Sunday, January 30, 2011

Teachers Socializing Outside of School?? Unheard of!!

Being a second year teacher and on the younger side, I'm fairly young in the education world. So you can imagine that I still like to socialize with friends and family quite often. I am what you might call a “social butterfly,” but by no means am I a social media whiz. So I use what tools I am good with in talking with others, mainly Facebook (FB), Gchat, Gmail, texting, and talking on my cell phone.

In the year that I considered absolute insanity, my first year of teaching, I found myself out of state and out of touch with my family and friends. Although I saw them most weekends, I realized after two or three months that those groups of people weren't the one's I needed most. It was my fellow colleagues. Yes, you need family and friends to get you through the rough times personally, but they aren't the ones that you should be turning to for rough times professionally. They mean well, but are usually looking at the situation in the wrong light. Only those in our field can truly understand what you as an Ag teacher are going through.

We are usually running at a million miles a minute, and when you need to talk to someone about how a kid, administrator, or community member set you over the edge, you just won't get the same satisfaction talking to your Dad or best friend about it. They don't get it! They'll sympathize or say they understand, but they don't, and that's ok. Call, FB, Gchat or go have a beer with your fellow Ag teacher. Afterward, I don't quite understand it myself but, you just feel like a ton of bricks has been lifted off your chest when you talk to someone who has been there and done that. And 99% of the time, you'll laugh about what ever it was that was bothering you when it's all said and done.

On the lighter side, when something in class, lab, or on one of our never-ending field trips, happens that makes you almost pee your pants from laughing so hard, other Ag teachers want to hear about it. Don't just call up your teacher-friends when something bad has happened, because after a while, they are going to ignore your calls because you've become a “Debbie Downer.” Share the good, the bad, and the ugly. We're all in this overwhelming ocean of Ag Ed together, so hop in the boat so you don't drift away and loose your mind. Since I am only in my second year of teaching, I may not be the best or most wise person to hand out advice, but I feel this is my area of expertise.

Last year I went to the edge of that boat and dove off head first. I don't recommend it.

Post written by Katy McGovern

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't Just Steal.......Give Back Too!!

I’m going to throw a confession out there: I’m a little cynical. For those of you that know me, I’m sure this comes as a shock. (Read with complete sarcasm.) It’s easy for this skepticism to carry over to certain aspects of my career as well. Lately, I’ve been kicking around this notion that there are 15 different groups in ag ed all trying to accomplish the same thing. Why can’t we band together these efforts and stop stepping on the toes of this group or that group? Luckily, there is one place in this great big world of agricultural education working together to make our lives as teachers easier: NAAE's Communities of Practice (CoP).

The first time I was introduced to CoP, I rolled my eyes. Surprising, right? It was suggested to us that we use it during student teaching. As a pre-service teacher, however, I was still trying to learn the intricacies of writing lesson plans and assessments, and I preferred to do everything myself. Fast forward into the real world of teaching, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. That’s were CoP can be a lifesaver.

If you’re not using CoP, I highly recommend you check it out. Teachers from all across the country post lesson plans, PowerPoints, teaching resources, technology ideas, and more. While I still like to tweak the resources I pull off of CoP, for the most part they’re teacher-tested, kid-approved. What a great avenue to share ideas and make our classrooms better.

Hopefully, if you choose to beg, borrow, and steal ideas from CoP, you won’t take, take, take, without giving, giving, giving. I have a general goal for myself that I’d present to each of you: for every item you download, put one of your own up. I was hesitant to do this at first, because I didn’t think my lessons were of high enough quality, but you never know who’s looking for something you have. Let’s work together to share ideas, give credit where credit is do, and make all of our lives simpler.

Yep, there are lots of things to be pessimistic about in our area of work, but collaboration isn’t one of them. NAAE's Communities of Practice is a great way to share ideas and lighten the load.

Here’s your challenge: post two items to CoP this month. Then, let me know what you think.

Post written by Rose Hartschuh

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Twitter Is More Than Just Status Updates

For the first part of my series, I am beginning with the social media tool that I use the most for both personal use and as a way to find resources for my teaching and that tool is Twitter. There are over 50 million tweets sent per day. Some of these are just "noise" with simple status' not adding to conversations, where others have links to news articles, blogs, videos and more that add content to posts. There are even users having conversations while sending tweets back and forth.

I will clarify one thing, I am not an expert on Twitter or any of the other tools. I have just found a way to make them work for me and that is what you need to do.  You do not need to become an expert in order to use them. Just find what works for you and build from there. If you are a beginning user or still apprehensive about signing up, then read on, this post is definitely for you.

1) Using and Following Hashtags - This is one of the easiest and can be one of the most useful ways to follow certain tweets. Hashtags are one way to make Twitter fun and unique since you can make any word/phrase a hashtag. Following hashtags can also be an easy way to easy way to find specific information and users for areas of interest ranging from special events, people or subjects.  Hashtags are also how users conduct Twitter chats.

*Prefacing a word/phrase/acronym with '#' will create a hashtag (#AgChat, #farm).

You can even get some stats on a hashtag that has been tweeted to see how many Twitter users it has reached and how it has been used. We will use #Agblog as an example - Check out TweetReach.

2) Participating in Twitter Chats - As mentioned above, by following certain hashtags users can conduct chats through Twitter posts.  This is one of the best methods to building relationships with other users with a common interest.  There are many many chats every week that you can participate in or just view.  Some of the chats that I participate in are: #Agchat, #edchat, #blogchat and I even created one, #AgEduChat, with Amanda Sollman.

Here is a Google Doc Spreadsheet to a large compiled list of Twitter chats with day/time/moderator(s).

It may seem like a lot at first to take time out of our day to participate in these chats, but if you have a desire to: network and make connections with others, advocate for something that is important to you, gain new knowledge about a certain subject matter, or just to have fun and socialize with others then participating in chats is for you.  For the chats that I have participated in, I know I have had a lot of fun and have learned a lot from others. I have also built a network of connections from all over the world. The following are a couple websites that are how most users view and participate in chats using #agchat and #ageduchat as examples.

TweetChat - Example- #Agchat
Twubs - Example - #AgEduChat

Lastly 3) Using Third-party Software Applications- These applications make following tweets SO MUCH easier. TweetDeck is the application I have used from the start and will keep using.  With most of these applications you can combine multiple social media channels other than just Twitter. You can link your accounts from Facebook, LinkedIn, Buzz, and Foursquare.  This allows you to post to those different accounts all at the same time.

TweetDeck is set-up with columns for what you want to view. I have set my columns to follow certain Twitter lists, hashtags and people/businesses. This enables you to follow tweets more closely and interact with others easier. Below is an example from a screen shot I took.

One thing I am working on is working Twitter into some of my classroom lessons.  I have a couple students who are on Twitter currently so we are thinking up some ways to incorporate it.  However, there are many teachers who have been using Twitter in some very neat and effective methods. Below are some articles I have found through some tweets on #edtech and #edchat.

Stay tuned for more information on SM tools. Feel free to leave questions or comments and I'll get back to you, or follow me @DrewBender

*Sunday 1/23 Join us for #AgEduChat 7-8:30 EST, we are discussing technology use and tools in the classroom.

Post written by Drew Bender

Monday, January 17, 2011

Things You Learn After a Few Years of Teaching

From what I've read of this blog so far, it looks like a predominantly younger audience; since I'm not part of the “younger” crowd in the business anymore, and have been asked by them to chime in here; I guess I can try to bestow some of the things I've picked up on over the last nine years of teaching.  I'm not one to take myself too seriously (I cut part of my own finger off for crying out loud, so how could I?), and I don't necessarily expect too many people that read this to either, however I think you can get some piece of mind from a few lessons I learned as a “beginning teacher”.  So here goes...

Life's Knowledge #1: If there is one piece of advice I would give for you at this point in your career, I would say that the most important thing for you to do right now is: LEAVE WORK AT WORK, don't bring it home with you.  Now, of course there'll be times when you have to bring it home; papers need graded, tests need written, supplies need to be ordered, I could go on and on about the things that you bring home with you because there are only so many hours in a day.  But that's not what I'm talking about. 

This is a very hectic job at first, you have a million things coming at you at once (which I'll address later) and it's pretty easy to get a little overwhelmed very quickly.  When that happens it has a tendency to build up to a boiling point, and then the pot boils over.  When the pot boils over, leave it at work.  Somehow, some way, you need to be able to train yourself to get that out of your mind and come home to enjoy your time away.  This job can make your personal life a living nightmare if you let it, so don't let it.  It's helpful to have an “escape” from your reality, if only for a little while.  I was lucky, I lived on a dairy farm where I could go out and help chore and forget about the fact that I had tests to grade, contest practices to get ready for, and an FFA Banquet all within 5 days of each other.  Whatever it might be for you, you need to identify it early to help keep your sanity.

Life's Knowledge #2: FIND OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WELL AND FOCUS ON THAT AT FIRST. There are so many things that go along with our jobs that it's nearly impossible to do it all. Most of us that enter into this profession came from pretty solid programs, and I think by nature teachers of Agriculture want to do it all because we are highly motivated individuals; but it won't always work that way.

My advice would be to figure out what's important for your program right now, and make sure you are successful in that first.  Of course, finding out what “successful” is will depend on you.  If you go into every contest with the idea that you have to win every one, then my guess would be that you won't enjoy this job as much as you could.  If Dairy Judging is important to your community, focus on it.  I teach in extreme Northwest Ohio, we don't participate in the Forestry CDE because we have about 25 trees in our entire district.  Not only is that particular contest not that important to our community, I'm not sure my students even know that CDE exists because, here again, you can't do it all.

Life Knowledge #3: CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES.  Not everyone is going to like you, get used to that.  Confrontation can be a good thing, it lets people see you're not a push-over.  I didn't get into this profession to make a bunch of friends out of my constituents, and I'm assuming you didn't either.  You're never going to please everyone anyway, so there's no need in starting out trying to.  When you're confronted with a situation where you need to dig your heels in and stand your ground, you'll know.  Some fights just aren't worth fighting, especially when you have parents whose “perfect little angels” you've done a terrible injustice to in “giving” them a B in your class, even when it still might have been their highest grade on the report card (can you tell that this is one of those I've fought?).  In short, don't sweat the small stuff.  Don't worry about how things used to be done, it's your program now (if you're a single-teacher program anyway) and people can either get behind you or get out of your way to let you do your job.  Some people won't like it, and they don't have to either.

Life's Knowledge #4: LEARN HOW TO SAY NO!  Colleagues, parents, administrators, board members, and community members all have seem to have mastered the art of assuming you will do anything for them.  In this case, our talent is a curse.  There aren't many teachers in the building that have the same skill set that we do, so people think they can take advantage of you and have you do them a “favor” because they don't want to pay someone else to do it for them.  The plate of an Ag Teacher is only so big and will only hold so many things, it's up to you to decide what you want to load your plate with; just don't feel obligated.  Especially with administrators and board members; just because you may work for them, they don't own you. Sometimes you have to do what is best for you, and let them deal with it on their own.

And lastly, if you take nothing else from the gibberish above; get involved with our profession.  That doesn't mean that you have to become an OAAE officer or member of delegate council, just try to take advantage of the many opportunities that are out there.  Have your kids fill out awards, go to the evaluations (especially State, if you can get your district to send you now), go to the district meetings, take kids to camp, the list can go on and on.  Just like what we tell our kids with the FFA: you're only going to get out, what you put in.

Anyway, hopefully some of my ramblings made at least a little sense to you.  These are the kinds of things that I wish someone would have told me when I entered the profession in the Fall of 2001.  I'll be the first person to tell you that I didn't have much of a positive experience my first 2 ½ years of teaching.  But I stuck with it, and the next 2 years of my career were some of the best years of my life.  We have special relationships with our students that I wouldn't trade for anything.  In the last 2 years I've been paid some of the best compliments that I could ever get:  one of my very first students is now sitting at the desk where I used to teach her, and another asked me to be part of her wedding ceremony in October.  Those are the kinds of things that keep you coming back.

I guess my hope is that any young teacher who reads this will find a little comfort in the fact that EVERYONE in this job goes through a lot of the same kinds of things in the first year or so.  The trick is to not let it get to you too much, and that you come back to work smiling the next day, for hopefully the next 30-35 years.

God Bless.

Post written by Ryan Sell

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

But That's Just My Opinion

When asked for my opinion, I usually say exactly what I think. I may take the soft approach or the hard road depending on the person, but I never sugar coat it. I also make sure I can defend the opinion and at times have been proven wrong. Who hasn’t? Tonight I was asked by my wonderful husband for my opinion on upcoming preparation for a CDE contest.  I will not say what or who was involved for the sake of the students, but let’s just say that my opinion of their work was not taken well.

I think all spouses can relate – you want to be honest when asked of your opinion, but you also don’t want to hurt their feelings. So, my husband's students have worked hard in preparing for this contest and feel they deserve some praise. Contests become trickier when the written and spoken word become involved in a Career Development Event (CDE). After looking over the information, I may have said (Ok, I did say) that the item I looked over wasn’t up to the standards of the student or the program. I gave reasons for why this was and waited for him to nod and agree. My words were met with a stare and brief silence. A statement of ‘Well, that’s your opinion’ was muttered. Hmmm…. not the reaction I was going for.

My prerogative – to make sure his student was adequately prepared and had met the contest requirements to do well. His prerogative – I just dissed his kid and their combined efforts. If I hadn’t known who the student was, I would have had the same response as above. Since I did know that student, I was even more disappointed that it didn’t seem to meet the criteria of the contest. Thus, my opinion was given and then sent back.

 I’m not sorry about what I said because I said what I felt was the truth. I am sorry, though, that it wasn’t received well and I hurt my husband's feelings.  I love to help with contests and miss aspects of the preparations such as helping the student in editing and researching. Yet, I’m not sure if it’s worth the risk of disrupting my husband (and his students) pride and preparation in order to declare my own thoughts, even when asked for them.

But that’s just my opinion........

Post written by Alison Derringer

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Engaging Educators in using Social Media Series

As I look back on this last year and what I have accomplished and been involved in, one main thing sticks out and that is my involvement with exploring and utilizing different social media tools especially Twitter. I  have found that using social media has helped me find information for some of my interests, networking with people from all over the world, and find resources to use in my teaching.

Today, there are many businesses taking advantage of utilizing these tools as part of their marketing campaigns to interact with their consumers.  There are even some schools utilizing these tools quite effectively.  Here are a couple of examples -

At Madison High School in Middleton, OH, because of a high interest in social media, six seniors were chosen to blog about their senior year. This blog featured on the school website. See news article here.

Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education and Communications professors even teach courses on utilization of social media tools. See news article here.

We, as teachers, need to engage ourselves in social media to be able utilize many of the tools not only for finding resources to use in lessons and networking and interacting with other social media users, but to also be able to teach our students productive ways of using these tools. How can students be taught how to use these tools effectively if there teachers aren't engaged in their use first.

Over the next few posts I plan to share some of the social media tools that I have explored and used with some tips and tricks that I have learned myself and from others. Keep tuned for information on Twitter, Diigo, Facebook Fan Pages, YouTube, and more.

Now, I have a challenge for you all-


  - If you are not currently engaged in using social media, choose one tool to try out and explore in the next few weeks, even if it is for just a few minutes each day.

  - If you are engaged in using social media, either explore a SM tool that you have not used before and/or share and get a non-user to begin using a twitter tool that you have found effective.

Post by Drew Bender