Sunday, January 07, 2007

Choose Your Own Resolution

Choose Your Own Resolution

I can only speak for myself, but I believe in self-improvement. If my husband read that statement, he would probably remark that I’ve been watching too many TiVoed episodes of Oprah. However, I have observed that while some people are born brilliant and gifted educators, most teachers, myself included, have to really work at reaching our personal and professional best. I think we all owe it to ourselves and to our students to continually seek out new and better ways of educating.

So…it’s that time of year, and even if you don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, how about pledging to kick things up a bit in your classroom at least? Here are my suggestions!

1) Provide a window into your classroom.

Parents want to know about their child’s experiences at school, not to necessarily harangue teachers, but to simply learn more about their children. You can do busy parents a huge favor by providing a few glimpses. Some ideas are:

• Take lots of pictures of your students engaged in class work and of their actual work. If you use a regular camera, have your photos put on a disk when you get the filmed developed.
• Compose a newsletter for parents and send it out via email. Trick this out a bit by sending it out via Google Groups or…
• Jot down a few notes about classroom activities and add a few pictures in a blog or a wiki.
• Schedule volunteer activities for parents using Google Calendar.
• Get fancy and make a brief video about classroom happenings just like Bre Pettis did in Room 132.

2) Organize your digital closets.

Just like you probably already organize your paper based resources and other materials, take some time on a regular basis to organize whatever you store on your computer. One of my colleagues borrows from the business world and uses a popular management system created by David Allen called Getting Things Done.

My own suggestions are:

• Make folders on your computer for handouts, forms, and correspondence. Consider creating a folder for each student for storing examples of work and photos taken in class. Take a few moments each week to sort digitized items into these folders.
• Start thinking about the end of the school year. If you get organized now, you can easily burn a CD of your students’ work in June for an end of the year surprise.
• Also, consider making a yearbook for your class. There are many services that do this now for a fee. A few services to checkout are Snapfish, Blurb, and Shutterfly. I like Apple’s service that works with iPhoto; two years ago I created a softcover photo booklet for my daughter’s kindergarten class at a reasonable cost.
• Start tagging files. This will make searching for documents and pictures much easier. I know teachers who name files with students’ initials, so that they can easily find documents when searching their computers. Also, Mac users can select a file and then go to the File menu to select Get Information. Under the Spotlight Comments field, you can label that file with keywords. Using Spotlight, the OS X search tool, you can pull up anything that is tagged with a keyword later on.
• Backup all of your files. Do this now without delay. I paid the price this year and lost many photos when my hard drive crashed unexpectedly. Documents and other items that don’t require a lot of space are stored on my .Mac account and in my file server account at school. I also have a huge new external hard drive for storing my photos and video. Call me paranoid, but my original DV tapes and back up CDs of photos are stored in a fireproof safe as well.

3) Go global and take your students along for the ride.

• Start exploring Google Earth.
• Join the Google Earth Community.
• Take your class on a virtual field trip at Tramline Virtual Field Trips.
• Join a collaborative project at Global SchoolNet Foundation or at iEARN. Check out this list from Eduscapes.
• Go on a tour yourself. See Mike Searson’s iStory tour blog for inspiration.
• Apply for an Earthwatch Fellowship or a Fulbright Teacher Exchange.

4) Find some online neighbors. Join a community.

Busy teachers can find support and fellowship online. Here are a few starting points:

Education World’s Message Board Center
• Golden Apple Foundation’s Teacher Excellence Network
Support Blogging wiki
Tapped In

5) Subscribe to free professional development.

Here are a few of my favorite sources for finding listservs, web sites, and podcasts for improving professional practices:

H-EDTECH Discussion Network – an educational technology listserv
ISED-L – a listserv for private school educators, but may be of interest to public school educators as well
Edutopia – Their site and blog are fabulous, and make sure to sign up for their free magazine.
• Free educational podcasts in the iTunes Store
• If you are really feeling adventurous, learn more about RSS feeds by browsing Will Richardson’s RSS: A Quick Start Guide for Educators.

6) Acknowledge another educator.

Share your story about a teacher (or learning experience) that made a difference in your life. Take a moment to reflect on your own experiences through this project I recently started using Google Earth.

As always, I am interested in YOUR thoughts and suggestions. Please take a moment to leave a comment! And I almost forgot... here's my resolution. Thanks to Charlene Chausis for referring me to this fun resource!

Photo Credit: Sally Mahoney Click here to see the photo in Flickr.