College and Career…Ready?

In U.S. education, we tend to use the phrase “College and Career Ready” quite a bit. This can mean many different things. To some, it means providing a robust* educational experience to make our students competitive in a global market. To others, it means purposely and seamlessly integrating technology to provide our students with skills necessary for 2017 and beyond**.

(*I’m purposely avoiding the other “r” word…shudder.)

(**I’m also avoiding the phrase “21st-century.”)

To me, “College and Career Ready” means all of this and more, but I had a major aha moment this morning, as I was listening to messages in the EduMatch Voxer group (this link will take you to our newest room). There, we have a free-flowing conversation regarding topics of interest in education. Today, a friend of mine was discussing a recent conference she attended, where several presenters discussed the need for student creation, rather than passive consumption.

Ok, that wasn’t the aha moment lol…many of us have been sipping this particular flavor of Kool-Aid for years. For example, I cited the National EdTech Plan (2015)’s recommendation for exactly that in my dissertation; however, my friend made a comment soon afterward that really made me think. She listed some tools that were mentioned and added a couple of her own: podcasts and YouTube.

Soon, my brain started doing something weird. I’m sure all kinds of areas started randomly lighting up and firing…whatever stuff fires when you get an idea. Synapses and stuff.

I asked myself why…what is different from the tools that the presenters mentioned vs. her idea of podcasts and YouTube? I had used several from both lists in the past, but all of a sudden I started singing in my head, one of these things is not like the other.

Bingo.

If we truly want students to be “College and Career Ready,” then we need to have them visible to…wait for it…colleges and prospective employers. Yes, I have been preaching to students at every possible opportunity, “Build your portfolio! It’s never too early! Blog! Get your name as a domain! Use YouTube and make videos for the world to see!”***

(***H/T to Kim RobersonRafranz Davis, and Jennifer Casa-Todd)

However, I did not explicitly make the connection in my mind that these things need to be seen. Many of the edtech tools out there are great, but the drawback is that some are set up only to be used and seen in-house. This makes total sense, especially for our little ones who have not yet met the age requirements to manage their own social media. But when you turn 13****?

Game on.

(****or whatever the appropriate age and necessary maturity level is for the given tool)

I’m not taking anything away from any particular tool…as a matter of fact, some even have built-in social media integrations, where students can share the artifacts with one click.

Of course, there should be some scaffolding in place, and this idea is not one-size-fits-all (yet another finding from the dissertation). For example, some students may not want to use social media or publicly display their work, and I absolutely support their right to choose. After all, it is their work. For those who are ready and willing, though, this strategy can play to their advantage. Some students are already capitalizing, and it’s paying off big-time.

Take, for example, perhaps the most famous example of a student hitting the jackpot through YouTube: Justin Bieber. I don’t remember his story exactly, nor do I really feel like researching it (working on this honesty thing), but I do remember hearing that he recorded a video of himself singing and put it on YouTube, where some celebrity saw it, and thus began his journey.

Our students can be the new Justin Biebers and Justina Biebers, but of education! (Maybe that wasn’t the best metaphor.) Anyway, who’s to say that someone won’t listen to their podcast or watch their YouTube video demonstrating their learning, and say, “hey, we need a student at our university who is doing this kind of work. Let’s offer him/her a scholarship!” Anything is possible…it’s 2017.

The key is to put your work out there. Creating content is exactly what our students need to be doing, but, again, it needs to be out there. It’s great to collaborate. Let’s face it, though…admissions officers and CEOs probably won’t be scouring new postings on the latest edtech tool, even if it’s open and visible to the world. Again, just being honest.

For that reason, I’d encourage interested students and teachers to take it a step further. Download that video you created on said tool, and put it on YouTube. Put your podcast on iTunes and/or Stitcher, and anywhere else you can post it. Share learning on a blog. Create a site and tweet it out. Make a LinkedIn page and get recommendations.

It’s your world, squirrel. Go get that oyster…or something.

Reflections on #ISTE17 (Part 2 of ????) s/o to @techclara and @msmagiera

This one is going to be a challenging one for me to write.  However, it’s the one I’m most passionate about.  This is about the need to be vulnerable, and it’s challenging because I feel like a hypocrite.  Hopefully, this post is…me not being a hypocrite.  We shall see.

I was super-inspired watching my friends on the big stage Tuesday morning.  It was a pleasure to watch Clara Alaniz speak about growth, and ignite the audience with her passion.  I greatly enjoyed working with Clara in the Technical Working Group that refreshed the Educator Standards this year.  She is a phenomenal educator with a heart for all kids.

Photo via @CommonSenseEd

Next, Jennie Magiera gave an amazing, heartfelt keynote highlighting several stories about education and humanity in general.  I have always been inspired by Jennie’s brilliance, even before we worked together as coaches at Google Innovator Academy during #COL16.  To bring it full circle, I first learned of Jennie’s work during her ignite at #ISTE2014 when she spoke of Teacher IEPs (Individual Exploration Plans).

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Photo via @isteconnects

I loved Jennie’s entire keynote, but most of all her vulnerability.  One part specifically struck me, as she talked about how we tend to share our representatives online, and rarely provide a full picture.  This really resonated, having had similar conversations with friends.  We talked about how half-truths, illuminating only our wins, can backfire both in our personal and professional lives.  In listening to Jennie speak, I realized that I talk the talk, but don’t always walk the walk.

As I said in the last post, I am a huge fan of irony….except when it comes to my own shortcomings 🙂  It seems that the more connected I have become, the less I have shared of myself.  When I first connected in 2013, I immediately took to blogging, and it was Sarah Unfiltered.  Sometimes snarky, sometimes sarcastic, far from perfect, and she was totally cool with that.  She didn’t try to be perfect, and didn’t really care.

Perfect…how did that quote from Reshma Saujani go?  “We teach girls to be perfect, and boys to be brave.”

Well, I definitely knew how to fake perfect, given all those early years of training in being a girl.  But, I figured, why bother?  Nobody would read it anyway.  And if they did, they’d forget in five minutes.  I was just having fun learning and making new friends.

Fast forward, four years in. Nothing has changed, while everything has changed. First of all, have changed.  I’ve matured and become more empathetic, thanks to many of you.

Generally, the longer/more you connect, the more your…ahem…reputation builds. Whether or not you choose to use the term “branding,” in my experience, this happens more often than not.  So now, people are listening, and honestly, that can be somewhat scary.

Furthermore, I have changed roles, and am still in the process of figuring things out.  My blog posts have trickled down to an occasional errant drop, like a broken faucet.  While I’m screaming at the top of my lungs for everyone to “tell their story,” I somewhere became a little hoarse.

I strongly feel that us “old-timers” (ironically speaking…I’m 35 lol) have a responsibility to hold the door open for others by amplifying their voices.  However, what I failed to realize is that we all have something to say.  Again, we all have something to say.  And everyone should share their stories, both for better and for worse.

As I stated in my first post from today, when I find myself feeling particularly human, I blog, because I process through writing.  Nearly every time, I come back and pull it down a few hours later, because, as I tell myself, my brand is positivity.  I realized at ISTE that my brand needs to be Sarah-Jane Thomas.  I am human.  I am flawed.  I am me.

Things truly do come full-circle.  I wrote this post several years ago, and now I find myself at the same crossroad, but the question is not “to brand, or not to brand,” as that ship has sailed a long time ago.  What does strike me is point 2:

Acknowledging my weaknesses. We’re all human, right? I mean, last I checked…but anyway, nobody is perfect. Humans are a weird type of creature…it’s almost like the more you fail, the more other people like you. This is to an extent, of course…I mean, if you’re a total fail, you’re kind of a drag. But anyway, the more perfect you try to be, the more you’re going to get hated on. I just read this article today that says pretty much the same thing. It’s weird. The more perfect you try to be, the more people will hate. Isn’t the point to try and get them not to hate?Anyway, this is all to say not to be afraid to try, and even fail from time to time. Another benefit…according to the same article, the more you fail, the more successful you are. I guess that’s because it means you’re actually trying, instead of sitting on your derriere, trying to be Little Miss Perfect.

Interesting…thanks for the advice, Sarah from the Past.

I need to board my last flight home in a few minutes, so I’m going to wrap this up.  However, I want to thank Jennie and other friends for inspiring me this week to return to the real.  As a gesture of good faith as a non-hypocrite, I will actually go back and re-publish some of the posts that I took down.  Deep breath…

  1.  https://sarahdateechur.com/2017/05/24/some-days/
  2. http://sarahdateechur.com/2017/04/02/a-little-something-for-nationalpoetrymonth/

 

Ok let’s start with those two for now.  I still have lots left to blog.  Not sure if I’ll actually do it, but I have a lot more thoughts.  Anyway, later, gators.

Reflections on #ISTE17 (Part 1 of ???)

Hello, everyone!  Long time no talk.  Or is it?  LOL.  I don’t remember the last time I blogged and didn’t immediately take it down.  For some reason, I have been very turtle-like the past few months, sticking my neck out and immediately retreating back into my protective shell.  I have probably written about five posts about whatever was on my mind at the time, which I’ve published and then unpublished.

As a former English teacher, I am a huge fan of irony, even though there was hardly anything ironic about Alanis’s song (my 11th grade English teacher said so…thanks Mr. Morgan!).  However, it is not lost on me that I appear to be very extroverted and have a lot to say on social media, whereas face to face it is the exact opposite.  One of my friends described me as “smiling a lot, but not saying much.”  Yes, it has gotten better, as Sarahdahuman has become pretty good at Fight Clubbing my way to channeling Sarahdateechur.  But this is for a limited time only…this message will self-destruct.  Coming to the stage next…give it up for Sarahdasociallyawkward.  Sometimes this happens at the most inopportune times, but that’s another blog post for another time.

I am sitting at the airport, waiting to board my flight and go back to life, back to reality.  I’m sad it’s over, but so thankful and excited for all that happened this week.  I will definitely have to split it up into different posts.  Hopefully this time, I will actually follow through.

Anyway, this was my fourth, and greatest, ISTE experience.  This week has been one of the best of my life, and this statement is no exaggeration.  I always enjoy ISTE, as I love learning and seeing my friends F2F, as well as making new ones.  This week, there were several things that happened, beginning with moderating the keynote panel at Badge Summit, then the #EduMatch meetup (and the launch of our #Recipes4Ed), then giving an ignite on the big stage before the opening keynote (thanks to Anibal Pacheco for editing)…then being on panels about Google Innovator, diversity in gaming, staying connected after ISTE, and presenting in the Global PLN playground.  I was also very honored (and shocked) to be one of the recipients of the Making IT Happen award.  This week has been amazing, and I thank the amazing educators around me for pouring into me, as I hope to pour into you.  Also, huge shoutout to the #PasstheScopeEDU crew and other friends for documenting this.

I am going to end this post here.  I have a lot more to say, as this week was filled with all the feels.  I’ll let this stand as an intro to hopefully a series of blog entries.  I will actually turn around and start the next entry.  Here’s what I hope to cover, as long as time and stamina will allow:

  • The need for deeper connections (aka “PLF” lol)/vulnerability
  • Gratitude
  • Time management
  • Possible future developments in EduMatch
  • Sarahdasociallyawkward
  • Why I will stop being cheap when it comes to booking flights

Thanks for reading!

Looking Back

Hello, everyone!  It’s been a while, I know.  The school year just ended, and even though I’m now 12 months, it’s always a good time to look back.  Here is a late night/early morning random blog post, just taking a look back at my journey in education.  It was inspired by a Voxer group I’m in, where again, I was being random at 2 a.m.

I used to be Assistant Manager of a record store, and remember when Brittney Spears put out her Greatest Hits album super-early, after five years in the game.  Lol…this post kinda feels like that, a little…but it just hit me, I have been teaching for nearly 13 years!!! Wow!!!  However, I’m just getting started.  There’s still a lot left to see, learn, and do.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but just a few things that stood out to me over the years.  I will also add if I am still using them.  Here goes.

2004

  • Milestone: My first year in education.
  • New stuff: everything.
  • Status: N/A

2005-2007

  • Milestone: The next few years.
  • New stuff: PowerPoint, Discovery Education
  • Status:
    • I moved over to Google Slides for presentations, then recently moved to the new Google Sites.
    • I don’t use DE as much since I’m no longer in the classroom, but I hear great things about changes they’ve made.

2008-2009

  • Milestone: Moved to a technology role. With my school, participated in STEP (Sharing Technology with Educators Program) led by my current team, which introduced us to instructional technologies.
  • New stuff: Wikis, podcasts, video creation, tech conferences
  • Status:
    • Wikis: not so much. I use Google docs more and embed those.
    • Podcasts: I used them for a while, stopped, and they reappeared with a vengeance in 2015.
    • Video creation: This is my jam.
    • Tech conferences: Somewhat. It depends on the conference.  I love seeing my PLN face to face, though.  Can’t beat that.

2010-2011

  • Milestone: Was accepted to Teacher Leadership Academy led by my current team, in which I gained confidence and skills to present.  Began leading district workshops on PowerPoint, Google Docs, and Google Sites.  Presented at district, regional, and statewide conferences.  Started teaching middle school English.
  • New stuff: Presenting
  • Status: Still doing it, still loving it.

2012

  • Milestone: Started flipping my classroom when I learned about it at a conference.
  • New stuff: See above
  • Status: No longer in the classroom, but I still make instructional videos geared toward educators.  Began doing so in 2013 after I learned about Google Hangouts on Air.

2013

  • Milestone: Got connected.  As a direct result of that, began presenting outside of my area.
  • New stuff: Connecting, gamification, branding, edcamp
  • Status:
    • Connecting: Yup.
    • Gamification: Yup…looking to update because what I’m doing hasn’t evolved much since 2014.
    • Branding: It is what it is.  Overcame the challenge of sharing what I’m doing, for the most part.  Still working through it, but doing way better.
    • Edcamp: I still love it.  Have not been able to attend as many this year because of the d-word (dissertation), but I have plans to get back into the swing of things when I finish.

2014

  • Milestone: First time traveling totally by myself to present.  Google Teacher Academy (now known as Google Innovator Academy).  First ISTE.
  • New stuff: Google Glass, basic robotics, basic coding, EduMatch
  • Status:
    • Google Glass: Where is that emoji that laughs so hard that it cries?
    • Basic robotics: Need to pick it back up.
    • Basic coding: Need to pick it back up.  Need extra hours in the day.
    • EduMatch: Thriving.

2015

  • Milestone:  Taught high school for three months before moving to my current role.
  • New stuff: Livestreaming apps (Periscope, Meerkat, etc.), 360 video & Google Cardboard, BreakoutEDU, drones, 3D Printing, hoverboard
  • Status:
    • Livestreaming: I still use Periscope thanks to PasstheScopeEDU.  No more Meerkat.  Although not live streaming, Vine is dead (RIP).
    • 360/Cardboard:  Haven’t used it as much as I want to since I left the classroom.  Can’t find my Ricoh Theta.  I need to look harder.
    • BreakoutEDU: I like it, still use it.  It’s gaining momentum in my district.  Played a little with creating games.  That’s fun.
    • Drones: I can’t find Droney.  Also, I’m afraid to fly it now…long story, but I live near DC and I don’t really understand the law re: drones.  I know there is some kind of regulation.  Need to make the time to educate myself.
    • 3D printing: I no longer have access to a printer, but it was cool while it lasted.  I was in the process of trying to learn how to use it as more than a novelty.
    • Hoverboard: Again, I need that emoji…

2016

  • Milestone: First full year in current position.  Published first crowdsourced book through EduMatch.  Was fortunate to be invited to participate in educational initiatives with state, national, and global impact.  Went outside of North America for the first time with DigCitSummit UK.
  • New stuff: Crowdsourced publishing, Awesome Table, Raspberry Pi
  • Status:
    • Publishing: Indeed!  We have expanded to solo books.
    • Awesome Table: In love
    • Raspberry Pi: I need to pick it up again.  Need more hours in the day.  I want to be a coder so bad 😉

2017

  • Milestone: TBD. Cool stuff is happening, but I dunno yet what will be the highlight of the year.  Maybe graduating.
  • New stuff:  More livestreaming, more publishing, advanced YouTube, trying crazy stuff and seeing what happens
  • Status:

That’s it on this end.  Please pardon my randomness.  I’d love to hear how your journey has been.  If you take the challenge, please link your post to the comments below.  Thanks!

Some days

Some days make you and some will break you. Sometimes they are one in the same. Trying to keep my head in this crazy game but it’s not always easy. Believe me. Today is one of those days.

The world is not black and white, it’s just gray. I wish today was any day but today. I want the sun to go down but will tomorrow be worse? No idea until I get through today first.

Sometimes it takes courage to get out of the bed. Sometimes it takes courage to get out of your head. My battery is low…I kinda want the world to go away and leave me alone.

But then friends hit me up on my phone. That really does help. But I wish I could fake it and act like myself.

I pull the blanket back over my head. Close my eyes and think of places I’d rather be instead. Maybe I’m better off…

Shh, I can’t even say it. Wear my heart on my sleeve, emotion displayed. It sorta sucks to be human, so I don’t really claim it.
But I’ll try harder to fake it and try not to flake. Can’t stay in this space…that would be a mistake. Sarahdahuman is officially on break.

Co-pilot on duty, Sarahdateechur on deck.  I’ll get us through this patch of turbulence.

Don’t worry, I’ve got this.

A LiveStreaming Smash of Epic Proportions #edtech

One of my friends told me about a webinar service that would allow you to have multiple people in a session, while simultaneously streaming to YouTube and/or Facebook Live.

She, in essence, created a monster lol.

I had to do this, but to my dismay, I found that it would run me $55/month.  I inquired about an educator discount, but was told there wasn’t one.  So, I had the idea late one night to figure out how to get it for free.  Today, I got to try it out with some friends.  I couldn’t figure out the FB part for free (most services will make you pay), so next time I may try with a third computer and go directly to Facebook Live.  But the rest of this is free.

The purpose of this post is to remember exactly what I did to get it to work.  For that reason, I won’t put in a lot of detail, but most of the stuff is Google-able.

Many thanks to my #EduMatch fam who showed up to help beta test.  We do a weekly podcast, Tweet & Talk, usually every Sunday at 6 PM Eastern, but we are on Spring Break because of holidays and travel.  We will return on May 7.  Today, I decided to play, and wanted to document the journey so that I don’t forget what to do in a month.  This is probably not the best way, but this worked.  I’ll update as I find easier strategies.

Caution: What you are about to read will be extremely geeky.  Again, most of it can be Googled, which is how I learned how to do this.  But I will link tutorials and resources I found useful whenever possible.  Feel free to tweet me @sarahdateechur with any questions.

What You Need

  1. Two laptops (at least one must have a webcam)
  2. A free Zoom account
  3. OBS encoder software
  4. A free Restream.io account
  5. (Mac only) SoundFlower

Pre-Work – YouTube/Periscope/Restream

  1. Schedule a meeting in Zoom.  I think you can make it recurring, which I will do when we start using this for Tweet & Talks.  Share the meeting link with participants.
  2. Get set up with Periscope Producer.
  3. On your YouTube Live page, set up your usual info like you would do in a regular YouTube Live.Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 6.31.30 PM
  4. On the same page, you also need this information under Encoder Setup.  Get your server URL and stream key.Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 6.34.22 PM
  5. On Restream.io, when you sign up for an account, add the channels you want.  I added YouTube Stream Now and Periscope.  FB costs extra.  You may need to manually put in the Server URL and Stream Key for each one, or it may do it automatically.  I don’t remember.
  6. On the right hand side of the home screen, find the RTMP URL close to you, and get the URL and Stream Key.  Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 6.37.37 PM
  7. Download and install SoundFlower if you have a Mac (I don’t think it’s needed for PC).
  8. Open up the OBS app.

Pre-Work: OBS

  1. Go to Settings, then to Stream, then click the drop-down menu at the top and select Custom Streaming Server.  Enter the info you got from Restream.io in Step 6 above. Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 6.42.43 PM
  2. (Mac Users) Under Audio, set your Desktop Audio to Sunflower (2 Ch). Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 6.45.17 PM.png
  3. Click OK, which will close you out of Settings
  4. Add a new Scene and call it whatever you want.
  5. Under Sources, add Window Capture, and Audio Input Capture.
  6. Click the gear next to Audio Input Capture, and select Device: Soundflower (2 Ch).
  7. On the Mixer, bring the Mic/Aux down to 0.  You may also need to bring the Audio Input Capture down to 0 if you end up getting an echo. Adjust Desktop Audio to your liking, so that it doesn’t peak, but still registers sound.Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 6.48.21 PM.png
  8. You can now close OBS and everything else until you are ready to go live.

The Main Event – 20 min before showtime

  1. Start your Zoom meeting and have participants join about 10 minutes prior to showtime to check audio.  This will also buy you time to get set up on the back end.
  2. (for Mac…not sure how this works on PC) Turn off your mic in your computer system settings.  In Zoom, click the drop-down menu next to the microphone, and make sure to make the Speaker go to SoundFlower (2 Ch). Turn your camera off.Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 6.56.57 PM.png
  3. Open OBS, and click on the Scene you set up in step 4 (above).
  4. Click on Window Capture and click the gear.  Select from the drop-down menu the Zoom window with your participants.
  5. From the other computer: Join the meeting as a participant. Adjust the width and height of your Window Capture, to your liking.  Invite other participants.
  6. When you are ready to go, click Start Streaming.
  7. Open Periscope app and go to your settings.  Then click on Periscope producer.
  8. It should check for the source.  If there are any issues, fix them in OBS, then click Preview, and then go live.

This is a lot of info, but it presumably will get easier every time.  In addition, I’m sure there are some extra things I am doing that I will find that I can eliminate.  I would love to hear your ideas to see if there’s a way to streamline this.  I will keep updating as I find better ways.  Also, I would love to know if anyone knows how to go to Facebook Live for free.  Thanks for reading!

A Little Something for #NationalPoetryMonth

My friend Shervette told us in the EduMatch voxer group that it’s #NationalPoetryMonth.  She posted some great poems, and invited us to do the same:

I’ve been writing poetry and songs for a while, but most of them don’t see the light of day, as I usually write them to process.  I’ll share a couple today…most are still not ready for the public lol, but that’s ok.

Poem 1 11/21/12

I’m trying to be a better me
Don’t know what I was thinking all these years
All of these tears shed late at night while lying in my bed
And for what? No moves being made
Seeking fame, trying to play the game best that I thought
But it got me nothing
No peace within
Nobody wins when you’re always out for self
I came from noble roots and the noble truth of the matter is other people need my help
My mama told me to keep my eyes on the prize
I got the tools in my hand but I didn’t realize
That noble truth
Shining bright in the darkest night
Gotta reach deep down and find the strength to fight
It’s going to be alright
Gotta add spark to the light
Once I get it popping I can make this right
But where do I begin? So many mouths around
Screaming out for help without even making a sound
The world is grimy, they’re all saying come and find me
All these years had tunnel vision, no side view mirrors up to guide me
The voice inside me saying “take” now screaming “give”
The voice inside me once yelling “die” now saying “live”
It’s about time I’ve had a change of heart
But now that I woke up, where am I supposed to start?

Poem 2 12/2/12

She was a girl from the suburbs
Nothing much to report
But she was one of a kind, she was brighter
Which is kind of why nobody liked her
One day in gym, she looked up and saw him
She never had seen him before
He was tall, he was fly, he was handsome
He smiled as he walked through the door
Much older than a boy of fourteen, it seemed
Just as she was learning to drive
“What the hell,” she thought, “he’s a freshman,
Wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.”
The friends grew closer over the years
He comforted her when she shed tears
But one day, the worst of her fears
She asked him to prom, he said no
And she felt so alone

He was a boy from the suburbs
Everyone said he was a teddy bear
Over six feet tall, he was cuddly
Had a smile that could make you fall in love
He didn’t see her forever it seemed
Then one day in the most unlikely place
He looked to his left and saw her face
He asked her what’s up and the old friends caught up
On life after graduation
He got her number, and they started dating
But one day it all fell apart, and she stopped picking up the phone
And he felt so alone

A few years later, the woman had a breakup
The man called her up, as he saw it on Facebook
They met up for lunch, he said she’s the marrying kind
And he was surprised she wasn’t somebody’s wife
He told her she’s beautiful, she wasn’t used to hearing
She had to bite her lip to keep from tearing
By the time lunch was over, they planned to meet again
Then a week later, she found out she’d lost him
And I felt so alone

It’s been three years, felt like yesterday
But the sound of your voice is starting to fade
Almost like you knew that day was goodbye
Sometimes at random, I still break down and cry
Your mama told me we went to daycare together
The things we forget…I’m trying to get better
As the years go by, as the tear flow dries
Leaving lines on my face in their place
My friend, you can never be replaced
But now I’m never alone

Random thoughts on a Sunday morning (Culture and Personalization)

Yesterday, I was in a Voxer group, catching up on what felt like 50 million messages that I’d missed throughout the week. I listened at 4x speed, as I often do, so some of the gist may have been lost. Someone mentioned something about culture, and someone (else?) mentioned something about personalization.

Untitled drawing (3)

This got me to thinking about the interplay between culture and personalization. Personalization is a popular buzzword in education. I have taken a dislike to most buzzwords because too often, they lose their meaning and become corrupted and diluted. It’s like a game of edu-telephone. But sometimes if you go past all of those layers of muck, there’s still something valuable.

I do believe in personalization. Last week on a Google Innovator panel on advocacy, Jennie Magiera spoke of the difference between “every child” and “each child.” She preferred the latter, because it spoke to the uniqueness that each child brings, as opposed to the uniform connotation of every child. Each child has his/her own experiences, background, knowledge, culture, dreams, challenges, interests, and more. All of those intersect to make each person different.


Let’s take one piece of that…culture. What is your culture?

In a different Voxer group, a few weeks ago, a friend asked us to identify the five cultural traits that play the strongest role in our lives. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it went something like:

  1. Black
  2. Woman
  3. Haitian
  4. Middle class
  5. Non-religious

Other friends chimed in, with many of them saying “educator,” “parent,” and other things I hadn’t even thought of putting on my list. But these are all true. We each belong to an infinite amount of cultures, and the combination of these cultures is the intersectionality that makes us unique.

For any of these five cultural traits I listed, I no doubt have common experiences with most other people sharing that trait. For example, at the top of my list is being Black. When I see another Black person (especially in America), chances are that we have some common experiences, at a bare minimum. These experiences may lead us to have shared perspectives, which influence other things that we may then also have in common. But might this look different if I’m interacting with a Black woman or Black man?

Absolutely.

Being a Black woman comes with its own unique set of experiences. If you can picture a Google search, our terms would be

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which would cut our number of hits roughly in half.

Now, if I expanded this search to

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this would also have some relevant hits, but if I wanted to find the “Culture of Sarah-Jane Thomas” page, I’d have to keep searching.

Black AND woman AND “Haitian-American” AND “Middle Class” -religious

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28,300 results…but, we would be getting somewhere at least.


The next question my friend on Voxer asked that night was something to the effect of, “What’s your in-group?”

In-group may not have been the exact phrase she used, but basically, if you walked into a room full of __________ people and would be most at ease, what would go in the blank?

Easy! “No.” (Introvert joke.)

All jokes aside, I thought long and hard about this one. I went down the list of my top five cultural traits, and found some combinations that would work, but she didn’t ask all that lol.

I could only think of two honest answers. The first is educators, but that is fairly recent. The second has been my in-group throughout my life. I feel most instantly at ease with…

…people who grew up in the US in an immigrant household.

This surprised even me. But when I think about it, it makes perfect sense. My parents came here in the late 60s, and had my brother and (much later) me. I grew up navigating two cultures, my Haitian family life at home and American culture in the outside world. Sometimes there was dissonance, and even as an adult, there still are those fun moments when people just don’t “get it.”  (Side note: particularly when dating…I’m amused/annoyed at the reaction I get from some guys about my cultural values.)  It is so refreshing when someone understands without me having to explain.

In our Voxer group that night, I went back and forth about this with another friend, who moved to the US when he was very young. We had a good laugh about how we weren’t allowed to go to sleepovers as kids, and I referenced a funny YouTube video that my mom had sent me about a Haitian father arguing with an American parent about them. We also bonded over our respective national foods.  This has often been the case when meeting other first- and second-generation people.

This is not to say that I don’t feel at ease with anyone who is not from an immigrant family, or that every single person who grew up bicultural is my automatic homie.  But even though our home cultures are different, I feel like this is the group of people who “get” me the most, as a group.


As always, this was all a great big tangent.  What does any of this have to do with education?

Let’s (quickly) examine two sides of the same coin.  We preach personalization in learning as a best practice.  Absolutely.  What role does culture play in this?

In my dissertation, Chapter Two is a review of literature that shapes my conceptual framework.  In it, I reference Gloria Ladson-Billings’s work regarding Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.  Sneak peek:

Ladson-Billings (1992) stated that the matching of school culture to student culture generally yields positive results. From this premise, she coined the term “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP),” which she described as “a pedagogy of opposition that recognizes and celebrates African and African-American culture,” with the primary goal being “to empower students and to examine critically social change” (p. 314). Here, she talked about the sharing of power in the classroom equally between teachers and students, since education is an “empowering force” (p. 318).

This method respects the background of learners such as Haitian students and helps to avert the phenomenon of not-learning, a term coined by Gao (2014) to describe a student’s conscious decision to assert his/her power to reject learning. Au (2008) mentioned consequences of classrooms where CRP is not practiced, describing possible student behaviors including, “ignoring the teacher, refusing to participate, turning in incomplete assignments, or acting out in class…student resistance can develop quickly if teachers signal their low regard for students’ culture” (p. 70). It is, therefore, important to include CRP practices so that students know that their culture is respected, which will positively impact their motivation for learning.

According to Gay (2000), CRP practices: acknowledge the legitimacy of cultural heritages of different ethnic groups, build meaningfulness between home and school experience, use a wide variety of instructional strategies, teach students to know and praise their own and each other’s cultural heritages, and incorporate multicultural information, resources, and materials in all the subjects and skills routinely taught in schools (p. 29). Gay discussed the need to respect the cultural and individual differences of students, and to embrace the skills that ELs bring with them, such as bilingualism. CRP acknowledges and embraces such differences, recognizing them as positive and encouraging students to share, adding to the richness of the classroom and learning experience.

Anyway, long story short (too late), I would argue that while personalization should take into consideration interests, proficiency levels, etc., Culturally Relevant Pedagogy also needs to be at the core.  I’ll even take it a step further, and say that we must also include Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy.

Paris (2012) introduced the idea of culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP), which “seeks to perpetuate and foster – to sustain – linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling” (p. 93)…Paris suggested teacher advocacy in support of students’ home languages and cultures, while simultaneously helping learners navigate the dominant culture. 

In conversations about personalization, I rarely hear any talk of including a learner’s home language or culture.  I would love to see some research or resources regarding this.  If you have any, please send them my way.  Furthermore, the bulk of discussion I hear tends to center at the whole group level, i.e. having books that reflect all types of characters, how to celebrate all cultures all year long, etc.  These discussions are absolutely necessary.  In addition, I would like to hear more regarding CRP/CSP in personalization.


Additionally, we have to be careful not to view culture from a monolithic standpoint.  Now, we finally get to the point of that big detour we took somewhere in the middle.  An individual’s “culture” is actually comprised of the combination of many different cultures.  No two people from a given culture (even with many of the same intersections) will turn out identically.

For example, think of siblings.  My brother and I were raised in the same household, by the same parents.  He is probably the one person who has the most in common with me, but we are not the same.  He is male, and I am female.  He was born in the 60s, and I was born in the 80s.  At the core, we have the same values, but we are still very different.

So are our learners.  Part of CRP/CSP includes embracing the differences that each child brings.  I feel like this piece is often lacking in conversations about how to support our students.  Far too often, I hear stuff like _______ (insert strategy here) works for (implicit: all) __________ (insert marginalized group here) students, and this is bullshit.  Quite honestly, if personalization is a “best practice,” shouldn’t that be the case for each student?  Why is it implied that some of our students should receive the luxury of personalized instruction, while others should get some cookie-cutter approach? (Edit: I started going in, dropping in extended references about Dangerous Minds, but that’s not my steelo.)  And usually the cookie-cutter approach goes viral…*facepalm*

You know what should go viral?  Getting to know your students.  Building relationships.  Embracing their cultures…all of them.  Not assuming that just because they are Black/brown/Christian/Muslim/etc. that they like _________________, or don’t like ______________, or listen to _____________, or speak _________________ at home, or their parents have ______________________.  That’s actually called stereotyping.  Instead of assuming, ask.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  I do think that students learn in different ways, and often culture does play a role.  As a matter of fact, the intersection of all of our cultures plays a HUGE role in our learning.  Respect and embrace that.  Each learner is different and brings with them a wealth of cultural capital.  Don’t be afraid to try new strategies with your students, but make sure you are also respecting them as individuals.