Measuring My 2¢ On Merit

In April, our school’s benchmark results were emailed to the entire staff. When analyzing the language arts department’s results, my students’ projected growth – the percentage projected to meet their targets – was abysmal. I mean it. I was dead last.

Continue reading Vol.#2: Measuring My 2¢ On Merit

Vol.#1: Saying Goodbye

This blog has been a long time in the making.

Granted, mostly in my head. Like most educators and moms of young children, I have plenty of important priorities to point to and say, “I’m too busy”. Despite this, ideas like the concept, the title, and images had been chiseling away at the back of my conscientiousness for months, even before creating a WordPress site in which they could be housed.

Hello. My name is Erica Speaks, and I am a perfectionist.

I think you should know that about me right off the bat. In fact, my husband looks at this blog endeavor dubiously. Not because he thinks I’m not a great writer, but that he knows I absolutely agonize over details, especially when I’m writing.

So, it looked like this blog was going to be an idea that I toyed with but never came to fruition. You know, like building a roadster from scratch or backpacking across Europe.

However, I came across the following quote:

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.”

~ Ivan Turgenev

and decided to jump in with both feet and hit “Publish”.

As with all new beginnings, I am saying, “Goodbye,” to several things.

Like all educators this time of year, I said, “Goodbye,” to a group of students. I try to take what I’ve learned each time and get ready to begin anew with fresh challenges and perspective. My year-round school’s calendar starts in July, and hopefully some of it will be blog-worthy.

Also, I have worked diligently over the past ten years “perfecting” lessons from my state’s Standard Course of Study that I will say, “Goodbye,” to in favor of the Common Core alignment coming this school year. I am very fortunate to have been granted a Kenan Fellowship with which I can start this new process. I am certain some of that will be blog-worthy.

The start of this blog also marks one other, “Goodbye.”  I had become very comfortable with my arrangement of having a colleague use some of my writings as guest posts on his own professional blog. Changes have me saying, “Goodbye,” to that safety net, as well.

So, as I anticipate the drive out of my comfort zone on many fronts, I take a long look in the rear view mirror at where I’ve been. I ponder a moment at how I’ve arrived here. It has not been perfect, and I recognize a difficult new stretch of road lies ahead in my journey.

But I’m ready to begin driving forward.

Writing Volumes About Teaching Whist Learning Volumes About Teaching

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