Thursday, December 29, 2011

We Need Good Teachers Now More Than Ever

Technology is everywhere. Answers are everywhere. Curriculum is everywhere. Yet, we need good teachers now more than ever. Why?

The role of the teacher is shifting. Teaching is not simply providing students with information so that they can cram it in their brains, memorize it, and then regurgitate it on a multiple choice test. Teaching is not simply asking questions that have right and wrong answers. Teaching is not simply dictating what, how and when a student learns. Teaching is about learning, guiding, creating, collaborating, respecting, navigating, inspiring, challenging, understanding, questioning, empowering, and listening. This shift will not make teachers disappear; this shift creates the need for good teachers to appear front and center, to step up, and to lead with passion.

As the role of the teacher evolves, so does the role of the student. Students are being asked to think and create, some, for the first time. Sometimes students are stumped and frustrated, and say, "Just tell me what to do, write, say, etc." Students have to rethink learning just as teachers have to rethink teaching. We must do this together. Technology allows students to publish, become experts, collaborate, share, revise, connect with, and teach others. As these roles become fluid, intertwined, reversed, both are inspired, both are important, and both learn from each other.

Recently, I have been thinking a great deal about curriculum. Curriculum is everywhere. I can find a free course through MIT or Stanford, lesson plans on any number of topics, project ideas, how to videos, etc. Why do we need good teachers if  our students have access to all of this? Well, because our students have access to all of this! It is overwhelming. What is credible? What is valid? We must teach our students to be detectives, to dig, to explore, and to not only find their way, but to create their own path. Good teachers can help do this.

What else can good teachers do? They can inspire students to learn about the things they themselves are passionate about. I ask students all the time to look at bias, perspective, persuasion, rhetorical devices, connotation, and more, when it comes to the world around them, even my own teaching. What I include and leave out says a lot about me. They explore the question, "No matter what we write about, are we writing about ourselves?" Well, when it comes to curriculum, we all have our own opinions. This is the beauty of collaboration, of discussion, of respect, of critical thinking, of learning.

What should we teach our students? Who should determine this? Should there be some curriculum that is set, standards that all students are exposed to and expected to learn? Good teachers are needed now more than ever as we grapple with these ideas of curriculum and learning, choice, passion, credibility, standards, digital footprints, and helping students find their way in this big, connected world. Just as parents parent differently, teachers teach differently. It is good for students to learn from different styles and perspectives. We need good teachers to determine curriculum for their students, with their students- discovering their own individual learning paths, and empowering them to decide if this is something they would like to learn more about.

A colleague of mine recently posted a link to "The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011" on his facebook page. Another colleague commented that he wished there were time in our current English classes for creative writing, because he used to use powerful images as those in the link as writing prompts. My response was, "Make time." Teachers must allow their passions and strengths to guide their work with kids. Our students deserve to learn from inspired teachers. We do not need good teachers to ask questions that can easily be answered by searching online, looking in the back of a textbook, or by copying an older brother's paper from a few years before. We need good teachers to stay current with technology, encourage students to step out of their comfort zones, and guide students towards learning and understanding that is unique for them. Kids are smart! They know when school is not about them, when teachers are not teaching from the heart, and when what they are learning is not really as important as the teacher says it is, especially if the main reason for learning is, "because it is going to be on the test."

As we continue to provide our students with foundations, and allow them to explore what they want to know more about, good teachers become irreplaceable, significant, purposeful, noble, and even more necessary than ever before.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Teaching Timeline, So Far

With the introduction of the new Facebook Timeline, the year 2011 coming to a close, and the fact that we moved (again) and I found a box, no "the" box, of my prized college papers... essays, journals, articles, notes, and the all-too-familiar-to-an-English-major...examination blue books... educational psychology, non-violence crises intervention, Othello, "Sonny's Blues," a celebrated frog, and much, much more... I felt the need to reflect a bit. There are years of stories, faces, smells (yes, there are smells), nuances, fears, and embarrassments of teaching, but this is a single blog post, and my teaching timeline, so far... in a nutshell.


1994... Still in high school, I decide literature is the subject I will study, and eventually teach...Science is in my blood, business is in my family, but literature is in my heart.

I imagine that I am a pretty typical English teacher in that I chose to teach this subject because I love to read, analyze, discuss, write about, and create my own literature. Literature has always been something I am willing to wake up early for... oh but I have a thought, what about this?, add this, delete this, why this?, move this, write this, compare this... My ideas, thoughts, creations have been jotted down any and everywhere from gum wrappers and grocery store receipts, to the palm of my hand.. I love to write. I love to share. I love to learn. Literature allows me to do all of these things: ideas, cultures, perspectives, glimpses into author's mind, surroundings, hearts, souls, and worlds. Literature reflects time periods, is up for interpretation, allows us to be taken on a journey of words, teaches us new languages, gives us adventures, and provides challenges.

What happens when you go from being a student of literature to being a teacher of literature? Well, this is what happened to me...

Student teaching...

1998... Fresh out of college, tutoring, subbing, saving, travelling, moving, beginning

Enthusiastic, ideal, passionate. At first, I studied everything, for hours, the nights before the lessons, words from the dictionary, characters in the plays, themes, techniques, insights. Even though I had analyzed my share of literature, teaching it was a whole new game. I rolled out of bed early, drove in the dark... coffee, scones, textbook, notes. How will I explain this? How will I get the students excited about it? How will I guide them though this? So much of teaching was intuition, connection, patience, going with the flow. I learned to take the spotlight off of me, and that it didn't matter if I was having a bad hair day, was in a bad mood, or didn't feel like going to work. I was a teacher now. Everything I did was for my students. The hours I stayed up late were now for them. The sleep I missed in the morning was for them. The ideas scribbled on paper were for them. Learning how to teach was exhausting. Pedagogy, group projects, classroom management, journaling, juggling.

"Real" teaching...

1999-2001... My Alma Mater. Familiar faces, and some familiar places. The teacher's lounge, department office, faculty restrooms. I had never ventured here, had never been inside these walls, these worlds...wait call you by your first name? I had my own classroom, my posters were up, kids were acting out plays, writing, administrators wrote positive observations. So much of first year teaching is survival. The early years for me were spent as a solo artist, alone with my canvas, doing my thing. Where did my students go when they left my room? Math, PE, lunch, science, home. I focused on my curriculum, on my piece of the big picture. Wait. What was the big picture? There was a shift taking place... test scores are important. We need to be more aligned. We need a stricter pacing guide. We need a red line. Oh no, we do not have much time. We need to keep the students moving. Does this train stop in "Literatureville?" Not anymore. We used to go there, but that station is shut down- for now. No newspaper, no magazines, novels not recommended, at least not until after testing in April. Where is my focus? Where is my creativity? Lesson plans are done. Where is my inspiration? When was the last time I thought? In many ways, it became easier. Sometimes, I even felt relief. Routine. I worked less at home. I was jealous of the "older" teachers who had tenure, who ignored the new rules, who did their own thing, who still took the kids outside to read novels, who weren't afraid to dream.


2001-2007... Should I leave? Starbucks? Target? How can I contribute to the world? I am a teacher, right? Am I the only one wondering these things? I threw my energy into coaching volleyball, took on a new position that allowed me to work with students more than with set curriculum. I had two children. We moved away, we moved back. I had our third child. I got my Master's Degree.


2008 to the present... 13 years later, I still teach. I am dedicated, determined, challenged, and aware. I create change. I embrace change. I collaborate. I connect. I experiment. I evolve. I make mistakes. I integrate. I fail. I know my weaknesses. I know my strengths. I find new weaknesses. I find new strengths. I read. I write. I read more. I write more. I use technology. Teaching is learning. I am learning, guiding, breathing, exploring. Be purposeful. Ask why. Students are the focus. My children and husband are the focus. I am the focus, sometimes.
I still wake up too early, while my family is asleep, before the coffee has started to drip. Teaching is who I am. Creating me is creating for them. I am not done. Learn and grow, and do not be afraid to dream.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Foundations and Explorations

A teaching philosophy that guides my work is what I call Foundations and Explorations. I believe that students must gain a solid understanding of a variety of subjects, standards, ideas, concepts, strategies, devices, and techniques before they begin to explore. These purposeful foundations should be given to students with a great deal of support and guidance. Not all students need the same foundations, and not all students need them on the same day.

Once a student has shown that they have a solid understanding, and are ready to take the next steps, they begin the exploration side of learning. The exploration process is also not the same for each student, and not all students are ready to explore at the same time, or in the same way. Foundations allow students to gain skills and confidence. Explorations allow students the freedom to create, present, publish, and teach what they are learning, and show how they are improving, to others. Through technology, students are empowered to explore responsibly, becoming digital citizens, creating their electronic "E-Legacy" as they go.

Teaching in a blended learning environment allows me to interact with students throughout this process, both face to face and online, while also slowing down, speeding up, and making changes based on their individual needs and interests.

If you are interested in learning more about how I incorporate this philosophy into my teaching, and how my colleague David Dillon and I use it to create project-based interdisciplinary History and English (Humanities) curriculum at the Riverside Virtual School, stay tuned. We are very excited to have the opportunity to present our ideas at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference this summer in San Diego, and I will be blogging more about our philosophies and projects as well.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Allowing Students to Advance Based on Competency, Not Time

This afternoon, one of my students came to see me during my office hours. He has been working on blog post rough drafts about a novel he is reading. The focus of this unit is on point of view and perspective, but the students have been given a great deal of freedom to show mastery of many of the standards we have worked with so far this year. This student is an online student, but he frequently attends my face to face office hours, and has since the beginning of the school year. I have interacted with him online through the course, emails, and Twitter, and asked that he see me for additional support and direction with his blogs. I had a few questions that I thought would be best discussed face to face. Because I teach in a blended learning environment, I try very hard to make my meetings with students purposeful and meaningful.

My student arrived to discuss his final drafts, and to take an end of the unit proctored essay. When my student walked in to my classroom, I asked that he sit at my desk and log in to the class so that we could go over his posts together. He did. We talked. His blog posts were summaries, which contained mostly facts about the reading. The information was information I could find on my own. It was not unique. There was not one iota of my student within his blog posts. I said, "We are not going to discuss these posts you have submitted." I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen (old school... I usually do this using technology, but at this moment, and with this student, this felt right), and started to ask my student questions about the focus of the unit, about the book, about his ideas and insights. I wrote down everything he said in my sloppiest handwriting. We discussed literature. He compared this novel to a poem he read last year. He compared this novel to a story he read for another course. He made connections, he spoke about the themes, he told me a story of a family member who shared stories with him that were similar to the stories in his chosen novel. I looked at him and asked, "Is any of this in any of your blog posts that you submitted to me?" "No," he said, a bit surprised.

He was going through the motions. I told him that my job as a teacher is to encourage him to think, to create his best work, to learn, and to improve. Tonight, during my office hours, he did not take an end of the unit assessment. He was not ready. Instead, he grabbed a laptop, and started to write. He did not have to stay. He chose to sit and to create, and from his heart came a very moving post. He called me over and asked me to read what he had written. It was beautiful. It was improved. It was genuine. It took longer than I thought. I extended his deadline.

My student came in because he thought he had completed the required assignments. He had not mastered the standards, and he had not shown me that he was ready to move on. I could have given him points, if that was the goal, but I didn't. His educational needs are different than his classmates. I could have given him partial credit, he could have passed based on work submitted, but then what? Then I never would have seen what he was capable of, and I would not be allowing him to show he is competent, not only in meeting a time sensitive deadline, but in meeting a performance-based goal. By allowing this student to advance based on competency, not time, he will hopefully learn more in the end, and gain more confidence in the process.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

National Student Exchange

Whether you are a high school or college student, an educator, or a parent, I recommend you check out NSE...

The National Student Exchange is a not-for-profit education consortium, tuition-reciprocal exchange program that provides affordable and practical opportunities for students enrolled at member campuses to study and live in a new location. With participating campuses in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, NSE students have found their exchanges culturally enriching, academically rewarding, and one of the most significant experiences of their undergraduate education (

During my junior and senior years of high school, I spent a lot of time researching potential colleges and universities.  This was WAY before Facebook and Twitter.  I had to do my research the old fashion way. I sent away for information, made phone calls, and read all that I could about these schools. I had a few set criteria, but didn't want to go too big. I wanted to keep it simple. I did not want to attend a party school, and I did not want to be just a number. I wanted to play volleyball , and I already knew I wanted to be an English teacher. Going away sounded awesome, but when my mom and I checked out schools out of state, I got a little nervous. After all the research, I decided to stay close to home.

I was accepted to California State University, San Bernardino, and tried out for the volleyball team. I made it as a walk on, moved into the dorms, and started school. As a college athlete, I learned how to juggle school commitments and athletic obligations. School was rewarding. Learning was happening. But, I was restless.

By the end of my first year in college, I was getting the urge to travel, and to explore a bit. Then, one day, two girls moved into our dorm from the University of Alabama. Alabama?! How did they end up at CSUSB? They were there through a program called National Student Exchange. The idea of transferring, or summer abroad, or somehow being able to travel while not stopping school was what I was looking for. Then, these two students walked into the picture, and I was intrigued.

I loved CSUSB, and I was getting a great education. I figured the only options for restless students like me were to a.) suck it up or b.) transfer. I really did not want to risk having my classes not transfer, did not want to pay out of state tuition fees, and still did not want to move too far away from my family and friends, for too long, so I started to do a little research.

National Student Exchange is a program that allows you to attend another campus without switching schools permanently.  I decided it was time for an adventure. I walked into the weight room one day and said, I am going on an exchange...does anyone want to go with me? My friend Kim said she would go. We needed a school that was on the quarter system like us, so that we could stay eligible for volleyball, and be back in time for spring practices.  There are nearly 200 member universities. 

We chose the University of Georgia for Winter quarter.  This meant we spent three months in Athens, Georgia living in on campus housing while paying CSUSB tuition.  It was such an amazing experience, and something that I highly recommend for students and parents. That quarter, I got a taste of a big out of state school in the South, and made the Dean's List. I came back less restless, and ready to finish college at CSUSB.

If and where to attend college are personal decisions. Having a program like NSE allows students to explore, step out of their comfort zones, and experience new things while still staying focused on progressing through school, and without having to jump through extra hoops.

Check out NSE on Youtube:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

One of my all time favorite movies, Parenthood, has an opening scene with a child talking, an amalgam, a blend, or mixture of memories of Gil, 35, looking back over all of the birthdays he spent at the ball park while his dad paid an usher to watch him. He combines all of these into one clear memory. It is genius.

No matter how or why you celebrate Thanksgiving, your views politically on the origin of this holiday, or whether you eat vegan tofurky or the real deal, this is a day to give thanks and to reflect on what it is that we are grateful to have, and maybe not have.

For me, every Thanksgiving is spent at my aunt's house. On this day, I know that I will be reunited with family. I know that the food will be amazing. I know that the decor and arrangement will be beyond beautiful.  I know that there will be stories told, spoken and not. I know that the guests sitting around the table will change.

Marriages begin, marriages end, kids go to college, girlfriends and boyfriends appear, and then sometimes disappear, babies are born, more babies are born, the kid table evolves. Some people come year after year, some pass away never to return, and some decide to spend their holiday elsewhere. Thanksgiving is a perfect day for an amalgam, a chance to combine memories together to see what remains.

Be blessed. Be happy. Be aware. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

10 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask

1. Is teaching a creative process?
2. Is learning a creative process?
3. Do you assign art?
4. Do you create art?
5. Do your students create art?
6. Do your students color art that is already created?
7. Is paint by number art?
8. Does your finished product mean something only to you?
9. Have your students created any of it?
10. Does that matter?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Power of Discussion Boards

Discussion Boards are a very powerful learning tool.  They allow students to show what they do and do not understand about the material being taught.  Are the students learning?  Which aspects of the content do they have questions and opinions about?  Which areas of the discussion are they strongest in, and therefore can assist their classmates? 

Discussion Boards allow students to support their assertions, read and respond to the assertions of others, and add to their original post, by providing support and evidence. The discussion board is an evolutionary process.  It should be messy, opinions should be challenged and questioned, appropriately, minds should change, and epiphanies should occur. 

One key rule with discussion boards is to avoid asking questions that have a correct answer.  If there is a correct answer, there is no discussion.  If there is a correct answer, the second, third, fourth, etc. students who respond to the board can simply copy the first person's entry.  It happens. To avoid this, ask questions that require the students to think critically, are open ended, require students to clarify and support their claims. Ask students questions in which the answers are unique to them, relate to their point of view/perspective, the way they view the world, and how it is relevant to the topic.
Discussion Boards are also excellent diagnostic tool.  Asking students to formulate questions about their reading that they want to know more about and then posting those questions and their rationale behind them allows me, as the instructor, to do two things:

1.  Interact with my students efficiently and collaboratively. 
2.  Determine what I need to teach in terms of how to formulate good questions.  Here, I can determine whether or not they need further guidance, and hopefully, here also, if a student does need more support or direction, they can receive it from each other as well as from the instructor. 

Discussion Boards can take place during a day, week, or several weeks of the course.  Students and instructors can return to them, edit them, and continue to learn from them after the assignment is complete.  This powerful tool also builds community, and allows the teacher to hear from the students who may not normally contribute in a traditional face to face discussion.

Diagramming and Brainstorming Tool

Check out as a diagramming tool. 
I used it to diagram how I establish and maintain my PLN and PLE. How might students use this in your classroom?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Role of the Instructor in an Online Learning Environment

The role of the instructor in an online learning environment is that of a learning guide.  No longer is the teacher in the online class the sole keeper of knowledge, holder of answers, and provider of information.  The online classroom opens up opportunities for discoveries and learning that do not, and sometimes cannot, exist in a traditional face to face classroom.

The characteristics of this role as guide rather than manager are as follows:

1. Flexibility- online teachers, in order to be effective, must be flexible.  The learning is no longer black and white; there is room for change, evolution, and individualized instruction.  This means that many times the teacher cannot predict the direction that an assignment, discussion board, or project will take. 

2. Curiosity- online teachers must be curious.  Our students are curious, so if they are learning about new, innovative resources, ideas, and ways of looking at things, then the teacher, as guide, not manager, can learn from them as well.  In traditional face to face teaching, many times, the teacher provides the students with information.  In the online environment, the student oftentimes provides the teacher with information.

3. Initiative- online teachers must take the lead when it comes to modeling appropriate interactions online.  This includes modeling behavior with and for parents as well.  Take initiative when it comes to including the parents/guardians of your students in on the process.  Online learning can be family learning, rather than student only learning.   This can be accomplished through email, posts in discussion boards, tweets on Twitter, content on Blog posts, and comments on Facebook.  Online instructors must lead the way when it comes to supporting the learners in their course, and that oftentimes means supporting family members as well.  Inititative means letting go of fear, changing the way one has traditionally done things, and jumping rather than standing nervously at the top.

In a traditional face to face environment, teachers teach, students learn, and much of the interaction that exists between students is established by the instructor.  In an online learning environment, the roles shift, in many ways.  The teacher guides students through learning, allows for there to be freedom within the set curriculum, and allows for students to be accountable for the "what" part of learning, but take an active role in the "how." The goal of any online teacher should be to help students achieve academic goals, become digital citizens, and understand the power of creating an E-Legacy.  Teaching online does not mean doing what is traditionally done in the classroom using technology.  Instead, the use of technology should transform the way you teach and the way your students learn. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

3 Teachers Weigh in on How to Build Community with Online Students

Barriers you might experience when trying to build community with a group of online students in grades 6-12

1. The traditional view of education and learning.  Some are a bit stuck in the paradigm that sees their mind as an empty vessel that needs to be filled with facts from a textbook; they do not realize that most knowledge is a human construction.  That the highest levels of knowledge are not at the bottom of Bloom's taxonomy (memorize facts) but at the top of Bloom's taxonomy were students create knowledge through social interaction.  You know the saying, "Left to myself I am not very smart..."  Students need to discover that through discussion boards and other online assignments they are constructing their knowledge with each other.

2. The system itself.   Currently, this includes the banning of social media, you tube, cell phone use, and the overall opinion that the teacher has the answers and the students are supposed to learn from them alone.  The barriers come from those who still believe that the factory version of schooling is working, or should be enforced.  School is no longer about sitting at your desk and listening to the teacher lecture.  Once more people realize this, education will shift, and there will be new, different barriers to discuss and knock down. 

3. Getting the students comfortable enough to share.  One way to take away this barrier is to ensure that the class is a "safe" place for them to share.   Making sure the teacher has very clear expectations about how students respond to other students posts.  Almost like the old mantra "if you don't have something nice to say..." This is also a great time and place to teach students about constructive criticism.

Techniques used to overcome those barriers

1. Cognitive apprenticeship. This is the process of making my ways of thinking transparent, allowing students into my mental processes.  This can be done by explicitly explaining how a student change my way of knowing through the process of online dialogue.  Or by asking provocative questions that shed light  on their own thinking.

2. Working to have the bans removed, and to show, respectfully, that they are essential to the learning process for our 21st century, digital citizens.  This can be accomplished by continuing to explore the various technology tools that contribute to positive, effective community building experiences for our students, both locally and globally.

3. Creating opportunities to connect. When students feel like they belong or that their opinions matter they are going to be more comfortable with opening up and sharing.  This comes from peer relations, mostly.  In a brick and mortar environment, often our 6-12 grade students tend not to associate with their peers based on the clique they are in, how they look, who they hang out with, etc.  When these same students are taking an on-line course these stereotypes are taken away.  This is great for those whom often don't have a voice due to their peers deeming their opinions "are not important".  It also allows all students to look past their preconceived information about someone based on the outside and process information they are given based on what their classmates share.

Is a sense of community the greatest contributor to student success in learning online? Are there other factors that are more important?

1. It is a top contributor. Part of the being human is a desire to belong.  We need to be a member of a community to bring meaning to our lives.  This explains the many negative communities people will become part of, such as gangs.  When students feel validated and heard in an online environment they will be more successful and more willing to contribute to others success.

2. It is the greatest contributor to student success in learning.  Our students must feel connected, must see validity to our lessons and projects, and MUST know the answer to the question, "Why are we learning this?"  Building the community within the classroom, online, hybrid, or face to face must include other classrooms, the community, and the home.  We must teach our students how to work in groups for class, and for life.  Collaboration is a key factor in developing life skills, and meeting most school's ESLRS (Expected school wide learning results) that each student is supposed to be striving towards. 

3. It is one contributor to student success in an online learning environment.  There are many other factors such as technology savvy, home environment, prior subject knowledge, that contribute as well.

Thank you to Mr. David Dillon and Mrs. Kelly McAllister for contributing to this blog post, and for sharing your ideas.

Together, we can CHANGE education!

Learning to change, changing to learn

Changing Education Paradigms

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tools and Activities to Build your PLN

Tools and activities that I use to build my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and Personal Learning Environment (PLE) are Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and collaboration. 

Twitter allows me to follow leaders in online learning, blended learning, education reform, teaching English Language Arts, top colleges and professors, innovative thinkers, and colleagues.  My Twitter account allows me instant access to people from all over the world interested in sharing ideas and collaborating about topics that interest me.  I have instant access to lessons, blogs, and articles.  My Twitter account is allowing me to establish a PLN.

Here is a great resource for building your #PLN using Twitter
Follow me @CourtneyHanes

Facebook allows me to follow colleges and universities, top online learning institutions, and other businesses moving education forward. Facebook allows me to share ideas, "liked" articles and businesses with friends, colleagues, family, students, former and current, and their families.  Facebook is a great way to share my love of learning, teaching, and innovative ways of looking at education.  One of my next areas to explore in regard to my PLN is Google+.  If anyone has information they find worthy about Google+ for PLN, I would love to hear about it. 

I started my blog this summer because I want my students to explore this avenue of communication and writing, and figured I better try it out first.  I am really enjoying sharing my ideas in this way, and have learned so much by reading the blog posts of others.  Blogs are an excellent way to expand your PLN because ideas shared this way are relevant, and easy to read, follow, and share.  I am always looking for ideas that inspire a blog post, and reading the blogs of others, and articles shared on both Twitter and Facebook are often an excellent resource.

In our ever changing, ever evolving world of technology and online communication, we must not forget the power of good ol' fashion face to face collaboration.  For me, discussing issues, topics, and projects with colleagues is imperative to developing and maintaining my PLN and PLE.  There are so many positive outcomes associated with meeting and sharing, discussing, and altering ideas and plans.  Part of being a strong educator is understanding the power in purposeful face to face and online collaboration, both locally and globally.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Birthdays come every year on the same day, at the same time, regardless of what is going on in the world or in my world.  My birthdays remind me that I am alive, loved, and give me a chance to reflect a bit. Like the fall season, it brings new beginnings, a harvest of fresh ideas and resources, and the richness and beauty of the changing of the leaves.  My birthdays have been happy, sad, important, and small.  Birthdays mean getting older, wiser, a bit calmer, and accepting my lines and scars.  Tonight, I reflect on a few birthdays, and celebrate my breath, my life, and my place in this world. 

I was born on September 27, 1976... my father's fourth child, and his only girl, and my mother's first.  I was named after a cat that was brought into my dad's animal hospital.  My dad was a veterinarian, and my mom worked along side him throughout her pregnancy.  Animals were very important to them, so it makes sense that I was named after one.  It is funny that I am allergic to cats, but appreciate the namesake nonetheless. 

For my second birthday my mom wanted to buy me a party dress.  She took me to the store and asked which one I liked the best.  My response was this, "If I get a party dress, then I will only be able to wear it once.  If I get a dress with a vest, then I can wear it to preschool, to play, and at my party."  My mom stared at me, stunned.  She wanted to buy me a princess dress.  I wanted a practical dress that I could use for other occasions.  I loved that dress with a vest, and my mom most certainly got her money's worth by purchasing it.

Growing up, I was very blessed to travel a great deal.  I learned to love adventures and exploring, and while my family and I were in Europe for six months, I turned three.  I thought it was the coolest thing that I got to celebrate a birthday in Kettenbach, Germany.  Although I only really remember my red snow suit and the cobblestone streets, I have fun filling in the rest with pictures and stories. 

My life changed forever just after my sixth birthday. That was my last birthday with my dad.  He died of cancer three months later on December 27th.  I was too young to understand what was happening, but I know that the age of six is forever ingrained into my existence.

Turning nine meant moving to Riverside... a new city, new school, and a new long bus ride.  Fun birthdays were shared with friends and really bad hair!  For my sixteenth birthday, my mom planned a surprise party.  I hated surprises, and I sure let her know it.  Sorry, mom.  I have a feeling I will one day know what that feels like from a mom's point of view.  I turned 18 in college, and I was the only one on my college volleyball team who needed a parent's signature for the various paper wok.  

I knew when I turned 23 that I it would be my last birthday as just me.  I felt change coming, as I often do, and since #24, birthdays have been spent with close family and friends, my husband, and our three beautiful babies. Today, I turn 35.  My life is full.  My children are healthy.  My marriage is strong.  I am lucky.  There is constant change in my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  35 is going to be a good year, and I am blessed to welcome it in with the cool autumn breeze.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Two Most Important Factors in Determining Readiness for Online Teaching and Learning

The two most important factors in determining student and teacher readiness for entering the online world of learning are initiative and curiosity.

Students must be willing to take the lead with online learning, asking questions, figuring out assignments and objectives, interacting with classmates online, contacting the teacher, and overall owning their education.  If a student is willing to seek out the answers, ask difficult questions, admit when they need help, and offer assistance to classmates who also may need help, then they are off on the right foot. 

A second factor is curiosity.  Just as a student needs to be willing to start the conversation, sit down and work rather than be distracted, and figure out the requirements, a student needs to be curious.  Curiosity means that you want to learn, want to know the answers, want to look up a topic, idea, or word because you want to know more, not because it is required.  Students entering this environment, more than anywhere else, must be curious about their world, about their classmates, about technology, about collaboration.  Students must understand that they can learn without being told to learn.  They must be curious in order to stay up to date and current, and in order to get the most out of their education.  Initiative and curiosity go hand in hand.

Teachers must be willing to take the lead with online teaching.  An online teacher cannot wait for someone else to teach them all they need to know.  They must take the initiative, take the lead, and start learning on their own, just like their students.  Seeking assistance is essential.  It is foolish to try to do it all alone, but waiting for that assistance rather than starting the process or moving on to another task while waiting, remaining flexible, and being patient, is key.  Initiative goes hand in hand with planning as well.  Planning lessons, getting ideas organized, and taking the lead when it comes to learning along with your students is important.  As an online teacher,  if I do it right, I will constantly be stepping out of my comfort zone, will constantly be learning, and will constantly be researching. 

This leads to curiosity.  What is new and innovative now will not be new and innovative in a few years, or maybe even months, in this ever-evolving world of technology.  Online teachers must be curious.  They must ask questions, join Twitter, start following leaders in the world of online and blended learning, they must collaborate, be willing to put in extra time to create lessons rather than use pre existing ones.  Curiosity, just like initiative, will take online teachers out of their comfort zone.  For me, this will not only make me a better teacher, colleague, student, and mom, but will also allow me to guide my students through the process, understanding what it is like to be in their shoes a bit.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Riverside Virtual School

The Riverside Virtual School, RVS, is a WASC accredited, public, free, online school offering courses for students in grades 3-12.  Our full time program is organized to meet the needs of students seeking a challenging and innovative curriculum. 

A student at RVS is provided an Instructional Supervisor (IS) who they meet with once per month.  Our courses are online, but we are hybrid in many ways; throughout the month, our students choose how often they will be on campus for purposeful and meaningful face to face assistance, guidance, and interaction.  Our flexible schedule is designed to meet the needs of our students and their families.  

It is our goal that students enrolled at the Riverside Virtual School understand what it means to be a 21st Century learner who is exposed to a standards based curriculum, creative thinking, and choice.  We want our students to become digital citizens who aware of their electronic, "E-Legacy."  The dynamic faculty at the Riverside Virtual School see their role as that of a learning guide because we all teach and learn together. 

If you are interested in learning more about our program, we would love to hear from you.  Please feel free to contact us:

Courtney Hanes- Online English Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair, Instructional Supervisor for grades 11-12

David Dillon- Online History Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair, Instructional Supervisor for grades 11-12

Sarah Lwanga- Online Mathematics Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair, Instructional Supervisor for grades 9-10

Kelly McAllister- Online Science Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair, Instructional Supervisor for grades 7-8

Jerome Hill- Online English Instructor and Curriculum Developer, Instructional Supervisor for grades 3-6

Scott Hanes- Online Health, Physical Education, and Computer Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair

Dr. David Haglund- Principal of the Riverside Virtual School

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Coaches, Start Tweeting!

Several popular and well respected college coaches have taken a stand against the use of Twitter for their student athletes.  They are concerned that Twitter is a distraction, and if used, will prevent their players from dedicating the time it takes to be top-notch.  They are fearful that if they allow their student-athletes to tweet, they will lose the battle of having solid, focused athletes as a part of their program, and that these young adults may "say" something that could get them into trouble or that they will regret.

Yes!  Twitter has the power to be a distraction and to take away concentration from a student-athlete's responsibilities to themselves, their team, and their coaching staff. 

Yes!  Twitter protocol and acceptable use needs to be taught and modeled. 

Yes!  Twitter has entered mainstream, and is a part of our technology-infused world. 

Yes!  This is a teachable moment. 

The best way to teach student athletes how to properly interact on Twitter is by tweeting yourself.  The best way to teach a student athlete how to stay focused on their athletic responsibilities, school, and their social life, is to teach them how to balance all three, not eliminate one.  Coaches have the responsibility to make sure that student athletes know the power of their words, and take pride creating an athletic and academic legacy.  Coaches must make sure that their athletes leave their school and program as responsible digital citizens who are prepared to interact and thrive in a technology-rich society, especially as an alumni who will now represent your school and program.

If you ban the use of Twitter, you are releasing the opportunities to teach them how to be productive, thoughtful, responsible communicators.  Rather than ban the use of Twitter, create an account and start tweeting yourself.  Reach out to your athletes, peers, alumni, future athletes, and fans as a role model of appropriate behavior.  See if your student athletes follow your lead rather than resist your apprehension.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I grew up listening to my mom and her friends and classmates recall where they were when they learned of President Kennedy's death.  I was not alive when he was killed.  I was not alive when Robert Kennedy was killed, or when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. I was not alive during the Vietnam War. Even though I did not live through these events, I feel the need to mourn for them very strongly.  Those who were alive during these tragedies have stories and memories to share, emotions so strong, and connections so deep, I realize that it is my responsibility to listen, to reflect, to learn, and if not remember first hand, not to forget.

On September 11, 2001, I was far away from the devastation in New York, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.  I was at home, alone.  I was almost 25, had been married for two months, and had just started my second year of teaching.  My husband called from an early morning cross country practice as I was getting ready for work.  He told me that something awful had happened.  I turned on the news.  This was before Facebook and Twitter.  I watched in horror.  I, like everyone else, was shocked, confused, scared, changed.  I drove to work knowing that the day would be spent balancing the news with a sense of normalcy for my students.

As we came together as a country, as a planet, to make sense of all of this, I wondered how I would ever fly, shop in a crowded mall, or attended a sporting event again without being haunted, paranoid, terrorized.  I looked at strangers in elevators differently, wondering if they were good or bad, wondering if they had the desire to hurt others, to kill themselves, to use themselves as weapons as the terrorists had on that awful September morning.  I mourned for the victims and their families, for the missing that may never be found, and for the witnesses and survivors. 

The following summer, our first son was born.  The nursery was over-crowded, and some attributed this to the tragedy that occurred the fall before.  Regardless of how many babies were born that next summer, lives would never be the same, and these children would grow up hearing about these memories, rather than living through them.  It would now be my responsibility to teach my children about a tragedy that they did not experience first hand.  It is now my responsibility to make sure they understand, remember, and reflect. 

Ten years later, my husband and I sit with our three children and explain what happened before they were born.  We, now, recall for them where we were when we heard the news, and what it was like to live through 9/11/01.  We make sure they know that not all people are bad, there is still beauty in the world, and that life is to be cherished and embraced to the fullest.  My husband and I will never forget, and we will make sure our children do not either.  Amen.      

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Helping Students Create their "E-Legacy"

A best practice for online learning is for students to begin to create their electronic, "E-Legacy."  This provides the teacher with a portfolio of student work over time, it provides the student with a digital resume for their future employers, and it allows them to leave their footprint behind to inspire other students.

Three ways to accomplish this are:  Blogging, Haiku's ePortfolio, and Jing.


Blogging helps students develop a deeper knowledge of a subject they are studying, and allows them to share what they are learning with others.

Blogging helps students build a name for themselves or a personal brand or product, and lets the world know who they are.

Blogging helps students understand a language they will need to navigate through new territory.

Blogging helps students establish a positive digital impression of themselves, which they can revisit as they grow.


Haiku's ePortfolio allows students to:

Track and assess learning and progress over the course of years, not months.

Enable students to take ownership of their work and see their development and learning through their portfolio rather than solely through grades.

Provide an intentional venue for students to connect ideas and knowledge across disciplines.


With Jing, students can take pictures or videos of what they see on their computer monitor, share instantly via the internet, email, Twitter, or blog, and enhance online, face-paced conversations- all for FREE.  This is a great tool for student-created tutorials, narrating photos, or collaborating on a project.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mastering Standards through... Email

Students email me all the time, and I encourage them to email their other teachers all of the time as well.  There are times when their emails reveal a lack of organization, clear style, or fail to include background information that is necessary to answer their questions.  Sometimes the emails lack an understanding of audience and academic language.  There are times when the emails are not signed, start with "Hey," or are inappropriate in terms of tone.  And, because sometimes the address is something like: "calibunny@ blank.blank", it is difficult to decipher who it is from.  So, whose responsibility is it to make sure that our students know how to email us?  It's our responsibility.  Not only is it a perfect, simple, teachable moment, but it is something that allows me, as an English teacher, to address a few ELA Standards in the process.

Today, while sitting with my students, each one of them worked on composing an email to their teachers, parent(s)/guardians, and myself, their Instructional Supervisor. The purpose of their email was to introduce themselves, share their academic goals for the month, as well as for the school year overall, and make sure that everyone knew when they would be on campus over the next two weeks for the various content workshops being offered. 

We dialogued some ideas, the students wrote down what it was that they needed to include, and then I stepped back while they put together, read aloud, revised, introduced, explained, and concluded their emails to their teachers.  It may seem like such an easy task, but in the past, when I have asked students to email their teachers, I have taken for granted that they actually knew what that meant.  Most needed direction, guidance, and a second pair of eyes.  Although students email all the time, it was nice to sit with them and have the opportunity to discuss structure, grammar, and organization.  There is power in clarity, and today, I watched as my students communicated a little more clearly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Your Dream Team

If you could create your own school, with a dream team of teachers, administrators, and staff, who would you choose, and how would you choose them?  Would you want the most "popular?"  Would your list include people who have learned all they need, who are "experts" in their field?  Would you want to be surrounded by those who did exactly what you asked?  Would you want people who agreed with you, who did "A" work, and expected that grade every time?  Would you want to have people who admit they have a lot to learn, who admit they do not have it all figured out?   Would you seek out those who welcome the grade of "C" the first time through because that means there is room for improvement?  How would you determine who was innovative, creative, curious?  If you could hire your dream team of leaders for your school, would you hire you? 

Monday, August 15, 2011


Grab a friend, co-worker, soul mate, family member, neighbor, or other, who has a similar goal as you.
Discuss this goal and how hard you are both willing to work towards achieving it.
Set aside time to collaborate online, at a house, coffee shop, park, mountaintop, or wherever you can focus and be inspired without too many interruptions.
Start without fear.
Go home.
Think alone.
Reflect however you best reflect.
Email, call, facebook message, text, or IM your collaborating buddy.
Start over if you hate where you are headed.
Share your ideas with others to see if they make sense; get valuable feedback. 
Keep working.
Embrace the new goals that pop up, change the original if it needs to be changed, and continue to collaborate.

Create opportunities for your children and students to do the same.
Teach young people how to collaborate face to face as well as online.
Allow them to interact locally and globally.
Encourage them to lead the way.
Foster respect for the process.
Let them teach you.

"It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." - Charles Darwin

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Flipping Without a Classroom

"Flipping the Classroom" is literally flipping what is traditionally done at school with what is traditionally done at home.  Imagine a teacher as a learning coach, a guide, and learner themselves.  Instead of lecturer, and presenter of material, in a flipped classroom, the teacher presents information via video.  The students watch the pre-recorded lessons at home, and when they are in class, with the teachers, and other students, they work on homework, prepare for tests, participate in labs, get help, and assist other students with hands on activities and directed problem solving.  A flipped classroom may be a bit like a three ring circus, but like a circus, everyone has a role, and is a vital participate.
While at the ISTE Conference this summer, I had the opportunity to attend a session hosted by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams.  They are the creators of the "Flipped Classroom," and are literally flipping education.  While listening intently to what they were saying, I took notes on my ipad, read an article about how they were transforming learning, and joined their vodcasting website; multitasking at its best.  Like many other teachers, I was inspired.
Here are my reactions:
1.  This is awesome.
2.  I want to share this with as many teachers as possible.
3.  I cannot wait to get home to create some videos.
4.  Question:  How do you "flip" without a classroom?
Here is how I plan to address the question in #4:
I teach in an alternative, already online, setting.  Our students come to campus for meetings, appointments, workshops, tests, and labs.  Our students have their course material at their fingertips, as they are online learners.  So, how can I implement this?  Our students meet with Instructional Supervisors once a month to discuss goals, overall progress, and to establish fieldwork opportunities in the community.  Our students also come to campus to meet with their content teachers to receive help with writing, conduct labs, and attend workshops, office hours, and tutorials.  Imagine how much more powerful these meetings will be if the students prepare for them before they attend.  If there is a workshop conducted on college preparation or the application process, the students and their parents can view the "lecture" side of the presentation, and then when they are on campus spend time with their teachers working on the material.  These meetings can be flipped.  Imagine while teaching Islamic poetry as part of the integrated middle school History and English course, the students view a video on the quatrain, themes, history behind the poems, and then when they attend the face to face workshop, they are prepared with questions, and are ready to work on the project assigned.   
I would love to see as many teachers as possible connect and re-connect to to their students and their role as a "flipped" educator and learner.  I would also love to hear how other teachers in alternative settings are flipping their schools. 
Check out the links below, and keep in touch as you "flip" with or without a classroom.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Lovin'

As a teacher, summer used to be a time to forget about the school year.  I would spend half of June, July, and most of August doing NOTHING school related.  Instead, I traveled, slept in, read, exercised, visited friends and family, and ran a lot of errands that I did not have time for during the school year.  I loved it.  Work was work.  Teaching was my profession and passion, but I longed to be inspired.  Then, I took a leap.  Leaping is not easy, and does not always come naturally for me.  Jumping off the diving board looks fun, climbing the ladder to the top, seemingly bravely, and then looking down is the easy part, but actually jumping takes courage.  Well, I jumped into online teaching and learning.  This is rather funny actually since technology is also something that does not come naturally to me.  Because I am curious and a pretty fast learner, I started to embrace the evolution, the possibilities, the opportunities associated with doing things differently.
This summer has been spent meeting with colleagues, teaching summer school, attending the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference, developing online courses, reading innovative articles, tweets, facebook posts, blogs, exploring things like Ning, Jing, Prezi, and Lulu, and spending my free time researching topics such as Flipping the Classroom and Project Based Learning.  Even on vacation, when the day was done, the kids were asleep, and my mind was still awake, I was reading, creating, and collaborating.  Am I crazy?   No, I am inspired, and lovin' it.