Friday, October 30, 2015

LOA Diaries: a rare business trip

My job with +Edmodo involved scheduling trainings for schools. We had a workshop paid for in Indiana and my director decided I should go so I could see how our training materials really holds up in the field. Teachers don't get many business trips but I'd had my fill in my first career. I agreed as long as I could go east a few days early and spend a bit of time with my friend Marie. 

I was able to use points to upgrade to first class and, had a relaxing 2 hour layover (with a departure gate two doors down from my arrival, confirming my belief that the distance between gates is inversely proportional to the time you have to get from one to the other.) I arrived just before midnight and without even realizing it, Marie and I stayed up talking until 4:00 am. The next two days we visited, laughed, cried, ran errands and talked. Nothing big, but really huge. Seeing Marie was tonic for both of us. She had been there for me when Jim died, and I was blessed to be there with her in her grief.

Two days after arriving I drove from Chicago to Indianapolis. I cried as I drove away, goodbyes taking on a deeper significance since Jim died. Marie and John had described the trip to me, having made it frequently.  First you see the giant cow, then the windmills, then the Subaru plant and not much else after that. What they didn't tell me is the trip would be in Kodachrome. Not only were the fall colors more vibrant the further south I got, but there was the most beautiful sunset across the plains, over my right shoulder as I drove. I kept thinking I should pull over to take a picture, but was hoping to get to my destination before it was too dark, so I pressed on.  

I cried again when I left Illinois as it symbolically ended my visit with Marie. Finally, I cried again when I got to Interstate 80, and the sign points left to Indiana or west to Iowa. My heart wanted to go to Iowa, but I turned towards the east and pressed on.  I was listening to an "oldies" station 80s and 90s and whatever, and they played We are Family, I got all my sisters and me... As I sang along through the tears, I felt blessed by all the sisters I have in my life.  My sisters by birth, yes, but also my sisters of choice, my close friends and cousins who love me like a sibling and are there when I need them. I stopped at a rest stop and texted Linda and Mitzi. Linda encouraged me to be brave and +M Ochoa  gave me courage by teaching me how to use the voice feature on my phone navigation. As so I pressed on.

I never saw the giant cow, but I did see a giant ear of corn (complete with melted butter), a giant fork, atop a tanker truck parked in a field and finally an over sized kitchen table with a red checkered table cloth. I can't be sure, but I think they were related to the giant cow. A little further down the road I passed one tall windmill to the east. I smiled thinking of Altamont and 'how cute' that they thought this was a big deal. I kept on my way and a bit further south I was extremely impressed by acre upon acre of wind farms.  I guess the one lone windmill was just a teaser. It seemed an unlikely coincidence that just at the moment I passed the Subaru factory, there was an ad on the radio for a local Subaru dealer... I wondered if they had their own transmitter that sneaked into whichever station passers by had playing.  

What the Agostas didn't tell me is that it was still about another hour to my hotel after the car factory. I passed through towns and lots of highway construction and thanks to my talking phone, I knew exactly where I was going, or at least how to get there.  I arrived safely, after dark but not too late to get dinner at the hotel and check in with folks and work back home. Still it was another late night, since Indiana is an hour later than Illinois. As I crawled into bed and set my alarm for 0 dark thirty, I cried again, missing my man and not being able to call him to say goodnight, as I did on so many trips. But I pressed on.

The training was well received, and we learned a lot about how to make the workshops even better. It was at a Catholic school that just the day before had hosted the relics from their patron saint, an event attended by thousands of parishioners and pilgrims, including some gypsies. The staff was still buzzing but were eager to learn and willing to try new things. After the training, as I drove south on a side road with seemingly hundreds of roundabouts, I briefly was irritated by the delay compared to a freeway to expressway I could've gotten to about 3 miles east. But then I remembered the moment is now, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the leaves. The reds and yellows and oranges were simply breathtaking.  Compared to our drought stricken brown California, the foliage really was a joy to behold and I was grateful to be driving slow enough to be able to take it all in. But still, I did not want to stop and take a picture. 

As I approached the airport there was a huge solar panel array right next to the highway, it was incredible and inspiring - a great use of uninhabitable space.  The training and debrief were done by 3 and I hoped that if I timed it right, I might be able to get an earlier flight home and get to my bed before midnight.  Alas, there was none, and I had about a 3 1/2 hour wait. So I relaxed and enjoyed the now. So at present I am 37,999 ft above the ground, traveling just under 500 mph. And I press on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

LOA Diaries: Humans of Edmodo

At +Edmodo I was excited to participate in q. my first hackathon.  My director, +Kevyn Klein had an idea that I thought would be fun and engaging, a riff on Humans of New York called Humans of Edmodo.

We sent out a request using influitive Teacher Leader Network and received some great quotes and pictures from the teachers who use Edmodo. 

Our team included Kevyn, Nick Jarvis, a graphic artist, Vivienne Pustell, Rachel Sherman & of course all of the teachers who made our project possible. We collected quotes and pictures throughout the afternoon and worked on the images late into the evening. We communicated almost exclusively through +HipChat each of us at our own location, but collaborating as a team. Most of our team used Canva, a free and easy to use design program to add teacher quotes to the images, creating sometimes thoughtful and sometimes funny, and sometimes both, posters. Kevyn even recruited her fiancee for some voice over work on our introduction video.

Friday morning, I arrived in the office early to work on the presentation with Kevyn while Vivienne waited for Target to open. When it opened, she bought almost every frame they had in the sizes we needed. Rachel was busily multitasking - supporting customers and printing all of the images. As she was printing, Vivienne and I started framing the posters. Once we had them all framed, we hung them in every conference room and in team rooms so that Edmodo staff could always have a customer with them in the room, a Human of Edmodo.

We took pictures of the hanging work, and pulled everything together into a Google presentation which we would show the judges at 2:00 to describe what we had done.  After presenting our project, The Humans of Edmodo, and all of the other hackathon projects were submitted, the judges, including yours truly, retired to the large conference room for deliberations. Although I had agreed not to take part in the judging of our category, I couldn't help myself and pointed out the beautiful photos that were now gracing the walls.

Again, I found myself planning how I could take this idea back to my students... The Humans of Bagby, or making memes with historical figures, character building quotes (The Bagby Bs), these are the things that keep my head spinning at night... So many ideas, so little time (#IMCAST)...if you have other ideas, I'd love to hear them.

I am really proud of what we accomplished in 24 hours and I love how each of us brought our own design sensibilities and strengths to the project.  And yeah, I like that we won, too!

Monday, October 26, 2015

LOA Diaries: Edmodo - Judging the Hackathon

Allison kicks off the presentation of projects
I was honored to be included on the judging panel for our Hackathon. I loved hearing about the amazing things these teams had accomplished in just 24 hours. I am always willing share my opinion, when I feel safe to do so. I do think most of the engineers valued a teacher, their customer's perspective. Chris presented a project to filter and block malicious links from being posted to +Edmodo. It occurred to me that there is much that goes on behind the scenes that we customers never see. From the judges table I pointed out that teachers, really any customer, will not be shy in letting you know when your product does not meet expectations, doesn't work, is slow. But there is much work engineers do to protect our students and keep them safe, without us even knowing. I thanked him for that.  And the most adorable thing happened, he blushed! Working in safety and security, he usually only hears about from customers when something doesn't work. It may very well be the first time a customer had thanked him for his work. This was a good reminder to me to show gratitude more often. 

In addition to Zach's formatting project, as each group presented I realized how many of the projects were designed to enhance the user experience, from giving us bigger video viewing area to more content in Spotlight, to helping new teachers get comfortable with Edmodo, the customers really are foremost in Edmodo's work, even in their passion projects..
The Judges (yes, bribes are on the table, chocolate and wine)

Despite jokes about accepting bribes, I did recuse myself from deliberations regarding my team and our category of Company Culture. And yet, our project, Humans of Edmodo, won!  So in addition to experiencing this inspirational event, our team won $500 for each member! That never happens in public education.  Even better, +Zach Rutta, who had done his initial presentation alone and had asked for engineers to help him create something teachers had been wanting for years, won the grand prize!  So really I felt like I won twice!

As I was drinking a celebratory plastic cup (recycle able of course) with the judges, we explored the idea of bringing the Hackathon concept into staff development days and classrooms on campuses. It would be interesting to see what could be accomplished. I'm not sure the union or parents would approve of a 24 hour project but imagine if we gave teachers and/or students a focused, dedicated block of time to pursue a project they thought could make a difference...whatever that means to them! I'm still working on how to implement it, but I think there is potential there. Participants develop perseverance, creativity, communication and collaboration which are all critical skills for future ready teachers and students.
I am a Human of Edmodo

Thursday, October 22, 2015

LOA Diaries: Edmodo - The Hackathon

I admit I had no idea what a Hackathon was. I thought a bunch of people sat around eating stale pizza, drinking Red Bull and hacking into other people's software. The term definitely had negative connotations, and after a very unscientific poll, many of my contemporaries have the same impression, but we couldn't be more wrong. "A hackathon is an event where people with diverse skill sets work collaboratively to create solution-oriented technology," writes Claire Shorall, of the Teaching Channel.

Our hackathon started at two o'clock on a Thursday and ended 24 hours later.  It's a 24 hour period when everyone can set aside their usual work and create a passion project. I normally skip the all hands meetings but was intrigued, so I sat through the kick-off, MC-ed by +Allison Laureano . I was interested to hear the wide variety of projects that mostly fit into four categories: features, monetization, culture and fixes. Of course I listened with a teacher's ear and I couldn't help myself but cheer out loud to +Zach Rutta's proposal of giving +Edmodo  users (mostly teachers) the ability to use bold, italics and underline formatting in our posts. It seems like a simple thing but it's funny how much you miss it when you don't have it. And currently Edmodo doesn't have it. Zach's was the project that directly addressed something I as a user want! Between my background in Customer Service and the fact that I am a customer of Edmodo, I felt heard.

Speaking of feeling heard... I've met a few times now with a coworker named +Kul Wadhwa, yes, pronounced cool and he is. He has been asking me what I think about a certain Edmodo product and I have been at times brutally honest with him, and he keeps coming back for more. Teachers are not often asked what they think about products nor given a real voice, outside our classrooms, so it's been refreshing to be asked. After I met with Kul one day, another man came up and asked if I'd be willing to give my input about some changes being made to Edmodo. Of course I said yes, I am always happy to give my opinion. I knew he was some sort of manager but I found out - after we spoke - that he is the General Manager, Manish Kothari. I love how accessible everyone is at Edmodo. There is no overt sense of managerial hierarchy that prevents anyone from talking to anyone else...quite refreshing.  A few minutes later Manish introduced me to CEO Vibhu Mittal and they asked me to be on the Hackathon judges panel, since I was a teacher! Talk about feeling heard!! I was thrilled to accept and rearrange my schedule to be in the office the next day.

Cheers to our hard work!

I'd pretty much already decided I was coming in when my Director, +Kevyn Klein intrigued me with her idea for a project, Humans of Edmodo.The excitement was almost palpable in the office that afternoon. 
Some people work at the office throughout the night. When I left at 6 p.m. to catch my train so I could get home to let the dog out, the GM was pouring people wine and IT was making dinner. We worked on our project well into the late hours, communicating with +HipChat  and I was excited to see what would be accomplished by all the teams overnight!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

LOA Diaries: Edmodo, part two ~ Stranger in a Strange Land

In my two months at  +Edmodo I have tried to make the most of my experience. I am enjoying working with Edmodo Certified Trainers (ECTs) and updating training materials. On the days I come into the office, I commute not quite two hours a day, including a nice walk form the train to the office. But honestly, it has not been all work and no play. I've participated in Paint Nite, complete with wine and Bob Ross wigs. I participated in my first hackathon, even though at first I didn't even know what it was. They have an onsite masseuse one day a week. Edmodo has hot lunch brought in two days a week, usually one of the days I'm there.There are always have packaged salads, sandwiches and entrees that are of gourmet quality. They have unlimited soda and snacks, both healthy and not so much. 

Alberto the Artiste!

This morning I happened to ask the exact right guy to show me how the coffee maker worked. I'm not doing it justice to call it a coffee maker. It's one of those big things with multiple spouts and steam and all. I am a Mr. Coffee kind of gal, so I was slightly intimidated. The Keurig was out of K cups, so I asked the young man (they are all young compared to me ;) making some sort of foamy drink it he wouldn't mind showing me how to use the behemoth. Lucky for me, Brady comes from a family of coffee makers! His dad owns a handful of coffee shops in Louisiana and Brady used to train baristas! He took the time to show me how it worked, explained how lighter beans make stronger coffee and helped me as I made my first latte! I have found the people at Edmodo to be kind, generous with their time and always willing to help. From the CEO on, the company culture seems to be one of kindness. And yes, they have their own keg and wine stocked in a small wine fridge. No wonder I don't mind working late! 

In addition to my lucky day with latte, I was finally at the office on the right day to get a massage! Edmodo has a masseuse that comes to the office and sets up in a conference room one day a week. She does a half hour for $20 or a full hour for $40. The office manager, Nhu Ahn, uses a Google sheet where people can sign up for their own time slot. Talk about #HighTechHighTouch! I decided to not splurge, so I only got a half hour but about midway through I was wishing I'd booked a full hour. But then I reminded myself to stay in the present and enjoy the now. It was a wonderful massage, but it took me about 15 minutes to get my head back into work mode after being so very relaxed. 

Edmodo has an open office concept, with a variety of sizes of windowed conference rooms outfitted with projectors, speaker phones and power cables so you can just carry in your Mac. There are no phones at people's desks and all of the desks adjust for standing or sitting with the push of a button. Despite the open floor plan, the work area is surprisingly quiet, especially compared to my classroom. Edmodo employs a product called Hipchat that allows 1:1, one to some or one to all communications. If you need to talk to someone across the way you just hipchat them! Not for the first time I wonder about the implications and applications of this ability in a school setting.

I document my experiences back in the business world as an anthropological report. Not to make my teaching colleagues jealous, but to give them a peek into the corporate world. Yes, this is what the business world is like. I can drink as much water as is healthy. I use the bathroom when I want. I take the train to the office and I can show up when I show up, as long as I get my work done. I am so grateful for this opportunity, something I never could've done while teaching full time. It really is a different world.
Zach working the support wall.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

LOA Diaries: Edmodo, an introduction

I've used an educational software product, +Edmodo , for about 5 years. Edmodo is kind of a private, safe and secure Facebook for education (though they prefer I not make that comparison, for people who don't use Edmodo, I find it helps). Edmodo is the largest social learning network used for connecting, communicating and collaborating with colleagues and students. When Jim or I would complain about the bureaucratic, slow moving workings of our educational system, he would say I should go back into business and 'work somewhere like Edmodo.' I belong to an amazing group of educators, Edmodo Support Ambassadors and Certified Trainers. I'd posted to the group that I was taking a year leave (LOA) from teaching. Understandably, people who didn't know my full story said 'how lucky' I was. What they couldn't know is I'd gladly work the rest of my life if it would have meant my husband would've beaten his cancer.

About a week after I took the BTSA coaching job, I received a message on Edmodo from +Kevyn Klein, Director of Customer Success and Advocacy. She had seen that I was not teaching and they were in need of some temporary help managing their on-site trainings. I drove up to San Mateo to talk about their needs and ended up starting my training that day and signing a contract the next morning. As I got ready for work the next morning, I could just see Jim smiling with pride and maybe a bit of, 'I told you so!'

I go into the office one or two days a week and work a few hours Tuesday through Friday from home. San Mateo is about 25 miles away, but in commute traffic can take a mind numbing, stop and go hour or more. I've started taking the train on the days I go in, which gives me back two hours a day to walk (to and from the train), meditate, call far away family and friends and write - all things I wanted to do when I took my leave of absence. Edmodo's amazing IT team, +Allison Laureano  and +Sam Swink , set me up with a MacBook Air and my own conference number so that I can easily work from home.

As I was describing to my parents the work I do at Edmodo, I realized I had come full circle.  My first job out of college was at Tymnet, where I started in 1982 as a receptionist in the training and support department and was soon coordinating trainings, much of what I do now! Of course the tools are fancier and more technologically advanced, and yes, the pay is better, but a circle nonetheless.

It is really interesting to get an insider’s perspective of a company whose product I've used for so long. I expect a number of updates to follow!

Friday, October 16, 2015

LOA Diaries: BTSA

About two weeks before school started I received a call from the district HR department asking if I'd consider being a coach for new teachers. A BTSA Supporting Teacher. BTSA stands for Beginning Teacher Support and Induction.  It's a great program designed to help teachers navigate the first two years of teaching. I had an amazing mentor, +Kristi Schwiebert who I'm lucky to still have as a colleague and friend. 

I did my research and determined it would generally take one day a week which was about how much time I wanted to commit. I felt it would show good faith to a district that had treated me well when I needed it most. I said yes and the following Monday attended training and on Tiesday met two of the three teachers I'd be supporting. I meet with them individually once a week and have complete flexibility in my schedule except for required monthly meetings.

I have found the work to be incredibly rewarding. The teachers' enthusiasm is infectious and they are eager to learn and grow as educators. I get to spend some time with students as well. I support a kindergarten, fifth grade and middle school teacher in our small k-8 district. I knew I was making a difference when I arrived on campus last week and one of my participating teachers threw open her arms, greeted me with a big hug and whispered with relief, "you're here!"

Thursday, October 15, 2015

LOA Diaries: an Introduction

Anyone who knows me well, knows I decided to take a year leave of absense, an LOA, after two incredibly difficult years of my life.  I am a 5th grade teacher with a first career of 20 years in high tech.  My husband died in the middle of the school year in 2014. I returned to the classroom in April to end the year and returned the following school year. What people who've never taught don't get is that when you have thirty or so little faces expecting you to not just show up but on be every day, no matter what, that you can't 'just phone it in.'  Heck, they think teachers actually live in our classrooms so how could we possibility be anywhere else?  When you are facing any sort of personal crisis just showing up can be exhausting.

After debating and consulting with my physician, therapist, my accountant, my close friends, and mostly myself, I decided to put in for a leave of absense. No one questioned my choice and most enthusiastically supported it. When I sat down with our human resources person, I told her I'd consider part time opportunities as a way to keep my toes in the pool, and not burn any bridges. 

I started meditating and rowing daily. I spent more time with my octogenarian parents. I ate healthier and started sleeping better. I started a new blog about my journey through grief to gratitude and grace. I felt as good as I could. I planned mini-vacays to have a future to look forward to. I was careful to plan a special drive to Yosemite in my S2000CR on the first day of school as a kickoff to my endless summer. 

So the next nine months posts will feature the adventures of an educator on adventure, my LOA Diaries.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

#twittertuesday for Elementary School Students

For the last several years, my co-teacher, +sheila monger and I have been using +Twitter with my fourth and fifth grade students. It provides and authentic writing experience with practice in succinctly capturing a main idea or essence. We encourage their parents to follow us and they work really hard to do their best work for this wider audience. I try to keep an eye on the twittersphere for trending hashtags and use them if applicable to link to current events. For example  On #GSPD we _________________ (global school play day) .I limit them to  ½ 140 or 70 characters...they have to fit it on the paper and I have to be able to read it from across the room.


Before the school year starts, I laminate 30 pieces of paper that fit on my back cabinets.  I create a handle for each student using the first few letters of their first and last name. For example Sandra McConnell would be SanMc. I write their handles and glue them to a name tag with an Egg, showing they are a new user on twitter. As the year progresses, some students created new avatars for themselves.

Be sure to start the year with digital citizenship lessons. We rely on +Common Sense Education lessons. We also use the acronym RAMENN with our kids. When posting make sure it's
R - relevant
A - appropriate
M - meaningful
E - edited - and our students added the last two...
N - is it nice?
N - is it necessary?

Each Tuesday I post the prompt and give students time to generate ideas and write. Sometimes the prompts generate a lot of reflection, other times not so much. After most of the tweets are posted to the wall, my tweeter of the week, a classroom job, chooses one to five posts that they want to have represent our class.  They rewrite the prompt in their journal (or take a picture with their iPad) and bring it to my computer to type into our class account in twitter, @mrsmccsclass. Often I will have them include photographs of the students’ tweets to include in the tweet. I have them do it at my computer because I do not want the students to have unrestricted, unsupervised access to twitter.

Although I am not in my classroom this year, our account is still active and you can see what other types of things we post.

General Student Instructions

  1. write a draft of the tweet in your journal. Be sure to include a hashtag summarizing or emphasizing your main idea. Proofread.
  2. have your post checked by an adult
  3. make edits, then with pencil, write your tweet on twitter paper
  4. go over letters with a marker (no more than two colors)
  5. post in the wall with blue tape at your @handle

Have fun with it! For sample prompts, visit this google doc.