My #oneword for 2018: Appreciation

I love New Years Resolutions. When I commit to one, I am tenacious about trying to keep it.

In 2015, I made my workout resolution a SMART goal, and I’m proud to say that I completed it – I fulfilled that resolution from January 1 through December 31st. Woot.

In 2016, I made recommitted to the previous year’s workout resolution but made it even more challenging this time, and around mid-October, I was so far ahead that I got bored with it (though I did complete it). Woot. Woot. And I started thinking ahead.

As I looked to 2017 (in November of 2016), I came across the One Word Resolution idea for the first time (I believe through Bethany Hill’s #JoyfulLeaders hashtag -@bethhill2829) and loved the concept behind it. So, I gave myself some time to reflect, and fortuitously came across the following quote…


What a powerful idea.

Now, I am and have always been a person who is appreciative of the many blessings in my life, but I had never thought of the term Gratitude as anything more than just an after-the-fact thankfulness. This quote, however, suggests much more. Holden’s contention here is that gratitude is a mindset, a present consciousness that you are attuned to your gratitude in the now. The idea struck me so profoundly that I knew I had found my One Word.

Though I had identified my word for 2017, something still troubled me about it. I felt at the time that I needed to define my One Word to identify how I intended to interpret that word as a life philosophy. Now, I get it – you might be saying, Well doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole idea of selecting one single word? Maybe. But just as my previous resolutions had benefitted from being written as SMART goals, I felt (and still believe) that defining that one word, in your own words, adds clarity and purpose to an otherwise vague idea.

So my 2017 one word was Gratitude and my definition was…


The picture I chose for this quote was taken on a hammock under the Santa Monica Pier. It’s a photo that represented a moment of peace in 2016 I had been quite grateful for at the time, so I created this image and made it the desktop on my computer to encourage me to revisit it often.

Triple Woot.

I actually loved the idea so much that I decided to make creating a One Word Resolution the icebreaker activity to start off the spring semester for all my classes. Each student selected a word, defined the word, and then used Snapchat or Adobe Spark Post to create an image or video that contained their own One Word Resolution along with a simple sentence definition of the word. I collected this assignment using Seesaw, and then took some of the best examples and made them into a video using Animoto. Here’s what we all came up with…

So, 2017 got off to a start I was grateful for (*smirk) and that one word kept me grounded and focused on the positives in life despite the many personal hardships I faced in 2017. By year’s end, I felt I had improved at being grateful in the present, so I began considering my next step for 2018.

Alright. So, all this backstory and context has led me to select the word Appreciation for 2018. In 2017, I became a much more in-the-moment grateful person, and what I found was that my gratitude was often ignited or inspired by (or with) someone else. From simple moments playing with my children to times gathered around a table in conversation with friends enjoying good food & drink to moments with my students or athletes or colleagues that epitomized the reason I chose this profession, I found myself profoundly grateful for time spent with others. But ya know what, while being grateful in the moment is a reward in and of itself, my passion in 2018 is to make that gratitude something I openly share.

So I have a new desktop image now…


I can’t wait to spread as much positivity as I can in 2018 and share with others just how much I appreciate them during those moments I am so grateful to experience.

So let me just say to anyone still reading, THANK YOU for taking the time to share in my story. I would encourage you to take time this year to tell the people in your life just how much they mean to you.

Best wishes for a happy 2018!

Create Better Instructional Videos in 2018

Three years ago, at roughly this same point in the school year, the spring semester was just getting underway, and I had that half-nervous, half-excited I’m-trying-new-things-in-class buzz with me as the new year began. Over break, I had committed a tremendous amount of time to launching my second fully-personalized learning unit for our English 9 Honors course at Westside High School. The final unit of the fall semester had been my first, unit-long personalization effort, and it had gone exceptionally well with regards to both student performance and achieving the myriad of other classroom and learner benefits personalized learning has to offer.

That said, there is certainly always room for improvement, and I had noticed during the previous unit that the video content I had provided as an instructional resource had been underutilized and/or just not used at all. It was simply a collection of the best videos I could find on YouTube about each subject, and some of those video pieces were adequate at best. So, I committed to doing some research on how to make my own video content with the goal of making it more engaging. That research lead me to a study that had concluded that viewers are more engaged in a piece of media if they know the person or people in the video.

Well, I thought, challenge accepted.

So, I checked out a camera from our high school’s media center and got to work. I can’t even tell you how many hours I spent over that break couped up in a small side room in the library or at a 24-hour coffee shop so early in the morning that I was the only patron there, but I was creating my first set of instructional videos and I knew that the instruction was going to directly align with how I taught that content in class. It was invigorating to be able to be creative, and I learned a lot during that time.

Okay, so flash forward, it’s time to implement! The unit launches, I’m dare-I-say giddy to get it underway. Students start off quiet, slowly easing into this new-for-them way of experiencing school. And they stay quiet. And after about a week, students start to voice their opinions and reflections on their personalized experience, and well, let’s just say that they weren’t all glowing!

*Watch the Full Video Podcast Episode Here

Despite my best attempts to improve the quality of my video content, it turns out that students don’t enjoy watching a shoulders-up shot of me talking into a camera for 20+ minutes.

Weird. I can’t imagine why?

So, beaten but not defeated, I knew that this was a worthwhile endeavor and skill to develop; I just needed an opportunity to learn more than I already knew. And in my experience anytime I’ve needed help, I’ve found other educators to be my best resources, which led me to turn to our WHS journalism advisor in charge of video and TV, Matt Rasgorshek (Raz).

Raz, a nationally renown advisor, agreed to let me survey his Intro to Video course on the days that he was giving direct instruction and also on postmortem days (whole-group video critique days). After a semester of sacrificing lunches and the occasional portion of plan time, I had a new perspective and changed my entire approach to video content creation.

The new principles I had learned were simple, but I had never considered them before, and I thought it might help others if I share a few of them in this post. Here’s what I would say are My Top Five Takeaways from that time with Raz that I would recommend any new-to-video educator consider.

  1. Instructional Videos Should Be 5-Minutes or Less: This can be a challenge at times, and occasionally I break my own rule here, but brevity is key. For longer concepts, make a two or even three-part series of videos that break the concept down into 5-minute chunks if necessary.
  2. Write Out a Script of What You Intend to Say: This will help your videos to be concise and also ensure that you cover everything you wanted to share/teach.
  3. Have a Personality: I like to say that it’s important for students to see that their teacher is “wired right” meaning that the teacher laughs when something is funny, is upset or disappointed when it’s warranted, and that students see us as real people and not just a puppet that hangs on the back of the door to room 135 at night until I’m reanimated the next day. Video is a great medium for infusing humor, personal examples, and fun into your teaching persona, so don’t be afraid to intentionally show those sides of your personality. *When you write your script, write use an informal voice/tone.
  4. Good Sound Trumps Good Video Quality: If you’re creating new content on a limited budget, record the video with your phone or device and instead invest in a good microphone. I use a Blue Snowball Microphone often, and I also like using the Shure MVL Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone. Both are under $100.
  5. Be Okay with Being Just Okay: If you’re anything like me, I wanted to be Spielberg my first time out. It’s obvious that developing any skill is an art that evolves over time, so don’t be an ultra-perfectionist and be too hard on yourself with the first few pieces you produce. Enjoy the journey, and be okay with where you are along the road. Your students will love you just for trying!

Well, that brings this blog to a close, but I’ll leave you with a few examples of my earlier video pieces as a reference. Below is a link to an image I uploaded to a site called Thinglink. I wanted to house multiple videos all on one, student-friendly page for easy access, and Thinglink is great for that. If you’re looking for a few instructional video examples to get you started, feel free to check out the videos by first opening the link then clicking on the dots in the image. And good luck in 2018 with your instructional videos!


*For more great stories of classroom-tested personalized practices and reflections, subscribe to The Westside Personalized Podcast on iTunes

Personalized Learning Element #4: Data Driven Decision Making

Utilizing data to drive personalized learning practices is critical to student success. What is key in personalized learning is to share this data with students so that they are able to make intelligent decisions within the freedom and flexibility unique to this style of instruction. Let’s face it, students aren’t always able to accurately judge what they know and determine the ideal conditions in which they learn best. This video looks at how standards-based data along with learning style assessments (that become learner profiles) can empower students to optimize their experience in the personalized setting.

Personalized Learning Element #2: Voice and Choice

Another facet of our districtwide personalized learning initiative is to empower students with voice and choice in their learning experience. What I have found over time is that because these attributes are so inconsistently offered to students in a classroom setting, often students must first be extended choices before they will then begin to provide the teacher with feedback. Positive teacher-student relationships then lead to authentic and constructive student voice that is vital to the evolution of best personalized practices in a classroom.

Personalized Learning Element #1: Knowing Your Student

Getting the opportunity to truly work alongside and know your students is both educationally beneficial and also personally rewarding for both the teacher and the student alike. While this first element of personalized learning in our district might seem an obvious choice for inclusion, the personalization of education fosters an environment that maximizes opportunities for teachers to really come to understand their students as people and as learners. This video creates an overview of how to intentionally design for such opportunities in a personalized learning format, and it also discusses how to support students and optimize their learning as a result of developing strong working relationships with each individual.

Personalized Learning Video Series

In 2015, Westside Community Schools in Omaha, NE implemented a new set of core strategies designed to drive and unite perspective on district-wide initiatives. One of the central pillars of emphasis in that plan was a focus on personalized learning. At that time, I was in my second year in the Westside district and began to redesign my blended flex model for teaching in order to incorporate the new elements of personalization. The process and its resulting product in practice have been greatly rewarding for me as an educator, for our team as a group, and most importantly for my students in their learning, engagement, and demonstrated mastery of content. Recently, our district asked me to create video content that would overview Westside Community School’s Five Elements of Personalized Learning and then go on to detail each of the five elements with greater depth and examples. Below is the overview video of the five elements.



Finding Wonderland

The past five months have transformed my view of professional development in education. Reflecting back on it all, the perspective change from early-March-me to now is staggering. In my experience, PD had always meant building or district level development, and I was completely unaware of the national (even global) network of educators who are collaborating online to evolve educational best practices moving forward. This, my first blog post, is about the process through which I began to access and connect with this larger network of educators. And as an English teacher and the product of a small, Midwestern town, I greatly appreciate when facts and details are seasoned with a simple narrative to give it flavor. Therefore, I’ve written this blog to be part personal introduction, part narrative, and part informative for those searching for their way to join in the fun. So here it goes…

As I stated, this story starts this past March. At that time I was immersed in the scripting, filming, and editing of video content for yet another personalized learning unit. For the first time, our entire English 9 Honors team would be teaching a personalized learning unit together, and I was elated. The collaborative process of its creation, well underway at that time, was truly bringing our team together, and early March also brought news that I would be the 2016 PBS Lead Digital Innovator for the state of Nebraska. Things were certainly going extremely well and were also at the same time extremely busy.

In March I could feel my 9th year in the profession quickly drawing to a close, and while my love for teaching has never waned, I couldn’t ignore the quiet feeling that something was certainly missing. See, I am a person driven by creativity and the rush of turning the concept into the concrete. And while I’ve been blessed with a myriad of phenomenal colleagues who have helped shape my practices over the years, my creativity, always a professional strength of mine, felt drawn to connect to others who might round out, compliment, and challenge me in my creative passions. My passion for producing educational video content. My passion for personalizing learning. My passion for unlocking student creativity. My passion for hacking and redesigning learning spaces. Ultimately, my passion for leveraging my creativity to improve as an educator in order to provide my students with the most optimal learning experience I am capable of providing.

Now I’m a fan of Campbell’s hero’s journey, so I’ve decided to loosely follow his structure throughout this post as I recount the details of my own journey in engaging this network of connected educators. So at this point in time, I recognized that I was a willing adventurer who just needed a call to adventure. I needed to connect with other educators whose curiosities had led them down their own rabbit hole towards the future of education. And at this point in time, my frustration was Alice’s – I had crossed the threshold but wonderland lay on the other side of a locked door.

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Then, just as Campbell prescribed, the call came.

And it came from the most unlikely of places: journalism.

To the most unlikely of places: LA.

In late March, our journalism advisor Jerred Zegelis was in need of a chaperone for the journalism students’ trip to the JEA conference in Los Angeles, California, and given my passion for video production, he asked if I would be interested in attending.

Umm…yes. Obviously!

JEA was to be my first national conference experience, and despite my not actually teaching journalism, I was still set to be an inquisitive chaperone looking to improve my instructional video skills.

Next, Campbell advises to seek out a mentor. Matt Rasgorshek, the video journalism advisor at our high school, has spent the past year and a half putting up with me surveying his class and annoying him all sorts of entry level video questions in my quest to produce better instructional video content for my students. Matt, knowing my interest in video production, arranged for me to have a working, video-critique lunch with a journalism colleague of his from St. Louis during the JEA conference. And this is how I came to meet Don Goble.

Don Goble is a nationally renown journalism advisor who was recently recognized by Onalytica as one of the top 200 leaders in American education for 2016 – although I was completely unaware of any of this at the time. On the first day of the conference, I attended an 8am session Don was leading. His passion was clear: empower student voice through digital media to connect students with an authentic audience in order to change the world. Simple enough right? But Don is masterful at it and his enthusiasm was infectious. Later that day Don and I met for lunch, and Don brought that same passionate approach to his critique of my videos. He was extremely personable, patient, and genuinely interested in watching my video content and providing meaningful feedback. Don watched several videos and imparted significant suggestions that will certainly shape my process moving forward. However, the most transformative part of our conversation had nothing to do with editing techniques or lapel mics.

As our lunch was winding to a close, I asked Don if there was anything else I should do to reach out to others, to share my work, and to get new ideas moving forward.

Don paused, then asked if I had a Twitter account. No. A blog? No. A YouTube channel for sharing my videos? Well all of my videos are on YouTube…But 85% of them are unlisted.

Don then revealed another sincere passion of his – advocating for educators to share their ideas for the betterment of the education community as a whole. He encouraged me to share my story and my work and reach out to other educators through the avenues he had mentioned. He also suggested several conferences at which I should consider applying to present. What a lunch! Not only had I connected with another teacher whose passion was video production, but Don had given me the keys to unlocking the door into a world I had hoped to find but never knew existed. That said, two days later I left LA with a serious to-do list and found myself adrift, swimming in waters I had never tread before.

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That’s the problem with entering a new world – as Campbell points out – you begin in the “belly of the whale” that awkward I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing phase of any new experience. However, the belly of the whale marks the beginning of a period of great change for those willing to acclimate to their new surroundings and increased expectations. Upon my return to Omaha, I was determined to learn as much as I could about being an educator on Twitter, and I wanted to learn fast given that I was five days away from attending NETA, our statewide ed tech conference.

Now let me just say that though I am far from a novice when it comes to technology I was completely lost in the Twitter-verse. And reader, if you are not on Twitter and are reluctant to do so, I implore you to start. Here’s how I started…

At NETA, one of the keynote speakers was the Director of Bright Bytes, Bob Dillon (@ideaguy42). Bob, coincidentally also from St. Louis, led a morning breakout session after the keynote, and while Don had mentored me in video, Bob’s passion for classroom design tapped into my interest in hacking and redesigning learning spaces. His session sparked ideas that prompted me to restructure my classroom layout just four days later. After the breakout session, I thanked Bob for sharing, inquired about his upcoming book release on learning spaces (which I have since purchased), and as he was from St. Louis, I asked if he knew Don Goble (@dgoble2001). Of course he did (it seems everyone in the whole of the connected educator community does), and so after our conversation I followed Bob on Twitter and I sent out my first tweet telling Don I had met Bob Dillon. It almost seems a bit childish to note it now, but I had no idea what I was doing and it was fun to feel connected to two phenomenal educators who shared some of the exact same passions I have. With that as a starting point, I proceeded to spend the next two days at the conference locked into Twitter, following any speaker I found especially interesting or any teacher I had a chance to chat with.

The week after NETA, my Twitter-feed began to fill up with tweets containing links to insightful articles, in-depth blog entries, passionate quotes on education, and ed chat hashtags calling educators to rich online collaborative discussions. If you’re new to Twitter, my advice at this point is to Google search for lists of prominent Twitter teachers, follow a few of them, and then simply follow anyone else who tweets out something insightful, informational, and/or intriguing. In a matter of days it became clear to me that Twitter was a pathway to new ideas, and in a few short weeks that pathway began to broaden. I certainly wasn’t a connected educator myself, not by any means, but for the first time I could see the whole of wonderland opening up one piece at a time before me, and quite frankly, I was overwhelmed. But at the same time – it felt something akin to Christmas morning. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but anyone who truly feels that they have a passion or a calling in life certainly knows that subtle feeling of alienation prior to finding others who share their interests and similarly the joy that comes from discovering that you’re not crazy, you just had yet to find others who were crazy like you.

However… it wasn’t long before I regretfully acknowledged that my online presence was all hunger, driven to mass consumption, and I couldn’t help but feel guilty for eating at the table without having brought anything to share.

This was not what Don had mentored me to do. This is not a part of Campbell’s design.

So knowing that I needed to find my voice online, I began the struggle of actually creating my own tweets instead of simply reading everyone else’s thought. By late June, I was growing a little Twitter savvy, though I should admit that years of informal Facebook posting and the 140 character limit still stunted my sensibility and effectiveness online. Thankfully, I had become proficient enough at that point in time to be prepared to develop my personal learning network (PLN) when I took part in the PBS Digital Innovators Summit in Denver just before ISTE 16 began. As I sat in a room with 52 exceptional educators from across the country, many of whom are at the front lines of ed tech and ed innovation, two things quickly became apparent. 1. Twitter had replaced the business card at events such as this. 2. Twitter also seemed to be used as a form of social status amongst some educators, and though I didn’t find myself in awe of the “Edu-celebs” (as one colleague called them), I did deeply respect these individuals and found it inspiring that there are educators out there tweeting and blogging and vlogging and chatting and collaborating and presenting to such a degree that thousands of other educators are improving their practices for the betterment of hundreds of thousands of students as a result of one teacher’s efforts.

During my time with PBS and at ISTE, I met several phenomenal people who have been terrific friends and resources in the the profession since. Kevin “Mister C” Cornell (@OriginalMisterC) is creating the highest quality instructional videos and related materials I’ve seen. Dan Koch (@danvkoch) is an ed tech mastermind whose #edtechafterdark chats are rich in tech info and ideas. Chantell M (@TechieTcher), who leads her own weekly #RSDchat, is a podcast expert, PBL guru, and has been a good friend in helping me out of my “newbie” phase in this world of online collaboration. At ISTE, I stopped by Melinda Kolk’s (@melindak) paper session and soaked up her profound words and rich insights on a topic I had spent the summer contemplating: How to unlock/foster student creativity. And finally, on a level that he is likely not even aware of, Steve Isaacs’ (@mr_isaacs) passion for games, gaming, gamification, ARG – you name it – left me creatively intrigued about the topic of games in the classroom. During our PBS ed camp, he mentioned the work Paul Darvasi (@PaulDarvasi) has done with Alternate Reality Gaming, and after reading through Paul’s entire blog, I was inspired to create an ARG of my own.

And this leads me to my conclusion – why I decided to start blogging. As I was binge-reading Paul’s blog, I saw not only an exceptional example of an educational ARG, but maybe even more importantly a teacher-created resource that expounded upon ideas in a way Twitter could not. This is how I came to understand Twitter for what it truly is – something a lot like a superhighway. It’s busy with people and ideas flying quickly by. But as such, it is also the quickest route to a myriad of off-ramps where things slow down and are more specific in their focus. I then realized that I greatly enjoy making a pit stop at a blog, vlog, webinar, etc. more than speeding along my Twitter-feed, and so I want to create my own little pit stop where I can hopefully fuel others in their creative passions and maybe provide something for educators to chew on before they continue down the road to their own goals and destinations.

Well, I can’t pretend that my hero’s journey has come full circle just yet. I do feel though that I’m well on my way through my own road of trials in Wonderland, and while I have no aspirations of making a name for myself in this community – I do intend to have a voice. It’s the same voice that early-March-me had, but now there is an outlet, an audience, a community of people whom I feel a special connection with because they helped me to see that there are others out there in education who are creatively crazy like me.

“…if a person has had the sense of the Call — the feeling that there’s an adventure for him — and if he doesn’t follow that, but remains in the society because it’s safe and secure, then life dries up. …If you have the guts to follow the risk, however, life opens, opens, opens up all along the line. I’m not superstitious, but I do believe in spiritual magic, you might say. I feel that if one follows what I call one’s bliss — the thing that really gets you deep in your gut and that you feel is your life — doors will open up. They do! They have in my life and they have in many lives that I know of.”                     Joseph Campbell



Quote Source

Follow Your Bliss: A Collection of Joseph Campbell Quotes

*The pictures above were taken from various sites through Google’s “labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification” setting.