Sunday, December 24, 2017

For Blair, A PLN Tribute

During the summer of 2016, a group of educators found each other on Twitter and what came of that connection became the very first PLN (professional learning network) I have ever had the privilege of being a part of.  We came from different places around the US and world, and connected on things such as faith, flexible seating, social media in the classroom, and so much more.  Shortly after meeting on Twitter, we created a Voxer group, and named it “Our PLN”.  No matter the time or day, we always knew we could depend on one another within that group. Sometimes we shared professional ideas and thoughts, and other times we shared things that were personal and very dear to our hearts. I have never met Alana, Mike, Blair, Todd, or Marilyn in person, but they felt like family regardless. -Amy

Through this amazing group we all learned that love has no boundaries and that you can become connected to one another over time by opening up to each other, appreciating each other’s strengths, and caring about each other through good times and bad. We hope that by sharing memories of our friend, Blair, that we will honor his heart and his memory. -Alana

Amy Storer:

One of my best memories of Blair was when I was able to connect with his class in Australia to show his students how to use Buncee.  Shortly before that, he participated in EdChange Global, and virtually attended my session on Buncee.  He ended up winning a subscription to Buncee, and I was so excited about showing him and his students the power of this creation tool.  We scheduled a time for us to virtually meet, and because we both lived in different countries, we got creative. That is one of the many reasons why I respected him so much! He always found a way for his kids. He even had Skype Nights at his school where the students could stay the night so they could connect with classrooms in the United States.  He knew how important it was to connect his students with the outside world.  I loved being a part of his class on that day, and was so excited about them starting their Buncee journey!
Each and every time that I visited with Blair, he inspired me to do more as an educator.  His positivity was contagious, and his eagerness to grow as a lead learner was something to be admired.  You will never be forgotten, my friend. “Our PLN” will honor you always.  Thank you for coming into our lives the summer of 2016.  We are truly the lucky ones!

Never take for granted this gift that we have been given-the gift of global connections. So many of my PLN are people that I know I can count on, but have never met in real life. That is huge. If you haven’t gotten connected as an educator, I encourage you to do so.  You will not regret it!
-Amy Storer
Montgomery, TX, USA

Alana Stanton:                                                                                                                     
Two years ago I got on Twitter with the hope to be inspired to be a better educator. I never realized that the people I would meet would become such dear friends who would inspire me to be a better person in all that I do. One of the first educators that truly amazed me was Blair Smith. I was first amazed at his classroom, which was made for students and had flexible seating. I was also impressed with how he used simple things to innovate his classroom such as whiteboard tables and table projections.
My husband and I both connected with this educator turning our rooms into flexible seating classrooms with whiteboard tables, in turn this inspired many of the teachers around us to change their rooms to fit the needs of their students. We were so encouraged by Blair who always took the time to answer our questions and give us encouragement. This was much needed for Mike and I because we were taking a huge leap to change our classrooms, but Blair reassured us it would turn out great and we had his support at any time.

Last year Blair was highly involved in my classroom even though he lived in another continent, Australia. He taught my students about The Great Barrier Reef, the outback, and the amazing animals that lived there. He even took pictures of kangaroos on his drive to work, so my students could see them in the wild instead of in the Atlanta Zoo. Blair always took time to answer my student’s questions on Voxer and Twitter even though he was extremely busy living life as a basketball coach, educator, administrator for his school, and being an involved family man. He even took time out of his week to help my own children with their Australian Day. He taught them a special song that only Australians would know for patriotic events. The girls learned the song and sang it for their school making it a very special day.

Over time Blair, my husband Mike, and I got into our first Voxer group with three other educators Todd, Amy, and Marilyn. We loved hearing Blair’s encouraging voice. Through this group I found out Blair was a Christian educator. We both read the book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. We were able to share these encouraging messages with each other on challenging days. This is when I started to realize that I was a Christian educator and I should be open to share this through my posts, blog, and in my classroom. Blair knew that being an educator was soul pouring and he showed me the importance of starting each day with prayer. He specifically taught me how to pray for my students. I now pray daily for my students knowing there’s a power higher than me that can help them succeed.

Blair will forever remain in my heart and in my classroom. I will always remember the impact he had on me as an educator and as a person. He was and will remain one of my most favorite educational heros. My hope became a reality when I got on Twitter two years ago and I’m grateful I got the chance to know this inspiring man. 
(Psalm 34:18-19)

-Alana Stanton,
Dacula, Georgia, USA

It was a blessing for me to get to know Blair through a number of different Twitter chats, over the past few years. I have not been part of the PLN Voxer group, but I have come to know many of its members. Blair was a dedicated family man, teacher, athlete and Twitter friend to many! He brought life, passion and goodness to so many of our conversations. He put kids first, as evidenced by the way he approached teaching, always welcoming change, global connectivity, innovation and flexible responses, based on the needs of his students. He truly was (and remains) an edu hero for me and for so many!  He inspired many of us to continue to grow as educators, in collaboration with each other!

His passing is a tremendous loss for our education community, for his dear family and for his friends.  His life is the gift that will keep on giving for many years to come.  May we find some comfort and solace in knowing that he left an indelible mark, through his ‘giving from the heart’, on the many lives he touched, and in the hope that he now rests in peace with our Creator.
-Chris Quinn
London, Ontario, Canada

Mike Stanton:

The summer of 2016 was a great summer of friendship. The friends I made I never met face to face, however I knew I could count of all of them. Blair, Todd, Amy, and Marilyn were new friends that my wife Alana and I connected to through Twitter. We enjoyed growing together and sharing ways to change our thoughts, ideas, and teaching practices. We pushed each other to try new things.

As friends do, we began to share our lives through connecting on Voxer. We would not only learn about our classrooms, but also about our families. We shared our hopes and dreams with one another and opened up to each other in the process. We shared stories that were close to our hearts and dreams we had for our future students and our families. We also shared our fears, challenges, and heartaches.

Our group came together and were truly lead by Blair Smith. He was strong enough to push us to our limits but gentle enough to help guide us along the way. He was innovative yet down to earth. He was most importantly a friend we could call on for laughter, support, and advice. Blair became part of our thoughts, ideas, and classrooms. We will forever hold onto those pieces he shaped in us and transformed in our classrooms. His legacy lives on through the children he has influenced across the world.
-Mike Stanton
Dacula, Georgia, USA

Marilyn McAlister:

Our precious, Blair. Through time, space, Twitter, and Voxer, we are better people and educators because of you. The sound of your voice, the smile on your face, your words of encouragement, and your sharing of best practices will forever be reminders of your goodness.

At one point in life, I could never grasp that relationships could be built through a virtual space. But then our PLN came together. Amy’s fun and feisty Texas accent, her passion for Buncee and global connectedness, and her precious niece on #PassTheScope kept us on our toes. Alana and her love for her girls, her husband, her Kinders, and her school kept our hearts open. Mike, although the quietest of bunch, always had words of wisdom just at the right time. Todd was always ready with a relevant quote, a story about his high school leadership students, and words of affirmation. Chris is our encourager that helps me see the big picture.

And Blair. Our precious, Blair. He would tell stories of his drive to work. Although I’ve never been to Australia, my mind conjured up a scene of him driving and laughing through the winding road to school. But his classroom, now that we could envision. There’s much talk of being an innovator. Blair is the epitome of an innovative educator. At the beginning of each year, he would put all of the furniture in the middle of the room. Literally!!! Students would design layouts and the room would take shape. It was a delight for him to give his students autonomy from the very first day. No desks, but couches, a variety of tables, both high and low, chairs, bean bags, rugs, and the like. Each student had their own tub of supplies. The tubs were carried and moved around the room, then stored nicely at the end of the day. Blair created a room where learning and relationships went hand in hand.

Innovation did not exist only in his classroom. He reached out far and wide. For two years in a row I watched, read, and heard about his international Skype nights. He was the master of global collaboration. I loved the pictures he would post of his students skyping with other classes, educators, authors, and scientists. Read more about his Skype nights here. I picked his brain on numerous occasions about Skyping. He kept prompting me, but I was scared. I’m not sure why, but I was. Now I have to Skype with a class. What a gift Blair gave his students. The gift of diversity, connectedness, and authentic learning.

It is with tears that I end this reflection. Blair left a legacy. His humility and kindness were apparent to all that crossed his path. His family, his students, and his PLN are better because of him. Let us all live our lives in a way that will bring honor to those that love us. Blair lived his life with zest, compassion, and humility. Let that be our example.

Our precious, Blair. Forever in our hearts.

-Marilyn McAlister
Imperial, California, USA

Everyone in this PLN has been touched deeply by Blair Smith and grown as an educator whether it was by his ideas, his innovation, his passion, his humbleness, or his heart. We will never forget him because in some way he is found in each of our classrooms and even in our teaching philosophies. We all know that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We will continue to reflect on who we are as people and educators hoping we can carry on a little bit of his spirit with our flexible seating, connecting our classrooms, or by staying present in the moment like Blair choose to do with each and every person he connected with. We were all blessed to know him and hope this post shares a little bit of why he made the world a better place for students, staff, and a world full of educators.

Blair you will forever remain in our hearts. We know we will get the chance to meet you in person one day and when we do we know you will have that beautiful smile waiting for us as you greet us at the door. -Alana

Blair Smith


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Power of the PLN

Not too long ago, I sat and watched a friend in Kansas connect with my friends in Montgomery, TX. As I was sitting there I started to reflect on the importance of connecting with others. The importance of knowing that we aren't the experts at everything and that reaching out for guidance and inspiration is more about growth than it is about deficit.
It took me a while, as an educator, to come to this realization. To completely understand the Power of the PLN.

What is a PLN? To me, a PLN is a group of professionals that thrive on the concept of "sharing is caring." The more that I think about the term PLN, it makes me think of a Kindergarten classroom or any classroom for that matter. When learners first enter elementary school, what is one of the first things that we teach them to do? Share. We foster a learning environment that encourages and inspires students to collaborate, share, and bounce ideas off one another. Isn't that exactly what a PLN is to us today as lead learners? So why, as educators, is it sometimes so hard for us to ask for help? Why does that fear sometimes win?
I didn't realize the power of connectivity until about 3 years ago, when I finally decided to start a classroom Twitter account.  I was inspired by Kayla Delzer, and I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions that I have ever made as an educator-the decision to make my classroom more than the four walls that contained it. During that school year and the next, my kids connected with Ryan Davidson, a meteorologist from the weather channel (check out his story here), a Martian soil expert from Kansas (check out her story here), a college professor and her students from South Carolina, and so many more. Little did I know that meeting this college professor would mean so much to me and my profession!
Dr. Julie P. Jones was one of the first educators that I met on Twitter, and it was all because we (my 4th grade classroom) thanked her for being our 200th follower. She quickly responded, but not just with a "thank you". She sent my kids some challenges about #make200. It was one of the first instances where I recognized the power that Twitter had, especially for my kids.  Dr. Julie P. Jones is a professor at Converse College in South Carolina, and she works with educator prep students. Because of our initial connection, our classes soon connected for other reasons! My 4th grade students visited with her college age students about classroom management, technology tools, and classroom jobs. They loved being able to voice their thoughts about the classroom and education with future teachers.
A year later, we finally met in real life! We presented about Twitter at a conference in Orlando, FL called ATE about the magic that is social media.  It was such a surreal experience to meet one of my Twitter heroes!! 
Even from afar, her and so many others like Jed Dearybury, Marialice Curran, Matt Murrie, and Jaime Donally support me and lift me up from various corners of our world.

I am forever blessed to know and love my PLN, and I have Twitter to thank for 

My advice to you: Get on Twitter and grow your PLN!  You will not regret it! 

Some of my other favorite things:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I Sat Next to My Heart Today

I started to write this blog post a couple of weeks ago, and I have been thinking about it ever since.  It was inspired by my niece, Nancy.  Nancy saved me almost 6 years ago.  I never knew she was the missing piece to my heart.  The piece that I lost after my mother, Nancy, passed away from stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2006.  Losing my mother was and will always be the hardest thing that I have ever gone through.  Not a day goes by that I don't think of her or go to pick up my phone to call her. Everything I do as an educator is with her in mind.  She was a phenomenal teacher, and I am who I am today because of her.

I as I sit here, with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, I hope that this post inspires you to do great things for your kids. They deserve your very best!

I sat next to my heart today, and told her that I loved her.  As soon as I said it, I asked myself "Am I telling her this enough?". Do I tell her that she is strong and beautiful and everything in between?  Have I told her that she is the half to my whole heart?  That she is the vivid color in the dark?  That I can't wait to see where her life takes her?  To answer that first question, what is enough?  There shouldn't be a cap on how many times you say I love you or how many times you show the ones you love how much you care.

I wonder if our kids, our students, are hearing these things as much as they should in our classrooms or as much as they deserve.  Are they hearing that they will move mountains with every word spoken?  That they will rattle and shake the norms of society?  That they are loved and appreciated for being exactly who they were meant to be?

Love them.  When they fight and struggle, love them.  When they tell you they don't care, love them.  When they turn away, love them, and remind them of that daily.  Love them on good days and bad.  Love them all.  You might be the only bright light that they've seen in a while.  Make sure your time with them is intentional and full of love and laughter.  Just love them.  We all make a choice as educators on how we choose to impact the life of a child.  Our job is an important one.

Thank you, Nancy, for making me an aunt, or as she likes to call me, her "Mamy". Thank you for inspiring me to be the best human being for my kids, past, present, and future.  I am the lucky one.  Love you, forever and always! #breadandbutter

Video Created in Grad School
"It All Began With Nancy"

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Read Alouds and Sketchnotes

When I was a little girl, my mother read to me and my twin sister every single night.  She made these instances more than pictures and words.  She turned every read aloud into an experience for us.  She added funny voices and expressions, and she always stopped, every now and then, to ask us questions. She, intentionally, made us a part of the book. I know, without a doubt, that my love of reading was because of these experiences.

Recently, a teacher (Mrs. Pilgrim) on my campus reached out to me to work alongside her to expose her students to sketchnoting.  Her kids were reading Number the Stars, and she wanted them to sketch their thoughts after each chapter.  What a cool idea, right!  Sketchnotes, sometimes referred to as visual notetaking, are purposeful doodles while listening to something interesting. (Sketchnote ArmyTanny McGregor states that drawing and doodling can keep us from daydreaming and help us to focus on the task at hand.  When the need to understand is high, SKETCH! Check out Kathy Shrock's Guide to Sketchnoting to learn more about it!

Created by Tanny McGregor

Practice Day for Sketchnotes

When I was in Mrs. Pilgrim's room, she asked if I wanted to stay and listen to a chapter from the book.  You know me...I didn't hesitate!  Even at 36, I crave read alouds!  Mrs. Pilgrim was so engaging, and the kids and myself could not get enough! I visited her class more after that just to hear another chapter, and every time a chapter ended the kids begged for one more!  That is when you know that you have created and fostered an environment in your classroom that supports and honors a love of reading.  I was reminded, once again, how important it is to read to kids. Read to your kids, no matter the age, no matter the grade level. 

Just Read.

Thank you, Mrs. Pilgrim!  Thank you for the fond memories of my mother and for making memories with me! I loved every minute spent listening to you read! As Adam Welcome says, keep being awesome for your kids!!

This blog post is also featured on our instructional coaching blog page.